The most entertaining films can also sympathetically highlight life’s most vital lessons. That’s certainly the case with the new relatable drama, ‘Two Ways Home,’ which masterfully showcases the importance of mental wellness and self-discovery. Actress Tanna Frederick shines as the vulnerable yet independent Kathy in the movie, during which the at-times struggling protagonist immediately captures viewers’ hearts with her gritty persistence.
The film, which is set and was shot in Frederick’s home state of Iowa, has been officially endorsed by the National Alliance on Mental Illness. ‘Two Ways Home’ was written by Richard Schinnow, directed by Ron Vignone and produced by the actress. Gravitas Ventures is set to release the drama today on VOD and digital, after it won awards at such film festivals as the Colorado Island Film Festival, the Fort Meyers Beach International Film Festival and the Culver City Film Festival.
‘Two Ways Home’ follows follows Kathy as she’s diagnosed with bipolar disorder upon being released from prison on good behavior. Upon completing her sentence, she returns to her country home in Iowa to reconnect with her estranged 12-year-old daughter, Cori (Rylie Behr), and her cantankerous elderly grandfather, Walter (Tom Bower).
Despite her best intention, Kathy’s return home is a turbulent, rough and unwelcome transition, during which she must come to terms with her diagnosis and its implications on her identity, while also realizing that her family was happier when she was gone. Conflict with her family intensifies as she struggles to keep her head above water, which puts her self-worth and well-being to the ultimate test.
Frederick generously took the time recently to talk about starring in and producing ‘Two Ways Home’ during an exclusive interview over Zoom. Among other things, the actress-producer discussed that when Schinnow approached her with the script, which was partially inspired by her family, she happily agreed to work with him, as she was looking for a screenplay to produce in Iowa. Frederick also embraced the opportunity to not only collaborate with Vignone and her co-stars as an actress, but also work as a producer, to further build Kathy’s trajectory throughout the story, and bring her personal struggles to the screen.
ShockYa (SY): You play Kathy in the new drama, ‘Two Ways Home,’ which was in part inspired by events that happened to you and your family in Iowa. How did production on the movie get started?
Tanna Frederick (TF): The inception for the story was actually my idea because a family friend-(screenwriter) Richard Schinnow-in Iowa approached me about producing the film. He had a script that he based on my aunt. I have seven aunts here in Iowa, and they’re really strong, amazing women. So the story developed around his knowledge of having exchanged a lot of family history with my aunts and grandfather.
I was looking for a script to produce in Iowa, and I thought this was a great opportunity. People say to write about what you know, and (create) stories that interest you. I think there’s never enough material out there for strong women, and (Richard) really nailed it.
SY: The story follows your character of Kathy as she’s diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and returns home to reconnect with her family. What was the process like of researching how mental illness reshapes Kathy’s life, and how she readjusts to reuniting with her family? How did your personal experiences influence your portrayal of the movie’s protagonist
TF: There were a lot of personal experiences in my family history that I dug into, including seeing my aunts. I also saw a lot of single mothers in the Midwest, as well as in California. These women have to raise their daughters and carry on, so I watched and admired their strength.
I have a lot of history with family growing up in the Midwest, where there’s a beautiful history with families in general. I’ve found that in the Latin community, especially in California. There are beautiful families that really stick together, no matter what their history is; they find forgiveness. Their family is more important to them than anything else, including money.
So this story was really true to me, because my family has stuck together. That really helped me relate to with my character of Kathy, as she tries to reconcile with her grandfather and her daughter. There was no question that this woman was going to make that reunion happen.
Then, as far as the angle of mental health, I grew up with both my parents being so involved with the mental health community in North Iowa. (They worked with) the severely mentally ill…and were such huge advocates of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and the North Iowa Alliance for the Mentally Ill. They both encouraged dialogue where a lot of people were ashamed to talk about it in their own families, so I would often talk about it with my parents.
My parents not only helped the mentally ill through their jobs; people also came to our house when I was a child. When they had mild forms of depression, they weren’t afraid to talk about it. There are so many people who experience depression, postpartum and anxiety.
Our house in the neighborhood was really that revolving door, as someone was always in our kitchen, and my mom was always helping them through a situation. (She) would make them feel good about whatever they were going through, and gave them acceptance by listening to them about whatever they were feeling, and telling them they would get through their situation.
This character goes through a lot of adversity with mental health, and I think that’s part of the course that a lot of characters go through. There’s also a part in the film where my character goes off of her medication, and I wanted that to be an accurate representation of a bipolar episode.
So I looked to my parents and said, “I don’t want this to be a misportrayal, like a lot of films have, of someone who goes off the rails and starts murdering people, because that’s not accurate…I also don’t want this to be that this character can’t come back from her mental health episode,” because a lot of times, films make people with mental illness look hopeless in whatever they’re going through.
