Our coverage continues this week for director Christopher Sheffield’s new movie, Split Lip. It’s the latest major move for actress Dorèe Seay who happens to be a woman of many talents, loves cinema, and especially loves that of a Korean variety (fun fact: I just finished harping on Instagram recently about how much I would love to see Jung Doo-Hong collaborate with action stars Scott Adkins and Bruce Khan and so you can imagine my elation when I read her answers this week while drafting.)
Seay talks aplenty here about her role in Split Lip as Set, a hitwoman on the run from her employer following a botched hit job. She also discusses preparing for the role and approaching its dramatic and physical aspects, and essentially getting to work with a director with whom she clicks really well – that’s usually the case we can all imagine or hope for when we hear about a film and wanna know more about it; Chemistry is everything more often than not, and it certainly seems there’s plenty of it here.
Enjoy the Q&A below and be sure to catch my exchange with director Chris Sheffield by clicking here.
Greetings Dorée and thank you for taking the time to share your story with us! How has the year been for you thusfar?
Hi, Lee and Film Combat Syndicate readers! Thanks for reaching out; I’m happy to chat! This year has gone by crazy fast, no? It was filled with lots of new experiences for me as an artist and person, and really, that’s all I could ask for out of this year. I appreciate you asking!
Tell us about yourself and how you got into acting. I’m going by your bio and it indicates you started in 2010 and you’ve worked your way up some since then with a few awards to your belt, and you’re also a singer too?
Whoa, you’ve done your research! It is fair to say I took an interest in acting in 2010…I took the craft a bit more seriously after that time, and firmly decided to pursue acting as a career. I initially got into acting because I was envious of one of my best sixth-grade friends who was an actress at the time. I wanted to best her at her own craft, and choose to become an actress, too. I took a few classes and attended scouting workshops in said pursuit, and ended up enjoying this form of story-telling. When this friend quit acting I continued, and fell deeper in love with the characters I’d met in scripts and longed to meet others from Phoenix, AZ to LA.
As a result, while working with as many talented artists as I could and wanting to be as good as I could be, I’ve been very lucky to have been a part of projects that resonated with audiences enough that they’ve been recognized and praised in different ways. I’m always proud of collaborative works in which everyone a part worked their hardest. As far as singing is concerned…I don’t know about that one, haha. I can hold a note, I suppose, but acting is my first artistic love.
SPLIT LIP (Stills)
I wanna get into Split Lip but I’m curious as to how you and Chris found each other prior to getting cast and sharing such cordiality with each other. How did you two meet?
Prior to working on “Split Lip,” Chris Sheffield and I met through our mutual friend, Chris Labadie (who plays Samuel in the film), back in Arizona years ago. We met at Labadie’s conceptual photo shoot where each actor portrayed a fully characterized Fighter, backstory and all. I choose to be a newbie street-fighter with brass knuckles as her choice of weapon while Sheffield was the seasoned “New York” fighter with a badly broken nose. Wierd…seems like every project Chris Sheffield and I do have something to do with fighting!
Your new role in Split Lip sees you playing Set, which I think is one of the most interesting names I’ve ever seen for a hitwoman role. What was your intial reaction to the role when Chris approached you for the lead?
Fun name for a lead character, huh? I truthfully didn’t understand the meaning of it – nor did I decide whether or not that was her true name – until the near completion of shooting! When you all watch the film, maybe you’ll catch/decide the reason for her name…
My initial reaction to Chris’ proposal
that I play Set was that of a few things. On one hand, I was excited and eager to do it because these kinds of roles (strong, leading, vulnerable women with deep and complex thoughts and emotions) are ones I dream of playing…and on the other hand, I was intimidated [laughs].
When Chris described the character story to me, I had only taken one capoeria class in college and barely had any credit to my name; I worried I wouldn’t be able to do Set (a scrappy and resourceful killer who favored hand-to-hand combat over anything) justice, and I worried about my inexperience leading a feature film. I really wasn’t even fully convinced I could do it even when we’d had a full sit-down and chatted through what he was planning for Set. I remember clearly sitting in a chair at his dinning room table in his apartment, listening to him describe who she was and her story. I remember reading the first few pages he’d typed up – a quiet little scene with only Set left to sort out her demons in a hotel room…then I’d listen to Chris animatedly talk through an outline of a major fight scene…she intrigued me, but I still wasn’t convinced I was the only person who could play her.
