We recently had the pleasure of talking with actress Kate Amundsen about her starring role in the just released film “Donna: Stronger Than Pretty”. It’s a story based on real events and very close to her heart.
You have a new movie coming out; do you want to tell us a little about it?
The movie is called “Donna: Stronger Than Pretty” and I play Donna which was a lot of fun for me. It is about a young woman and her life over the span of three decades as she attempts to follow her dreams but instead gets in a relationship that turns abusive. It’s all about her finding her voice and making it through that and it’s a movie with a message, that’s what’s really important to us.
The story is based on the director’s mother’s true story so it’s a very personal film for him.
This started out a few years ago as a short film, right?
Yes, that was a few years ago, so this has been years in the making. The great thing about it is it really gave us an opportunity to get to know each other and trust each other and get a good sense of the story we’re telling and how we want to tell it.
I read that you filmed some of the movie in her home.
For the duration of filming the cast and crew stayed in her house and I stayed in her actual bedroom which was wild, she was staying with a friend at the time.
This was the house that she did end up buying for herself so it was super intimate and it gave me a whole new way into her world. Even her dance studio which we filmed a scene in, all these places in Long Island which I had never been to before were so important for her and gave me this unique way to step into her life, even deeper than I had before.
You really fit the part I thought. You have that late sixties, early seventies look about you.
Thank you. I love the seventies vibe, I love period pieces in general so it really was a dream for me to play those decades.
Your other profession is modelling. Did you enjoy wearing the fashions of the day?
Oh yes, it was so much fun! It was pretty daunting just because her clothing is an arc for her character, same with her makeup and hair, so there was a lot to keep track of.
I even had to make a journal and work with our costume designer because there was so many characters to cover; she did such an amazing job.
The clothes really reflect where she was psychologically and there is such a shift in where she portrays herself throughout the film and Donna in real life was this very fashionable woman with the big hair, the loud outfits.
All those vintage photos are fun to look at, so it was definitely fun for me, I had a great time.
You became close with the real Donna. Did that help you in creating the character or did you do other research?
I would say both, I took what I could from her and I was able to read some of her journals from the time and that helped me get into her mind space more.
Obviously speaking with her, seeing how enigmatic she is, we unfortunately lost her this past year which is really sad but when she was still here, you could just see how glowing she was even after going through all this trauma for such a long time and still come out the other end with this positive attitude towards life.
She was so fun to be around, so I think I tried to get that from her despite the pain and despite the trauma, she still was so admirable and inspiring.
How invested are you in this project? I see you have producer credits as well and Jaret Martino’s production company Love Wins is focused on projects with a purpose, such as this film with its message of female empowerment.
Obviously women’s issues are very dear to him because he still feels the trauma. It doesn’t just go away, this is a part of his daily life so I would say my role as a producer was very fluid.
I do what I can to promote the film, I do all these interviews and I love the message that we’re sending.
I think a message of hope is one of the best messages we can send to the world and to support women and men who unfortunately also go through abusive relationships.
I want to promote it as much as possible, I’m very proud of it.
What was your own family life like growing up? Obviously you’re much younger so you grew up in a different time.
I actually had a much different experience; my mom is an avid feminist. I grew up with very progressive parents and I actually grew up Mormon which is kind of ironic because they were progressive Mormons.
I would ask my mom why she was so gung-ho about this and she would say, “Jesus was a radical.” And that’s why she was drawn to it. We have a long history of Mormonism on both sides of my family and definitely my mom was taught to be self-reliant.
Her dad was actually an abusive alcoholic so I am familiar with abuse in that way just because my mom experienced it.
I haven’t personally experienced it. Thank God. I can see the damage it’s done to my mom and she’s still recovering from it.
It takes years, it just does, so I think that’s why Jaret wanted to do that length of time, to cover those decades because that’s the length of time it took.
When did you start acting? Was acting first or modelling?
I think I wanted to be in the arts in general. I was always very artistic, performing at home with my friends singing, dancing; Judy Garland was my hero growing up.
When we moved to L.A. when I was thirteen or fourteen, I was new to L.A., I was shy and I was gung-ho on being a model. Acting really intimidated me because it’s really scary, it’s totally exposing yourself, you have to be vulnerable in this job.
I did start out modelling first and it was actually my commercial agent who encouraged me to take acting classes. The first commercial I got was my first experience being on set and that’s when I really got exposed to that magic of being on a set. I thought, yeah, I really want to do this, I want to take classes and challenge myself and it’s taught me a lot about myself and the world so I’m really grateful for it.
My dad, Michael Amundsen, who edited Donna, he’s a film maker as well, so I’ve been exposed to this all my life. He’s the one growing up who introduced me to older films and Judy Garland so he’s been instrumental to my wanting to be in the arts.
How excited were you last November 3rd?
You have no idea, what a relief! Not to get too political, but I think that there is that toxic machismo that is alive and well and this film kind of tackles that and unfortunately men are in some ways victim to our culture as well.
They are just as much a part of this conversation as women are and often times men who abuse, that’s what they were exposed to growing up.
I think there’s a real conversation that needs to be had about men. We still have these old constructs of what it means to be a man and showing any sort of sensitivity or emotion is bad, it’s just so small minded.
There are so many ways to be a human and men are very much a part of this conversation, so yes, I was very relieved.
Do you think we still have a long way to go with female empowerment and women’s rights?
I do, but I think we have to be hopeful. A lot of steps have been made but it’s a long journey ahead and we just have to keep focused on it.
I think it’s really great we have Kamala Harris in there and if you look around the world and see even the response to COVID, some of the countries that have done the best have been led by women.
Why not give women a shot? We’ve been so cut out of society and how things are set up, let’s take a chance, women are great!
I’ve heard you have another project in the works that is personal to you; can you talk about it yet?
I can talk about it a little bit, it’s actually my mother’s story, I told you about growing up Mormon and her teaching at BYU and being a feminist so it has to do with that and with the Mormon Church having a grip on education in Utah during the nineties.
It’s a really important project to me so I’m taking my time with it, but I want to do it right, so I may approach other projects before that because that project is the big one. I have other projects that are either in post-production or on the festival circuit right now.
One that I’m really excited about is a thriller/horror/revenge story that’s not too dissimilar from Donna but told in a totally different way.
Our director is James Frost and he’s an amazing artist, so I’m very excited about that one. It’s close to being finished, we’re just doing ADR (sound editing) on that, it’s called “Almond Wood” so keep an eye out for it.
Follow Kate on Instagram to keep up-to-date with everything that’s going on with her @k8awesomdsen