Here at STARBURST, one of our huge favourites is the delightful and fascinating Tristan Risk. Having caught up with this modern horror fave at several points over the past few years, we sat down to grab some time with Little Miss Risk to discuss her foray in to the world of more family-friendly content with the hotly-anticipated Aliens Ate My Homework adaptation. In addition to that, we also had a good ol’ natter about Tristan’s work with the marvellous Caravan of Creeps circus sideshow, her experiences in the horror realm, Canadian lake monsters, her love of snakes, mermaid escape acts, making her directing debut with the upcoming Parlour Tricks, and a whole, whole lot more.
STARBURST: How did you end up involved with Aliens Ate My Homework?
Tristan Risk: Oh gosh. MASTERSFX were the people who were producing this film as well as doing all of the practical and visual effects for it. There’s a female character named Madame Pong. They’d asked around, “Do you know of anyone who’d be suitable for this role?” It was a lot of prosthetics, and if you’re not used to working with them then they can be a little bit difficult. As Doug Jones has proven, it takes the right person to bring those types of characters to life. And Todd [Masters – producer and MASTERSFX founder] threw my name on the table. I auditioned for the producers, they liked what they saw, and that is how I became Madame Pong, who is the Diplomatic Officer of the Starship Ferkel.
You seem quite giddy about that?
Yeah! I grew up reading Aliens Ate My Homework, My Teacher is an Alien… the very first one I read was Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher. It was different in the fact that the protagonist has cerebral palsy, and you barely ever see any main characters in literature who are differently abled. So that was the first thing that caught my eye. Second was that it had this really great story about this boy raising this dragon and just kind of dealing with the daily challenges of being someone who is differently abled. Not everything is as accessible as you would hope in the world for people like that. It was a really great book. Just having the chance to make a film based on one of the books I grew up reading gave me such pleasure. It’s amazing. I’m such a literary nut. I grew up in the library at school.
With the prosthetics for Madame Pong, how did that compare to the vast amount of prosthetics you’ve done for your horror output and performance shows over the years?
Well, she’s got these huge pointy ears, very elf-ish. She looks like this alien space fairy princess. I don’t know if I can sum it up any better than that. Because of the nature of her head and everything, it was a full head piece. So it’s face, head, everything down to my neck was covered. I had caps on all my fingers to elongate them. Then I was also wearing high-heeled platform shoes to give me extra height. I had a floor-length cloak. It was very much just my hands and my face and my eyes, and then there were the other aliens who suffered so much more than I did! Alex [Zahara] who played Tar, he had to wear an extra set of legs on the outside of his legs. Then he had animatronics, little eyes that were looking around and were controlled by somebody else. He had these two little slits to look out of. We all had dental teeth caps as well as fingers, and he had the fingers, too. He had fingers, face covered, animatronics, and he was sweating so much at one point that it actually shorted out the electronics. Brad [Proctor] who was playing the space plant Phil – who’s voiced by William Shatner – he was doing the classic ‘arm straight up’ then the other arm trying to keep everything going, trying to make this character come alive without dying from all the weird positions and the extensions that you’re having to hold to keep this character up. And Dan [Payne] who plays Captain Grakker, he was in a scuba suit, and it was hot, and there was motocross gear on top. He’s on a Disney show where he plays a villain who also wears a lot of prosthetic make-up, so he was an old hand at doing the suit work, but it doesn’t get any easier with time.
As uncomfortable as I might have been at times, I’d look over at those guys and think, “Yeah, I might be a little uncomfortable, but those guys… those guys are not complaining at all, and I am not going to be the one to say my feet hurt or this dress is tight. Those guys are suffering WAY more than I am”. The thing is, it’s not a ‘forever’ discomfort. Yes, it’s not the most comfortable, but you also know that you’re not going to be doing it for 24 hours. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. I don’t have to put it on or take it off, I just have to maintain. I literally have the easiest job out of everybody else.
Tristan as Madame Pong alongside Dan Payne's Captain Grakker in Aliens Ate My Homework
How long was the process of becoming Madame Pong?
And how many days were you on set doing that every day?