Really, it wasn’t until I’d read the last pages of the finalized script that I became convinced that Set was mine. In reading those pages, I understood her better than anyone else possibly could. It was the first time I heard clearly her thoughts and understood what she was feeling in those lines of dialogue and description…I remember telling Chris that the final scene was my favorite and that I couldn’t wait to do it. In seeing the end, I found the beginning of mine and Set’s relationship, was inspired by the differences her character rather than intimidated them, and became willing to step up to the challenge of leading a feature film.
What’s it like to approach this kind of character?
Love this question. I’ll try to be mindful of the length of my answer, haha! As I mentioned in my previous answer Set intimidated me at first, so I really had to get to know her on a deeper level than I had with any character before her.
She is – without a doubt – complex and street-savvy and seemingly cold…with her, I needed to know why she does what she does. I got some of those answers by creating specific backstory for particular situations, and even going to Chris with questions I had about her. I specifically decided not to play her as a victim of her circumstance or as a cold-hearted killer – rather, I imagined her to be someone who has made grave mistakes in her past and has actively chosen to rectify them by any means. After knowing clearly what our differences were (i.e., a serial killer, versus a person at risk of crumbling when faced with conflict) I needed to know our similarities, too, so that I wouldn’t judge or stereotype of her. I needed to find the depth behind all of her actions, and that came with a lot of reflection and experimentation even up until the shoot day.
Tell us about your rehearsals and your fight scene preparation. What was your regimen like?
Considering I’d virtually had zero experience in marital arts and fight training (aside from my singular capoeria semester at ASU), rehearsal and preparations for all fight scenes were incredibly important! Chris was very good about talking and walking each of us actor through the motions of the fight scenes before and during the shoot so we knew what to expect.
Knowing that none of us are trained fighters or stunts actors, everyone took each piece of movement slowly and with care. Since Chris had already story-boarded the fights and knew how everything was going to be shot, he could explain each motion clearly and in detail. Leading up to each of the fight scenes, I can’t say that I had a regimen other than to go every capoeria move I ever knew each day! [laughs] Not that I would need them all, but I needed to get my body and mind in the proper space for movement.
Stretching was a must, and so was paying strict attention to my fight/scene partners. Everyone in that cast and crew remained professional and heeded caution when necessary. Safety first, safety second…coolness, third.
In order to get myself in the right emotional space to do a fight scene, I would venture off into a corner on set somewhere, listen to some Rick Ross and remember why I (Set) would have to fight. I wouldn’t normally play around or joke right before action was called, and I definitely wouldn’t eat anything right before for fear of feeling too comfortable. [laughs]
Were there any particular fight scene ideas you had in mind that you’ve wanted to try? Like, did you sift through films like The Expendables or any number of Donnie Yen movies and then go “I wanna do THAT!!!”?
I actually did not have any particular fight scenes in mind as we prepared for the film! I relied heavily on Chris’ imagination to come up with awesome scenes that would justify Set’s actions and behaviors later down the road. I did get to have say and influence over a few moves as I was getting to know Set a bit better (“…maybe Set would do this sort of kick?”) but overall, I let Chris have a field day with those scenes.
I have always been a big fan of superhero and action movies like, “The Raid,” “Salt,” “Columbiana,” “Wanted” as well as shows like,”Alias,” etc. and I’d remember particular moments from these pieces in my imagining how Set may choose to fight particular opponents.
What are some of your favorite films? Any genre. Any in your personal catalogue you’d recommend or haven’t seen yet but hope to?
Ahh. You’d think as an actor I’ve seen a crazy amount of films, but I’ll admit there’s SO MANY I need to see. Classics like “Fight Club,” “The Departed,” “Halloween,” “The Breakfast Club,” etc…Don’t judge me! I really should be better about watching films. It’s just, when I like a movie, I’ll watch it over and over, and will be content enough with it that I’ll forget to watch others!
Some of my personal favorites that come to mind are: “Jurassic Park,” “The Lion King,” “The Social Network,” “Spring Breakers,” “Rat Race,” “Short Term 12,” “Up,” “Black Panther,” “Master” (a Korean film), and “Train to Busan” (a Korean film). I love action films and shows more than anything, so I’ll probably always choose watching one of those over any other…
In your last stretch campaign video for the film you cite Split Lip as something fans haven’t seen before. What sets Split Lip apart from the rest?
“Split Lip” is a film unlike any other brutal action film in several ways in which audiences may not have seen before; first, that it functions as entertainment that puts you on edge, and keeps you there while teetering between your own morals as an audience member; second, the film is made on a very small budget held together by teamwork, trust, and love; and finally (and notably), the protagonist is character is a Black woman.
