Q&A: 'Ray Donovan's' Kerris Dorsey Switches Gears from Blood-Soaked to Family-Friendly

by Sophie Schillaci 10:41 AM PDT, October 10, 2014
Photo: Getty Images

Kerris Dorsey is covering all the show biz bases.

The 16-year-old boasts some serious acting chops as a corrupted-beyond-her-years teen on Showtime's Ray Donovan, and she's showing off her lighter side in Disney's Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, opposite Jennifer Garner and Steve Carell. So what's left for a teen starlet to conquer? Pop music, of course.

PICS: Stars on Set!

Kerris is already on her way with "Best Worst Day Ever," the bubbly theme song she co-wrote for the movie with her 19-year-old sister, Justine Dorsey, which is featured during the Alexander end credits. (See the music video below.)

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ETonline got Kerris on the phone to find out about Ray Donovan's third season, her budding music career, and which of her A-list on-screen parents gives the best parental advice. (Remember Brad Pitt's super cute daughter in Moneyball? Yep, that's Kerris.)

ETonline: Alexander is about the most terrible day ever. Did you have any terrible days on set?

Kerris Dorsey: We had so many horrible days that we were bringing to life on screen, I don't think there was room for any bad days [in real life]. But I did have a scene in the film where I'm playing Peter Pan in my school production and it doesn't go too well. They were filming the reactions of my family. I had to get up on stage and run back and forth. That was kind of nerve wracking 'cause I was in front of Steve Carell and Jen Garner, basically feeling like a comedian that I'm completely not. But it was so fun in the end. I think their reactions are priceless.

And how about your best day?

It was really sad when it was Steve's last day, but it was also a really lovely day. The vibe was very family oriented. We were all there together and Ed [Oxenbould], Dylan [Minnette] and I sang a song for Steve. We set it to 'Beds are Burning' by Midnight Oil. I wrote lyrics that pertained to Steve and his character, we called it 'Sleeves are Burning': 'How can you sleep when your sleeves are burning? Working with you doesn't feel like working. You make us laugh when your sleeves are burning.' It was just a really good bonding moment.

Tell me about writing the Alexander theme song.

Miguel [Arteta], the director, called me a couple months back and said, 'Hey I know you're a songwriter, I would love it if you wanted to write a song for the movie. Would you be interested in doing that?' I said 'Uh, duh. Of course. That's a dream come true!' He also knew that my sister is really talented, so he said 'You can write by yourself or you can write with her.' We watched the trailer and it says, 'Ready for the Best Worst Day Ever.' I just thought that would be the perfect title. It related to everything that we wanted to write about.

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Do you always perform with your sister?

We're really close in age and just close in general, so we have always grown up singing together. That's something that we always do. She's a really talented musician in her own right -- she's recording and that's her passion. It's fun when we're able to do stuff together like in this movie. We both love to write, why not do it together?

Do you have plans to release a full-length album?

Definitely. My sister's working on hers at the moment and I definitely want to record 'cause I’m pretty consistently writing songs and music. After the movie premieres, I'm starting to record with Bruce Witkin of Unison Music Group -- that's Justine's label. I definitely want to do something with her.

WATCH: 'God Only Knows' How All These Musicians Got In One Video

You've had some pretty cool parents on screen. Brad Pitt in Moneyball, Liev Schreiber and Paula Malcomson on Ray, now Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner. Who has given you the best parental advice?

They're all really great on-screen parents in their own right. They're all so humble, I don't think they would never sit me down and tell me 'this is the way it is.' I just watch. Jen is the most maternal, lovely person I know. She really makes time for her kids and make sure they're in all activities – she's mom of the year. We were doing rehearsals for the movie and she’s like, 'Oh I'm sorry, I just came from a PTA meeting.' They all really know how to balance it really well, which I'm sure is difficult. Just by observation, I've realized it's important to make time for family and career, and to make sure your family is a part of your success, too.

[Warning: Ray Donovan spoilers ahead if you are not up to speed.]

Let's talk about Ray Donovan. What an intense season. Serious innocence lost for Bridget when she saw her boyfriend Marvin die. Where do you think the writers are going to take her in the third season?

I honestly don't know. This is speculation on my part -- they don't tell me anything until I get the script -- but I think it's gonna deal with the aftermath of losing somebody that's so important to you. Obviously [Marvin] was an introduction to a whole other world for her. He was her everything. I think there's gonna be a lot of -- I don't want to say damage, but aftermath that is leftover. Bridget has been rebelling, but I'd like to see her go a little crazy. As an actress, that's fun to play out. Our writers are great. I don't know where they'll take her, but I know I'll have fun stuff to do.

This season had some really heavy material. I think a lot of your scenes would be hard for an actor of any age. How did you prepare to shoot Marvin's death scene?

At first I was really excited to be able to sink my teeth into it, and then it became like, 'Oh this is real, I really need to prepare in the best way I can.' Music is a huge part of my life. It might be silly, but the first thing I do is make a playlist of emotional songs. I worked with my coach on it and, I've never been through something that intense and scarring, so I just had to imagine what it would be like if I were in that position and go from there. There were a lot of earbud breaks on set. I'd just put my earbuds in and get emotional, and get to that place. It was an exhausting week of filming, but I felt really accomplished at the end of it. It was like, 'Yes I made it through! Hopefully it will turn out well.'

Were there any other especially difficult scenes to finish?

There's an episode following that, the aftermath of what happened. It was the day of the table read and I had a scene where I come out and I say, 'I washed all the blood off.' Even that sentence is so crazy. I come out and I'm talking to my dad, and he's trying to ask me what happened. That was a very somber day on set. Everybody felt that emotion. I went to the table read and my eyes were all puffy and my hair was super wet. Everyone's like, 'Kerris, what's wrong?' I'm like, 'I've been crying all morning!'

On a lighter note, we also heard Bridget sing a little bit this season. Will we hear any more of that?

Hopefully, yeah. David Hollander is gonna be our showrunner and he loves music. He wrote the episode where Bridget sings, so he's interested in tying music and acting together for me. I'd love to see her sing more. Maybe she'll even pursue that professionally. That'd be cool.

Did Showtime ever release your 'Sunny' recording? I loved that song.

I really want them to. We recorded it and they released it on SoundCloud, but I'm actually down to go back in and re-record it. People really responded to it and I guess liked it, so I would love for them to release it. In Marvin's honor, we gotta release it!

I'll be honest with you -- if I had a teenage daughter, I don't think I'd let her watch Ray. Do your parents ever get concerned about the material you're working with?

I'm sure they do. I definitely avert my eyes sometimes, I'm not gonna lie. My favorite show is Parks and Recreation. I'm not used to watching really edgy stuff, but I actually love our show. I love watching it. From a fan's perspective, I just can't not watch it. That's not to say I don't have my hands over my eyes a couple of times. My friends watch Game of Thrones -- those are the shows people my age watch nowadays. Cable television is such a part of our society now. Often times the shows are really good and you're just like, well, it's worth sitting through the sex and violence because the narrative is so great.

Not like Alexander, which is definitely a family-friendly film.

It's a really good movie, very different from Ray but it's so great. I wish I had more movies I could watch with my parents and not feel super uncomfortable. This one doesn't sacrifice quality for being family-friendly. It's reminiscent of the John Hughes era of movies.

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