I think I had about eight to twelve days. It was last year, and I can’t remember what I did last night! I remember it wasn’t a super long time. They tried to make sure that they get as much in on the days once you’re in there, so it’s not like they’re dragging it out and making you go through this for a ridiculous amount of time. They’re pretty mindful about that, which was really awesome.
How did it work in terms of the sets for you guys? Did they just make overblown, oversized sets, or were there elements of CGI?
Yeah, it was pretty awesome. Do you remember Honey, I Shrunk the Kids? It was kind of like that. When we would walk on set and there’s this giant spaceship leg and we’re on a kid’s desk, and there’s all this school stationery stuff floating around. Then there’s another set where we’re inside of his knapsack and we’re eating these big strips of math homework. They made it out of this special paper so we’re able to bite in to it and chew it up. It was pretty cool. It was really funny running around on set with all of these oversized items. Then there’s a few things that are green screen, but it’s not about making it as green screen as possible, it’s about having practical effects in place.
What was the reaction like when people saw you fully done-up as Madame Pong for the first time, and what was your reaction to the rest of the cast in their outfits?
It was like, “Oh, so this is what we’re gonna look like in this movie?” We got to set much earlier to do the make-up. We had to be there at like 4am or 5am, then we were in make-up for four hours. We were getting finished just as the crew was breaking for lunch. So the first time anyone saw us really was when we were going to the craft services to get fed. Afterwards, the make-up artist would have to touch up all our faces because we’d been eating. It was funny because the kids would be there filming all of their stuff. Then we’d film our crossover alien stuff with them as much as possible afterwards, because kids can only be on set for so long as we don’t want to exploit small humans – that’s wrong! We would have a limited window where we were aliens on set and when they were on set, so they never saw us without make-up on ever! They only know us by our alien selves.
And you’ve never met the youngsters since filming wrapped?
No! I’d be like, “Well, maybe ignore the more adult things I’ve done. Younger audience. Hi guys!”
On the set of Aliens Ate My Homework
As you touched on, a lot of what you’ve done is horror, blood, gore, sex, more adult-orientated themes. Did it feel strange to now be doing something more family-friendly and targeted at children?
I’m happy to do something that’s not evil or demonic or supernatural for a change. It was a little bit of an adjustment in my mind knowing now that I’m going to have a younger audience in some respects. I’ve never tried to be a role model, but it’s just now being mindful of how I present myself. As an adult woman and as someone who still works very much in more adult themes, I’m not going to apologise for what I do but I am also going to make sure that if there were kids to see this then it wouldn’t be a terrible influence in any kind of way. You know, I have the hope that kids get in to this movie and that they really like Madame Pong, so when they are, like, maybe in their 20s they Google me and go back and be all, “Oh my gosh, Madame Pong was in Penthouse in Germany! What is life?!” I’m not opposed to it, it’s my secret gift to any future fans I have [laughs].
Over the past few years, have you found yourself consciously becoming more wary about what you put out there and let people see of ‘Tristan the person’ as opposed to ‘Tristan the actress’?
There’s definitely been in my life recently a change in how I present myself on social media. It’s a powerful tool and it’s one of those things that it doesn’t go away. And we’re seeing it now with the #MeToo thing where some guy will post some sort of comment, and then sure as shit if he’s posted something that’s contradicted that then you know one of the ladies on his friend list will put something up and be, like, “Oh yeah, that’s not what you were saying two years ago!” I think that that’s something now we’re developing our technical memory. I like to think of putting more positive stuff out there than negative, and sometimes I can be cynical, and sometimes I can be very wordy about how cynical I am on certain topics. I think that if it’s approached in a humourous way, it can be funny and people can appreciate it without it sounding like being negative or poorly reflected upon. I’m a big fan of fine British humour, because you’re able to get that point across without coming across as offensive. It’s a little more of a witty humour, which is what I’d prefer to be perceived as with my grumpy, bitchy point of view. So I think it’s something that I’m very aware of. And also, too, as we get older I don’t really feel like I have as much to prove now in terms of being the biggest badass on the block.
I used to want to be the loudest and most outrageous, and I feel like I’m pretty satisfied with a lot of the work that I’ve done in that regard. Now I’m exploring other things in my life, like I’ve restarted painting again and more of my writing, and working on bringing my visions to life in terms of directing some of the stuff I write. That’s kind of where I’m shifting my focus to these days.
