|Actress and singer Danielle Inks at the Rainbow Bar and Grill|
At Rainbow Bar and Grill 9015 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood
If you’re a music fan in the L.A. area, you’ve undoubtedly attended your fair share of shows on the Sunset Strip. It’s more than likely that at least one of those nights has ended at the Rainbow Bar and Grill.
“The first time I ever came here was after seeing Steel Panther play at the House of Blues. My friends and I were hammered. We got the pizza and chicken soup – two things they’re famous for – and I was like, ‘This is the best soup ever! This pizza’s awesome,’” remembers actress and singer Danielle Inks with a grin. “That was when I first moved here almost four years ago, I would come here after the Steel Panther shows on Mondays during their residency. I just love the Rainbow. There are so many cool nooks and crannies, nobody ever knows how to get to the bathroom – it’s like a maze.”
The Uniontown, Pa. native is so animated and full of enthusiasm while she talks about her favorite haunt in Los Angeles – and any other subject that catches her interest – that it’s impossible not to smile and giggle along with her, even if you’ve just met one another. We slip into one of the slick red booths that line the Rainbow’s main dining room, and Danielle shares stories about growing up in a small rural town and her upcoming film roles. First, though, she gives me a run down of her favorites on the restaurant’s vast and varied, but mostly Italian, menu.
“I eat like crazy, I love food! I have eaten every single thing on this menu, unless it’s spicy, and then I can’t eat it. The pizza is really what they’re known for, but there are so many awesome things on the menu,” she informs. “The Chinese Chicken Salad is popular, and I sometimes like to get the Chinese Shrimp Salad. The guacamole is super good.”
After our fantastic server, Nicole, takes our orders (the guac for me, and a fish sandwich for Danielle), our eyes wander to the photos and memorabilia that line the walls. An area dedicated to Motörhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister is directly across our table, and scenes of him playing video poker in the bar area from the 2010 documentary Lemmy immediately come to mind.
“I hear people ask all the time if they put up that stuff after Lemmy died, but it’s been up there for a while. This place is great because there is so much history here. It’s where Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio had their first date, John Belushi had his last meal (a kind of soup that they quit serving after he died), Judy Garland would come in, Frank Sinatra used to sit at that long table over by the stairs and Led Zeppelin would call the manager to say they were coming in so he could get their table ready,” informs Danielle, pointing to a semi-circle booth just opposite of where we’re sitting. “The first night it opened was for a party for Elton John in 1972. April is their 44th anniversary, and every year they have a big party when they block off the whole parking lot and put a stage behind the Roxy so bands can play. It’s so cool, but you can’t move in here because there’s so many people.”
The Rainbow has been immortalized in everything from Guns N’ Roses’ “November Rain” music video and the pages of Anthony Kiedis’ Scar Tissue memoir to the lyrics of Redd Kross’ “Peach Kelli Pop,” Warren Zevon’s “Poor Pitiful Me” and L.A. Guns’ “Vampire.” Over the years, Danielle has wound up singing “Over the Rainbow” with Sebastian Bach and meeting one of her childhood favorites at the L.A. landmark.
“I met Micky Dolenz here, and he was so sweet. I’m a big fan,” she tells. “When I was about junior-high age I had insomnia and would stay up all night with the TV on in my room. I would watch Nick at Nite, and ‘The Monkees’ was one of the shows that would be on. Most people liked Davy Jones since he was the lead singer, but I liked Micky Dolenz because he was the funny one.”
Danielle smiles at the memory of finding out that Micky was her mom’s favorite Monkee, too, which wasn’t too surprising since both ladies shared a silly streak. Her mother, a musician who played the guitar, piano and sang, would write funny songs about the family dogs, washing the dishes or taking medicine when they were sick to get Danielle and her brother to laugh. Her mom was very church-oriented, which is why Danielle first started singing in church when she was 5.
“My kindergarten class got up in front of the whole congregation to sing, but I refused to go up because I was shy. They all got a candy bar afterwards, and my mom said, ‘If you want a candy bar, you have to get up and sing all by yourself next week.’ I wanted that candy bar, so I got up and sang ‘The Wise Man Built His House Upon the Rock’ all by myself. Everybody clapped and cheered, which scared me, so I cried,” exclaims Danielle. “I never did it again until I was 13 and joined the choir. My mom was choir director and made me sing a solo even though I didn’t want to on Easter Sunday, the biggest Sunday that church had ever seen. It was fun, and I’ve been singing ever since. Right after that I started doing plays and musicals in school, then graduated to community theater when I was 16 or 17.”
While her mom was a “goody-goody” church girl, Danielle’s dad was a “badass biker/rocker guy who was always loud and boisterous.” The combination proved to be beneficial to her musical upbringing, as well as keeping her open and appreciative of most any genre when it came to other artforms.
“I always liked everything. If it was good, I liked it,” she says. “I’ve always like musicals because I’m a musical theater geek. When I was little I loved horror movies, but then I kind of grew out of it and as I got older I started doing horror movies. It’s funny, I always thought I was a horror movie fan until I met real horror movie fans. My boyfriend knows everything and anything about the horror movie industry since he’s a special effects artist, and those are the kinds of movies that his company makes, like straight-up gore. I’ve always liked the cheesy ‘80s ones. Freddy Krueger was always my favorite because he was funny and kind of campy. I gravitate more towards comedy. I’m really goofy.”
Danielle continued to perform in community theater productions while becoming certified in massage therapy and had just opened a day spa with a friend when she found out about auditions for one of her favorite musicals, “Gypsy.” Even though she was very busy, she decided to try out for a small role, which turned out to be a fabulous decision.
