It’s been nearly 20 years since she left the South, but Julia Fowler still says her husband’s name with at least two syllables, and sometimes three – Say-a-um. (That’s Sam to those who don’t speak drawl.)
She still stage whispers, “bless her heart” for reasons both sympathetic and snide.
And, just like her mom and her grandmother before her, she blurts out “dern” several times a day.
Fowler, born and raised in Gaffney, S.C., glorifies Southern sayings in “S--- Southern Women Say,” a new viral video she wrote, directed and stars in. Consider it her way of cherishing the stuff of her childhood – and chunkin’ a rock (do proper Southern ladies do that?) at the Hollywood people who advise her to drop her drawl.
“My agents and acting coaches have kept telling me that I have to lose my accent or I’ll never work,” she said in a telephone interview from her home in Venice Beach, Calif. “But it’s part of who I am. It kind of defines me.”
Truth be told, her accent isn’t so strong. She lilts more like, say, Dixie Carter in “Designing Women” than she spits and sneers like, say, Jaime Pressley in “My Name Is Earl.”
But she wants you to know that all things Southern are worth listenin’ to and lookin’ at – hence her video.
She starts with “Hey, y’all” and ends with “Can you believe that b---- didn’t write a thank-you note?” In between, it’s one laugh after another – and it earned more than 1.5 million views in one week, plus a slew of comments. (From CourtneyBeans13: “I am from North Carolina and just about all of it is true and NONE of it is offensive. I guess what I’m trying to say is … THAT FOOL STOLE MY BUGGY AT THE PIGGLY WIGGLY.”)
That quote comes from Sheila Hawkins, a Spartanburg native who moved to Los Angeles after attending Fowler’s wedding; she’s a producer and had never acted before “S--- Southern Women Say.” The other two belles in Fowler’s video are Katherine Bailess, a Mississippi native who has appeared in “One Tree Hill” and begins shooting a VH-1 series called “Bounce” in January; and Delaine Yates, a New Orleans transplant whom Fowler met in acting class.
Fowler made the video on fumes – begging and borrowing the actors, the equipment and the locations. She filmed and edited it in between her own acting gigs (you’ll see her in “Vegas” Dec. 18) and what she calls her “survival job” as a Pilates instructor.
And, though “S--- Southern Women Say” has helped her make a point, Fowler also hopes it has made people laugh.
“What I love about the South is the South has the ability to laugh at it self,” she said. We know we’re funny, we know we’re special. To strike the right tone is difficult, and I didn’t know if I would or not. I’m sure I offended people. I’m sure some people love it.”
Fowler ended up in L.A. through New York, where she went to pursue her dream of acting in musical theater after graduating from the University of South Carolina in 1994. In New York, she performed in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and “Annie Get Your Gun,” among other shows. Her success in L.A. has come slower. She says she stumbled around for a few years after moving there in 2000, and then she decided to take control of her career.
She wrote a script for a romantic comedy set in South Carolina – about the competitive clog-dancing world. Fowler’s mother competed, and the two even ran a dance studio in Gaffney where they trained young cloggers.
New Line Cinema bought the rights to the script and she worked on it for a year – casting actors (she was to play the lead) and setting up locations. Musician and producer T-Bone Burnett even signed on as music supervisor.
“I thought this is it, this is my big break,” she said. “I’m going end up making it with my clogging movie.”
And then New Line dropped it.
That’s the way it goes in Hollywood, she said.
“It’s incredibly difficult to your spirit and your soul,” she said. “I hung on because I was raised by steel magnolias. (But I have decided) I don’t have to become the perfect blond girl. Does that mean I don’t get to work as much? Absolutely.”
With the attention “S--- Southern Women Say” has received, Fowler’s phone has started ringing. She’s planning the next episode, plus she has some ideas for expanding it for television.
She has two producers raising money to take another shot at “The Possum Trot Cloggers.”
“I want to grow this audience,” she said, “and keep finding things that connect with it.”
Bless her heart.