Was there a certain moment that triggered that change or did it just seem like a natural progression?
There was that, but also I’d been touring frequently in the last few years. I toured very hard from 2005 to 2010, and then I took a break from touring. I was a burlesque dancer with a band. That was a big chunk of my 20s. I spent the last few years doing that, and doing a lot of conventions and film festivals. Those are all really great, but I find that the touring takes it out of me these days. I can’t do it on the scale I want to at the comfort level that I would prefer, so I don’t. Conventions, I’m kind of disenchanted with them because I find that there’s always something about them in terms of there being an element of disorganisation or the behaviour of some of the other male guests towards the female fans. There’s just things I find distasteful about them that I don’t really enjoy. That’s my own personal feeling. And also when people come to see you and they want to buy all the things on your table and support you, but I feel that it’s kind of a weird thing. I think this is why I’ve started my Patreon account, because I feel that, like, okay, instead of paying me money for an autograph and a selfie at a convention, let me give you more of actually what I am - which is blogs, writing, behind the scenes stuff where it’s more, like, if you really want to see a chunk of my brain, let me give you your money’s worth at least. I’m planning on recording some of my performances and just editing them for video, so it’s like short films. It’s kind of like being able to go on tour without going on tour. It also gives people direct access because I might not be going on tour but people might want to see me perform. And if I do end up performing live, that’s something I can add in there for people to see, to see behind the scenes and to see the backstage situation there.
I think the other thing too - it’s fun to get invited to these things as a guest, absolutely - is just the degree of seeing how much some guests are taken care of compared to other guests. You’ve got people who are brilliant artists who are at these things flogging their work and their souls and their blood, and they’re shoved to a basement part of the building. These are the original people who are creating the content that everybody’s a fan of! Like, why are you not valuing the writers and the artists as much as the actors and the directors? Are we not all of equal artistic value and integrity? All I do is show up to work and do what I’m told. I’m not saving lives and I’m not curing cancer. You don’t really get as much time to talk to people individually. It’s more, “Hi, how are you? I’ll take your money and I’ll take a photo,” and then you’ve got to shuffle them along.
When I used to work as a stripper, people weren’t really paying to see me naked. We all know that there’s the Internet, and there’s a lot of nudity on the Internet. People don’t want that when they go to the club. What they want is the experience, what they want is that interaction. I think that’s why these people do go to these conventions. They want that little bit of interaction. Just seeing it be forced in to being just two seconds - bless every guest who stays behind and waits for every fan who waited in line for them. I find that extremely respectful to the fans, and when I see people who show up and they’re late or they’re flippant or they’re hungover or still drunk… I realise you’re here to have a good time, but at the same time don’t forget why you’re here.
On the Starship Ferkel
Going back to Aliens Ate My Homework, you said you didn’t get the chance to meet the kids without your make-up on. Did you get to meet William Shatner at all during the production, or did he just record his vocals elsewhere?
I didn’t get a chance to meet Shatner, no. He did his own ADR once the footage was shot. But it’s so cool that he’s involved in this and he gets introduced to another fresh generation who can be, like, “The plant guy was the guy riding the spaceship? Are you kidding me?” “Yes, yes Timmy. Once, Phil also looked after the Enterprise!”
In Bruce Coville’s book series, Aliens Ate My Homework is the first of four stories. Obviously it’s early days and these things are always dependent on success and finances, but are there any tentative plans that you’re aware of to move forward with a sequel should this film do well?
It’s my understanding that they would like to do all of the books as films, but again it comes down to how this one is received. If this one is received well, it’s then kind of where it’s going to go from there. I do think that they left it open and with enough interest that everyone’s going to go, “But mom, what happens next? There’s a big reveal, and now we need to know what the next step is” in a Harry Potter sort of way.
And you’d be fine with returning for four hours a day in make-up?
You know what, there’s so many other jobs I’d rather not do. Sitting there, letting someone else do all the stuff for me? Sure, I’m in to it [laughs].
