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HER NAME IS DANGER

by Ian McDowell

Susanne Marie Danger is excited to finally get to wear camo and combat boots rather than a bikini and to shoot a gun. The former Marine turned actress and model is usually cast in roles that show off her form or the ink on it.

“I’m really happy to be doing a military training video for a private security group. They train a lot of military and federal agents. It will most likely never been seen by anybody except for the people taking the security training class. But that’s okay; I’m gonna get to shoot the Feds with a paintball gun. I’ll try not to smile too much while blasting ’em.”

Susanne smiles a lot. It’s a nice smile, although you suspect you wouldn’t want to see her mad. And she has a good reason to be smiling; her unexpected acting career has been taking off and she’s been finding steady work on the TV shows and movies that are increasingly being shot in this part of the country. Her credits include Cinemax’s Banshee, Fox’s Sleepy Hollow, HBO’s Eastbound and Down, and ABC’s Resurrection. She also hopes she’ll end up being seen in the next Hunger Games film.

“When I shot the scene in Atlanta, of course, there were 1,500 people there, a lot more than on any of my TV shoots. So we’ll see whether or not I make the final cut and end up on screen. But I was almost directly beside Jennifer Lawrence in some of the scenes, so let’s hope.”

She’s also hoping for a speaking part in the new future. “I was offered one on a new USA Network show called Satisfaction. They had me come down and meet with the director and it went wonderful. But then they said we’re gonna need you to get your tattoo artists to sign these waivers. The artist who did the Confederate flag, the North Carolina outline, the feather and this huge Indian chief on my leg just smiled and told me he wasn’t interested in participating. He refused to sign the waiver. Thankfully, Golden Spiral in downtown Greensboro is going to cover up all the stuff that guy refused to sign for. It’s going to be a long day in the chair. But that’s okay, I’m used to long days and this time I’ll be sitting down.”

She hasn’t gotten to do much of that lately, other than on the commute to her various shoots in Charlotte, Richmond and Atlanta. 2013 was a very busy year for her, and 2014 is shaping up to be even busier. Not bad for a woman who lived most of her life in Greensboro and never intended to go into show business.

She was born Susanne Marie Bowden at Cone Hospital in Greensboro. “Danger was my third husband’s last name. Johnny Danger, 82nd Airborne out of Fort Bragg. He had some serious PTSD from a helicopter crash overseas. A couple of months after we were married, he was out one night, got into a fight at the bar. They called the cops. First cop to get there didn’t wait for any backup and pulled his gun on Johnny. Johnny relieved him of his weapon, snatched it out of his hand. He did exactly what they spend days and days training us to do — he took control of the situation. Because it was a police officer he went to jail and got a dishonorable discharge from the army. He got out and wanted to move back to Oregon to live and we hadn’t been married all that long, so we just called it quits. We’re still really good friends and I got a cool last name out of it. I kept it even after we split up because being easy to remember is a big plus in this business.”

She may be a down-home Southern girl, but there was a bit of show business in her blood. “My grandfather was one of Bill Monroe’s pickers,” she says, referring to the legendary Kentucky mandolinist whose band The Blue Grass Boys gave us the term bluegrass. “He left home with Carl Tipton. That’s how he met Granny. Apparently she was a groupie.”

Susanne went to Sternberger and Lindley elementary schools, Kiser Middle School and Grimsley High. “Even got sent to a disciplinary school for a year. Don’t know why. I was such a very quiet kid. You couldn’t look at me without my face turning red until I was fourteen or so.” She considered a couple of vocational schools, but the appeal of the military was stronger.

“I just felt the Call. No other explanation. I knew I wouldn’t make much money and that I’d be ‘in the suck’ ninety-percent of the time. But I had this feeling that still makes my throat get tight and my heart feel shaky — pure unadulterated patriotism. And I wanted to serve.”

