One can imagine how easy it probably is to get swallowed up by Hollywood if you’re a young, attractive woman, much less one who is unafraid to drop trou if a role calls for it. But despite these terrible, debilitating handicaps — which have held our attention since she won a small role in 2004’s Wedding Crashers — Diora Baird has steadily built a career for herself as an interesting and versatile actress, culminating in her turn in the straight-to-DVD sequel 30 Days of Night: Dark Days, where she plays a gun-toting vampire killer, and where her good looks are disguised underneath military fatigues and a no-nonsense attitude.
Cinematical sat down with Baird at a press event in Austin for Dark Days, held just days after the film premiered to a sold-out crowd at the 2010 Fantastic Fest. In addition to talking about channeling her inner bad ass, Baird revealed some of the challenges — and she hopes, solutions — that she faces as an actress, explained why she might not get naked in a movie, even if she’s playing a porn star, and reflected on the value of keeping her comely physique front and center on magazine covers while trying to find roles that require more clothes, not less.
When you have to play a no-nonsense bad ass, does the script do most of the work, or do you have to do a lot of work to get inside the character’s head?
I just really watched a lot of movies where there were chicks who kicked ass and were strong. Obviously Alien, with Sigourney Weaver; I watched all three Resident Evil movies with Milla Jovovich and was like, “she’s amazing!” And then I watched Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, and just to see women fight back, I was like, if they can do it, I can attempt to maybe kind of do it. But it was fun for me. Being in that wardrobe, with no push-up bras or high heels, it kind of just helped; with the backpack and the brown hair and the flask, I was like the prop lady, and that helped.
I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re not unattractive. I imagine it can be tough to find roles that don’t just trade on your looks.
It was definitely a first for me. I didn’t understand why they wanted me in the movie, because when I auditioned, I put myself on tape and it was a really bad audition. But when I asked somebody at Sony, they were like, “alright — we want you to be our Amber.” I was like, why? No, I’m really curious! It’s not something anyone has ever considered me for that I know of, and they were like, “that’s why. We want to do the complete reverse — take somebody who’s seen as this quote-unquote sex symbol or whatever and turn them into somebody that can kick ass. And I was like, oh my God, I hope I can do this! And getting to wear that many layers of clothing was awesome. I didn’t have to diet, and I ate everything all of the time in front of Kiele [Sanchez] because she could not because she had to get naked (laughs).
This movie is kind of melancholy and serious in terms of depicting these survivors who no longer know where their homes are. Is it tough to maintain that and still be able to get into kicking vampire asses?
I don’t think it’s going to be as cheap of a thrill as people would expect a straight-to-DVD sequel would be for this genre. There definitely are those scares, and watching it with the audience was fun, because the first time we kill a vampire in the first few scenes, everyone starts applauding. But as the movie continues, I think you start to realize how vulnerable these people are, and how lost. When [one of the main characters] as a vampire gets smashed in the head, you would think the audience would continue to cheer, but they didn’t because now you’re in the story and you feel for the characters, and it’s not just one stunt after another or one cheap thrill. The director, Ben Ketai, wanted it to be a story about these survivors, and it’s a story about loss and revenge and it’s almost a drama with vampires.
Do you think strategically about your career? Or do you have to be really calculating about the roles you take?
I do. It’s unfortunate because I feel like I could work so much more if I wasn’t pickier, but I feel like the lasting of that won’t be very long. I want long term. I mean, I’ve been in L.A. for over a decade and I’ve been working without a day job, so to speak, for five years now, so I’ve already waited this long. But after doing this movie, it made me realize that I want to do this — I really want to do more action, and I hope people to respond to it as much as I liked doing it. I got a kick out of it; I don’t normally like watching myself on screen and I actually, not to sound completely vain, completely enjoyed it. And I actually just finished another movie where I play a somewhat similar role — I play a bank robber — and I had so much fun. I just love being sweaty and dirty and gross and sassy and having to punch someone; I mean, I have no idea what I’m doing, and I’ve never even come close to punching someone, and here I am knocking someone out. Awesome!
You’ve made some unusual choices in previous films as well. For example, in Young People F*cking, whose title is pretty self-explanatory, yours is the only female character who doesn’t take her clothes off, although, no offense, it’s something people might expect since you’ve done it in other movies.
