Interview with Tanna Frederick: inspiring actress, surfer, marathoner and philanthropist

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Interview questions by: Don of

Coordinated by: Lori De Waal of De Waal & Associates


What were some of the challenges encountered starting the Iowa Independent Film Festival and Iowa filmmaking initiative Project Cornlight, and how was it overcome?

Wonderful favors from friends and family helped us overcome any challenges that were presented. I remember the first year of the festival like it was yesterday. The festival was held in Mason City, IA, my hometown, we had no money and volunteers to beat the band. We didn’t have a limo so my cousin picked up my dear friend, Karen Black in a navy blue hearse. Soon after came David Proval, Zack Norman, and a bevy of filmmakers from all over. It was so home-towny. (I wanted it to be real) we went out to my Grandpa’s farm as a calf was being born. I remember Karen running and hiking the fence with her Manolos sprinting through cow pies to see this calf falling out onto the ground, and David Proval, who played in my opinion the scariest character on the Sopranos, was crying like a baby as we all watched this monumental experience. My Grandpa was so proud to have all these celebrities on his farm. He died a year later, but was written up in the newspaper and kept it on his wall until the day he died. In the last 9 years, it’s only gotten better.

What are your current projects?

I have two films in post-production currently. Garner, IA was directed by Ron Vignone, starring Joel West, Tom Bower, Riley Behr and I. This film is so important. It dives deep into the important topic of mental health and all of the struggles that follow. We got to film in my home state which was a surreal experience and also an opportunity to explore the beautiful stories that exist in Iowa. Many times people just use the Midwest as a cliche to film a horror films or alien films. But there are rich stories of families and struggles of the human heart and my Iowa filming incentive program, Project Cornlight, focuses on hiring and employing those in the state to bring out beautiful, truthful yarns that have been patched together by families through generations and are real sagas of the human spirit.

The other film in post-production is Henry Jaglom’s film Ovation. James Denton (Desperate Housewives) and I star in this story of backstage drama. We shot this at the Edgemar Centre for the Arts during the production of Rainmaker.

I am also onstage currently at the Edgemar in Henry Jaglom’s Train to Zakopane. It is a amazing true story about love and hate. An anti-semitic nurse and a Jew fall in love on a train, they decide to get off in Zakopane and thats where the love story unfolds.

I am co-producing Asleep at the Wheel, a wonderful redemptive script, with Billy Chartoff. Also this year I am playing the lead in a Jane Spencer film in Zurich – South of Hope Street. I LOVE travelling and filming. Even if there’s no surf. We have shot part of the film already in Zurich, and it was a ball. I’d rather be working than on vacation. So filming on location is the perfect ‘workcation’ for me. I have so many places left to explore and film in.

Why are the arts important for society?

The arts create safe places for people to display emotion and join together. We get to dive into a diverse community of people who love things as much as we do. Through film, theatre, art, ect. we get to discuss problems in society and culture. The stories I tell and chose to tell are important for me because I feel they lift people up as they leave the theatre by helping them feel less alone and better about themselves by starting a communication that must be spoken about on a relevant topic or topic that repeats itself through time and trying to break that cycle through emotional communication.

How has being an accomplished surfer and marathon runner helped you in life indirectly?

Exercising has not only been a way of staying fit but an outlet for releasing my thoughts. It gives me time to think on current roles that I am playing. Playing an anti-semitic nurse right now takes equal parts of body and mind to achieve my emotional state on stage. I did the LA Marathon and went on stage to do the play that same day. Yesterday I ran Sunset Half Marathon, came in 11th out of all the women who ran at 1:46:54 and a 750 incline and did the show to a standing ovation. I’ve done this through a lot of year long runs of theatre. I’ve done four marathons now, next month doing my fifth in Ojai, the Mountains2Beach, which I will get my Boston Qualifying time and check that off the list.

After that it’s back to working with my Tae Kwon Do Master, Victor King and refreshing all my second-degree black belt forms and responsibilities with ATA and getting back in the water on my Rusty 6’6. Cross training is key to avoiding injuries and not getting bored!

What are the charities you work with and how do you wish others to become involved?

I co-founded Project Save Our Surf with legendary surfer and all around hero of mine, Shaun Tomson. I founded this organization because while surfing, I had no awareness of how dirty the coast was until I started surfing almost every day. I quickly realized how dirty the waters and beaches were when I fell in love with the rush of surfing and became best friends with my ear, nose and throat doctor… It is startling that across the world how hard it is to have such an essential need of water.

Over the years we have brought fresh water globally to seven different countries and education local kids as well as internationally. We bus kids out to camps either in the mountains or by the ocean. Their schools can’t afford field trips. They learn about protecting the environment, native terrain and wildlife, upcycling, water cycles, etc..

We are currently raising funds to go to Ben Tre, Vietnam to install more water filters. The orphans source their water from a river that they bathe, drink, launder, etc in. I am going back to in September to with my dad who fought in Vietnam to bring more water filters over his birthday.

If anyone wants to help the best way is to go to or to find a local beach clean up, learn about legislation you can take part in, minimal donations that help immensly, learn about little things you can do to conserve…We have followers globally who support and check in and give us updates on what we can do to conserve and protect as well!

What advice would you have given your younger self knowing what you know now?