So I worked to make my portrayal accurate, and personalized it. I thought, if I had a daughter, I would want her to be safe and happy…but what would I be doing in this moment that would make this situation blown out of proportion? So I worked to keep things in the balance of science.
SY: ‘Two Ways Home’ also stars a diverse cast that includes Tom Bower and Rylie Behr. What was the process like of collaborating with your co-stars on developing your characters’ relationships?
TF: The rest of the cast was great…Tom Bower played my (character’s) grandfather. I had known Tom for about 10 years before he signed on to star in the film. I said to him at a couple of Directors Guild events, “Tom, you remind me of my grandfather. I’m going to do a story about my family, and you’re going to play my grandfather.” He thought it was a bunch of BS, and said, “Sure, kid, bring me the script when you have it!” (Frederick laughs.) When I finally had the script, I brought it to him and asked, “Do you believe me now?”
Tom’s incredibly talented, and just a dream to work with; you just watch him and learn so much. He’s always present in the scene, and is up for anything. He’s phenomenal.
The rest of the actors were also incredible. They were willing to drive two hours to set, and then two hours home, everyday, just to make the film. Everyone worked really hard, and I think that shows in the final product.
SY: The movie was directed by Ron Vignone. What was your collaboration with him like on crafting Kathy’s trajectory throughout the story?
TF: Ron was amazing. He not only helped develop the script, but he also edited the whole thing. So everything was very hands on for everyone for this movie. He’s one of those people who doesn’t stay out of the film, and that’s a beautiful thing. He goes above and beyond, and he’s the knight in shining armor behind the production.
We’re so lucky to be coming out onto all of the platforms we’re coming out on through Gravitas Ventures. We wouldn’t be, though, without Ron’s insight and vision…He was completely focused on set. He did the work of about 20 people, and if I can get that again on another independent film, that would be amazing. I was really blessed to have worked with him.
SY: In addition to starring in the film, you also served as one of the producers. Why did you decide to also produce ‘Two Ways Out?’ What was the process like of balancing your acting and producing duties on the set?
TF: I love producing. Going to each person on the set, on both the cast and crew, and checking in with them is something I love doing. Seeing how they feel about every shot and how they’re feeling that day, and making sure everyone is on the same page, is great.
I really like being the mother hen. Maybe that comes from me being from a big family, but I really enjoy that role. Sometimes I get a little wiped out from it, but overall, it infuses me with more creativity. I’ve done so much theater from when I was a little kid that it perpetuates a feeling of liking being a part of a team…Everyone sees what everyone else needs help with, and I really like that everyone can play a part in the production.
SY: The drama is set, and was shot, on location in your home state of Iowa, like you’ve mentioned. What was the experience like of filming the movie on location?
TF: It was amazing. I had so many supporters and beautiful and familial locations. I filmed the barn scene in my grandparents and great-grandparents’ barns. Overall, it was a family affair. I had my aunts helping set dress, and my family helped with craft services and wardrobe. Everyone who could pitch in, pitched in.
At one point, we were filming near my aunt and uncle’s house, and everyone was so kind that their neighbors let us set their house on fire. They were very Iowa nice about it, and everything was okay, luckily.
It couldn’t have been a better experience. People here are hungry for art and films, and to learn about them. There are so many amazing people who volunteered to be extras. In the bar scenes, we bought people pitchers of beer while we filmed, and they just sat there for 12 hours and watched us film. That’s the really cool thing about filming in Iowa; in L.A., you would probably get some bored extras who would be like, been there, done that. But here, people were enthralled, which was so cool.
SY: Like you also mentioned earlier, Gravitas Ventures (is distributing) ‘Two Ways Home’ on VOD (today). Why do you think the digital release is beneficial for this type of film?
TF: It’s honestly a dream come true for this film, and very much the silver lining. We went to a lot of festivals and won a lot of best picture awards, and we’re very thankful for that. I’m personally very happy about that, because I hope that this film encourages a lot of dialogue about mental health and forgiveness, and being true and authentic to yourself.
We had been to so many festivals, and had about a dozen more on the docket, and then the coronavirus hit, and those (festivals) were all cancelled. But luckily, we were approached by Gravitas, and we were able to sell the movie to them.
The film’s release date (today) aligned itself very well, as it is a family film. It’s not extremely hard core or heavy about mental health; it’s more of a family film with humor. Rylie Behr’s character of Cori is funny and sassy, and mouths off to my character. (Frederick laughs.)
It’s this multi-generational piece that’s getting released between Christmas and New Year’s, and I think this timing couldn’t have been more perfect. People are looking for something to watch that’s sort of light, but also something they can relate to. Maybe people who are quarantining with their immediate family can learn from this, and say, “I’m going to practice tolerance and forgiveness while we’re all home with each other.” But hopefully we’re all in good health, and supporting each other.