Known for Burning Love, Being Human and Two and a Half Men, actress/producer Deanna Russo has amassed an extensive body of work. In The Ice Cream Truck, Russo is Mary, a mother of two, housesitting her new home, awaiting her husband and two children. In returning to her hometown, Mary discovers an off-kilter mix of overly nosy neighbors, overly sexed teens and an ice cream man overly dedicated to serving scoops of blood with his Rum Raisin. In this one-on-one interview, Russo reveals the challenges she faced in making Mary such a believably complex character.
Ice Cream Truck is a curious mix of horror and rediscovering one’s youth. What drew you to this film and to the role of Mary?
Deanna Russo: I’ve been friends with director Megan Freels Johnston for several years. She just emailed me the script out of the blue under the guise of “hey, do you have any notes?” I had no notes and I really liked the character. So I very brazenly said, “hey, if you can’t find anyone more famous to play Mary, please consider me.” Little did I know it was her plan to cast me along. It’s awkward when you’re friends and you don’t want to put them in that position. I thought that was really classy of her.
What did you draw from in emulating a woman trying to reconnect with her youth?
Russo: I think it’s something that all women can relate to. Both Megan and I are beautiful women in our 30s and have kids. It just felt like she wrote the script for women like us. I think it’s cool that men really dig the script and the movie because I think it’s something we can all relate to.
What do you look for when considering a role in a film?
Russo: That’s a really good question. I think, especially being a parent, you start to become more critical; whereas before, in my 20s, I was just so happy to work that I’d say yes to a role without thinking of the social implications. Now, I’m thinking of the kind of women I have the opportunity to portray. If I think she’s not written respectfully, it’s an automatic deal breaker. Even a sketch comedy, where it’s a joke; if the woman feels anonymous or ornamental, it seems like they didn’t do their diligence. Actors often accept lead roles, which don’t necessarily need to be men or white.
What was your favorite scene?
Russo: When we’re at the party and Katie (LaTeace Towns-Cuellar) over-pours her cup of wine. It’s a real treat when we were filming and when we watched the movie.
The Moving Guy is almost as creepy as the Ice Cream Man. What did you draw from to project that feeling of unease in scenes with him?
Russo: It’s something that all women can relate to. Anytime we’re alone with a man, whether it’s someone we know or don’t know, there’s a paranoia. It’s why we can’t walk down the street alone at night. I wanted to admit that it’s true, that women can be preyed upon. It’s from personal experience that, unfortunately, we have to be on guard and be aware of our surroundings. There are monsters out there. What was great about the Delivery Man is that he thinks she’s interested in him. And she’s leading him on. So the conversation we have to have with our children growing up is how do you define “consent.” By inviting the Delivery Man into her house, he thinks that’s consent. But it’s not. He’s been invited to do a job. So there are mixed messages that can lead to dangerous situations.
What underscored his creepiness were those awkward pauses during your conversation. He’d just stare at you.
Russo: I have to tip my hat to Megan. She wanted so many awkward pauses. What’s great is that the audience gets to fill in the gaps about what’s happening between those pauses.
You majored in psychology in college. Do you use some of that when you analyze character motivations?
Russo: You’re so sweet for researching that. What was fun was this offshoot class I took about personality theory and how there are timeless personality types in our world who re-appear in different stories. I love to cite those when I read scripts.
What would you say is Mary’s strength and her weakness?
Russo: Obviously, her weakness is that she feels more comfortable with teenagers than people her own age, which leads to some inappropriate behavior. Her strength is in her solitude. That becomes clear at the end of the movie. And we see how solitude can be empowering.
What’s next for you? Is Day Six ready for release? What can you say about it?
Russo: I’m speculating here, but I believe that production ran out of money. It wasn’t an inexpensive film to produce. It was being made by a first time filmmaker and there’s a lot to learn.
So anything in the works?
Russo: I’m inspired by Megan to write and create my own content. I’m too sensitive for horror films. My all time favorite genre is time travel and I love science fiction. That said, I do enjoy watching reality TV, which is a genre I’m not in competition with. I’m embarrassed to admit that I watch Say Yes to the Dress. It’s so predictable. I’m not even a wedding person. There’s also an amazing Netflix documentary, a kind of home improvement show called Grand Designs that I love to watch.