Why’d she choose the Marines? “One simple reason. Because no one thought I could. Or should! My family begged me to go Air Force or Coast Guard, even the Army, just please, not the Marine Corps! They went so far as to offer to buy me a new car if I didn’t enlist. But by then, I had my eye set on those dress blues. And when everyone tried to talk me out of it, well, that just fueled the fire. Just like missionaries that claim they ‘feel the call’ of God. Same shit. Except I wanted to get muddy, blow shit up, and wear a badass uniform while I saved people. In hindsight, I think I wanted to be a superhero.”

Susanne was inducted into the U.S.

Marine Corps on February 18 of 2000. “I was 20. Didn’t realize I was going to be spending my 21st birthday in Boot Camp! I didn’t even realize it was my birthday until my Drill Instructor woke me up that night and put me on the quarter deck and made me do push-ups. That was my birthday present from the Marine Corps. My mother, who is the sweetest person in the world, every year she’s made me a strawberry birthday cake from scratch. Fresh strawberries, nothing store bought. She sent me a frickin’ fresh baked birthday cake in the mail in a box to Paris Island. Of course it was demolished once it got there. I paid so hard for that cake! Another friend thought it would be funny to send me a porno mag with no return address. They make you open up your mail in front of them. I open it and there’s this naked guy in a wash tub on the cover. It was definitely a 21st birthday worth remembering.”

She spent three years in the Marines. “I was planning on spending my whole life in the Corps. I guess that’s how I ended up acting — I’d been to so many trade schools since I got out, but acting is the first thing to make me happy since the Marines. I loved the Corps. I was happy as a clam every day. Felt like I had purpose. I was very motivated and I loved putting on that uniform.”

Getting out wasn’t her choice. “I broke my pelvis three times in the same place and ruptured two disks in my back. They tried to give me time to recover, but it just never would heal right. It began as a stress fracture. I’ve got a small frame, small bones, and you have a pack on your back that’s at least fifty pounds. The final thing that really made it break was, we were doing a day infiltration course thing where we were under barbed wire, simulated machine gun fire, trying to get supplies from one place to another. There was another Marine who was dumb as a bag of hammers. They started doing the machine gun fire and she keeps popping her stupid head up. So they say, okay, she’s dead, somebody take her pack, somebody take her weapon, Bowen, you’re carrying her. She was significantly bigger than me, probably 5′ 11″, 165 lbs. I’m 5′ 8″, and when I was in boot camp, almost below my weight limit for my height. I’ve always been lanky. So I had to do fireman’s carry with this huge female Marine on my shoulder. We were crossing a bridge, I had her across my neck in the fireman’s carry, and in this hand I had a big water can filled up in cement to simulate ammunition weight. I started doing this involuntary grape vine to the right and I stepped right off a bridge and I dropped all of that on top of my hips.”

“They think that’s when it broke, but they weren’t really sure, because it’s the Marine Corps. If you’re not bleeding, shut up and do you your job, finish what you’re supposed to be doing. It felt more like I’d pulled a muscle in my butt cheek. You’re used to being in physical pain every day when you’re on active duty. So I kept walking. Made the ten-mile hump home. Was still getting up and running three to five miles every other morning with my platoon and my company. I was supposed to be calling cadence one morning for a company run. I remember I woke up before everybody because I was a little nervous. I stood up by the rack and I collapsed, I couldn’t even stand up.’ “I went to medical and they did an X-ray and said my pelvis had been broken for a while. The bone had been rubbed smooth. That’s why it never really healed properly and ended up breaking two more times before I was discharged. I ended up fighting my medical discharge, though. They were processing me out on medical and I hired a JAG attorney and ended up making a deal with the Marine Corps. They discharged me and said that if I could heal in two years and get medically cleared by the doctors at the military entrance processing center in Charlotte, I could come back in the Marine Corps. So that was my plan.”

She gives a throaty chuckle. “Plans, well, we all know how they sometimes work out. I signed away my rights to ever claim Disability from the US Government so I could come back into the Marine Corps. But then I got married to my second husband and had a baby and once my belly got big, my pelvis broke again. After my daughter was born, I was recovering and couldn’t go back in the Corps, but also couldn’t claim disability.”

