Q&A with Tristan Risk

Cult Projections: What’s your earliest horror movie experience? Was it something on late night TV? Something on VHS?

Tristan: Actually, my horror roots come from, like so many other things, an unintentional beginning. When I was a child MTV was just starting to dip a curious toe in our pop culture tides. Music videos were beginning to become more incorporated with musical artists, and it was Michael Jackson’s Thriller directed by John Landis (with Rick Baker on the SFX, thank you very much) that was my “ah-ha!” moment. I didn’t really know zombies (until Hulk Hogan’s Rock and Wrestling, where there was that one episode where they built the theme park on the graveyard and zombies showed up) before that. But I was in the video’s thrall. I’d hide round the corner of the living room, peering in at the television, unable to look away. It wasn’t until I was trying to “transform” as MJ did in the beginning sequences that my poor mother thought I must have been having some kind of seizure. Convinced that I had shapeshifted into a cat creature, I did what any small child worth their salt in my situation would do: I bit my mom on the ankle. After that, I was hooked. I loved scaring other kids from that moment on, and what would lead me to a childhood of getting teased for my interests as a result of it, but as an adult, I can say my affection for the macabre ran DEEP and still does. I have since stopped biting people’s ankles and blaming Michael Jackson, though.

CP: When did you first get the acting bug? Did you do any formal training? Theatre?

Tristan: My first taste of the stage came when I was seven. I was hosting my grandfather’s church show and the folks thought it’d be cute if my seven year old self emceed. I’ll be honest, it was really hard giving up the mic after the show, and I was, let’s just say, a theatrical child. If my parents had a dinner party, my bestie and I would reenact scenes from Monty Python’s Flying Circus or Are You Being Served?, whether they wanted an impromptu performance or not. Beyond a few kid’s theatre workshops, that was the extent of any formal acting training I’d had. I would just watch movies I liked and learn to imitate what I saw and then apply to different situations. I’m not really much of an actress, but I’m an excellent mimic.

CP: Name just one horror movie from each of the following decades - 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and the 00s – that you hold in very high esteem.

Tristan: 60s – The Curse Of The Mummy’s Tomb (Hammer), 70s – The Exorcist, 80s – The Hunger, 90s – Nightbreed, 00s – American Psycho.

 CP: What was the experience like working under such elaborate prosthetic makeup for your extraordinary performance in American Mary? Would you do something like that again?

Tristan: Without hesitation. I love wearing prosthetics and I must say, given the short end of the stick that actresses tend to get as the age in the film industry, I like the idea that behind the make up and FX I am ageless. That I can tell stories and people will focus on that rather than any crow’s feet or cellulite that comes with the wisdom of years.  When people see a performer in a suit or the heavy FX they’re audience doesn’t get distracted by factors as age, race, sexuality and the like, which allows them to fully immerse themselves in the character they are watching. It’s very freeing.

CP: What’s your take on the close association of sex and death that makes the horror and exploitation genres so fascinating and alluring?

Tristan: I think sex and death have been linked to us since we started walking upright. Given the nature of horror and the physical effects it can have on us – quickened heartbeat, shortness of breath, anticipation… These are all effects we feel when aroused as well. It’s a very wonderful and primal thing to explore, and with genre exploitation films, it is also a way to thumb one’s nose at social restraints and norms.  People who gravitate towards exploitation films are more likely to be of the camp on the fringes, and enjoy the low brow. By “low brow” I mean that it’s fun, cartoonish over-the-top fun of escapism rather than something that’s aiming to be more conceptualist in execution. It allows to explore concepts that might be otherwise politically incorrect or to make fun of society’s ideas of normality and moral attitudes. It’s much the same reason I love burlesque – it gives that freedom of voice as well as just being plain old entertaining.

CP: As an actor what kind of direction do you prefer? Those that are very hands-on, demand lengthy rehearsals, and numerous takes, or perhaps those that cast quickly, are impulsive, and let you improvise whenever possible?

Tristan: I think it depends on the project. There are some scripts and I hear a really strong character voice. Other characters, the director has a really clear image in their minds, and it’s my job to become that vessel for their character. I like a collaborative effort, and those performances have always been very satisfying for me, but I’m happy to breathe life into a character I’ve been given carte blanche to do so with.  It comes down to communication with my directors, but when I love feedback. I find there tends to be nothing more that feeds the insecurity of my ilk than when we don’t know whether or not to keep doing what we are doing, so again, communication is reassuring to us to at least be aware that I’m not, you know, fucking up the film.

