Dirty Girl - Jeremy Dozier
Clarke (Jeremy Dozier) © 2011 Weinstein

Jeremy Dozier had never played a major role in a motion picture before starring in Abe Sylvia’s dramedy Dirty Girl, which is based on Sylvia’s life in high school.

Set in 1986, Dozier portrays Clarke, an overweight, closet gay with no friends, who is paired with the ‘dirty girl’ at the school, Danielle (Juno Temple), in a parenting project. When she decides to flee to California to seek out the father that she never knew, Clarke goes with her, attempting to escape his homophobic father and the prospect of going to military school.

I spoke with Jeremy at the press day for the movie, where he talked about his first starring role and working so closely with Juno Temple.

What was it about Clarke that you admired?

Dirty Girl - Jeremy Dozier and Juno Temple
Clarke (Jeremy Dozier) and Danielle (Juno Temple) © 2011 Weinstein

What fascinated me most about Clarke was his inner strength. Despite coming from an abusive household and being tormented at school, Clarke is still a grounded, funny, charming, intelligent, loving person.

It takes an enormous amount of strength to be able to hold onto those parts of yourself in that kind of environment. A weaker person would have literally had them beaten out of them.

You and Juno seemed to have a great rapport on this movie.

Yes, and it makes you more comfortable too because we have some scenes where we really go at each other. So I had no problem laying into her, and I know she felt the same way about me.

What was great is that this is my first film and 90 percent of our scenes we’re together, so having Juno, my best friend there the whole time to support me was a real treat.

What also tied us together was we had three weeks of rehearsal where we had to sing and dance, and it’s kind of baring your soul, and going, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing.’

You look physically so thin and fit. Did they use camera tricks to make your character larger in the movie?

Dirty Girl - Jeremy Dozier
Clarke (Jeremy Dozier) © 2011 Weinstein

No, I was just that fat! I’ve been on this weight watch journey for the past couple of years and I’ve lost about 120 pounds total. I’d lost a little before Dirty Girl and then after I lost a little bit more. So that was just where I was on the journey then.

Did you watch any movies to get you into the eighties’ mood?

Abe gave me reference points, so he gave movies to watch. He mentioned Thelma and Louise and The Breakfast Club. He definitely gave us research and he always was there for questions and answers.

Did someone like Danielle attend your school?

I grew up in a small town in Texas so I went to a very normal high school and lived a very normal life and went to the University of Texas, so it wasn’t until recently that I started this whole acting thing.

But every high school has a Danielle, has one of the dirty girls. They’re definitely the most talked about girl in school and it seems everybody knows her in one capacity or another.

Music plays an important part in this movie.

Music is a big part of my life too. I have a playlist for basically everything; for exercising, for times that I’m down, and the music in the movie is especially important to Clarke, so I did a lot of research on the different artists that he listened to, especially Melissa Manchester.

I watched some of her old stuff and saw how powerful she was on stage and, since meeting her, Juno and I sang Don’t Cry Out Loud in front of her [in the movie]. She was actually in the trailer next to me when we did that, and I’m in the trailer trying to rehearse and trying to keep it down so she can’t hear me.

It was very nerve-wracking but she’s very sweet. We went to a film festival not too long ago and she sang live and it was amazing.  She loved our rendition of the song, she was really proud.

What would you say to kids who are struggling with their identity like Clarke is in the movie?

That’s what I think is great about this film. It has an amazing message of defining yourself and not letting bullies define you.

It really is the story of Clarke trying to find his voice and stand up for himself and love himself and, over the course of the film, the characters through their friendship, take the best parts of each other and create the best versions of themselves.

I would say to any teen out there that’s struggling in any capacity, whether it’s a gay teen or someone being bullied for being different, that what makes you different is what makes you successful in life, so don’t change for the bullies and don’t feel bad for being yourself because ultimately you’re going to be really great.

I grew up in a small town in Texas, so I know what it’s like to live in that small town and think that everybody thinks the same way that they do in that small town. But then you grow up and you move away and you realize they don’t, and as you make it through your teen years, you know that you have a better life ahead of you.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.