With the new revival of Penny Dreadful: City of Angels hitting UK television I reached out to an actress I met in LA a couple of years ago who bagged herself a recurring role in the dark fantasy series featuring Natalie Dormer and Nathan Lane. This is one of many castings she has gained recently in mainstream television and it seems there is no stopping her. I am talking about Becki Dennis, Boston born and raised and now living the LA life. In the interview below I explore Becki’s acting life, find out what it was like to be a part of Penny Dreadful and see what she has planned coming up.
When did you decide you wanted to be an actor?
This may sound a little woo-woo, but I feel like acting actually chose me. From a young age I felt a desire and passion to express myself creatively through performance, whether it was acting, singing, dancing, choreographing, writing, or otherwise creating. I was involved in the performing arts throughout my youth and got serious about my training in high school. I made the decision to pursue this path professionally when applying to and auditioning for colleges, and majored in Musical Theatre at Point Park University in Pittsburgh, PA. After graduating, I was determined to make a living with my degree and haven’t turned back since then.
How did you get into acting? Have you trained formally?
Like many young kids, my first performing experiences were through dance recitals, choral shows, talent shows, camp shows, and things like that. I wrote a little play in elementary school and acted it out with an impressed friend, but didn’t have any exposure to acting class until my middle and high school years. I got bit by the acting bug pretty hard in high school, so that was a turning point. I had acting classes and performed in plays at Andover High School in Massachusetts, a public school with an exceptional performing arts program, and also took some summer acting courses outside of school. I learned to cold read in my English classes, too. In college, my major was Musical Theatre, so I had classes in acting, voice, dance, directing, dialects, etc. I supplemented my degree at Point Park with an acting course at Emerson College and a voice class at Berklee College of Music over my final summer. After college, when I was transitioning from theatre into on-camera acting, I studied on-camera technique with several teachers, and also took improv classes at places like Second City in Hollywood. I still continue to train and keep my skills sharp to this day.
For about me you check out my bio on imdb.me/beckidennis
You’re not originally from LA, but live there now. How did you make the decision to move over that way?
The decision happened organically. I was acting in the Boston/New England film scene for a good 10 years and got pretty established there. My family was all mostly there, as well as my husband’s closest family, so moving always seemed like something that we would love to do, but thought would be too difficult to be away from family. In 2014, I started to want to break out of the Boston bubble a bit and began to pursue the idea of working as an actor in New York (with a long commute from Boston.) Around that same time, I took a business trip to LA in November of 2014 to attend AFM (The American Film Market) and to get headshots taken, with no intention of moving. My Boston-based agent, who had been encouraging me to spend a pilot season in LA (to my initial resistance) took it upon himself to email some representatives on my behalf, even though he had little connections in LA. One rep got back to him and said they would meet with me if I was willing to move to LA. All the other inquiries went unresponded. There is a longer version of this story to tell at some point, but long story short – they wanted me, I signed with them, and I moved to LA with my husband. I am still with that rep and they turned out to be such a blessing to my career. My husband and I make it work with our families by visiting them and having them visit us. It’s sometimes hard to be apart from our loved ones, like during a pandemic, but all in all it’s been a good move for us, plus the weather here is so much better than Boston, so that’s a plus!
Recently you had the chance to be a part of the new Penny Dreadful City of Angels, how was that experience?
Penny Dreadful: City of Angels was a very special experience. I had the opportunity to work as a principal dancer on 4 episodes, which was about 20 days of work, including rehearsals, fittings, etc. Getting that much work is hard to come by, so for that I am so grateful. Feeling a part of a show, and returning to the set day after day where people know who you are is such a better feeling than being a day player, which I have done a lot of, as well. The other dancers were some of the most friendly, fun, and kind people who I have ever worked alongside. There were about 100 of us and we were all one big happy family. Even though my younger self was labeled as a “dancer,” in recent years I have been focusing more on the acting side of things. Getting to return to one of my first loves of dance was a joy. I never thought that at my age and size I would be hired to dance, but I’m so glad that the industry is changing and embracing more diverse body types on screen. I have to thank Tommy Tonge, the choreographer, for bringing me on board and for believing in me. I loved dancing on set everyday and learning new dance styles for the show. It challenged me, but in all the best ways.
After your recent foray back into dancing, is this something you would like to do again?
Yes, absolutely. I love to dance and would so again in a heartbeat. I actually was able to secure a dance agent due to my dancing on Penny Dreadful, and had some dance auditions arranged through them before the (covid) industry shutdown. It would be ideal to have a role where I can act, sing, and dance, where I can utilize all my performance talents.
Can you tell us about some of your most recent roles?
My episode of Days of Our Lives recently aired and that is exciting because I also thought I’d never have the look for soaps. I was hired for the Young and the Restless in recent history, as well. As I mentioned before, it’s so nice to see the industry evolving and including more diversity. In both of these soap operas, I play a kind of energetic, overly excited character, which is fun to be the comic relief in a drama. I did the same thing in my recent episode of 9-1-1 on Fox as the Music Teacher, too.
