Dale Dickey has been acting nearly her entire life. A veteran character actress who has appeared in everything from My Name is Earl (2005-2009) to Palm Springs (2020), she belongs to that rare contingent of performers who always elevate a project even with brief screen time. She broke through to wider acclaim with a searing supporting role in Winter’s Bone (2010), a performance that earned her a Film Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Female. In the decade-plus since that role, Dickey has continued stealing scenes across genres. Enter A Love Song (2022).
This summer, Dickey appears as Faye in A Love Song, Max Walker-Silverman’s tender exploration of middle-aged love in theaters now. A Love Song marks a rare leading role for Dickey, who anchors the film across from Wes Studi playing Lito, her childhood crush who comes to visit at a campsite now that both have lost their spouses to death. I had the chance to sit down with Dickey and talk about playing Faye, and the experience of giving herself over to the spirit of A Love Song.
The following conversation has been edited lightly for length and clarity.
[Devin] I just spoke with Max, and he told me about a letter he wrote asking you to be in A Love Song where he opened up about writing the part for you even though the two of you had never met. Can you tell what that experience was like on your end?
[Dale] It’s ridiculously heartwarming. Beautiful, you know, to have a young filmmaker write and tell that he’s followed my work and admires me. Of course, it’s very flattering, and I took it to heart thinking about the time he took to write a letter. I just couldn’t say no to the role. I could just tell from his writing, the way he talked about how he wants to make films and this character and why I was right for it. The letter had me hooked, and then I watched his two shorts and spoke with him.
I’m so grateful that he chose me. I’ve gotten a couple of letters from younger people over the years. There was one from a young woman, certainly very personal, with a tiny little film about suicide and addiction. She wrote me this lovely note about how she had to have me play the nurse. I really didn’t have much time. But I thought, this is an important subject matter, I can relate to it, you know, and I want to do it. So I did.
You have this letter, and then you actually get to read the script and meet Faye, this woman he’s written for you to play. What drew you into her?
I really liked the quiet simplicity of the script. The dialogue is chosen very carefully, and there are so many spaces of complete quiet, which only enhance the isolation aspect of the story. And, you know, I’ve been a supporting character actress so the chance to do a lead role was very interesting to me. Also pretty nerve-wracking. I was scared. Could I do it? Could I handle it, but I’d been wanting that chance, and particularly to play a kinder gentler role than I have usually been seen in. Someone more vulnerable, and sometimes even childlike.
I wanted to push myself, and I lucked out with Max as a director and our whole crew. But yeah, I just loved the script. Plus, I just got the environment. I mean, I’m a very outdoors person too so I can relate to that part of Faye. Believe it or not, I actually carry a bag of books with bird books and star books like hers when I go camping with my husband. Of course, there’s a lot where Faye and I are different, which is a fun challenge. It was a great experience.
I’m glad you touched on the stretches of quiet because it strikes me as a major part of this character, and an incredibly difficult aspect to perform. What’s it like to prepare for scenes where you know it’s just you? Where you don’t have anyone else to play off of?
It was a little uncomfortable at first. The first week of filming A Love Song was just my scenes alone. We just did all this close-up face stuff. I was so tired of talking to myself, and I’m sure the crew was really tired of looking at my face. But anyway, I always carry a big sketchbook and color coordinate my scenes so I can keep track of where we are since we can’t always film in sequence. For Faye, there’s a lot of routine. It’s very organized, which is not me. So I would track that, and I knew when the moments of quiet were coming.
She hasn’t reached out to people. She hasn’t really spoken to people, but there’s so much going on in her heart and her mind. In terms of being on a set with only a 9 to 11-member crew, it’s so different than up to 100 people bustling about on a soundstage. You’re in the beautiful open lake area where I could go sit on a rock, sit in the sand or do anything to get away and just have my space. Everybody was very respectful.
Doubling back to something you said earlier, I want to ask about how you described Faye as “childlike.” Specifically, I see that in the series of moments when you’re preparing to answer the door when you think it might be Lito arriving. There’s a mix of anxiety and sweetness. How did you approach those beats?
It was part of the fun. It’s like she’s always in her routine. She’s going to do this until he arrives. Of course every time there’s a knock on the door, she thinks it’s him. Who else is going to come to visit her? But then, it’s never him in the beginning. This wonderful, crazy group of different characters pop in and out.
You know though when I first saw those scenes in a rough cut Max sent me, those were the ones I wasn’t happy with. I felt like I was dissipating Faye. She’s very direct. But then I sat with them and understood it was a natural reaction for someone who’s about to see a childhood crush. She’s been alone. She’s going to her hair and her pants. As Wes always says, even though we’re middle-aged people, we still have those feelings. Still get butterflies in our stomachs. Just because you’re older does not mean that goes away.
In a similar vein, Faye slips between tenderness, melancholy, and a lot of humor. I think of your delivery of “American kestrel. Terrible bird,” which is just a hilarious line-reading. So I’d love to hear about how you handle managing the different moods and tones in a performance that requires a whole host of them.
That’s a great question. You know, I rely on my instincts, but I also rely heavily on my director and my cinematographer. Max and Alfonso [Herrera Salcedo]really guided me. I’ve said this many times, but I have a very animated face. One little twinge and things move, and Faye is very stoic and deliberate. Max kept me focused on her physicality.