She shrugs and there’s that smile again.

“Not that I’d have it any other way. Sure, it hurts every day and I go through so many heating pads that I set my microwave on fire with one of those bean bag things. Had to have C-Sections with both my children. When my pelvis broke for the fourth time when I was pregnant with my Olivia, I ended up on strict bed rest for the entire third trimester. But even if I could claim disability, I wouldn’t do it. I don’t need disability because I hurt a little bit. I always knew that was going to be the deal. You don’t make it through the Marine Corps without getting hurt, you just don’t. Or if you do, you probably weren’t doing your job and somebody else was doing it for you. Since, then, I think of all my brothers and sisters who are coming home with no legs, no arm, reconstructed faces, all these awful injuries. I wouldn’t be able to process the guilt if I claimed disability, not if I knew there were people coming home who couldn’t even pay for their prosthetics. So I have some pain on a daily basis, big deal. We play the hand we’re dealt, and overall my hand’s been pretty good.”

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Susanne Danger

The transition from Marine to model and actress wasn’t something she’d foreseen or planned, any more than she’d planned to become a divorced single mom, but she stresses that it’s a real fulltime job that pays the bills and supports her and her two children. She’d done a bit of modeling before she went into the Corps and did a bit more after she got out, and then one day in 2012, she heard that a new Cinemax series called Banshee was shooting in Charlotte. It was about an enigmatic ex-con who assumes the identity of a murdered small town sheriff. Due to the action-adventure nature of the show, they were particularly looking for extras with a military background.

“I was in Asheville doing a calendar shoot for Diamond Thieves Body Piercing and Tattoo when I saw the casting call for Banshee. I answered it and ended up going and working and I loved it and it was so much fun. But I’d never seen the show and I made the mistake of asking Anthony Starr, the actor who plays the main character, for coffee because I didn’t know who he was. So that was pretty embarrassing. Once they actually started filming and he walked on and I thought ‘My God, that’s the guy I just tried to make my coffee bitch.’ But I had so much fun, I started submitting for other stuff, and now it’s all I do.

I ask her what jobs like this pay. “It depends on what you’re doing. So many things make a difference. When I first started as a background extra on Banshee in Charlotte, the base rate was $64 for the first eight hours. But you’re typically there 16 to 17 hours. They keep you really well fed and it’s so much fun, it doesn’t even seem like you’re there that long. Anyway, when I was featured on the third episode of the first season of Sleepy Hollow, as the wife of the decapitated bartender, my base was $150 for the first eight hours, with overtime after that. For the season finale of Eastbound and Down that I did, they paid me $500 for four hours. Since I’m being featured on Banshee this season, $250 is my base. It depends on what you’re doing, really. If you’re outside and it’s pouring down rain the whole day, you get a pay bump. If your vehicle is in the scene, you get a pay bump. If you have to get your hair teased or wear prosthetics, it’s a pay bump. If you’re exposed to the smoke machine, it’s a pay bump. They give you the little addons for everything. ” The modeling helps pay the bills, too.

“For a basic photo shoot, I get $100 an hour. But different photographers that can pay different things, I work with. Some of these great photographers in town are dead broke, and if I see a lot of promise, I’ll cut a deal, maybe even work for free. I’ve done lots of free shoots, but one guy in South Carolina I shot with a lot last summer, he paid $200 an hour for bikini modeling. It all depends, but I really do prefer to get paid. I’ve been in Inked, one of the major tattoo magazines. I still do a lot of modeling work. I recently got published in Tattoo Kultur, which is published out of Cape Town, South Africa, but is distributed all over the US. Matt Schmidt, a local photographer, actually did the shoot, and they use a lot of his work.

