For every Hollywood starlet like Anne Hathaway or Claire Danes, there are thousands of actresses trying to scrape together livings with a small guest spot on a TV show here, a low-paying role in an independent film there.
That’s been Trieste Kelly Dunn’s life since graduating from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in 2004. Then along came 2012.
Last year, she landed roles on two high-profile TV series: Cinemax’s violence- and sex-filled “Banshee,” a first-year thriller that was shot in Charlotte and airs Fridays at 10 p.m., and the upcoming CBS crime drama “Golden Boy” (debuting Feb. 26).
“It’s definitely been an interesting eight years since I’ve been out of college,” says Dunn, who earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Winston-Salem arts conservatory. “Some years are great. This year’s been the best, because I got to shoot a TV show in North Carolina for five months. What could be better than that? But yeah, then there have been years where I’ve just been like, ‘Why will nobody hire me?’ ”
Dunn, 31, plays small-town cop Siobhan Kelly on “Banshee”; as a regular cast member, she could be employed for years if her good fortune continues.
It was a stroke of luck that “Banshee’s” initial 10 episodes were filmed almost entirely in and around Charlotte, allowing her to spend five months out of last year in her beloved former home state. But an even bigger coincidence was that some of “Golden Boy’s” shooting took place in her current neighborhood in Brooklyn, “so there were days when my character’s apartment was five blocks away from my actual apartment.” Dunn plays a reporter named Margot Dixon in Episodes 8-13 of that series, which follows one man’s rapid rise from police officer to police commissioner.
A native of Provo, Utah, Dunn moved to Southport at age 15. (“It’s a small fishing town. It’s very cute, it’s an adorable town, but it seems a little bit like a retirement town.”) After a year there, her mother moved her to Wilmington, where she attended New Hanover High School.
She graduated in 1999, then auditioned for UNCSA but didn’t get in, so kicked around New York City, Oregon and Utah for a year while waiting to try again.
“I always wanted to go there,” Dunn says. “I didn’t really care about Julliard or CalArts – I auditioned for both of those places, but for some reason I was hellbent on going to North Carolina School of the Arts. There’s just something really special about that place. It has a true feeling of artistic spirit. And it’s small, so you can really focus.”
“It was the best four years of my life.”
After earning her degree, she made a beeline for New York and started scraping. Over the years, she’s turned up in tiny parts on big TV series (“Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” “Fringe,” “Brothers & Sisters”), and in big roles in tiny independent films made by UNSCA classmates Aaron Katz (“Cold Weather”), Brett Haley (“The New Year”) and Zach Clark (“Vacation!”). Dunn got some good notice for those 2010 movies – Filmmaker Magazine named her one of the “25 New Faces,” while the Los Angeles Times wrote a positive piece about her work – but still failed to break out.
Then last year, she successfully auditioned for a whacked-out new show about an ex-con and master thief who assumes the identity of the sheriff of organized-crime-ridden Banshee, Pa.
Executive produced by Alan Ball of “True Blood” fame and created by David Schickler and Jonathan Tropper, it’s a bloody, sexy, pulpy saga populated by Asian transvestites, Amish nymphomaniacs and sadistic slaughterhouse owners, among others. Dunn’s deputy may in fact be one of the sanest characters on the show (although everyone here seems to have secrets).
While the actress is fuzzy on whether “Banshee” is something she would watch if she weren’t on it – “women in general probably aren’t as fond of action and cool car chases and explosions and violence as men are” – she says being a part of the series has been a blast.
And Dunn will continue to be seen in her sheriff’s deputy uniform into 2014: On Tuesday, Cinemax renewed “Banshee” for a second season. (Producers have said crew could return to Charlotte as early as mid-February, although cast probably won’t report here till March.)
“It’s awesome. It’s all so fun,” she says of her “Banshee” experience. “I’d so much rather be working on a show like that, than working on a law show where I’m in the courtroom saying expository lines. I would so much rather be running around with a gun, yelling at people.”