With two Oscar wins—including one for Best Supporting Actor and Original Screenplay—portions of Django Unchained were filmed in Louisiana and in the New Orleans area. Not only did the film feature familiar landscapes, but it also utilized many local actors, including the talented Dana Gourrier who portrayed Cora, a housekeeper who worked with Samuel L. Jackson’s character on a southern plantation. Ironically, her first role in high school was that of Elvira, a household employee in Flapper Girls; little did she know then that another similar role would propel her into the international spotlight.
Dana Gourrier grew up in East New Orleans and attended Ursuline Academy, participating in voice and theater groups. Although she always loved acting, her parents urged her to declare another major in college—one that was more lucrative and would guarantee financial stability. She decided to pursue a degree in psychology but was soon very discouraged and miserable with an extremely low GPA. Following the idea of “do what you love and the money will follow,” Gourrier gave up science for acting and remained on the dean’s list until graduation.
After receiving her undergraduate degree, she went to New York City with two suitcases to study method acting. “During the fourth week, I saw Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night in the park and I was hooked,” said Gourrier whose original five-week visit morphed into a five-year residence in the city. “It was the first time I was on my own as an adult,“ recalled Gourrier. “My parents always supported me but I wanted to do this on my own. They were freaked out because this was the year after 9/11 and my dad was telling me to make sure I locked my doors.”
As an aspiring actress in Manhattan, Gourrier described her experience as both draining and inspiring. She waited tables and changed apartments constantly, staying with friends and sleeping on couches, but her tenacity had its rewards. “New York is like an old lover to me," said Gourrier. “You can’t ever get rid of them, but you can’t live with them…like an old relationship that changed you in a good way ‘cause you’re so much stronger and so much better." Each summer, Gourrier teaches at Ursuline and imparts some heartfelt advice to the girls. “I always tell them that you have to have a commitment and a drive within yourself that no one else is even going to understand…it’s on you and it’s your perseverance that will make you successful.”
Her courage and confidence led her to land roles in Treme, Memphis Beat and Common Law; however Gourrier admits that her first meeting with Quentin Tarantino was a bit nerve-wracking. “I had to remind myself that he’s not God,” recalled Gourrier who has the utmost respect for the director and writer. “The moment I met him, I loved him immediately…[there] was really good energy. I was just so happy to be in the same room with this man because he liked me enough to bring me in.” Two weeks later, she was cast in the role of Cora.
Her experience on the set of Django changed her life forever and improved her skills as an actress by simply observing how DiCaprio, Jackson and Christoph Waltz worked; although she describes them all as being really “in the zone,” their styles were individually unique and she learned something new from each of them. One would think being around such talent would make any actress a little nervous, but not Gourrier who developed a camaraderie with all of them, especially Jackson who seemed to joke around with her like a big brother. For Gourrier, it’s the red carpet experience that unnerves her. “It was equal to, if not more, stressful than filming,” remembered the actress who, despite the premiere jitters, was extremely happy to spend more time with Tarantino and such a dynamic set of actors.
Gourrier, who draws her inspiration from film icons like Meryl Streep, Kate Winslet and Viola Davis, just finished wrapping up The Butler with Oprah Winfrey, a Hallmark Film, Remember Sunday and is currently working on a new series for HBO. With such a busy schedule packed with new high-profile projects, we’re positive that this gifted artist will find a way to embrace—maybe even love—walking down the many red carpets sure to be in her future.