“On the 29th, I’m shooting with a photographer I’ve been Facebook stalking for a year now. I’ve been dying to shoot with her. She’s a lady down in Atlanta that does these ornate quasi-Victorian photo shoots, with tight corsets and frilly dresses. This shoot is up for a cover of a UK tattoo magazine. Hopefully we’ll get that. There’s another magazine that puts out a calendar that she’s going to submit the images for as well. We’ll see. Then in a couple of weeks I’m shooting with Roxie Taylor from Black Mountain. She’s wonderful – she did the shoot that got me into Inked. She also did the one for Diamond Thieves that was my first modeling job out of the Marine Corps — the first time I put on heels again.

She’s also gotten some acting gigs for her fiancée Matt Francis, father of her seventeen-month-old boy Jesse (her seven-year-old daughter Olivia is from her second marriage). “He’s a heavy metal drummer and has got this long hair that makes him perfect for period roles, so he’s up for Turn, the Revolutionary War spy drama on AMC that shoots in Richmond. He’s featured now in Sid Roth’s It’s Supernatural, a reenactment program about people’s encounters with the paranormal. It’s so funny. He’s got all these heavy metal demon tattoos, but they put him in a robe and let him play Jesus!” She says she’s been crazy busy with work and hates having to spend so much time away from her family, but flashes that smile again when she admits it’s better than not getting enough work. “I’ve done so many shows at this point that I can’t even keep them all straight. But I got featured on the season finale of Eastbound and Down. Danny McBride actually came up to me on the last day of filming and shook my hand and said he really appreciated me coming out and working so much. He’s got a new movie that’s going to be filming in Asheville in July. I put in for that and hope I get it. But this season I’m being featured on Banshee. I’ll be in the first episode and then we’re filming again on the 19th.

That may be the third episode, I’m not sure. And I was one of the Returned in the season finale of ABC’s Resurrection, the show about people mysteriously coming back from the dead. I had my hair really short and wore a long green flapper dress. I’m hoping they’ll call me back for the second season, which should start filming this summer in Atlanta. That’s where I do a lot of my work. There’s also a new Dumb and Dumber coming out that I worked on a little bit, and I know I have good screen time in the upcoming Isaiah Washington drama on BET, Sin Seer.”

Lately, Susanne has been busy commuting between Greensboro and Atlanta, where she has been working on the big budget feature film Triple Nine, a crime drama starring Woody Harrelson, Twelve Years a Slave’s Chiwetel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck, Kate Winslett, The Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus and Sons of Anarchy’s Charlie Hunnam. “I’m extremely featured. I can’t give details yet, due to the confidentiality agreement, but you can say it’s considered a ‘Specialty Feature Role.'” Yet she also has time for gardening and raising chickens. “I’m really into the whole farming thing. I’ve got a huge vegetable garden and some laying hens that I raise for their eggs. I grow beets, carrots, squash, okra, potatoes, got two types of corn going this year, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, a ton of tomatoes, red cabbage, Dutch cabbage — it’s a huge undertaking. I’ve got so much Argentinean in me that I get this ridiculous farmer’s tan — right now my belly is white, but you can see how brown the tops of my arms are.

That looks ridiculous when you show up for a photo shoot. I’ve got to work on Banshee and I’m going to show up looking like Farmer Sue. I’m always going back and forth between the makeup and the acrylic nails and the dirt and the chicken poop. You don’t ever want to clean a chicken coop when you have acrylic nails!” She’s looking for more military roles. “As I said, that’s actually how I got involved with Banshee. A lot of the casting around here, they’re looking for former military.

I always submit for the military gigs, and it comes back and they say ‘we’ll use you, but how would you feel about wearing this bikini or this sexy outfit?’ I always turn in photos in my cammis and my dress blues and they write back and say ‘you don’t look like a Marine, are you sure you were in the Corps?’ It is infuriating I don’t look like a Marine? Run on down range there about 500 yards and turn around and you’ll see what a Marine looks like behind this M-16. Doesn’t matter what you look like. I’ve gone through the training. If you can do it you can do it. I’ve earned that title.” !

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