Last time we spoke back in 2016, Frankenstein Created Bikers was just coming out and you’d just finished working on Ayla. You were also attached to Boogeyman: Reincarnation, which was originally looking for a release in 2016. Do you have any idea what’s happening with that?
I’ve not seen that either! I keep hearing about it. I think it was a TV series that was happening, then wasn’t happening. I think the most scary thing about Boogeyman Reincarnation is the ghost of a chance that we might actually get to see it at some time [puts on creepy laugh].
We saw the teaser trailer which had you pegged as an ‘American Scream Queen’…
Like, not really. And it had Laurence advertised for it too, Laurence R. Harvey. It was, like, “Cool, we get to do a film together… but I don’t know who’s going to get to see it!”
Laurence joined us at our inaugural STARBURST International Film Festival, and, of course, you’ve worked with him on Jill Gevargizian’s Call Girl and James Bickert’s aforementioned Frankenstein Created Bikers. Were you aware that there’s actually a Call Girl manga out there, and if so, any idea how that came to be?
They’d screened Call Girl at a Japanese horror festival. The people who put it together were so in to Call Girl, and the concept itself is also very J-horror. It’s very dark, and just when you think it’s dark, it gets even darker. I love anime and manga so much, like misplaced white girl appropriation. I grew up on Sailor Moon and Bubblegum Crisis and Akira and Pokémon, so being in a Japanese manga based on a film I was in was really, really, really, really exciting. I really hope to get a chance to go over to Japan because their type of horror just appeals to me so much.
Daiju Kurabayashi and Hiro Fujii's Call Girl comic
You must be ticking off a personal bucket list by this point. You’ve got your own Japanese comic, the Soskas kind of put you in to a Guardians of the Galaxy comic – which, by the way, we hope you have framed!
I’ve got a copy. There’s my comics that I read, then there’s the comics that mean something to me. Having Kitty Pryde being called Little Miss Risk by Rocket Racoon was pretty fucking cool! The Soskas said that Marvel tried to change that, then they were, “We noticed you made an edit. We would like that returned to how it was before.” They were all, “Are you trying to incept Tristan Risk to be Kitty Pryde?” and they were just, “Yes!” I’m probably the most Kitty Pryde person on the planet; my partner is turning in to a purple space dragon! What else do you need?! I’m not really a computer hacker, but I’m really good at turning computers on and off again, and that usually fixes everything, right?
Your partner is Burns, and the last time we spoke he’d had horns and a split tongue done. What’s next in terms of body modification?
He’s basically modded out. He’s going to have a few more transdermal implants, he’s going to get his tongue re-split for a deeper V split, and then he’s going to be tattooed from head to toe in a motif. They look like dragon scales now that they’ve healed, and the idea is that when the tattoo is done then it will give the texture of dragon scales, too. It’s not something where you can just go to Mexico or Thailand for a month and get all the surgery done. I mean, you could but it would cost a lot of money and it would be a lot for you body to absorb and handle all at once. So Burns has been spacing it out. He beat the Guinness World Record for the world’s longest tattoo, then someone beat him for it. Now he’s going to beat that record again by ten hours or so. He’s like, “I need to beat the World Record. I’ll get all of this tattoo work done, then all of a sudden I’m fast-forwarded to being this dragon.”
What’s the record at now?
He got it to 51 hours, then the person who beat him got to 52. You get a five-minute break every hour. That means you can go for three hours straight then go for a 15-minute break. Burns isn’t allowed to sleep while he’s getting tattooed, and the tattoo artist obviously has to be awake the whole time. That’s how that works. And we found out that the tattoo artist – Brandon Fancie from Lucid Tattoo & Design – he had a lot of blood pooling in his ankles at one point, so he had to elevate his legs while he was tattooing. It’s things you don’t think of when you’re doing tattoos for nearly three days.
How are things doing with the Caravan of Creeps right now? From social media, it seems like you guys have some ridiculously cool things going on all of the time!
It’s doing really well. We’re going to be performing on the gala night on February 25th [this interview took place just before the 25th] at the Vancouver Badass Film Festival since Burns and I and a few other Creeps are in a number of films that are being screened throughout the weekend. Game Over is our big games expo and performance dance party that’s happening at the end of April. I’ll also be running the only circus sideshow tent at the 4/20 protest and rally in Vancouver.
