Dinner in America is a joyous watch, in which Emily Skeggs gives a flawless performance as Patty, a peculiar 20 year old who lives with her parents, works in a pet shop, and loves punk. She plays opposite Kyle Gallner as Simon, a man on the run from the police with a tendency towards pyromania. The tender love story that plays out swept me away and my flatmate and I continue to ask each other to tone it down a notch, a phrase that in my mind will always be Patty’s. A stand-out film of the festivals with a cult following already, this is the film to watch to escape into a world of misadventures in the Midwestern suburbs.
Director Adam Rehmeier describes the film as a love letter to the early punk scene in Lincoln, Nebraska, and in the course of the film I fell totally in love with the sincerity and heart integral to it. Needless to say, I was very excited to quiz Emily about Patty, her favourite memories from the set, and what being a punk meant to her. Speaking to her over zoom, I was delighted to find out that Emily is as colourful and charming as Patty, an avid gardener, zine-maker, and artist.
Hi Emily! What was your journey into acting?
Oh wow, interesting! I grew up in New York City with parents who really loved going to the theatre so I was exposed to that really young. Also growing up in New York I met a lot of different kinds of people. New York is such a wild place to be and really cultivates a sense of individuality. I’ve always been very interested in people so that was my inroad into acting.
Dinner in America is a cult classic in the making! How do you feel about the reception to it?
Well, when you make something that you really love that folks also really love and [the film] seems to have an important impact on them it means so much. It’s a joy! Patty is a really specific, bizarre character so to have so many people find commonalities with her has been really uplifting. She’s based on me at a time in my life when I didn’t know who I was. I was super awkward and weird and didn’t know what I had to offer to the world or what my value was. So for me to go back to that time in my life and put that skin on again, seeing the value in Patty and how wonderful she is and what she has to give helped me fall in love with that part of myself. It was a really cathartic experience for me. And for Kyle too. The movie became really personal in a way we weren’t expecting when we first read the script.
So did you listen to punk music growing up. Was that part of it for you?
I was kind of a late bloomer; I fell in love with punk later in life. But I definitely had music that I would blast in my room and shake it out to like Patty does in the movie. I think everyone should do that every once in a while.
Is there a particular band that you feel really passionate about like patty does?
I have had so many different bands in my life that I have fallen in love with. Right now I really love Ezra Furman. They’re an incredible punk rocker band. You should check her out.
I’ll do that immediately after this – thanks for the recommendation. And I heard that you wrote the lyrics to Patty and Kyle’s song. Can you tell me more about that experience?
We had a very interesting pre-production time. We had two weeks of rehearsal before shooting which is kind of unheard of in the film industry. Usually you just show up and you have the character and they go: ‘you cool with it? I’m cool with it’. Sometimes it works and sometimes it really doesn’t. I think more films should have rehearsal periods because ours gave us more time to get to know each other, find a common language and build a lot of trust. Now I just want to do everything with Adam and Kyle; I think that they’re the best.
I flew in and Adam picked me up from the airport which never happens. Directors never pick you up at the airport! And he took us out to lunch and we had patty melts. Is that something you have in the UK?
No! I don’t even know what that would be.
Oh my god! I love that. It’s basically a grilled cheese with meat – a patty as in a hamburger patty. It’s really kind of gross. Adam was very adamant that the process be something organic and that the song was written by the person who played Patty. There was this big mystery in pre-production like what’s this song gonna be. It was such a huge part of the script that people were like what is this even going to be. It was a very big leap of trust on the producers’ and Adam’s part to wait for 2 weeks before shooting to make the song. I had been writing stream of consciousness Patty poetry to just find her voice and find out who she was. On day two Adam and I sat down and I brought my writing. We sat down together and figured out the melody together. It happened like it happens in the movie! It was an amazing experience. I have never really had the opportunity as an actor to have that much say and to contribute that significantly to a character.
I want you to come out with the Patty poetry book next.
Yeh! I would love that. I actually love to make little things when we finish a project and to draw stuff so I made a zine for this movie and Adam and Kyle are the only two people who’ve seen it. We’ve talked about maybe releasing some zines…
I need to say that I love Patty’s glasses.
There’s a great story behind them! When I sent my first tape to Adam, he said: ‘great, can you find some glasses.’ I went to so many vintage stores to try to find the perfect pair of awkward glasses for Patty but everything was just too cool. Nothing fit. These needed to be glasses that her mom picked out for her. I went to Walgreens and I picked out a pair of old readers off the rack and I wore them for call back. Those were the glasses that ended up in the movie. They were just so authentic.
Please do! What was your favourite memory from shooting?
