You’ve seen Dale Dickey before. She is the living embodiment of a character actor, bringing vibrancy and life to more than 130 supporting roles and bit parts in a wide range of TV series and movies, from “Iron Man 3” and “Hell or High Water” to “Two Broke Girls” and “Breaking Bad.” (Of course, to pay the bills, she often takes roles in lesser projects, so for every “Winter’s Bone,” there’s a “Trailer Park of Terror.”)
Or maybe you’ve seen her on stage — after a dozen years in New York, she has been in Los Angeles for more than two decades and frequently stars in plays by Del Shores, like “This Side of Crazy” and “The Trials and Tribulations of a Trailer Trash Housewife.”
But while this 60-year-old Tennessee native has had plenty of chances as a leading lady in the theater, she has never headlined a movie. Until now. In Max Walker-Silverman’s quiet and moving romance – “A Love Song” out on July 29th – Dickey plays Faye, a widow who is used to her own company but suddenly finds herself with the chance to reconnect with Lito (Wes Studi) a childhood friend who she may or may not have tried to kiss when they were teens.
That description makes the movie sound like it’s driven by its plot, but it really is a character study and we spend much of the movie alone at a campsite with Faye, as she catches and cooks her own meals, listens to her radio and studies her books about birds and the night sky. “It’s a movie about loneliness and isolation and what a tiny connection can mean to someone,” Dickey says.
Dickey, who wasn’t able to quit her day job to act full-time until she was in her 40s, took time out from her own camping trip to drive to an office to speak by video about her connection to Faye, working with Wes Studi and whether she thinks she’ll get more starring roles. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q. Where are you camping?
I’m in near Kernville in the Lower Sequoia National Forest by the Lower Kern River. It’s about three hours northeast of LA. It’s the go-to spot for my husband and me. We still tent camp. We’re getting old, but we do it and it’s quiet and beautiful.
It’s hotter than hell right now but we get in the water and it’s great.
We both love the outdoors and camping. We have spent our 24 years in Los Angeles getting out and camping. It is my salvation. It’s so important to recharge. I don’t know that I’d have been able to survive Los Angeles without being able to get out and be in nature.
Q. In the movie, Faye is gifted a canoe in part for “romantic excursions.” Do you have one with you?
No, but our first date was actually on a canoe. I grew up in Tennessee and was living in New York but was home visiting my parents when I met my husband who worked at a jazz club I went to. We got together and went canoeing and we’ve been together for 28 years.
Q. How did you end up with your first leading role?
Max had this love story in his head and was looking for a film to make during Covid. He had me in mind when he wrote the film and wrote this beautiful letter explaining what he was like as a filmmaker and how he wanted to make films in the landscape around his hometown. He sent me two of his short films. And he’d written such a beautiful script about a lovely, weathered woman.
The script was just so pure and simple with a raw beauty. The quiet and stillness really appealed to me. I liked trying to tell the story through the silence. How could I say no? I lucked out with this.
Q. And you definitely related to Faye when you read the script.
It’s definitely my kind of film. I have a bag of books with me — a bird book, a stars book but also ones about trees, amphibians and mammals. So I related to Faye in many ways and was comfortable being in this atmosphere. Max is from Telluride and we filmed an hour and half southwest at Miramonte Reservoir. We booked a campsite there for four weeks. It was stunning.
Q. Were you nervous about carrying a film?
I was very nervous and insecure. I’ve done tons of lead roles on stage but not on film, so I wondered, “Can I do this?”
Film is often about acting with the eyes but I’m very animated, so I really wanted to find Faye, who is very centered and self-contained. She spends a lot of time by herself and is very deliberate. That was the challenge for me. It’s a different kind of focus.
It was also a nice change of pace. I usually play chatty and animated and rough people, so I got to explore this more vulnerable and gentle side of myself and be comfortable with bringing that to the screen.
It was much easier being out in nature and we had just a crew of 11, which was easier than being on a set with a crew of two hundred people. It was a great learning experience.
Q. There is a lot of silence in the movie and Faye is often alone. Was it tough doing those quiet scenes as opposed to having others to interact with?
We tried to film as much in sequence as possible so I was there completely alone the first week and by the time that was over I was so tired of being by myself. I wanted someone to play with.
Then people started arriving. Wes and I shared a big farmhouse and because of Covid, it was a bubble so we didn’t go anywhere except the set and the house.
Q. Was it easy to find a rapport with him?
I was nervous about that. I knew Wes as a fierce actor – he terrified me when I saw him in “Last of the Mohicans.” But he’s such a gentle, kind and unassuming man. And I think most people when they meet me say, “Oh, you’re kind of nice, not like those scary people you play.”
We enjoyed watching the same political news and yelling at the TV and we watched “Jeopardy” and cooked together. We both decided to not talk to much about our characters and their backstory, so it would be more spontaneous when we acted. We wanted the awkwardness to still feel real.
Also, he’s a terrific guitar player and I am not, so Wes really helped me. In the movie, he had to look like he couldn’t play, and I’m supposed to look like I could.
Q. So now will you hold out for another starring role or for a quiet role like this that you really connect to — as opposed to say Spooge’s lady on “Breaking Bad” — or do you just take on whatever comes next?
This is a new place for me to be. I loved it. But I want the work and I need to work so I keep my fingers crossed and take my jobs as they come.
I’d love to do more leads, but I’ve become very comfortable with the smaller roles behind the lead and the supporting player. I just want to work and work with good people and tell good stories.
I do have two low-budget indie films with starring roles for this fall and I’m eager to do them but for now I just want to cherish this moment.