Everyone’s heard of the “Karen” stereotype, and now it’s been dramatized in a film, also called Karen. Roger Dorman portrays the title character’s brother Mike—a racist police officer who gets involved in her scheme to drive an African-American couple out of her neighborhood. It’s a tricky character to take on in a movie that plays with one of pop culture’s most hot-button archetypes, and Roger joined me to discuss why he wanted to take on the challenge and what the film is aiming to say about current culture.
Brittany Frederick: What was it about Karen that made you want to get attached to the project?
Roger Dorman: The narrative is very relevant today. And I wanted an opportunity to play somebody that I certainly am not in person in any way, shape, or form, or how I was brought up to be. And I wanted to be a part of being able to bring that story to light.
BF: How did you decide to approach your portrayal of Mike? You want to accurately portray his racism and his wrongs, but you also don’t want to go so far that he becomes a caricature. So how do you figure out the right tone for the character?
RD: Being a method actor I’ll actually break the script down by line, by scene. I’ll initially think, “Okay, what emotional obligations are needed for that particular scene?” And it may be three or four. It may be a combination of anger with guilt, with sadness, with loss, fear—any of those things that have happened over the course of my life. I’ll then go back to memories in my life where I have felt those feelings.
Before I get into a particular scene, I will actually revisit those scenes in my life and feel the pain of those moments or experience those moments, and that will build up. It’s usually a buildup of an hour or two prior to my actual shooting of the scene. And then from there, when I say the lines they may mean one thing, but it’s authentic and real on camera—because I’m feeling those real feelings just like somebody would feel if they were racist. But I’m feeling those feelings about other specific instances in my life, and as such it becomes believable and understandable to the audience.
BF: Mike doesn’t have an enormous amount of screen time in the film, so did you spend time on your own thinking about the parts of his life we don’t see, or with your co-star Taryn Manning figuring out Mike’s relationship with his sister Karen?
RD: Absolutely. I spent four months preparing for the movie prior and hundreds of hours on Skype with my acting coach in L.A., and I put everything into it. And I spent quite a bit of time on the phone with Taryn, as we talked about our scenes together and backstories. That’s essential in order to create whatever chemistry or feeling you need in the movie.
BF: You’re also a producer. How do you find that meshes with your acting work?
RD: Well, I didn’t start out as an actor; I started out as a businessman. I’ve only been acting for the past four or five years now, and as such I can easily default to the business side of things. Acting is what’s given me a tremendous amount of fulfillment and satisfaction in my life…It’s a different hat you put on, and as long as you can set aside time to handle one or the other it’s usually not an issue, unless you’re still dwelling on the other element that you need to take care of as well.
BF: Your other recent role was also playing a cop, albeit a heroic one, in the Lifetime movie Cheer For Your Life in September. What was that experience like compared to Karen?
RD: That was a little bit of a different beast for me. It still required a lot of work—I spent a couple months preparing—but it didn’t require the depth that I needed to take myself to. I really needed to go deep with this Mike Wind character in Karen, because it covered a lot of hatred-filled things, racist things. Whereas Officer Hanson in Cheer for Your Life, he’s just a concerned authoritarian officer in the town that’s trying to figure out what’s going on with this cheer squad and these football players at this high school and why kids [keep] dropping dead.
It’s a different level. Kids, when they’re younger, tend to be more loyal to each other and each other’s secrets than they are to the truth. They just can’t get clarity about how dangerous a situation may be. And that’s the case in [Cheer for Your Life], where I am trying to convince this young girl, who’s in initiation week for her cheer squad, that it’s okay to trust me and to tell me what’s really going on so that I can help her get out of this dangerous situation.
BF: Having now played two cops in two thrillers, are you looking for a comedy now?
RD: Absolutely. (laughs) I’ve already told my acting coach and my producing partner, “Get me away from cop roles for a while and get me away from thrillers. Stop having me die at the end. And let’s put me in something a little different and give me a different experience. Maybe light-hearted, maybe something more heartfelt, action, adventure, but let’s stop with the thrillers for a little bit.”
BF: Is there anything you want people to take away from Karen or know as they’re going into it?
RD: It’s not your traditional entertainment kind of movie. You are entertained in parts, but it’s more designed to prick the conscience. It’s more designed to address a real issue in the world. We wouldn’t have had the George Floyd riots and the incidents that happened all over the world; it’s been going on a long time, but especially since about 2016 on, things have really ratcheted up quite a bit, racially and otherwise.
And I’ll challenge a person to watch the movie Karen with this thought: be aware of how you’re feeling. If Taryn’s character Karen says something that you think, “Oh my gosh. Oh, she’s way overacting,” or “That’s way cheesy,” or “That’s too on the mark,” why do you feel that way? It’s meant to be blunt. It’s meant to be in your face. And it’s meant to say something that, the minority community has experienced these things, and just because you don’t like to see it doesn’t mean it’s not there.
If anything, I hope this movie wakes more people up. Even if they don’t like it, they can ask themselves, “Why don’t I like it?” It’s not because of the acting. It’s not because of the writing. Maybe it’s because it’s too on the nose and it’s too in your face. If that’s the case, then what are your issues that you are creating with that? And hopefully all of us can become better for it, that are aware of ourselves when we’re watching it.
Karen is streaming now on all major movie platforms.
Article content is (c)2020-2022 Brittany Frederick and may not be excerpted or reproduced without express written permission by the author. Follow me on Twitter at @BFTVTwtr, on Instagram at @BFTVGram.