It must be nice: working a dream job while supporting a cause that stirs your passion—and having a solid backup to boot.
For Canton resident Dani Englander, the job is acting, modeling, and filmmaking; the cause is animal welfare. She gave up nursing 12 years ago to take the plunge into show business, but she notes that she still has her RN “in my back pocket.”
Most recently, Englander played the First Lady, wife of fictional-U.S.-president Garrett Walker, in the Netflix series House of Cards, directed by David Fincher and starring Kevin Spacey as a conniving senator.
Englander said that working with Fincher was one of the high points of her career.
“Even for that limited time, I was thrilled to work with a director of that caliber,” she says.
House of Cards film crews have been spotted all over Charm City, from Locust Point to Patterson Park, but the Guide has been unable to score any interviews or close-up photographs.
“Even as an actor, House of Cards was very top secret,” says Englander. “The script—with only my part—was delivered the night before. I don’t think there were any big leaks about what was going on.”
Producing her own independent film was a different kind of career high for Englander.
“It was low-budget; we shot it in 12 days,” she says. “It was just insane, but also one of the most rewarding things—we did it!”
Between the big projects, Englander keeps busy with smaller roles, voiceover, print modeling, and other odds and ends.
“I have to do a lot of different things to stay busy, but I love what I do,” she says.
For those seeking a career in film, Englander warns, “It’s really not that glamorous, unless you’re in the top five percent in the field.”
Rejection, she adds, comes much more often than in other professions.
“If you do five auditions one day, and book one, that’s good,” she says.
Nevertheless, Englander says that aspiring actors should “go for it.”
“I think it’s important to do what you love,” she says. “Life is short; doing something you hate is not good.”
Englander loves cats and rescues them from the streets—a friend commented on her beauty, but then added, “I always see her in jeans, carrying a cat carrier, with a can of tuna fish in her pocket.”
Englander also loves dogs, and hates it that so many unwanted pets are euthanized in Maryland every year.
She found a way to apply her film skills to solving the problem. Englander directed and produced a public service announcement urging pet owners to spay or neuter their animals, and encouraging the public to support spaying and neutering initiatives. The two-and-a-half-minute video is viewable at savemarylandpets.org.
“Baltimore is not a great place to be an animal in the street,” Englander says. “Crimes against animals are not punished like they should be, and there’s a lot of apathy on the part of owners.”
Englander has always been an animal advocate and rescuer, “but it wasn’t until I moved to Baltimore that I started going into alleys and bad parts of town trapping animals.”
“I’d never seen anything like it,” Englander explains. “You couldn’t walk the dog at night without seeing stray cats.”
While advocating for Maryland Senate Bill 820/House Bill 767, which would establish a fund to support spay and neuter services for low-income residents, Englander is just as happy doing the grunt work, trapping and spaying 160 cats from the Homestead Gardens neighborhood and 175 from the Park Heights neighborhood in West Baltimore, with help from other activists.
“Again, it’s a drop in the bucket,” she says, citing Save Maryland Pets figures of 96,000 cats and dogs entering animal shelters every year, half of them eventually facing euthanasia.
Maryland, Englander says, ranks 39th in the country in terms of how animals are treated.
“Granted, it’s up from where we used to be, but we can do better,” she says, adding that states adopting low-cost spay and neuter legislation often cut their euthanasia rate in half the first year.
“I just want to encourage people to step up and make a difference in Baltimore’s animal situation,” says Englander, who is also involved with Maryland Votes for Animals, voteanimals.org. “If animals aren’t your thing, you don’t have to own them; just don’t mistreat them.”
by Erik Zygmont