I had a chance to catch up with Adria Tennor, an actress who you’ve seen in many roles on TV such as Joyce Darling in Mad Men or in Scandal going toe to toe with Columbus Short. She also had a role in the award-winning movie, The Artist, and following up on that she’s now venturing into more movies as well as being a producer, director and writer. So I wanted to find out more about her upcoming movies and roles and see what she’s been working on. She was able to give me some insight into her past roles too but what I didn’t expect was to end up so hungry after this great interview. It’s not that it was strenuous, it was because she’s also a restaurateur operating 2 restaurants in Los Angeles with her husband, and when the interview veered towards that…well just be sure to check out the photos at the end as well as the message.
Me: You’ve had many notable roles on very popular TV shows such as Mad Men and Scandal, but you now have an upcoming role in a movie called D-Train. Tell me a little about the movie and the role you’ll be playing.
Adria: It’s a script that’s written by two guys who are partners in comedy writing and they wrote Yes Man among other things, Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel. This is their directorial debut so they’ve written the script and they also are directing it as a team. So it’s pretty brilliant, pretty genius. I was reading the script and I felt “this is really funny” and then it got pretty genius and completely crazy. And I don’t want to give it away but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie like this before that deals with this subject and puts it all out there…every horrible, awful thing that could ever happen to anybody out there. So I just really respect that. I also respect that somebody decided “let’s get behind this and make it” because people shy away from those uncomfortable things. I’m trying to be vague but I don’t want to give away this movie. The movie is about this man Dan, played by Jack Black’s character, who was kinda under the radar in high school, always wanted to be popular and just never was. And he has since gotten married, has a family, still lives in the town where he went to high school and he’s on the committee to plan the high school reunion. And he pitches this idea, much to the chagrin of his committee members, that he should get the most popular guy in school who is now a wannabe actor in Los Angeles, who’s doing commercials and stuff, to come to the reunion and then everyone will want to come. So that’s the plan. So he does go out to Los Angeles on a total scam. And the popular guy in school is played by James Marsden, and he’s terrific, and he does agree to come to the reunion.
Me: Do you have any personal experience with reunions that helped you get into this role a little better?
Adria: Yes, I have been to reunions and they’re always so awkward. I think going to high school in general is a good comparison because high school is so awkward, horrible, and amazing and awesome at the same time. I feel like I’m a little socially awkward anyway but I play the popular girl in school who everybody loves and knows. I don’t know if I can say I have a lot of experience with that (laughs). I was using other role models to get into my role because that was not me in high school. I was kind of a dork.
Me: You can be a popular dork
Adria: Yes, it was fun to play the popular girl certainly. I did like that. We all have our flaws.
Me: You also have a role in another upcoming movie, Smothered, which you’re also an associate producer on it. Can you elaborate on that movie and your role as an actor and associate producer?
Adria: I’m so grateful for the career that I’ve had as an actor but I also feel like I have not really fulfilled my potential as an actor. I go on these auditions from my manager and agent based on work I’ve already done, I’m not a movie star and it’s frustrating because I don’t feel like I’m getting to do what I should be doing. So I decided I wanted to learn how to produce. And when I was in the Artist I got to go to a lot of these red carpet events and I was meeting other people who had other films that were in the press. One of the people I met, Doug Blake, who had just produced The Sessions with John Hawkes and Helen Hunt, and he and I hit it off. He also really loved restaurants and loved my restaurant, Cooks County, and he immediately took a shine to me. And I told him I really wanted to learn how to produce. So he sent me a lot of films, and the first one that was greenlit after I spoke to him was a film that ended up not getting made but it was written by John Schneider. I got an agent in Baton Rouge so I could go on local auditions while I was there in Louisiana and that’s where they were shooting. So I got in my car, drove across the country with Doug’s dog and we ended up shooting a completely different movie, which was Smothered. It’s a gory comedy, which is a brilliant idea on John Schneider’s part. He goes to these (fan) conventions..and he’s become pals with some of these horror movie icons. So all of these guys who are horror icons and played all of these scary dudes in movies are actually playing themselves in the film. And they are all being haunted by someone else, and it’s pretty brilliant. So when I went to Louisiana I didn’t have a part in the movie, and I just went there to produce. But I got to know John and a lot of the casting was done on the fly, and I actually had quite a bit of influence. They were busy, they trusted my opinion (and) they knew I knew good acting. So there’s a role that was supposed to be a dad and I said, John I think we should make this a mom and I think I should play it.
Me: I don’t want you to give away spoilers but I hope you can get some revenge against those guys for tormenting a lot of children over the years
Adria: There’s definitely is some revenge, so I’ll just say that.
Me: With things heating up in Scandal this current season, can we expect your character to make another appearance, and would you like to make another appearance down the line?
Adria: I would LOVE to make another appearance. I would love to. I have been told that should and could, and perhaps will happen but it hasn’t happened yet. I have a feeling that show has a long life. I loved working with Columbus Short and I thought the dynamic between our 2 characters, me just laying into him and giving him a lot of shit, was great. And he’s so cute and so likable. I really like seeing him seeing this woman who’s grilling him. I thought it was a great relationship and a great combination, and something I would like to see more of but we’ll have to see how it goes. I don’t know.
Me: I think with some of the things that have been going on it would be a nice appearance to make.
Me: The final season of Mad Men is starting, what was it like working on that series and will your character be in the final season at all?
