What’s Driving Katherine LaNasa
When Katherine LaNasa has to contemplate a difficult scene (yes, actors do and can experience moments of self-doubt), she simply imagines herself to be somebody else — a grand old lion of the silver screen, no less. “When I’ve had to do things where I’ve felt intimidated, I remember to tell myself that ‘this is what separates the men from the boys.’ So I sometimes pretend I’m Gene Hackman.”As in gritty, brawling, multiple Academy Award–winning Gene Hackman?
“He’s maybe one my favourite [actors] of all time; everything he does is so truthful. I just ask myself: How would Gene Hackman do it? It’s like I’m him doing the role.”
The seasoned television and film actress can recently be seen playing Donna, one of the central female roles in Jayne Mansfield’s Car, Billy Bob Thornton’s directorial return. Set in 1969, the drama film explores the journey of an Alabama family grappling with issues of culture and war and the death of their estranged mother and wife. With Thornton’s writing accurately capturing the south and the style of its residents, Jayne plays right into LaNasa’s strengths and beginnings. The actress was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. “To get to work with a southern director on a piece about the south is really just a dream come true for me,” says LaNasa, who now lives in Los Angeles. “[Thornton] really works with attention to detail, and being from Arkansas, really knows the south in his bones. I was actually up for a smaller role in the movie, but he had me read Donna because it was a larger part. He went and fought for me to do the role, even though he was pressured by the financiers to cast a big movie star. I got lucky.”
Acknowledging the fortune of acting in a Billy Bob pic alongside other industry bests such as Kevin Bacon, John Hurt and Robert Duvall, LaNasa reveals a poignant moment in her career when veteran actor Duvall commended her acting chops. “I think it was our last scene together. I came into the trailer and he had his eyes closed. I told him it’s me — he would call me Donna — ‘It’s Donna.’ He was getting his makeup done with his eyes closed and he asked, ‘What’d you do today?’ I told him what I shot and then he said, ‘You know that scene you did yesterday?’— and this is the first time he said anything like this to me — ‘That was great, that was just great.’ I could not believe it was happening. He left, and I started crying.”
Over the past two decades, LaNasa has fuelled her fledgling post in Hollywood by nabbing roles in a variety of films, including the uppity wife of a congressman (played by Will Ferrell) in the political comedy The Campaign; the unknowing wife of a serial killer, portrayed by John Cusack, in The Frozen Ground; and, she adds, with a rich, throaty laugh, manhandling movie star Jude Law up against a wall in Alfie.
Whether it’s a guest-starring character in a series or a supporting role in a blockbuster picture, LaNasa applies her reinterpretation of advice given to her by her late first husband and legendary actor Dennis Hopper, with whom she had a son. “I’m not a person who walks to the set in their Uggs or flip-flops like a lot of actresses do, and [who] then put their shoes on when they get to do their part. If I’m playing a sexy woman and I have to walk down the stairs, I’m going to take that whole walk in high heels because that’s what makes me feel like a sexual character. I do the part in the shoes of the character.”
In her most recent primetime stint as filthy rich Sophia Bowers on NBC’s Deception, the self-described method actor admits that taking on the role of a stormy, scheming woman with a past cloaked in dark secrets affected her mentally and physically. “As fun as it was, the role was really hard on me. For you to go where you need to go to access these parts — you’re walking around with a lot. It’s really hard to carry around, I think, and the world was constantly causing me to unearth a lot of shame and darkness that I have, we all have, but I was accessing my own. I think I probably drank more at the end of the day to numb that out. When I got back home to L.A., I immediately looked better, lost weight.”
At 46, LaNasa glows with youth, thanks to a lifestyle of running and biking by the ocean, practising yoga and taking up the latest workout to hit Hollywood: Gyrotonics. The southern belle’s diet is simple and clean: gluten-free, organic dishes and never any dairy or meat. “You need to get yourself happy,” says LaNasa, who married former Melrose Place star Grant Show in California in the summer of 2012. “It’s sort of by grace, I don’t think by virtuosity, that we make each other better people. When that comes naturally in a relationship, then it’s a good one.”