By David Rosenfeld
Woody Allen had Mia Farrow… John Cassavetes had Gena Rowlands… Santa Monica filmmaker and playwright Henry Jaglom has Tanna Frederick. With Frederick as leading lady and Jaglom as writer and director the two have created seven films and six plays together in the past 10 years.
Jaglom, best described as a sort-of Woody Allen of the West, often writes about women and the life of actors. For Frederick, who’s originally from Iowa, the roles fit her perfectly and stretch her abilities as a performer. As Margie in the 2006 film Hollywood Dreams, Frederick plays a cunning young actress struggling to make it in show business. And in the upcoming play by Jaglom called The Train to Zakopane Frederick plays an anti-Semitic woman in the lead up to World War II.
In an interview with us during rehearsals for the play, which opens October 23 at the Edgemar Center for the Arts in Santa Monica, she called it Jaglom’s most stunning work. The story was told by his father about a love affair he had with a woman in Poland. It’s a story Frederick said she truly feels emotional with each reading.
“It’s so pertinent to the times,” she said. “It’s about overcoming conflict with love, whether it’s anti-Semitism or racism of any kind.”
We sat down with Frederick at the headquarters of Rainbow Films on Montana Avenue, which serves as the production office and home for her and Jaglom, who married in January. The two have been a couple for years, although it was not something she ever spoke publicly about until now.
“It’s just a synergistic relationship where we really feel like two little kids in a sandbox,” she said. “It’s quite amazing to find somebody you don’t fight with. It’s just been one project after another having fun with him. We are able to problem solve and work through the difficulties, and we really see eye-to-eye on filmmaking.”
It was after two plays and a couple of movies together that Frederick said she was spending more time speaking on the phone with Henry than whoever she was dating at the time.
“I think it was one of those things that we realized we were in love with each other,” she said. “It wasn’t like we were in love therefore we work together. It was just this sort of magical thing that happened.”
When I asked Jaglom by email how they met, his response came in the wonderful way of a storyteller: He said she hustled him.
“How we met? She tricked me,” he wrote. “She manipulated me, as any really good actor should manipulate a director who she wants to work with.”
He explained she wrote a letter about a film he produced.
“Naturally, I was smitten by all her (it seemed to me) wonderfully accurate praise, and called her in to meet with me,” Jaglom wrote. “Within 24 hours I knew that I had found the most remarkable actress this side of the Atlantic, though I didn’t know for years that she had actually never seen the film she wrote so praisingly about at the time she wrote it.”
Together, Frederick and Jaglom have created touching plays and movies that explore the human condition in a heartfelt and often comical way. In Jaglom’s latest comedy about menopause, his 19th career film called The M Word, New York Times critic Jeanette Catsoulis said Frederick’s “gift for juggling farce, fantasy and raw emotion remains impressive.”
Tim Sika, ABC Radio / San Francisco called Frederick’s role in Hollywood Dreams the best female starring performance of 2006. “A stunning Oscar-worthy screen debut that evokes memories of Lucille Ball and Judy Garland,” he wrote.
Judd Nelson, who starred with Frederick in the film adaptation of the play called Just 45 Minutes from Broadway said Frederick is extremely versatile.
“To say I worked with Tanna would be a misnomer. It would be more accurate to say I went to an actor camp with Tanna,” he wrote in an email. “She brings lots of goodies: a vivid imagination, excellent study habits, stamina, accessible emotions, a wonderful sense of humor, enthusiasm, and grace under pressure.”
When she’s not starring in one of Jaglom’s films or plays, Frederick somehow finds time to perform in the stage productions of others, mostly at the Edgemar. She starred in so many plays at the Santa Monica theater in recent years that she’s amassed a following of local fans eager to see what she will play next. Since her role as a dog in the play Sylvia they don’t know quite what to expect.
About her role in The Rainmaker, which ran for a complete year at the Edgemar in 2013, Steven Leigh Morris in L.A. Weekly wrote that Frederick’s “droll, rat-smart Lizzie” was the linchpin. “With subtlety and composure that often belies the text, she knows who she is and what she wants…Terrific performance,” Leigh wrote.
Noah Wyle, who appeared alongside Frederick in the 2008 film Queen of the Lot, described her as a Golden Age throwback.
“I can easily see her as a contract player of the 30s,” Wyle said. “A brassy, saucy, firecracker, full of moxie, a dame who could pull a heist, crack a joke, break a heart, croon a tune, and never muss her hair. “
Jaglom said Frederick has the capacity that very few actors have, which is to change personas in an instant.
“Tanna can be fully engaged in a scene which derives from pure pleasure and happiness, then twist on a dime so fast that it is startling and often even missed by the naked eye,” Jaglom wrote. “Then, when you think you’ve seen such sadness that you can’t stand it a minute longer, an enormous radiant smile breaks through that can warm the heart of frozen fishermen.”
Surf and film
In addition to acting, Frederick is a second degree black belt in Taekwondo and enjoys running and surfing. She founded the non-profit Project Save Our Surf, which sends disadvantaged children to summer camps and installs freshwater wells in developing countries.
Frederick is currently preparing for a return trip to Vietnam. A team already went to the Phillipines. And in South Africa the group dug a well for an AIDS orphanage. Here in California the group sends 3,000 kids to camp each summer in the Silverado Mountains where they spend a week on a 250-acre reserve. They also sponsor day trips to the beach for school field trips.
“A lot of kids have never seen the ocean or the mountains,” she said. “For me coming from Iowa I didn’t realize what a privilege it was as a kid to go out to the nature preserve and go hiking and camping. When I moved out here and started working with the kids I realized that the earth’s natural and preserved sites are disappearing, but if we can get kids to be really passionate about them by visiting rather than just seeing it in a text book then we can actually protect these places for generations to come.”
Soon after Tanna founded the group in 2008, she earned the endorsement of professional surfer Shaun Tomson, who together with a cadre of volunteers and board members make up the organization.
That same year in 2008, Frederick also founded another passion of hers, the Iowa Independent Film Festival and Project Cornlight, meant to promote the state of Iowa as a filming destination. Frederick, who grew up in Mason City, home of Meredith Wilson “The Music Man,” started performing in plays there when she was 9-years-old.
“I want to merge those two worlds of Los Angeles and Iowa heartiness and their viewpoint of art,” she said. “So many movies set there are about murders. Getting people from the state that know the terrain and can write about that is important to me.”
So what’s next for the multifaceted actress? Look for even more productions from her and Jaglom, who attributes their success to her tenacity.
“Our success together is due to the fact that Tanna will not in any way allow me—or anyone or anything else—to get in her way and that we so deeply know one another and trust one another,” Jaglom wrote. “I have a sincere awe of great talent and feel that I truly know how to encourage it to expose itself. And Tanna knows so many aspects of herself and has such access to them, without judgement, without self-censorship, that all a sensitive and intelligent director has to do is push her buttons and get out of her way. The result is magic, unique, honest, real, alternately deeply moving and hysterically funny.”