Adria: I’m not allowed to say anything about any kind of future so I can’t tell you one way or another, whether I am or I’m not. It was amazing to work on that show. I think that it was such a table turner for the television industry. I feel it was one of the first, if not the first show, that made us look at cable (not including HBO) as a place for original content, and a place for good original content. I think the networks had this old business model they (were) using and they wanted to make these shows and they were trying to appeal to everybody and they did. But it’s not that way anymore because there are so many channels, so many different places for people to be tuned in that I don’t think it’s worthwhile to try to appeal to a mass audience. I think the cable channels have really found their niche. They’re gonna appeal to a smaller audience and they’re gonna make it amazing and great instead of (being) so washed out because they’re trying to not offend anybody or attract everybody. So I just think that’s the reason we’re so drawn to these shows because they’re so real and so interesting and not so washed out and wonderbread-y.
Me: As one who plays video games I noticed that you had a voice acting role in L.A. Noire, a game that I enjoyed. What was that experience like in comparison to acting in a movie or TV show, and would you like to do any voice acting in future games?
Adria: I would definitely want to continue doing that. I think it’s really a neat thing, it’s so different. The script for a video game is hundreds of pages as opposed to a 100 pages or a 60 page TV script because there are all these scenarios that can happen. And it’s hard to read that kind of script because it’s not linear. I think video game creators as a whole are geniuses. Are you familiar with the play, the mystery of Edwin Drood? It’s a play where the audience actually chooses the ending so the actors have to have all of these different lines rehearsed. So it’s similar with a video game where you have to shoot all of these scenarios. And the other thing is when you’re shooting a video game you’re not in your costume. There are two stages to shooting (with) the first is the image capture where you’re wearing a ball suit. And you’re on this stage, almost like an indoor tennis court. And there are all of these cameras and there’s no set. There’s no furniture, no door, nothing is there that’s there when you play the game. And you have to create that in your mind and understand what you’re doing just based on what he’s telling you. And then we all came back another day and that’s when I got my hair and make up done. And you’re not acting with anyone else. With this you’re just sitting around a room all by yourself with cameras all around your head and you’re just talking, saying your lines into nothing. So it’s a completely different experience. And the woman who cast that is the woman who cast Mad Men so that’s how I got that.
Me: Are you currently working on any other movie or TV projects?
Adria: When I got back from Louisiana, I bonded with a man named David Dwiggins, who was the co-producer on (Smothered). He’s a real mentor and I showed him a few projects, one of which I wrote, a short film. And in January we got this amazing group of people who believed in the project and believed in me. And I produced and directed this film. So I’m in the process of editing that and going into post-production on that. And I ideally want to get that into some film festivals and use that as a way to meet other filmmakers. And I’ve also been developing a feature that someone else has written, and I’m working to see how we can get that made. And I’m working on another feature I wrote and working to get that into perfect shape so I can approach some movie stars who can help get the movie financed. And ideally I would like to be in these movies…or if I just produce (that would be fine).
Me: Now you have two restaurants that you run with your husband in L.A., Barbrix and Cooks County restaurant. What led to the decision to open these two restaurants and what has that been like?
Adria: I’ve always waited tables as an actor. First I did it to pay my bills because when I first started I wasn’t making a living as an actor. And for a long time I couldn’t live without my restaurant job. And the minute I stopped resenting, because a lot of people resent their day jobs especially waiters who want to be actors and think they shouldn’t have to do this menial, manual labor and be waiting on these privileged people. And I can’t say that I didn’t feel like that myself. I couldn’t wait for the day that I didn’t have to do it anymore. Then I started working at this restaurant called Campanile, and it was run by these two chefs who are both geniuses. And really I got excited about their food and their ideas, and what they were presenting to their customers, how they ran their business and how they felt about their staff and treated us. I really felt like I was part of this awesome thing. And I really liked them and wanted to represent them in the best way. And the awesome thing about Los Angeles is most people in Los Angeles are here because they want to be in the television business. And maybe 80% of the people I waited on was in the television business. So here I was, this waitress who they saw made them smile and brought them food and they liked me. And when they found out I was an actor, someone who was a TV producer felt like oh I”m gonna do something nice for this girl, and so they would bring me in for an audition and not have any idea I could do it. I think they just wanted to help give me the experience of going on an audition and I would go and get the job. That’s how I built my resume. And my boss was leaving to go open his own restaurant…(and he) asked me out and we went out a few times. (Later) I stopped going out with him and I stopped going out with everybody. In addition to some really nice people I met some asshole producers who treated me like shit and I felt like I shouldn’t date anyone for an entire year. And then I signed up for this pole dancing class. And in this pole dancing class I really had to get in touch with myself. And after a year of a (pole dancing) class I suddenly was a different woman. And I woke up and had this crazy urge to call my ex-boss and I asked him on a date and we’ve been together since. This is his profession, he’s a restaurateur. We made it work. He really valued my opinion and we figured out a way to work well together. And it’s terrific because I’m still in the business and now I’m in the position of being a restaurant owner, which is even more impressive and attractive to people. They feel special and taken care of when the owner of a restaurant takes a special interest in them. I also feel like it’s great (since) actors are always in a position of needing something, (such as) auditions, directors and producers to like you, and this is the one place for me to not feel needy. (It’s a place) for me to be giving back to them, I can give them a glass of Prosecco, and leave them and make them feel special and wanted in my restaurant. And I feel more like an equal when I’m meeting them. But I told this long story because I try to tell all my actor friends who maybe haven’t been artists for long and who really hate their restaurant job or bartending job to really be where you are. You’re right where you’re supposed to be. You’re probably meeting the very people you’re supposed to be meeting right now and instead of resenting it and hating it, if you just look at it in a different way it might really change your life because it really changed mine.