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April 2007
GRINDHOUSE: EXCLUSIVE Interview with Tracie Thoms

GRINDHOUSE: EXCLUSIVE Interview with Tracie Thoms
By Wilson Morales

I just admire any actor who can sing, dance, make you cry, or make you laugh, or basically anyone who has more than one skill. Some say comedians make the best actors because they can turn on/off their funny bones and be dramatic. While that’s true to some degrees, actors who can also sing are just as good. Take Tracie Thoms for example. Having gained exposure doing theater like “The Exonerated” and “Drowning Crow” with Alfre Woodard, Thoms was also a true RENThead whose dream came to light when she was cast in the film version of the Broadway show RENT. Playing character roles on some TV series led to her getting a regular role on the hit CBS series “Cold Case” where she plays narcotics detective Kat Miller. Last year, Thoms appeared opposite Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway in the blockbuster hit, “The Devil Wears Prada”. In perhaps her biggest role to date, Thoms will next be playing stuntwoman Kim in Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof, which is the second of a double feature film from “Grindhouse”. The other film is “Planet Terror”, which Robert Rodriguez directed. “Death Proof” is a white knuckle ride behind the wheel of a psycho serial killer’s roving, revving, racing death machine. In speaking exclusively with blackfilm.com, Thoms talks about getting cast in a Tarantino film, going to stunt school, and working with Rosario Dawson again.

Can you talk about playing the part of Kim in a Tarantino film?

Tracie Thoms: Kim was a blast. She’s like my alter ego. I never allow myself to do the things that Kim does in the film but it was fun. I get to be a badass because I’m so not a badass. My character is a making a movie within the movie, and in the movie, I’m Brandy’s stunt double and we just got off work and we’re just hanging out, me and my girls (Rosario Dawson and Zoe Bell), and we run into a problem with a crazy psycho pathetic killer. He comes along and tries to kill us and we have to a) survive and b) take care of him.

What attracted you to this film?

TT: First of all, it’s Quentin Tarantino. Not only because he’s a big name, or the career moves of it, but I’m a huge fan of his work and I think he has an appreciation for movies that a lot of contemporary filmmakers don’t have anymore. He comes from a tradition of making films that are exciting and emotional and fun. All of his movies are just fun. His characters are so specific and human. He writes women really well because he makes them as human as the male characters, and a lot of people, especially male writers don’t do that. They don’t know how to take women from being one-dimensional. His women are strong, but not because they are just strong; they are strong because they have to be; they are fighting for their lives, or because they are avenging the death of someone. It was really, really exciting.

What was the audition process like? I heard that you had to do it in his house.

TT: The first audition was on tape at the cast director’s office. He saw the tape and loved it; so then I went back in for him to meet him personally at his house, which wasn’t like in the living space, but in a movie theater. So I went in and had a meeting and went through all the stuff and we had a great time and he asked me if I liked to drive; and I told him that I loved to drive and that I drove a stick. He then asked me if I wanted to go to stunt school, and I was like, “Oh my God! The idea of goingto stunt school almost makes me pee.” And he loved that. Rosario (Dawson) was also auditioning for a different role and she got a call back and I said, “You know what would be great? Why don’t we go in together? And I’ll be your reader.” I didn’t have to go back because she had the call back. We thought that was a great idea because our characters are really good friends who worked on enough B-movies together and traveled the world, and Rosario and I are really good friends who have done a couple of movies together and have traveled the world. What better people can you get? So, we ran that idea past Quentin, and he thought it was great. We went in together and did our final audition as a team and it worked. He hired us both.

How comforting is it to have someone you worked with in the past like Rosario be in your next film?

TT: It was unbelievable. We became such good friends on “Rent” because we were the new girls, so we had a way of working together that was very supportive. We would spend a lot of time in our hotel rooms in San Francisco going over the material for “Rent”. I had been very familiar with “Rent”. I had been a RENThead but I had not been in it before, so we helped each other a lot. The experience wouldn’t have been what it was without her. We just knew we could repeat it here and we spent a lot of time at her house and then at my house and then we invited Zoe (Bell) into the fold. Zoe was nervous because she had never spoken on screen before and we told her that she will be fine. We spent a lot of nights watching Quentin movies and drinking wine and solidifying the bond we already had and then extending that bond to Zoe. Zoe is a very good friend of mine as well so by the time the cameras rolled, that relationship was solid.

Having Quentin ask if you wanted to go to stunt school, were you able to talk to Zoe about her experience as a stuntwoman?

TT: Well, I did. Actually, Quentin’s a genius because he sent me to stunt school with Zoe. I met Zoe on my first day of stunt school driving cars. My relationship with Zoe began as a stuntwoman, which is our relationship begins in the movie as stuntwomen. She’s just an inspiration because I’ve been a fan of her work for a long time. I didn’t know her name but I knew her stuff.

How good of a driver are you now?

TT: I was already a pretty good driver. People generally trusted me to be in the car with them and now I’m a much better driver. Stunt school was also like defensive driving as well and I recommend that everyone go. You will learn how to avoid horrible situations and learn the limits a vehicle has.

Within “Death Proof”, there’s a scene where your character talks about other films involving car chase scenes such as “Vanishing Point” and “Bullitt”. Had you seen those films?

TT: I had not before I got the film, but I have seen them since. I love a good car chase scene. It’s thrilling to me. Just to watch more movies with badass car chase was enjoying.

During the day, when you are working on “Cold Case” solving murders and seeing victims, how different is it go from a TV set to a film set?

TT: It’s funny because I was doing these two at the same time. I was flying back and forth to Austin to shoot half of the movie and driving back and forth to the town of Buellton when I was doing the action sequences. It was tiring but it was great. Kat Miller on “Cold Case” is a pretty badass. She’s human. She’s has a daughter and she lives with her mom and there’s a lot of stuff going on with her, but they both carry guns; they both will shoot you if necessary; and they both have a no-nonsense the way they look at life. So it wasn’t a huge switch. It might have been difficult if I were doing a romantic comedy or something and then come in and do some badass stuff. It might have been weird to be some sweet vulnerable character one day and then the next day play something totally different.

Was there a time when the entire cast from both films got together?

TT: No, but some of the cast members are coming to the premiere. During the shoot, “Planet Terror” was done by the time we started shooting. The first half of “Death Proof” is with a group of women, and then I’m in the second half with another group of women. We all hung out because it did overlap a little bit.

Do you have any plans to go back on Broadway?

TT: I would love to go back on Broadway but the thing about being on Broadway is that they tend to be long runs, and I have this job on TV. If the right work or the right stint, like a small run, comes along, I’ll think about it. I miss the stage so much. It’s been two years since I’ve done a play. During the summers I tend to do theater workshops and try to develop new pieces and help people develop new pieces.

Any plans on showcasing your singing skills?

TT: I have a couple of benefits coming up where I’m singing. Making an album is something that will take up a lot of focus and I’m not really thinking about that right now. I’m an actor and a storyteller. Standing on stage singing is horrifying to me. I did it a couple of weeks ago and I forgot the words to the song. A wave of nerves came over me and all the words went away. Well, I’m doing “Cold Case” and this movie’s coming out and I have some meetings coming up; so there are some things in the works, so we’ll see what pans out.


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