Dana White is kind of a big deal. She’s an actress, writer, producer, and oh yeah, the mastermind behind the revolutionary production: The Red Suitcase. Nominated as HaveHeart cover woman for her take charge, creative and wildly passionate/hardworking ways, Dana is the epitome of what we believe in. Starring Broadway legend Kathleen Chalfant, and well-known actor Harris Yulin, The Red Suitcase is a tribute to the idea that it’s never too late to reinvent ourselves. The movie centers on main character Ruth Whitney, a woman who was abandoned by her husband and finds her world to be filled with financial and emotional uncertainties. She settles into a rural, dilapidated New Jersey summerhouse and finds work in a motel. Meanwhile, her daughter is studying to get her Ph.D in efforts to make enough money to support both herself and her mother. She convinces her mom to move to California to be with her, and Ruth insists on bringing a red suitcase filled with her estranged husband’s clothes. The story grows to be an adventurous tale of coming together and letting go.
“My mom is an incredible woman and I wrote The Red Suitcase as a tribute to her,” Dana says. “The ﬁlm is loosely based on her story and is essentially about having the strength to start again. I have such admiration for her strength and resilience. She’s my hero. I think it’s a ﬁlm that a lot of people can relate to. I hope that once we make it, it will give a lot of people hope to persevere through hardships.”
But like many of you know, no dream comes without its fair share of hard work. Dana’s work touches on something so many refuse to deal with in Hollywood: aging. And even outside of the silver screen the effects are felt across all channels. “Sometimes I feel like we are stuck in a past period,” Dana adds. “I’ve had so much trouble getting funding for The Red Suitcase. You’d think wealthy women would understand what I’m trying to do; give roles to older people, tell the stories of older people, tell a story about women. But no. We’ve had more ﬁnancial support from men actually. I wish it were different but women don’t always help each other the way that they should. Women have the power to change a lot of things. But the only way that happens is to stand up and take a chance on each other. We are as much of the problem as anything.” As editor of a magazine trying to preach this idea of women-empowerment, I completely understand her struggle.
Speaking of acting and women in Hollywood, Dana’s certainly no newbie to the harsh acting scene herself. A seasoned actress, she got her start in NYC. “NYC teaches you a lot about yourself,” Dana says. “I always tell people that they have to live there at least once in their life. And I think your twenties is the time to be there, although now it is so expensive for people just starting out. NYC is kind of boot camp for life. A lot of very bad things happened in my life while I was living there, along with many exciting things. It’s not an easy place to live but it is one of the most exciting and dynamic cities in the world. You grow up fast and you sink or swim. I sank and I swam many times and I think it taught me how to be a little tougher than I was. It teaches you what you are capable of. Not all places can give you those kinds of lessons. Being an actress has pretty much taught me everything. I’ve been doing it since I was six years old and it gave me such a strong foundation for so many things in my life. Acting has given me more insight into myself and into others than anything else ever could. My mentor in NYC, Vivian Matalon, taught me to stand back and analyze why people do the things they do. That is a key element in being a good actor. I think if you don’t have that, you run the risk of creating characters that have no spine to them. It gave me great tools as a writer, too.”
Of course, the first thing I was curious about was what it was like for her to be an actress in the kind of industry where beauty is everything. It had to have changed her. “Being an actress is brutal. There is so much pressure to be so many things. Beautiful and thin are two of the big ones. It’s very hard to not let it get to you and have it deﬁne you. Just look around. Beautiful Hollywood actresses in their 30‘s and 40’s are having facelifts. It’s absurd and sad and I think an awful example to be setting for the young girls of today. As an actress I found these kinds of pressures to be really oppressive. I let them be so and shouldn’t have. I think it all comes down to control,” she adds.
But what about chasing a dream? Being so close to it you can almost taste it? Surely there had to be more to tell us! “You see as actors, we have so little control of our destinies,” Dana says. “It can make you a little crazy sometimes. When I started writing and producing, something changed in me a bit. I felt a kind of kinship with myself. I think it was because I was more independent of others. I didn’t give a shit what people thought of me. In all honesty, I never really have but when people can control whether you do what you love to do or not, that’s when it gets tricky. When I ﬁrst got to NY, I had an agent tell me that I had to lose weight. He said that I didn’t really need to (which I didn’t) and that I was pretty enough to be a leading lady but that I had a round face (Um… OKAY) and so I’d needed to get extra thin to keep my face from being so round. That messed me up for a long time. Then years later I had an agent tell me that I was no Courtney Cox. That one I found funny. It was so stupid that it was funny.”
Like Dana, I’ve learned that the world (at least stateside) is at a precipice of change. It’s almost like we’re there but not quite. Everyone’s talking about real beauty, loving our bodies, and being real. Still, I’ve yet to see drastic change and in fact, there are days when I feel it’s an uphill battle for people like me to push something like HaveHeart on a youth-obsessed, beauty envious culture. I asked her what she thought of aging women in Hollywood, if things might change for them, too. “It’s a horribly age centric community, still primarily run by men. But it’s up to us to change that,” Dana says. “Aside from actresses, women are in the minority in Hollywood- directors, cinematographers, writers. It’s not just a problem of age. It’s a problem of gender too. Women have made their mark for sure, but we still have a long way to go. It’s hard to know how much Hollywood creates the age bias or just reﬂects it. It’s a bit of both, I think. Our culture is so afraid of aging and is obsessed with youth. Everything is an anti aging campaign. And for women, the society is horribly biased against older women. I ﬁnd it disgusting. ‘Men get better with age and women…’ well….” ﬁll in the blanks. Who decided that?”
I asked Dana what she would do if she could use her power to change things. “That’s why I wrote a protagonist in her late sixties for The Red Suitcase. I love older women. I want what they have. Wisdom, calm, knowledge, inner strength. Who has that at 22? Not many of us. Sadly women are so scared and are doing everything under the knife to look young and many of them end up looking like each other; that pulled back look. When it becomes sexy to be an older women, Hollywood will follow. We need to start feeling good about how much we’ve lived. When I meet a women who feels that way, that is sexy to me. I’m lucky. I have a husband who tells me that he’s excited to see what I’ll look like as I age. He tells me all the time how beautiful I’ll be. That helps. He’s a rare ﬁnd, I know. I wish more men felt that way. The most unattractive women I see are those that are trying so hard to look like someone they no longer are. To me, true beauty is anything that is full of life. My mom is in her 70’s and I’ve never met a more beautiful woman. She is so full of life and hope and strength. But it’s real and it’s earned. That is true beauty. ”
Outside of her work, Dana’s passions lie with her family and her pets. She actually dubs herself “horribly domestic,” although we think that’s adorable. Her home is her sanctuary and she finds herself hiking in the mountains and visiting the beach as much as she can. “I find it clears my head and gives me inspiration for everything in my life,” she adds. And just what is in store for her future? “I’m ﬁnishing my MFA in writing and my husband and I are about to shoot another script that I wrote called House of Sticks. It is a smaller ﬁlm in terms of locations and budget that The Red Suitcase so we decided to shoot it ﬁrst. We hope that it will help us to get ﬁnancing for The Red Suitcase because I want it to inspire people to believe that it’s never too late to start again, and that the human spirit is much stronger than we realize.”
For my last question, asked her what she’s learned from her unique experiences and what she’d say to a fellow woman trying to find her way. “For me, it’s about listening to myself and cultivating that voice in myself that guides me. That’s the key to everything for me. Following my own heart is what keeps me in line and on the path. The rest of it falls into place somehow.”