CP: What kind of preparation do you do for a role? Do you scrutinise other actors’ performances for inspiration, if so, what actors (male and female) do you admire?  

Tristan: If I get homework from the director, I’ll be a good student and study what they ask from me. If they give me a few inspiration points, I’ll go off and research a character on my own. If nothing else, it’s usually a good as an excuse as any to sit and marathon someone’s work and learn from more established people than me. Besides, it’s cheaper than acting classes at a film school.

CP: You’ve worked with numerous rising filmmakers (Soskia twins, Astron 6 crew, Jill Sixx, to name a few), what is it about these folk that you enjoy? Why do you think they choose you? 

Tristan: In a lot of cases, I was a fan before I was in their films. I first found out about the Soskas because I happened to see their screening at the Rio Theatre in East Vancouver and lost my heart to them. I was a HUGE Manborg fan, as it was all things of my VHS childhood dreams. So I went online and found more of their work (their shorts are on their website, I encourage you to check it out) and not only loved their work, but had the utmost respect for their DIY attitudes. With Jill, I read the script she had and it was short, sweet, and brutal, which I enjoyed.  For a first time director, she had drive and I liked that a lot. I chalk all of our moments where we’ve worked together under one common force: drive. I get a lot of people asking me how they become a director/actress/burlesque dancer etc. I never asked permission, and I never went to school or took classes for it. I just did it. I sought other people who were just doing it, and it went from there. Waiting for someone to cast you or drop a script in your lap is like waiting for the right mate/job/house to come along, and people risk setting themselves up for disappointment. Will everyone who has a go at it achieve a level of celebrity or cult status? Maybe. Maybe not, but then that’s not the point if you are an artist and you have something you want to say. But I have a lot of respect for people who go out and do their own thing instead of tugging their forelocks waiting to be discovered. 

CP: Your upcoming resume is looking very busy! What do you look for in a screenplay and character in order to agree to do the project? Does a director’s inexperience bother you? Are there scripts you’ve turned down because of content you objected to?

Tristan: I like interesting concepts, fresh ideas, good writing. Sometimes just reading that from a script, it can be tricky to visualise without being familiar with the director’s previous work. If they have no previous work to draw from, sometimes you just have to take a chance. I will shy away from films if I feel a character is too similar to an established character I’ve already played, but I’ll usually talk to a director and see about working to make it it’s own entity, and if they are willing to have a dialogue, then it’s game on.  I don’t shy away from first time directors, ever. Everyone starts somewhere. Someone (well TWO someones) took a chance on me once, and I’ve never forgotten it. I at least like to give people a chance to fuck up first before I will just write them off.

CP: Name five favourite Canadian horror movies.

Tristan: American Mary doesn’t count, right? Probably not, but I usually am pretty biased when it comes to all things Soska, let’s just say… but I’ll do my best to keep at least somewhat balanced … Dead Hooker In A Trunk (okay, I totally lied), Scanners, Ginger Snaps, Father’s Day, My Bloody Valentine [Ed: Man, I love Ginger Snaps and My Bloody Valentine].

CP: If there were one character from any source material that you’d love to play in a movie adaptation, who would it be? Who would be your dream director?

Tristan: Geez, how much time do you have? I’d love to play Lessa of Anne McCaffery’s Dragonriders, if it ever got turned into a film directed by Peter Jackson. I’d love to play Excalibur’s Rachel Summers or Kitty Pryde in a Marvel film adaptation with James Gunn at the helm. ANYTHING by Clive Barker with Jovanka Vuckovic behind the camera. And while I’m dreaming here, I’d like a pony, too.

CP: What upcoming project are you particularly excited about?

Tristan: Absolutely! I am extremely pleased, heading into 2016 to be working on Elias Ganster’s Alya which I’ve been excited about since the script came into my paws, the release of James Bickert’s Frankenstein Created Bikers, Luchagore’s Madre Di Dios, Izzy Lee’s Innsmouth and Scott Schirmer’s Harvest Lake.  From a live performance place, I’m excited about upcoming shows and tours with my circus performance group, The Caravan Of Creeps, as well! Featuring performers from Cirque Du Soleil, two world record holders, and things to induce shock and awe, I’m very excited for all our upcoming adventures together in 2016.

CP: Thank you Tristan!