Exclusive: Actress Santana Dempsey Talks Ryan Prows’ Indie Film ‘Lowlife’Posted by Wilson Morales
April 11, 2018
After playing at various festivals and currently in select theaters and On Demand from IFC Films is the hilarious dark comedy Lowlife; an incredibly impressive debut from Ryan Prows and starring Nicki Micheaux, Ricardo Adam Zarate, Jon Oswald, Shaye Ogbonna, Santana Dempsey, Mark Burnham, Jose Rosete, King Orba, Olivia Benavides, Anna Pulido, Jearnest Corchado, and Clayton Cardenas.
What happens when you throw together a fallen Mexican wrestler with serious rage issues, a just-out-of-prison ex-con with a regrettable face tattoo, and a recovering junkie motel owner in search of a kidney? That’s the premise of the berserk, blood-spattered, and wickedly entertaining feature debut from Ryan Prows. Set amidst the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles, LOWLIFE zigzags back and forth in time as it charts how fate—and a ruthless crime boss—connects three down-and-out reprobates mixed up in an organ harvesting scheme that goes from bad to worse to off-the-rails insane. Careening from savagely funny to just plain savage to unexpectedly heartfelt, this audacious thriller serves up nonstop adrenaline alongside hard-hitting commentary about the state of contemporary America.
For Dempsey, who plays a young pregnant drug addict, the role is a different take for the Missouri native. Having done her share of episodic work on various TV shows such as Kingdom, Life’s a Drag, The Newsroom, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Dear White People, and more recently Scandal, this is her biggest role to date, especially when it’s on the big screens and can encourage producers and others to look her for future work.
Blackfilm.com recently caught up with Dempsey as she spoke about her role in Lowlife and the research she did to play a pregnant woman.
How did the role come about for you?
Santana Dempsey: Funny enough, I actually met Ryan Prows through a mutual friend, Raúl Castillo, my first year I moved to LA from New York. Raúl was in a short film with Ryan and Nicki Micheaux, who’s also in Lowlife. They had done a short film called Narcocorrido that did very well and I saw it and met Ryan and he always kept me in mind. Then I got a phone call years later to see if I could audition for this role of Kaylee. That’s how it all transpired.
How would you describe Kaylee?
Santana Dempsey: Kaylee is a survivor. She’s an eight months pregnant, heroine addict that was sold into sex trafficking by a very bad guy that ends up adopting her. When she was in this ring, she meets a guy named El Monstruo, who’s a luchador (a professional wrestler), and he saves her out of this sex trafficking world. Being adopted and your birth parents abandoning you and growing up that way, she’s really struggled and she turned to drugs. I really loved Kaylee. My journey is different from hers. I’m also adopted and my birth parents abandoned me too so it touched home with me on a lot of different levels.
Was that the reason you said to taking on the film?
Santana Dempsey: Yes. I think the main reason was because it was the first roles I’ve had that was really gritty. In the past, I’ve done a lot of comedy and I really love drama and I was intrigued that it was a drama and I got to do something completely different. Also, to be able to have a connection to the character was nice.
Can you talk about playing pregnant drug addict?
Santana Dempsey: At the Whatthefest, I said that I was wearing a strap-on, but prosthetic is probably the pc version. Playing a pregnant woman and I’ve never been pregnant, I had to do a lot of research. I had to talk to my sister, who’s had three kids, to see that reality and it was hard. The biggest reason why it was hard was because not just was I pregnant, I also looked busted in the film. They had to make me look bad and it was hard to feel beautiful. I know that’s a weird thing to say but I think with so many films and TV shows, we’re just so used to seeing women who are beautiful or they become a crazy caricature and I thought I was somewhere in the middle. It was a bit insecure for me in the beginning because people kept coming up to me and asking me, “Santana, are you ok?” I’m thinking, “I’m fine,” but why they keep asking me that. Then I would pass by a mirror and I would look at myself and go, “Oh!” I looked bad, very bad. The minuted that I tapped into that, it was so fun to not have to worry about how you look on screen.
This film was crazy with lots of themes going on. How was this compared to the other projects you have done?
Santana Dempsey: There is no comparison. I’ve never part of anything like this at all. When we were filming this, I actually didn’t know where they were going and how they were going to get there. Any other film that I’ve been a part of or TV show, I know where we’re going. This was different. It was very gorilla style and I just had to have faith and trust in the process and know that the director and writers knew what they were doing. It all worked out.
What did you pick up from this film that you can take on to your next project?
Santana Dempsey: Well, that I can do my own stunts. I did my own stunts for this, which I’m very proud of myself. Also, I think knowing that I have the capacity to take on a lot as an actor and I like that. I love being physical. I haven’t had that many opportunities besides the stage to be very physical. Being pregnant and having to run and being kidnapped and dropped in a car, all these things that I did, I loved it. Now I realized I can take this to something else and know that I can physically withstand 12 hour days of doing my own stunts and being hot and wearing this kind of makeup and prosthetics and still enjoy it because I loved every moment of it.
With so many films in theaters and many programs on TV and streaming services, what’s a good reason for folks to check out Lowlife?
Santana Dempsey: Because they haven’t seen anything quite like it. We’re getting compared to Quentin Tarantino, but we’re not Pulp Fiction, we’re Lowlife. I think that’s number one and number two, we have so much diversity in this movie without it hitting you over the head like diversity has to be central theme. It’s just a bunch of these background, lowlife characters that come to life that just happen to be mixed race and black, and Latino and white. We have a little bit of everything and I think that’s so unique.
As an actress looking for roles, what’s the journey been like?
Santana Dempsey: The journey’s been a little rough yet rewarding. Making that transition from New York to LA I didn’t realize I would be starting over and it would take me another three to four years to really get my feet in the door. It is the entertainment industry and there’s always going to be somebody trying to do something and at the end of the day, a lot of it is about money. Not just about the craft. That’s why I feel me being a part of Lowlife,an independent film is more about the telling of the story and the craft. It’s so refreshing. Also, I have to make money, I need to do those bigger project and unfortunately that comes with a little more conventionalism. Which can sometimes be challenging for me. I also think being mixed race, where I’m half white and Afro-Latino, I don’t quite fit into this standard of beauty or this box; and I don’t want to. I’m really happy. I’m recurring on Scandal right on ABC and getting a lot of good auditions. I’ll just keep on keeping on.