“I auditioned as one of the strippers because they’re just in the second act for a little bit, so it wouldn’t be crazy rehearsals. The piano player at the audition came up to me after, said she knew my dad and asked if I wanted to be in her friend’s rock band that was looking for a girl singer. I went and sang a couple songs with them then got a text the next day from the drummer asking if I wanted to join. I was with Dani & the Daddy Longleg Band for five years, it was so much fun because I always did musical theater or sang in church, I never got to have a rock ’n’ roll outlet. My favorite band is Aerosmith, so I would just channel Steven Tyler when I was on stage, that attitude. I grew so much as a performer and a singer.”
After moving to Los Angeles to pursue acting full time, Danielle continued honing her skills with the Will Wallace Acting Company and performing with the Creating Arts Company (CAC) in roles such as Janis Joplin in “A Night at the Sands.”
“I just love music and entertaining. I really like doing everything. In musicals I usually get cast as either the comic relief or the villain. I’m never that lead girl because it’s usually a soprano and I’m an alto mezzo-soprano, so those super high notes are rough sometimes,” she says. “I love to play the villain because it’s fun. I’m opposite of a villain in real life. Maybe that’s why I’m such a good person in real life because I get all of that evil out while I’m performing.”
Danielle has also played the baddie in underground horror films like Toetag Pictures’ Maskhead, Jerami Cruise’s Insomniac and the Jason Hoover/Brian Williams dueling edits project Run. She most recently filmed a starring role in John Russo’s My Uncle John Is a Zombie back in Pennsylvania.
“It was directed and written by John Russo, who wrote the original Night of the Living Dead [with George A. Romero], and it’s almost a continuation of the story but a comedic take on it. John plays Uncle John, a zombie who didn’t get killed when all the zombies were rounded up and exterminated. Along the way he developed the ability to speak and control himself not to eat you even though he needs to eat brains in order to survive. His niece helps him get bad people like child molesters and killers – like in ‘Dexter’ – he only eats bad people. He’s actually the good guy in the film, and my character is a TV reporter trying to make a name for herself by reporting this. She ends up not being a nice person, but it’s hard to tell how bad she is because she’s very amvicious – I made up a new word! She’s ambitious but has to step on some people to get what she wants,” explains Danielle. “It’s a fun movie. I do get to scream, which I never got to do before in a horror movie because I usually flat out play the bad guy and kill everybody.“
As we finish eating, Danielle tells me about a seemingly sinister area of the Rainbow.
“The Vampire Lair used to be called Over the Rainbow. It was an exclusive VIP club. Years and years ago, you literally had to be a card-carrying member to get in. John Lennon hung out up there, and Alice Cooper – the Hollywood Vampires is what they call them. A lot of debauchery happened up there,” she says.
The Hollywood Vampires also included Keith Moon, Ringo Starr, Harry Nilsson and Micky Dolenz, and became the name for Cooper’s supergroup with Johnny Depp and Joe Perry. Before heading up to pay the Vampire Lair a visit, Danielle gives me the dish on her next horror project, Ladies Night.
“Everybody’s kind of bad in this one. There are sorority girls who are just bitchy, then there are the three female leads of the film, who are technically the good guys but are serial killers. They wreak havoc on a frat party; it’s chaos. What’s so fun about the film is that the point of it is to objectify men the way that women are objectified in horror movies and have been for years. It’s a throwback to ‘80s horror – gory and messed up but with comedy. Those are my favorites,” she says, before adding, “I’ve done straight drama, and it’s fun to do, too. I don’t like to show my dramatic emotions, my sadness. I’m not one to cry in public. Not that there’s anything wrong with crying, but I get all blotchy. It’s just not attractive; nobody wants to see that. I try not to show many emotions other than happy, bubbly, cheerful, but whenever you get to do something dramatic, it’s really a good outlet. It’s nice to just release it and get in touch with the part of you that needs to cry or get angry.”
Danielle gets to flex her comedic muscles a bit more in the upcoming homecoming tale, Home to Roost.
“The film’s writer/director, Robert Hensley, likes to say likes to say that he ‘writes realism,’ and that’s true to life because in real life even in dramatic moments there’s usually something funny in them. I gave my dad’s eulogy at his funeral and told jokes. People laughed and cried at the funny stories because people need to laugh when bad things happen, even if they’re afraid to because it’s a way of helping to heal. Laughter is wonderful,” she shares. “My role in Home to Roost is pretty serious but lighthearted. She’s actually the opposite of any character I’ve done before. She’s a sweet librarian who knew the lead character from high school. She had a crush on him, but he ended up being gay so it was never going to happen anyway! They were really good friends, so when he comes back to town she’s just really proud of him as a friend.”
Although she misses certain things about her native Pennsylvania (friends, family and restaurants like Primanti Bros. in Pittsburgh), Los Angeles is definitely Danielle’s hometown now.
“I always knew that I needed someplace that was bigger, that I didn’t really fit in with the lifestyle of getting married/picket fence/having babies. I wanted to do something different, not better or worse, just different. And I hate the cold weather. Snow can kiss my butt! I need sunniness, even though I can’t even be in direct sunlight since I’m a ginger and am super pasty,” she laughs. “I still miss people back home, but I’ve met so many people on jobs and here at the Rainbow. I have such a great support system in my best friend/roommate, my boyfriend and my dog. I’m slowly starting to collect that family of close-knit friends here.”
For more information, visit facebook.com/ActressDanielleInks.