I got a lot of [hassle] for not taking off my clothes. They were like, I don’t understand — she did in Hot Tamale with Randy Spelling, why won’t she do it in this much better movie? And it was because of that. After doing Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning and after doing magazines, I definitely was getting a lot of offers where it was stripper this, call-girl that, with nudity required, and I just decided I am so not going to be that person. I don’t have an issue with nudity whatsoever, but other people have an issue with nudity. And it’s very different for different-sized women, I will say that. If I was Naomi Watts, it’s a different reaction, and for bigger girls, it’s a huge risk. I don’t care, I have no problem with it, but it’s the way that people will perceive you, so I’ve tried to be really cautious. That’s not to say that I won’t ever do something that requires nudity; I mean, I’ve come close to doing it many times, and if it was something that needed to happen — if I was working with a talented filmmaker, a Polanski, I would be like, what? “You want me to put on a dildo? Alright, I’ll do it! I’ll f*ck that doll.” No, but I think it’s all relative, and I would love to be able to go back to something really raw and gritty and not have to be aware of myself, but it’s going to take some time for people to get the old image of me out of their head that, “oh, she’s just that model.” I don’t want to do what people expect, so I want to be able to show my ability to do other things, which this movie hopefully does.
I think one of your recent roles was playing a porn star. Do you find that you have to start with a role that is substantial, or can you say, take on a character like that one and then develop her into a character that is sophisticated or complex enough for you?
No, I don’t care about that. To me, if it’s real is all that matters. Not everybody is going to be sophisticated and really, really complicated. I think for me, with Porn Star, I loved it, because I was like oh, she’s damaged goods, and I could relate to that. In Hollywood, you’re like worshipped one second and then you’re trashed the next, and I think it’s really similar in porn. And if not, it’s glamorized as this amazing thing, and it’s a really dark, shady world, just like Hollywood. So I was like great, I get to play someone who I relate to who’s damaged, but on the exterior everything’s awesome. But that was like again, no, I’m not going to do nudity, because it’s this independent movie with a new director and it’s very tiny, so going in, you know the chances of it ever getting put together is very slim.
Do you have a general process of developing characters that you go through when you take on a new role?
It depends. With comedy, I like to not rehearse and just have fun with it, because I think being spontaneous is the best thing for a comedy, in my opinion. With certain movies, like this one, I tend to watch movies as research; I’m a bit of a movie buff, and I will watch a lot of movies to get the tone of something. I mean, I’m a thief — I steal from other actresses and I go, oh, she did that and it was really amazing; I’m going to take that and add this. I do that, and I’ve always had a really vivid imagination since I was a kid, and I think that’s what has kept me working so far — I can imagine things to the point where it can affect me greatly. Because I trick myself into thinking things are actually occurring. Your mind can do wonders, so scary movies are not the healthiest for me because it does freak me out (laughs). But other than that, my only method, I guess you could say, is to just try to be real. Because it’s not about what you think is going to be real, it’s about just committing to it, no matter what you’re doing.
What is coming up for you?
Two movies I just did are Riddle, with Val Kilmer, and then literally, I just wrapped two weeks ago Transit with Jim Caviezel, so we’ll see what happens with those. Dark Days comes out soon, and I think Night of the Demons comes out, although I don’t really care. And then I just did a cover of FHM and Maxim, so that will be coming out next month.
Obviously those shoots keep you in the public eye, no pun intended, but are those just fun, or are they a necessary part of keeping your career going in between films?
I don’t do it very often. I was in FHM last month, and that was my first photo shoot in a year. I don’t have a publicist, I don’t go to events, I don’t do magazines, and it’s just not my life. But I understand how it can be beneficial, and when it comes down to investors looking at actresses, usually it comes down to me and someone else, and they go, “oh, well we know her better, because we see her more. She’s more famous.” So hopefully for me it’s like, okay, as much as I don’t want to be just a sex symbol, I’m promoting a movie where I’m not, so I feel like it’s like, okay, and I have fun with it and try to do different things and change things up. But you’ve got to promote movies; if you don’t promote them, nobody’s going to see it, and the cycle stops there.