Out actress Vanessa Dunn on her band Vag Halen and new queer movie role

Vanessa Dunn is a very recognizable face and voice in Toronto’s queer scene, but After Ellen readers everywhere might remember her from B.J. Fletcher: Private Eye. Now with her latest role in Portrait of a Serial Monogamist, she’ll be catching the attention of even more queer women.


We recently chatted with Vanessa ahead of her trip to LA for the premiere of the movie. Besides the filmmaking experience, we spoke about the days of B.J. Fletcher, disenchantment with the acting industry, her band Vag Halen, and the community work she does with LGBTQ seniors.

AfterEllen.com: Right off the bat, I have to mention that a lot of our readers will recognize you as Jenna from the web series B.J. Fletcher: Private Eye. What are some of your fondest memories about that series?

Vanessa Dunn: Really just working with the team: Regan [Latimer], Lindy [Zucker], and Dana [Puddicombe]. It was such a fun experience. It never felt like work. You know, it is, but it’s not. We’re all still friends. It was just a really fun experience to do with friends. I think some time has gone by and I really realize how strong the writing was. I realize that now. I think at the time because it was so independent and web series were kind of a new thing, for me especially, but at that time it sort of felt fresh and new. And so things were done very quickly. Obviously, because we were on such a low budget. But when I look back at the episodes, I realize how clever the writing was and how funny it was. And just how representative of, especially Regan and Lindy, it was. Their type of humor. So it was just a blast.


AE: Besides being busy with acting, you’re also the lead singer of Vag Halen, an all-female band I’ve seen described as a “feminist, queer, cock rock cover band.” Can you tell us what that’s all about?

VD: We’re all queer and all feminists, and we’re all women. We sort of just take what is generally the canon of rock music, which is attributed to white, cis straight men, and we sort of turn it on its head.

We’re really a live band. It’s a real live experience. And it’s super queer, it’s super punk, and it’s super metal. And yeah, it just really took off. It was sort of started as just kind of an art project with my wife and I, and we brought some friends on. It just continues to grow and get more interesting.

AE: Before starting your band, you didn’t even really have a background in singing. So what brought about the need for this creative outlet?

VD: Performance. I think the acting industry is so narrow in terms of how they view you and how you’re represented. I was starting to get a bit disenchanted with the acting industry. And so I just have always been involved in theater and more performance art, and my wife was a musician, so this just seemed like a real opportunity to do something fun and different and bring a sort of performance element. And I didn’t really think about the singing too much. I thought, “Well, it’ll just come. I’ll work on that element and it’ll just come.” And it kind of did. I mean it was a lot of hard work, but that is sort of the genre which I can get away with. You know I have a real rock voice. I don’t have like a pretty singing voice. Even my speaking voice is low. I didn’t really have that feminine quality, so it just went perfectly with this sort of genre. I think that I just brought the performance element in. And just really quickly it just all fell into place. It was political. It was me up there, but it was also sort of a persona.


AE: And you do have a persona, right? Vee Stunn?

VD: Yeah.


AE: Is she like the queer, feminist rock version of Beyoncé’s Sasha Fierce?

VD: It’s funny. I did a workshop for the Girls Rock Camp and we talked about the difference between person and persona. And this seven-year-old was like, “I don’t get it. Why can’t you just be your persona everyday?” And I said, “That’s a really fucking great question.” Why can’t women be their personas everyday? And the answer’s what it always is, which is society doesn’t allow for it without us feeling like being in danger that we’re speaking too much, or how we dress is going to invite certain violent interactions or just any sort of interaction. So you know, that’s the persona. The persona is exactly like Sasha Fierce–just a different side of yourself. It feels the stage, when you create it, is an incredibly safe space. Or as safe as any space can feel for a woman. A queer woman.

But it’s also a lot of fun. You don’t have to force me to party. So I get to party with everyone up on stage. Maybe Vee Stunn is an excuse to party on stage as opposed to on the floor.