Tristan and Burns performing at Lost Girls Burlesque Halloween Ball
How much do these shows take out of you? Is it just a breeze now, or do you usually need a bit of downtime afterwards?
It depends. I don’t think I need a lot of downtime afterwards, more I need more prep time to make sure that we have all of the things that we wind up breaking or destroying in the show, that all of the flammable materials are all ready to go and that our fire safety kit is on point, whoever is on our fire safety is well briefed on what to do in case of any given emergency. It’s more in the prep work, whereas afterwards I can just relax and enjoy. If I’ve had grinder spray then it’s getting metal flecks off my back, but it’s nothing afterwards where I have to lie down flat for an extended period of time. That’s more after a strenuous dance session at a festival. That’s like, “Oh my god, I can’t dance for two hours straight anymore… but that was so good!”
Of all of the acts you’ve done over the years, is there any particular one that stands out where ahead of time you were a bit “Oh shit, this could go really wrong”?
There’s a trick that Burns and I do with a whip, where when we do it I hold a newspaper out and he cuts it in half with the whip one way. Then I hold it the narrow way and he whips it again the narrow way. Then I take a rose and he whips the blossom off the rose, then I take another rose and put it between my teeth. When I’ve got the rose between the teeth at a Halloween show – and this is our first time performing this in front of an audience, but we’ve been fine in rehearsal every time – he caught my arm just a little bit when he was doing the newspaper, but I didn’t flinch. I didn’t let anyone know, I was ice-fucking-cold, I was rock steady. I’ve got that rose between my teeth and I’m leaning out, and I just think, “But what if…?” Then I tried to think of how many times did he hit the vape pen before we started this, and before you know it the blossoms gone and the moment’s done. But there was that moment of “Huh… well I probably shouldn’t worry too much or think about it too hard, because you don’t wanna manifest the wrong thing”.
The last time we spoke, you mentioned the Okanagan lake monster. What exactly is that legend?
Lake Okanagan has a sea serpent. Much like Loch Ness has Nessie, Okanagan has Ogopogo. There’s some funny parallels to Okanagan that there are to another river monster that’s in British Columbia. People try to disprove the existence of Ogopogo by saying it’s a giant sturgeon that’s coming up, that you’re seeing it on the top of the water. But there’s been enough reports from people to say that it’s definitely not something that’s just flat on the water, that there’s definitely something sticking out from the water. Okay, it might be some sort of giant eel, it might be some sort of reptile. We don’t know. In Quesnel, north of there is a place called the Wells and they do this big thing every year called The ArtsWells Festival. The last time we were there, I noticed there was a painting on the side of one of the buildings, and I was just, “Hmm, this looks like an indigenous design. I should ask about it… the big sea snake thing out there, what’s that about?” So, the legend is that there’s this big sea snake thing that travels to the rivers through the tunnels in the mountains. Now you’ve got this thing that started with just the rivers, it now actually travels through the mountains as well and it can go from place to place to place. That’s really cool, but that’s no relation to anything to do with Ogopogo. So okay, there’s obviously something going on, whether it’s a big frickin’ snake or something, there’s clearly something to this. So that is the myth and the legend of Ogopogo in Okanagan.
What do you believe?
I haven’t seen it disproved. We’re finding new lifeforms all the time out there in the main oceans, so there’s no reason not to assume that the same changes and mutations aren’t happening in the Okanagan as well. Because of the sheer depth of it, we can’t check. So it’s, “Alright, well we don’t know. You can’t tell me there is, you can’t tell me there isn’t”. Until people prove to me without a shadow of a doubt that it does not exist, I’m willing to believe that there is something down there. And that is why I don’t swim in Lake Okanagan, ‘cos fuck that shit!
You’re happy to swim with sharks, though?
Yeah, we’ve been studying sharks! We’ve not been studying Ogopogo! Sharks, okay, we know don’t pet it [laughs].
Tristan and Burns performing at Lost Girls Burlesque Halloween Ball,
Photograph courtesy of Bob Ayers, 2017
Previously you’ve said about how you’re always usually given great scrips. Have you had anything since then where you’ve thought, “No, this is too much”?
