Dale Dickey has worn a lot of faces.
She's been a werewolf, a member of the Missouri backwoods' criminal empire, a murderous baker and a daytime hooker. All of these faces she has donned have led Dickey to one thing — her position as a respected (and more importantly) full-time actor.
Now appearing as one of the stars of the Clarence Brown Theatre's production of "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street," Dickey's road to success has not been an easy one. Born and raised in the Knoxville area, the Bearden High School and University of Tennessee graduate has been acting ever since her childhood.
"I had my first role when I was nine and I played in the 'Sound of Music,'" Dickey reminisced with the natural air of a story-teller. "I was taking music lessons from a teacher of mine from Bearden, Pamela Rainwater. And Ms. Rainwater told me I had a sweet singing voice and that I should audition. I had grown up loving musicals and I went on a whim for fun... It was a wonderful family for me to grow up in with those actors."
From there, her passion moved Dickey to UT for her studies, then to New York for a time and eventually to L.A. At all of these stops, two constants have shaped Dickey's life: acting and hard work.
"I've been an actor professionally for 28 years and it was only up until four years ago that I was able to quit working my day job of watressing or telemarketing," Dickey said. "Work came slowly and gradually for me. And I needed to build a resume... I've just now been able to make a living solely off of my acting work, and it's a wonderful thing to say. But I still have my waiting shoes in the closet, because you never know when you will hit hardtimes."
One of those stabilizing jobs for Dickey was her role as Patty the Daytime Hooker on the popular television show "My Name is Earl."
"When I got the job on 'My Name is Earl,' it was the first time I had semi-steady work," Dickey said. "I was a recurring role, which meant that I would be used several times in the season... Even though I wasn't under contract and I never knew how much I would be used, it was the first time that I had some sense of security."
From that role, Dickey started to get more and more work. One of those jobs ended up being her most critically-acclaimed role to date when she played Merab in the film "Winter's Bone." Her portrayal of the ever-surviving Ozarkian was so well-received that she was awarded the Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Actress.
"The moment we went to Sundance with it, we knew we had a special film," said Dickey. "I didn't think that I would win, there were too many wonderful performances. But when they called my name, I was in shock. I remember Mark Ruffalo presented the award — and he probably thinks I am a crazy woman for this — when I left the stage I fell into his arms laughing, crying and shaking at the same time.
"...I wish I could have relaxed a little more. I no longer drink, but maybe a few cocktails would have helped. Too bad I no longer had that option."
With several roles lined up in the future, including a spot in the new "Iron Man" feature, Dickey has finally started to get the recognition she has worked so hard for. But regardless of her growing fame, she has not only remained true to her alma mater (with "Sweeney Todd" being her fifth performance on campus since graduation) but has also been a hardworking and dedicated professional.
"Dale is probably one of the warmest people I have ever met," said Dickey's co-star in "Sweeney Todd", Jeff Austin. "She is an absolute doll, and so unlike any character she has ever played. She's an absolute sweetheart."
Regardless of her success, Dickey is able to keep herself grounded in the experiences and actions that have shaped her career.
"I held on to some advice from other actors, one is to follow your dreams, be true to yourself and work from your heart," Dickey said. "It's so easy for the big bad world to say that you're not 'this enough' or 'that enough,' but if you keep on plugging away, you're going to find your niche."
Dickey can be seen as Mrs. Lovett on the Clarence Brown stage tonight at 7:30 p.m., and on Sunday, September 16 at 2 p.m.