I feel I knew more when I was younger than I do now. The older I get the more I realize I know nothing. Either way, I think I need some ‘tude from my younger self. However, I am better at all my sports now. So I’d probably say, ‘Pick up the PACE! Don’t be scared’

Who have you met in your career that left a lasting impression, and who do you wish to meet specifically during your career?

I would really love to work with Kathryn Bigelow and Wes Anderson. I love their films and the worlds they create. They are talented filmmakers with a unique vision. Because I love action films, I would love to work the Wachowsi siblings or JJ Abrams, Paul Greengrass. I’ve always wanted to an action film with Tom Cruise and work on amazing fight sequences with him and do all our own stunts. That’s as Bruce Lee as it gets. I definitely love Richard Linklater as well.

What are some websites you could recommend for others? DNA sunscreen found at, which is healthy for women. Since my mother went through ovarian cancer and chemo, I am very careful about what I put in my body internally and externally.

Camilla Olson is talented designer in the Palo Alto area. She designs clothes for the modern woman. Each piece makes the wearer feel beautiful. You can find her at:, my non-profit that provides clean water for children globally and camp opportunities for children locally. We sent 5000 kids to camp in the last two years who would not be able to afford it. They are the stewards of our ship, of the planet. We would be able to help so many people in Vietnam. Only $50 buys one water filter. Small donations help too!

What 3 questions question would you wanted asked of you that hasn’t been, and what would be the answers?

If you could trade places with anyone living one living or dead who would it be?

I dig myself and wouldn’t really want to trade places with anyone. But I would have to say it would be, Tom Cruise. I admire his drive. I’d like to learn how it feels to have that internal energy for a day: Be defiant yet, excited, creative yet, grounded, kind yet, steadfast, have the diligence to carry on through all the criticism and the wins and not waver, just remain myself.

If you were a shoe, what would be and why?

A Tarahumara running shoe. I want to feel what it’s like to fly like the runners of the Tarahumara Tribe, lucky enough to be on the foot of a tribal member who runs 200 miles out of sheer joy and thankfulness, created out of a tire and rope.

Do you play any musical instruments?

I play classical piano since second grade and currently learning guitar.

What advice can you provided to anyone aspiring to follow your accomplishments as a reference?

I think the talented writer, Orson Welles said it best, “Create your own visual style…let it be unique for yourself and yet identifiable for others.”




It’s not surprising that Tanna Frederick — who co-founded the Iowa Independent Film Festival and spearheaded the Iowa filmmaking initiative Project Cornlight — was born and raised in the Hawkeye State. Growing up in Mason City (home of The Music Man’s Meredith Wilson), she performed with the Steben’s Children’s Theatre and starred in high school musicals before continuing her education at the University of Iowa, where she double majored in theatre arts and political science.

After giving the valedictory address at her college graduation, she packed up and moved to Los Angeles, where she continued to work in theatre and small films before meeting indie filmmaker Henry Jaglom. Told by another actor that Jaglom sometimes gave roles to actors who were fans of his work, Frederick wrote him an effusive letter praising his latest film, of which she’d seen approximately twenty minutes. Jaglom responded with an invitation to come to his office and soon a collaborative friendship bloomed. (And yes, she’s now seen all of the film she claimed to adore and he loves the story of their meeting more than anyone)

First Frederick and Jaglom worked together on two plays — a gender reversal of his 1985 film Always… But Not Forever and a production of Richard Nash’s Echoes. Then in 2006, Frederick starred opposite Justin Kirk in Jaglom’s film Hollywood Dreams, for which she won multiple film festival awards for Best Actress. Their other collaborations include the upcoming films The “M” Word with Michael Imperioli and Corey Feldman and Ovation with James Denton as well as Irene in Time (2009), Queen of the Lot (2010) and Just 45 Minutes from Broadway (2012), which began as a long-running play at the Edgemar Theatre in Santa Monica.

Frederick has become a mainstay of the Los Angeles theatre community, starring in successful productions of A.R. Gurney’s Sylvia, Nash’s The Rainmaker — which was a Los Angeles Times Critic’s Pick — and Claire Chafee’s Why Why Have a Body, which also marked Frederick’s directing debut.

Later this year, Frederick’s first film as a producer — Garner, Iowa — will be released. Made through Project Cornlight, the arts initiative she founded to expand the film and performing arts industries in her home state, Frederick stars opposite Tom Bowers and fellow Iowan Joel West in a story about family and redemption. The film was directed by Ron Vignone and written by Richard Schinnow, who co-founded the Iowa Independent Film Festival with Frederick in 2007.

While Frederick remains loyal to her fellow Hawkeyes — she recently received the Distinguished Young Alumni Award from her alma mater and spoke at UI’s spring commencement — she is also passionate about her adopted home state of California. A longtime marathon runner with a second degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, her move West transformed Frederick into an avid surfer. In 2007, she founded the non-profit Project Save Our Surf, which is dedicated to ocean conservation, the improved availability of freshwater to those in need and exposing a wide range of people to the joys of the ocean through surfing. Since 2012, PSOS’s annual Consurfvation Camp has readed 1000 underserved children and teens in Southern California and Mexico, educating them on environmental issues and giving them hands-on instruction in yoga and surfing.

Tanna Frederick with Judd Nelson (1 of 2)
Tanna Frederick with Judd Nelson (2 of 2)
Tanna Frederick with Michael Imperioli
Queen Of The Lot Trailer

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