It’s not because they were extreme, it was because they were just bad scripts; they were poorly written. I was, “Yeah, maybe I don’t get the vision of this, or I’m having difficulty visualising what you want out of this”, but the dialogue was so… I don’t think I could’ve done anything with it myself, and I feel like it was coming from someone who was definitely a first-time writer/director. It was, “I don’t think you really know what you’re doing here”. It was just a lot of repetitive kind of dialogue. It wasn’t like it was bad or, like, “Oh my god, that’s in such bad taste!” It was just, “I don’t think I can do this, I’m gonna pass on this one”. I appreciate being thought of, but I just don’t feel like I was appropriate for that part. And they weren’t happy with that. Some people can be a little bit more persistent, but thankfully, “Okay, cool. Thanks for the feedback, thanks for reading it,” and just go and have someone else, which is totally fine. But there’s some people who are more, “But why, but why?” “Because I fucking said no, that’s why!” It’s like going to a bar and asking to buy me a drink. “No”, “Why, will your boyfriend get mad?” “No,” “Do you have a boyfriend?” “No, I just don’t wanna fucking talk to you and I don’t want your drink. I said no, I don’t have to justify it, I just said no!”
One big question we have to ask you, if you could play American Mary’s Beatress or Frankenstein Created Bikers’ Val one more time, which character would get the nod?
Beatress! I love Val, but oh my god, to be able to play Beatress again – that would be so awesome! It’s hard to choose. It’s like having to choose your favourite daughter. Val, I love and she was so fun, and so cathartic, but Beatress has done me a lot of favours. I would love to continue to give life to that character because there’s so many people who got a kick out of her.
American Mary's Beatress and Frankenstein Created Bikers' Val
You and the Soskas are best friends these days, and they just so happen to be developing a remake of David Cronenberg’s Rabid. Is there any chance of you making an appearance in that film?
Possibly. I don’t know who they’re casting for the main roles, but I would love to be involved in Rabid if there was a place for me. We’ll see if there’s a role that’s suitable for me to audition for. I’ve not ruled it out.
Speaking of the Soakas, we've been absolutely dying to check out their horror game show Hellevator, but it's somehow yet to be picked up here in the UK.
It’s one of those shows that, because the Game Show Network is on every accessible channel, it has opened people up to not just the Soskas but to horror. It’s like, “Oh, this is kinda scary and kinda fun. We’ll watch this! This is kinda cool. Hey, they do actual horror movies, we should check these out! They recommend these titles, we should check these out.” And that helps put horror in to mainstream culture.
You’ve mentioned before about your love of creature features, but what would be the ultimate dream project you’d love to tackle?
I really want to play a mermaid on film really badly. I’ve got my custom mermaid tail coming soon, and I’m going to be posting probably an obnoxious amount of photos and videos of that. I really want to play a mermaid on film because I was so inspired by seeing Daryl Hannah in Splash years and years ago. It was the one thing where I was like, “See! She’s a mermaid, I can be a mermaid!” To be able to do that on film, and to show off my ability to swim under water. And Daryl Hannah did all of that swimming herself; that was not a stunt person, that was all her. So I’ve got a huge amount of respect for that lady. I really enjoy swimming and diving, so I would like to show off my mermaid skills and possibly even bring some of my other mermaid friends along to show off what they can do.
See, this is just one of the reasons why you’re so awesome to chat to – you have mermaid skills and mermaid friends! Would this mermaid suit be for out at sea or is salt water a no go, though?
Oh no, it’s good in salt, it’s good in chlorine, it’s good in fresh water. It is good to go. It’s made from the same material that your wetsuits are made of, then it’s got a silicone latex on top which gives the illusion of scales. It is good to go anywhere, but after chlorine and salt I would rinse it off. I have a few mermaid tales from an installation I did a few years ago, and a lot of those are just fabric that’s been printed over the top. I took them in to a pool once but they just got chewed up. But the chlorine isn’t so rough on the other materials.
And we’re guessing you’ve already got ideas on how to incorporate a mermaid act in to the Caravan of Creeps shows?
