Voting is on the 74th Primetime Emmys, and this week we’re talking to several acting nominees. The awards will be presented on NBC on September 12.
After jumping from one shoot to the next for months, Kaitlyn Dever finally had some downtime. “I just got back from a camping trip with my family,” she said, slumping into a plush sofa in her Los Angeles home earlier this month. “I was feeling adventurous, so I decided to sleep on a chair outside.”
She closed her eyes and leaned back, reenacting her sleeping position, before blinking open and smiling a little. “It was the coolest,” she said. “I saw three shooting stars.”
Dever had recently come home after wrapping up the movie “No One Will Save You,” an action thriller written and directed by Brian Duffield. “I was the only actor,” she explained. “It was completely unlike anything I’ve ever done.”
That’s saying something. By the age of 25, Dever has already amassed a long list of major roles in television and film, including a breakout in the FX series “Justified” when she was just 12.
Now she’s up for her first Emmy for her role as Betsy Mallum, a young woman with an opioid addiction, in the Hulu miniseries “Dopesick”, directed by Michael Keaton and created by Danny Strong. Set largely in a fictional mining town in rural Virginia, “Dopesick” depicts the beginning of the national opioid crisis and the ensuing investigation into Purdue Pharma, whose aggressive and misleading introduction of the drug OxyContin is seen as the start of the epidemic.
The series has been critically acclaimed, receiving 14 Emmy nods, including one for Best Limited Series or Anthology Series. Dever was at home drinking coffee in her pajamas when she heard of her nomination. Knowing that the announcement was imminent, Dever’s sister had opened the television academy’s website.
“We saw my picture there and we were like, ‘What?!'” Dever laughed as she thought back to the moment
They poured themselves glasses of champagne: “We cheered at eight in the morning.”
As we talked, Dever occasionally tugged at the locks of her wavy brown hair. In a conversation she smiles easily, and her face is very expressive, eyes widening and then smaller, as she dissects a question. Dramatic gestures animated her reactions.
Born in Phoenix, Dever and her family moved to Dallas after her father, who was formerly a figure skating coach to Dever’s mother, accepted a role of Barney the Purple Dinosaur. Dever developed an interest in acting himself early on and entered an acting studio in Dallas at the age of 9. A talent agent soon signed her, after witnessing her acting chops at a showcase. Dever’s family moved to Los Angeles in 2007, partly to help her get into acting.
More about the 74th Emmy Awards
Celebrating excellence in television, the 2022 edition of the Emmys will take place September 12 at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles.
In 2019, she shared the screen with Beanie Feldstein in “Booksmart,” Olivia Wilde’s critically acclaimed coming-of-age film, and starred in the award-winning miniseries “Unbelievable” with Toni Collette and Merritt Weaver — a role that earned her Dever. a Golden Globe nomination.
With “Dopesick”, Dever got a chance to bring her full dramatic range to the fore. At the beginning of the series, Betsy works hard and has bright eyes with a face like the moon, pale and luminous, and Dever imbues her with an intelligent vigilance. It’s the mid-1990s and Betsy is in love with another woman who works in the mines, but her attempts to come out to her parents are met with alternating silence and condemnation. (Mare Winningham, extremely convincing as Betsy’s desperate and determined mother, also received a nomination.)
After a mining accident leaves Betsy with a badly injured back, she calls her doctor, Samuel Finnix (a fictional amalgam), played by Keaton. Finnix, like so many real doctors of the day, has been misled into thinking he can prescribe OxyContin without risk of addiction. Both patient and doctor become addicted and their lives quickly spiral out of control. (Purdue later pleaded guilty to criminally “misbranding” his potent drug OxyContin to make it seem less addictive.)
To date, the epidemic has addicted millions of people and killed more than 500,000 people across the country. As such, Dever approached the role with the utmost sensitivity.
“Because Betsy represents so many people affected by the crisis, I felt an intense responsibility,” Dever said. Television shows rarely shoot in chronological order, so she even created a spreadsheet to track Betsy’s shooting over the course of the season “and where she was emotional in each scene.”
“I put so much pressure on myself to get that role right,” she added. She paused, thought, and rested her cheek in her palm. “I wanted to make sure I was as realistic and fair as possible.”
Dever said the series had “a special place” in her heart, in part because many of the crew members were from nearby. Most of the show was filmed on location in towns around Virginia, an early site of the opioid crisis, and it was not uncommon for people to approach Dever and share how the crisis had affected their lives.
“It was a constant reminder of why we do that kind of work,” she said, “and a reminder that I want to keep looking for those kinds of roles.”
Dever was quick to note that she didn’t just prepare for the part. She also leaned on the people around her.
“There was someone I met on set who played a big part in my journey to bring this character to life,” she said slowly. They became friends and Dever felt comfortable asking specific questions about the addiction experience.
“My boyfriend allowed me to find out how it affects someone on an emotional level.” She paused, then shook her head. “Addiction is not black and white, and it affects people so differently.”
From her seat on the couch, Dever leaned forward when I asked about upcoming work. “I have a new movie with Karen Maine,” she said. “Karen is brilliant.” Maine wrote and directed the acclaimed 2019 film “Yes, God, Yes” and was a writer of “Obvious Child”, starring Jenny Slate. (Dever plays Rosaline, Romeo’s disowned lover, in a retelling of “Romeo and Juliet.”)
“And,” she said, pinching her nose and smiling broadly, “I’m excited to go to the Emmys for the first time!”
Dever said she felt lucky to act in a variety of genres, from sharp comedies to harrowing dramas. While “Booksmart” had given Dever the chance to show off her quick wit, projects like “Dopesick” had challenged her to capture her character’s life story in every scene. She said her dramatic roles inform her romantic roles, and vice versa.
“Every time I have the chance to expose myself to something new,” she said. “And I’m always learning more about myself and working on a different part of my brain.”
Each roll expands your base, I offered. She nodded. “It’s a building block for the next thing.”