The humor was just kind of inherent in this surreal world she’s living in, you know? How can you not laugh when these four cowboys show up with this little girl? It was like, well, what the hell? When I first read the script, I wondered if they were real moments, or if it was Faye imagining these people in her head to keep her occupied. Later I understood they were real, but the craziness sticks around.
Max also has a wicked sense of humor. I’m not afraid of a director coming and saying, Dale, it needs a touch of this. It needs a touch of that. I depended on him for that. For the most part, it just came out of the situation. Also, speaking of the birds, I hear mourning doves every day in my neighborhood in Los Angeles. I haven’t heard an American Kestrel yet, but I’m listening.
I love that. Hopefully, you get to stick with mourning doves.
Moving deeper into A Love Song, you have all of this solo work you have to do, and then Wes arrives as Lito. Together, the two of you are the beating heart of the movie. How did you find your dynamic and rhythm together?
It was actually pretty simple. We were all in a bubble. It was our first job during COVID. After we were quarantined in Telluride, we moved an hour southwest into a tiny town called Norwood. The crew was housed in two farmhouses, and Wes and I were in another farmhouse together. Our own little bubbles. We went nowhere. They brought everything to us. So my first meeting with Wes was when I got home that night from shooting and he was at the house. We just instantly got along as people, you know?
With Max, we made the decision that we did not want to discuss our characters too much together, or dissect the script. We wanted it to be real and spontaneous and natural. We did, of course, talk about the big things. The lives our characters shared in high school, and what went on there. Our lives when we were separate. We were both married and still played music. They didn’t really have much in common anymore, except for the past and where things are now. Just the fact that we got along as people got us where we needed to be. We’re both really easygoing. Same politics. Like watching a little TV and looking at the stars. It was very comfortable, but also made the awkwardness and the spontaneity a bit fresher.
You touch on the music, and I want to burrow in on that. The scene where the two of you sing and play guitar together literalizes the fact that you’re in a duet, a love song if you will, the whole movie. Can you take me into that scene?
I was initially quite nervous about it because I don’t really play guitar. I’ve had to play a few chords and stuff on stage, and I used to sing a lot when I did musical theater. But Wes is an accomplished guitar player. He doesn’t say so, but he is. I had a friend back here in LA, Debbie Holliday, who’s a singer who sent me some tracks with the chords. Then Wes helped me learn how to cheat a few chords, but I was still very nervous.
Even so, I love the moment because, for our characters, both of our spouses were the real musicians. So we’re just out there trying to hang out and get it done. It was very spontaneous. You know, I think we had rehearsed the harmonies a little bit, but for the most part, they just let the camera roll. Mistakes and all. It ended up just being a great deal of fun. And I loved the Michael Hurley song so it was a joyous moment for us as actors, and I think it’s also joyous for the characters.
Oh absolutely. Returning to something else Max brought up, it sounded like the last day of shooting A Love Song, when you filmed your sequence climbing the mountain, was a special experience. How do you remember putting that scene together, and wrapping up?
I’ve used this word too many times but it was truly glorious. It was like the best wrap party ever. I love hiking. I grew up in the mountains of Tennessee. I’m older now and it was a 12,000-foot mountain, but all the kids are twice as young as me in the crew took good care of me. I knew I could do it, but I had to hike in costume wardrobe because we filmed things along the way to the top. But they’d already scouted it out for the guys and gone up there to make sure we were all set even in the more treacherous areas.
The hardest thing was we wanted me going up and down sort of at the same time, so I was lugging up and down the mountain. I was trying to quit smoking at the time, so kept trying to catch my breath. I was like damn, I can’t do this but Faye certainly can. Also, it was just colder than hell up there. I remember the takes, and I couldn’t have my coats on because of my costume. As soon as they call cut like four PAs would jump out of the bushes with coats and all attack me to keep me warm.
It was the culmination of a beautiful collaboration, and it was like a family. We were all up there together. Once we finished the last shot, we took off our masks, laid down, and enjoyed the. I think we probably gave each other hugs for the first time too. Like, we’ve gotten through COVID for the whole shoot, let’s just do it. So yeah, it was really kind of a perfect ending for production, and a rebirth for Faye. It was very special. I feel very spoiled.
As more people are going to finally get to see A Love Song, what do you hope audiences can take away from this movie?
I’ve been to a lot of festivals with audiences, and I’ve found that the older audiences relate because a lot of people that age have lost a spouse, or we can all understand grief or loneliness and loss. Also, I think particularly during COVID with isolation, this resonates even more. People have been home alone. I have some friends that have basically become hermits. Now, they really don’t want to get out, and it’s so important to connect with people.
So I hope audiences take the time to see a beautiful, simple, quiet love story with a middle-aged couple that has some quirky humor. That is ultimately extremely hopeful, and uplifting. I am just so grateful that people are taking to it because I think audiences will really love it. It’s only 82 minutes long. There are no cell phones and no loud music, so young people might run away. But just deal with the quiet. Go to nature. See what it’s like just to be still, and be present.
A Long Song is currently playing in select theaters courtesy of Bleecker Street and Stage 6 Films.
Devin McGrath-Conwell holds a B.A. in Film / English from Middlebury College and is currently pursuing an MFA in Screenwriting from Emerson College. His obsessions include all things horror, David Lynch, the darkest of satires, and Billy Joel. Devin’s writing has also appeared in publications such as Filmhounds Magazine, Film Cred, Horror Homeroom, and Cinema Scholars.