I can be serious when I need to be, though. I play nice nurses a lot (like in Apple TV’s new show “Little America,”) but in the feature film “Justine,” recently released on Netflix, I play a stern nurse. It was just as fun to show this darker side of myself. By the way, this indie feature got picked up and distributed by Ava DuVernay’s company ARRAY, which was a huge accomplishment for the production
What has been your favourite role to date?
My favorite role to date was playing the lead role of Jo in the independent feature film, Spin the Plate. It was a challenging and rewarding experience playing the survivor of child sexual abuse who has PTSD, and the journey that the character goes on stretched in me new ways that I didn’t even know were possible. As I told the director, working on this film was a learning experience better than any acting class I could have ever taken. It’s true that sometimes being on set is the best class. I bonded so much with the cast and crew and they became like family. I also learned a lot about producing from my other role as Associate Producer on this project. We won many awards on the festival circuit and it’s now available for viewing on Amazon Prime. Check it out if you haven’t already.
Your role on Spin the Plate has been praised for its powerful portrayal of a woman learning to deal with her past abuse. How do you even begin to prepare for a role such as this?
I researched the experiences of sexual abuse victims online and spoke with people who were survivors. And while I hadn’t experienced physical or sexual abuse of that nature personally, I did have the experience of verbal abuse in my past, and tapped into that personal experience to relate to my character. Many people have endured some form of abuse or mistreatment at some point in their life, so you just have to imagine what it would be like to experience a worse, ongoing form of that, and what effects that might have had.
Who are your acting icons/inspirations?
Oh, wow, there’s too many to name and I always have a hard time pinning it down to one or a few. Most recently I am in awe of Olivia Colman’s range and ability. Of course, Meryl Streep is a legend, as is Viola Davis. More broadly, I think that the entire cast of This Is Us, The Crown, Ozark, Handmaid’s Tale, Big Little Lies, Succession, Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and Westworld are all amazing. The quality of television actors these days is incredible. I also admire the women who are able to successfully write, direct, produce, and act in their own projects like Phoebe Waller-Bridge. That is my ultimate goal.
With the rise of COVID 19 this year how has this affected your work? And how do you think Hollywood will cope / handle it going forward?
Most of production here in Hollywood has been shut down since mid-March, so I’ve technically been out of work, but I’ve been keeping busy with my craft and learning more about writing, directing, and producing. I have had self-taped auditions from home that have resulted in bookings. Those projects are on hold indefinitely, but hopefully they will happen at some point. As of now, the only projects that seem to be returning are commercials, indie films, and soaps. I read somewhere that during the 1918 pandemic the industry shut down for 2 years, but returned stronger than before. I hope our break isn’t as long, although it would be nice if we also return stronger than ever. I would like to see the virtual (Zoom, Skype, and the like) auditions trend to stick, as it makes it easier on us actors. I am certainly glad that Penny Dreadful: City of Angels completed filming before the shut down. That was lucky! There has been talk about another season, though not confirmed. I hope we can return for another season once it’s safe. All in all, the down time has been a bit of a blessing in disguise. I have had time to perfect a script that I was working on, and start to get it into the pre-production phase. These are things that I normally wouldn’t have time to do when I’m busy with my acting work, so for that I am grateful that I am able to do that right now.
Can you tell us a little bit about the film you wrote? A logline maybe?
Sure! It’s called “Time to Go,” and it’s a dramedy television pilot that I’m super excited about. Here is the logline:
When a grumpy grandma who’s lived a full life turns 90, she wishes to join her late husband in heaven. Too healthy to pass away naturally, her fun-loving caregiver granddaughter convinces her to go out with a bang while they embark on a bucket list of risky experiences together, but as she tries to die she ends up living more than ever before.
(It’s “Grace and Frankie” meets “The Farewell” with the essence of “Eat Pray Love.”)
I hope to go into production with it once the pandemic ends.
You mentioned Phoebe Waller-Bridge and how your ultimate goal would be to create and act in your own projects. So, if someone gave you the chance to do just that, what would you create? Your dream project I guess you could call it.
Right now, I believe that “Time to Go” could become my dream project. I am the creator and will act in it, and probably direct, as well. I hope to make the pilot and that it gets picked up as a series. Fingers crossed! Or maybe there is another project on the horizon that will come about that I haven’t even envisioned yet? I’m open to all possibilities.
What advice do you have for any aspiring actors out there?
I don’t really like the term aspiring because it feels to me like someone who is hoping or wishing without putting in any real work or effort. I don’t know if that’s true, but that’s just always how that term sounds to me. I would recommend that if this is what you want to do, then do it! Say you’re an actor and be an actor. Everyone can start somewhere, whether it’s in an acting class, in a school or local theatre production, a student film, or even making videos for YouTube or social media. Don’t sit around and aspire – just make it happen. If this is what you want, no one is going to hand it to you. It is up to you to make it happen. Keep trying and never give up. I have had a million no’s throughout my life and still receive them often. It’s a numbers game and a longevity game. If you stay in the game long enough, something good will happen. Be strong and don’t let anyone tell you it’s impossible because anything is possible. I know that sounds cheesy, but it’s true. I hope this helps!
A big thank you to Becki for sharing with us. You can follow her on instagram and Facebook to keep up to date on what she does next.