Though I’ve admitted to not seeing as many films as I’d like, I can confidently say after many discussions with film buffs and personal research, I haven’t found or heard of a film quite like the one we’ve managed to make in “Split Lip.” I long for films that feature people who look like me, and do fantastic things like save the world, defend their morals, be vulnerable in their strength and have an entire audience root for them all the while.
The fact that “Split Lip” has the potential to be that which I (a long with so many other people I know) long for in today’s cinema, and that I was a major part of it is extremely satisfying. Now that we are approaching a time in Hollywood and film-making where the industry and audiences are more open to diversity in both familiar and unfamiliar stories, I believe there is more than enough room for a film like “Split Lip” to encourage, inspire and attribute to film-making that is not only “challenging,” but necessary.
Do you have any fun or hilarious memories from the production you can share with us? Anything in particular? I don’t suppose your footprint in Mr. Labadie’s chest might be one? Poor fella!
[Laughs] Poor Chris Labadie indeed! A muddied, booted-foot to the neck surly is never fun! Man, I feel like there are too many memories to share, to be honest…
Here, I’ll share some (rapid-fire style) that immediately come to mind: annoying fellow cast and crew with my singing of BTS songs, breakfast burritos at the crack of dawn, freezing deserts, unbearably hot desserts, sore muscles, shooting all of Dark Man’s scenes, drawing an unexpected audience while filming at a hotel while trying to film a scene on top of a vehicle, dumpster diving, spilling tacos all over myself, dessert dance parties, gorilla shooting in a small-town liquor store, shooting my first scene ever with Maryam Cné, free Chipotle, asking Jaxx to really throw me against a junkyard car for our fight scene and him looking at me like I was crazy, having to hide my film bruises and makeup from the unsuspecting and innocent general public anytime we weren’t shooting but were about to…
What are some of the most important lessons you’ve taken with you going forward in acting and film?
During and since “Split Lip,” I’ve learned quite a lot. We filmed SL just before I’d taken any real acting classes and so, the lessons I learned since are many. I will say, though, that one of the most important lessons I’ll take with me as I work to become a better artist is to always trust my gut, or my instinct; it’s almost always right. It’s where my strength as an actor comes from, and it’s where my innate opinions are born. By trusting my gut and in my instincts, I’ll always be in tune with my most authentic-self in acting/film or otherwise. Before and while filming “Split Lip,” all I had was my gut. For what I had, I’d say I did pretty alright. Now, with these extra tools/techniques from training and various mentorships in conjunction with my gut, I intend to become much better than ‘pretty alright!’
Do you have any other interests in film or TV? Maybe writing or directing someday?
Good question. I’ve often wondered that myself…
As of right now, I’m focusing most of my efforts into becoming a better story-teller and conduit for my characters to live truthfully through me as an actor; there’s quite a bit I’d like to work on in regards to that. I think once I’ve found my presence in acting, though, I’d like to try my hand at directing. It’s another beast entirely, but eventually, I think I’d like to imagine a character’s entire world – having a hand in every step of the creation process, working with other artists to bring that world to fruition…
Can you share any details about what you’re plans are going into 2019?
Yes! At present, I’m training with various weapons to prepare for a feature that will go into production late February/early March 2019. The film is not officially titled yet, but it is being described as “Kill Bill meets Halloween.” Doug Hawley is directing, and it will be my second time working with him since our horror-comedy short, “Cursed World Problems.” I’m incredibly excited for it as it’ll be my third leading role in a feature film, the script and story are awesome, and I’ll get to kick more butt, haha! – So please also look forward to that!
Thank you kindly for sharing your story with us and taking your time out from your schedule at that. On that note, do you have any final words to share with readers as we exit this interview?
First of all, thank you so much, Lee, for reaching out for a chat! I had fun getting to easily answesome of your questions and pondering hard over others; I’m sure I’ll continue to ponder on those and will get back to you when I have even better answers!
And to Film Combat Syndicate readers who’ve bothered reading this far into the interview…much obliged! Thank you for setting aside time in your day to learn more about our “Split Lip.” It is a project that has long been in the making, and is so loved by those of us who were a part of its creation. We’re eager to finally share it with all of you, and we hope that you enjoy it as much as we did making it.
Please anticipate it’s release and stay in-the-know of the film’s happenings by following our social medias (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter); we can’t wait to meet you at the theater, or even to hear your thoughts online. Until then, be well and always follow your gut – it’ll lead you to your dreams!
Respective photo credits are attributed to Dorée Seay, Lorenzo Cuevas, Chris Labadie and Chris Sheffield
(Dorée Seay’s official website: here)