Shooting this movie was kind of like summer camp. We were constantly having so much fun and by the end it was really hard to leave. Like how do we leave this incredible bond that we made together? It’s a hard question. Kyle and I really hung out and got to know each other. We’re really dear friends now. We have this joke that at a dinner party, Simon is the steak and Patty is the potatoes. We would hang out and cook together a lot. One time Kyle rescued a pitbull on a shooting day so we spent all day trying to find a place for this pitbull. Her name is Pumpkin. We really got into shenanigans like Patty and Simon do in the movie. Oh my gosh this is a great one. This band who wrote all the punk music that Simon sings are called Disco Assault. They are a band from Canada right over the river from Detroit. Right after we wrote the Patty song they came into the studio and Simon was able to sing with them. That was super cool. We went to this punk show where they performed which was in an old abandoned bank in Detroit that didn’t even have any power. They were running off of generators. These punks were just like we don’t have any venues anymore. We need one, let’s make one. Disco Assault played that night and they introduced Kyle as Simon who is in a band Psyops and said he’s going to come and do a song. No one in the audience knew he was an actor and this was from a movie. Afterwards, people were coming up to him saying like: ‘I think I’ve heard of you; I love your band.’ I’ve never really had an experience where what we did outside the movie was so parallel to what we did within it.
Do you think of yourself as a punk?
Yeh in a lot of ways. But I think it’s an expanded definition [in the film] isn’t it. I grow a lot of my own food here in LA. I have a small farm situation going on. In a way that is punk as fuck. I am stepping out of the system, I am refusing to buy lettuce from Arizona that has been driven in a truck for ten hours. I think this movie cracks open for me that being punk is not just wearing a spiked bracelet and some safety pins. It’s really about stepping out of societal norms and refusing to adhere to something that doesn’t align with your values.
I was actually going to ask you about your garden! What is your favourite thing that you grow?
Last year I grew butternut squash along my fence which was super fun because during the pandemic we weren’t really interacting with our neighbours. We had to stay really safe. Over the fence my neighbours would ask: ‘what is this? Is this a squash?’ I said take them! They’re for everyone in a way. That really expanded my vision of gardens in general and public spaces and the idea of what’s public and what’s private. What we should be more willing to give away.
Where is home for you?
I’m in a really cute neighbourhood on the Westside of Los Angeles called Frogtown and it’s right by the LA river which used to be overrun with frogs. They went away when it was paved over but the frogs are coming back. And scientists found out they were actually toads.
Yeh I don’t think we’re changing the name anytime soon..
What does a day in your life look like right now?
A lot of gardening. I took the opportunity in the pandemic to go back to school so I am in horticulture school right now. I have taken the garden more seriously. I think with acting and any artistic pursuit it’s hard. I have been really fortunate to work as an actor and play some really impactful roles that have meant a lot to me but the work comes when it comes and there’s a lot of downtime. For me this year awakened this idea that you can’t just be an actor or an artist, you need to fill your life with so many other things. You need things that makes you money, you need to do work that gives you a boost and fills your soul when you’re not acting because there is so much in between time. For me growing stuff in the garden, it fills my soul. I love it.
There’s a massive connection between artists and gardens.
Yeh! My friend once said that gardening is the longest performance. It’s true, it takes place over a number of months to a year and if you’re growing a tree upwards of twenty years. It’s a beautiful thing. It taught me as an artist that things take time, way longer than you think. We are in a really fast-paced world where it’s like: ‘I’ve taken a photo, I’m going to put it on Instagram and now it’s art!’ and that’s not really how things work. And also – I have so many gardening metaphors it’s ridiculous – you have way less control than you think because there’s a whole ecosystem. You can plan for one thing and then you have to shift your trajectory and that’s just life. There’s lots of things about my garden that have grounded me as a person and an artist. That has helped guide me.
What films inspire you the most?
I’m very inspired by Frances McDormand. I am not choosing a specific film because it’s so hard to have favourites. I am so impressed by her rawness and her ability to be incredibly present. It’s funny, my favourite film growing up and probably still now is There Will be Blood, which is a crazy movie. I show it to friends and they say it’s so fucked that that’s my favourite film. But I’ve always been very drawn to what makes people be a certain way; what shifts people and guides them into the directions they end up in. I am very obsessed with this film Swiss Army Man. I love movies that make me think twice about either an actor or a situation or people in general.
Is there a piece of clothing or an accessory that you can’t live without?
Gosh! Let me think about that one. I am really into buying only used clothing right now. At first I thought it would be really hard but now I am falling in love with finding old printed sweatshirts with weird drawings on them which are unique. You aren’t going to find them again unless maybe you bump into my dad: he wears a lot of that kind of stuff. Do you know the show This Old House? It’s a reality show from a long time ago and it’s these guys who fix up old houses. When I was young I found it so boring but my dad loved it. I have his old This Old House top which he wore when he was painting and fixing the house. It’s so soft. I love when clothes reflect what happened while you were wearing them. I have a friend who was obsessed with finding clothes with stains on them because she was fascinated by food and food culture. When something has a little bit of character that’s what does it for me.
Dinner in America is available to rent or buy on all digital platforms in the UK from 1st June.