Dreama Walker’s eyes are deep blue, round as saucers, and framed by a perfectly thick row of long, curly black lashes. They were conniving as Hazel in the first two seasons of Gossip Girl (she played a former Queen Bee ousted from Blair’s clique), and they’re wide-eyed and innocent in her current turn as June in the ABC comedy Don’t Trust the B In Apartment 23, but it’s her anxious, shadowy glances in the new drama Compliance that are the toughest to shake. The film debuted at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and is based upon a real-life scam that took place across the country in 2004. A prank caller pretending to be the police successfully persuaded restaurant managers to conduct strip searches on their employees in over seventy different establishments, until he was finally apprehended several months later. The dark storyline seems an unusual choice for Walker, whose polite sensibility and delicate good looks we’re used to seeing in chirpy primetime sitcoms, but the events hit close to home for the Tampa native.
“I remember the incidents when they happened, and the whole thing really struck a chord with me,” Walker says over the phone. She’s calling from LA, where she’s hopscotching between doing press for Compliance and shooting the second season of Don’t Trust the B. “I was the same age as some of the victims, I’d also been working a similar middle-America job, and I had a lot of discussions with my parents about it. They were like, ‘Remember when we told you to always obey adults? Well, it’s not always the best idea…’ ”
In the film Walker plays Becky, a nineteen-year-old fast food worker who becomes a sexual assault victim when a man claiming to be the police calls the restaurant and accuses her of stealing money from a customer. Things quickly spiral out of control after the prank caller convinces Becky’s manager Sandra (Ann Dowd) to do anything and everything to get to the bottom of the alleged theft, including strip searching the teenager. The voyeuristic, uncomfortable film sparked controversy at its Sundance première, with some audience members walking out midway through the movie. Divisive subject matter aside, it’s inarguable that the tight shots, grim lighting (much of the movie takes place in a back storeroom), and unspoken mutual doubt between Becky and Sandra lend the film an under-your-skin sense of unease. “I was excited to do it the way they wanted to shoot,” Walker says. “With so many close-ups between myself and Ann, it gave us an opportunity to play up the tense subtleness of it all.”
Whether onscreen or off, Walker is no stranger to subtlety. As a shy teenager growing up in Florida, the self-described drama nerd performed in community theater and auditioned occasionally for commercials, but never thought of making acting a career. “I had a difficult time getting parts in the beginning because you needed to be a super energetic and a happy child to do commercials, and I was introspective and quiet,” she recalls. After devoting her free time to the Thespian Society in high school (“I was kind of obsessed”), Walker moved to New York to briefly pursue a singing career. “It was a weird time in the music industry then and I didn’t feel comfortable branding myself as a singer, so that’s when the opportunity to act presented itself. I thought it would all be really attainable, but it wasn’t,” she laughs. It took several years and guest roles on Law and Order and Sex and the City for Walker to consider herself a working actor. “I finally feel comfortable calling myself that now,” she says.
With a new season of Don’t Trust the B on the horizon and no fewer than four feature films in the pipeline, Walker says she spends what little free time she has browsing Etsy (yes, really). “I’m obsessed with Etsy!” she says laughing. “I’m really into decorating my home right now, and I use inspiration from Pinterest or the internet and try to find really specific things on Etsy.” Her latest score? “I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but I’ve been into finding dried paper flowers; I know it sounds dorky, and it totally is.” It’s her self-deprecating, genuine quality that makes you wonder if Dreama Walker chooses to play consistently sweet, often innocent characters based on their similarity to her own personality, or if this recent slew of naïve characters is a just coincidence. According to Walker, it’s neither.
“I’m usually drawn to projects based upon the subject matter and content, not because I think the character is like me. If anything, it’s more about the industry and its rules for young women,” she explains. “My secret dream is to play the bad guy in an action film or something like that…a serious badass.” Judging from her growing résumé, it’s only a matter of time before Dreama Walker releases her killer instinct. Hollywood, watch your back.
Compliance is now playing at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema, New York. The second season of Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23 premieres on October 23 on ABC.
Styling by Jordan Johnson at the Wall Group. Makeup by Agostina at Exclusive Artists. Hair by Marcus Francis at the Wall Group. Production by Courtney Jones at CLM. Shot on location at The Bungalow, Los Angeles.