Art and Experience:

Brenda Deiss, a former NASA secretary who became an unexpected movie star with her role as a tough-talking matriarch in “Red Rocket,” died Monday in Clear Lake, Tex., from complications following a stroke she suffered in January. She was 60. A spokesperson for “Red Rocket” confirmed Deiss’ death to Variety.

Deiss came to acting late in life. In 2020, writer-director Sean Baker was scouting locations for a new film about a downtrodden porn star that would be shot in the area of Texas City, when he had a chance encounter with Deiss. After meeting her, Baker, who often casts first-time actors in movies such as “Tangerine” and “The Florida Project,” was convinced that she was perfect to play a pivotal supporting role in his new film. “We found our Lil!,” Baker declared to his team, and Deiss was soon cast as a Texas woman who allows Simon Rex’s Mikey Saber to live in the modest house she shares with Saber’s estranged wife, Lexi (Bree Elrod). Lil and Lexi remain mistrustful of Mikey, a deeply selfish man has run out on them before, but needs their help now that he’s fallen on hard times.

 

 

“In the short time we spent together, she created with us, laughed with us and shared her stories with us, some of them heartbreaking and others insightful and fascinating,” Baker said in a statement. “We all have people in our lives that change it for the better and Brenda was one of those people for me. I will miss her dearly.”

Elrod, who played Deiss’ on-screen daughter in “Red Rocket,” added: “We shared a lot of memorable moments together on and off screen. l will never forget her laugh, the stories she so generously shared, and the many conversations we had about all aspects of life. She holds a very special place in my heart. I will miss her very much.”

“Red Rocket” was filmed in September and October of 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. It went on to have its world premiere at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival followed by a theatrical release from indie studio A24. Many critics ranked it among the best films of the year, with Deiss’ performance eliciting praise. The Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney called her “a hoot,” while IndieWire’s David Ehrlich declared that Deiss was “a phenomenal local discovery.”

Deiss was born in Texas, two days prior to when Hurricane Carla made landfall. She spent her entire life in the Lone Star state. Professionally, Deiss, an excellent typist and stenographer, worked for many years as a secretary, including a stint at NASA, which was a personal triumph for her. Later in life, she worked as a caregiver and home health aid to friends in need. In her spare time Deiss loved arts and crafts, and she worked with calligraphy and wood work. Deiss was also a member of the Texas City Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

Deiss never got to see “Red Rocket,” but she told the filmmaking team that she was most proud of a scene where she performs the hymn “Hallelujah Square.” The filmmakers included the song at her suggestion.

 

 

In December, Deiss texted Samantha Quan, one of “Red Rocket’s” producers and Baker’s wife. “I don’t have anything  to give y’all…just my unconditional love,” she wrote.

Deiss is survived by her daughter, Destani Deiss, and her two best friends, “Mr.” Johnny Cortez and Karen Adams.

Donations in her memory can be made to Christus Our Daily Bread.

Source: Variety