I really want to get a tank on stage that I can be submerged in. I do an underwater escape act. Actually, when I was living with Lola Frost years and years ago, she came home to me in the bathtub with the straitjacket on. She said to me, “Promise me you will not practice this when you’re home by yourself again!” Now that I have practiced that, I really want to do it in the mermaid tail because I think it’d be extremely rad.
We’re imagining it’d be extremely difficult, too?
Meh, anything worth doing is worth doing well.
Tristan performing with the Caravan of Creeps
You’ve already mentioned conventions and how you’ve changed your approach in how you put yourself out there as your career has progressed. What’s the best and most bizarre fan experience you’ve had over the years?
There’s been a variety of different experiences. I don’t know if this would be counted as a fan experience, but I remember I was coming home from work one day. I live a 10-minute walk to work from my house, so I walk to work every day. And I was probably wearing headphones. I get home from work one day, I put on my computer, I make a cup of tea, I go on Facebook and there’s a message from someone I don’t know. I was all, “Hey new friend!” And he was all, “Hey, it was good to see you before. I saw you when you got off work today and I wanted to say ‘hi’, but I didn’t know how so I just followed you until you went to your house. Then I got too shy to say anything, so I just decided to write you this note instead.”
That’s how horror films start!
Meanwhile, I’ve gone and locked all of my doors, wondering if he can still see me. Now he knows I’m home, does he know I’m home by myself? All these things go through my head. I’m fucking terrified because I had no idea I was being followed home from work! It was off my radar, I had my headphones in… I was so, so scared. I slept with all the lights on that night, and I slept in the bathtub because I can lock the bathroom door. I was living in the basement suite, so I was, “Oh god, this is how I die!” And I slept with a knife under my pillow, so, “If anyone finds me or anyone comes in, I will gut them like a fish or die trying!” That was probably one of the most unsettling moments I’ve had.
That almost sounds like the title of an autobiography, “Gut Them Like a Fish or Die Trying”.
It was someone who lived locally and obviously didn’t know that that was something that would scare the crap out of a person. I don’t really know even who I would call or what charges I would press. They didn’t do anything, it’s not stalking, it was just a one-time thing and I’ve never heard from this person since. I couldn’t really tell who they were and it’s hard to get a sense of who they were from the few Facebook photos they had. So sometimes when I’m walking around the main drag by my house, I don’t know if the person is there or not. It’s really unsettling to go through life being, “Huh, are you my potential killer? Or is it you that’s my potential killer? I don’t know, it’s hard to say.” This person clearly didn’t have an idea that that is a terrifying thing for a woman to deal with. It made me really aware that I can’t not be aware. What if that person hadn’t just been socially awkward? That could’ve really been a trap – I could be dead by now or had acid thrown in my face or who fucking knows. It’s really scary.
Tristan with the Twisted Twins on the Twinpool Blood Drive PSA
You seem to be constantly busy all of the time, so what are you currently working on at the moment?
Well, I’m going to be directing my first short film that I also wrote called Parlour Tricks in the beginning of March. I have an awesome cast for that who are a few Creeps and a few non-humans, then also some awesome Vancouver cabaret artists. And I’m also excited for the Badass Film Festival at the end of the month in Vancouver. They’re screening Ayla, they’re screening The Mother of Beauty, they’re showing the Soskas’ Blood Drive PSA. It’s very much a film family jam, which is nice. Going to so many other festivals, it’s really nice to have it in my hometown, in my neighbourhood. It’s a 20-minute walk from my house, or stumble depending on how things go.
I am giving my first snake dance workshop in Vancouver, for women or men if they are interested. That’s basic snake handling tips, then how to do choreography and dance work with our legless ladies, because it can be a little bit of a problem. Burns and I will often once a month give a snake handling workshop out of our home. We’ll also do a dance workshop, and we’ll also do a photoshoot with a professional photographer and with all five of our snakes just to have for their own portfolio. We’ve done really well in the joys of handling snakes and giving people a chance to get used to handling them, getting a chance to ask somebody what to do in different situations before they go out and buy one. A lot of people will just get them and figure it out as they go without giving further thought to whether this is really right for you.
Something Burns and I also do is we take rescue snakes as well. People can’t care for their snakes anymore, or they get a boyfriend or girlfriend who doesn’t like snakes, or whatever. So if the snakes need any work, are bitey at all, need to be calmed down, or they just need assisted handling before they’re ready to be adopted - we do that. Then when they’re ready we put them up for adoption. Most people who do our courses who are interested in snakes like to come by and meet the snakes to see if they like them. We’re more interested in finding personal home solutions for snakes rather than people rushing out without thinking about what the care entails… and then us ending up with the snakes at the end [laughs].
And how many snakes do you and Burns have between you right now?
Six snakes. We’re fostering one snake right now that’s not ours. We’ve got a bearded dragon, a roughneck monitor lizard, and one fat orange tabby cat who’s around here somewhere.
You’ve talked about having so much on your doorstep. What’s the reaction locally when people see Tristan Risk walking around?
I like living where I live because I like that it’s made up of a lot of people like me who are all artists and we all support each other. You see people you know in the neighbourhood who you work with and you live with. It’s kind of a small town feel without actually being in a small town. Downtown is only 10-minutes away, but we’re on the east side because that’s where the artists can afford to live, where we make our art. You know when you go and see a film that’s made up of a great ensemble cast made up of a lot of cool people? It’s kind of more like that. I’m part of a constellation rather than being a single star.
Photo courtesy of Tom Gould Photography, make-up by Make Up Jems
Is there anything you can tell us about your directorial debut Parlour Tricks right now in terms of plot and story?
Well it is horror-based, but it’s also a comedy. It’s a short film, and it’s going to be shot locally here in Vancouver in the beginning of March. We’re all going to come together and work on Parlour Tricks, which takes place in a Victorian parlour and has to do with a Ouija board and the summoning of some spirts and the problems that the crew have with that.
When did you first realise that you wanted to direct something?
It’s something that’s been brewing in my head just because I had the concept of doing more short films based around what I was doing. Again, I didn’t have to tour or if I wanted to show somebody what my vision was then it’s more a complete vision versus what I can do on stage live. I had that little thing sitting in the back of my head for a while. I’d written a bunch of short scripts that I thought were pretty funny or were worth putting together as films. Strangely enough, my first AD Topher Graham, I was trying to get him to direct Parlour Tricks. He was more, “Okay, you should really direct this,” “No, no, I’m not a director, I don’t know technical shit!” Then we were going over our shot list and I was all, “Ooh, this, can we do this?!” So Jordan, our DoP, was just looking at me, then Topher was looking at me, then Burns was staring at me going, “Just direct it already! You’re already directing it!” I was, “Okay, but I don’t know how to do lenses and stuff,” and the guys were, “We can do that! Just tell us what you want!”
Photo courtesy of Tom Gould Photography, make-up by Make Up Jems
Reading back through our previous chats, a certain quote stands out amongst the rest. You said that you don’t think you’re a particularly good actress, just an accomplished liar to the camera. Do you still think that’s the case or do you now have more confidence in yourself as an actress?
I still feel that I wake up on a lot of days and feel like a fraud. I'm constantly worried I’m going to get called out. And every time I do a live performance, I have that self-doubt of, “Am I doing something that’s entertaining? Am I engaging? Am I accomplishing what I want as a performer?” And I feel like that on film, too. But film is easier just because between what I’m doing, and the director, and the editor, and whoever’s doing the sound, it comes together and they’ll make it work on film – which is why I feel like more of a fraud there. If I’m doing something live and it sucks, there’s no way I can fucking hide it. Sometimes I don’t always feel like I’m accomplished in any way. Sometimes I feel really good about what I do, then other days it’s more of a struggle to see the good in my work. But that just means it’s more of a drive for me to want to do better constantly. It’s like that old thing, “Again, only better!”
Before we wrap things up, what’s the details for your upcoming Patreon page?
It launches in March. I’m actually going to be shooting my pitch video in the next week or two so people know what they’re buying. Then I’ll be just trying to put it together so that at least if you’re taking the trouble to go to the Patreon, it’s going to be very clear what you’re getting. It’s good quality, it’s confident, it’s my commercial basically. I want it to be well done and make people feel excited about donating, not just, “Well, I’m throwing money down a nasty black hole here.”