Tristan Risk, or simply Little Miss Risk as she’s known to her fans, is somebody who’s making quite the name for herself in the horror genre these days. Having first caught the eye in the Soska sisters’ fantastic American Mary and more recently in Jill Sixx’s Call Girl, this instantly-likeable Canadian talent can be seen imminently in The ABCs of Death 2, The Editor, Mania, and a whole host of other projects. We were lucky enough to spend over an hour chatting with the lovely Miss Risk about her passion for horror, her movies, her relationship with the Soskas, Michael Bay bastardising childhoods, and a whole lot more.
STARBURST: We know you were a dancer before you get into movies, but how did your venture into film first come about?
Tristan Risk: It ended up with me transitioning from that into film, because originally for American Mary I was brought on board as a dance coordinator for Jen and Sylvia . In their mind they have dance sequences and dream sequences and it was gonna be really stylised and awesome and cool. Then, like everything else, you have these really big expectations and you have actually have to find a way to make it cohesive and work for your budget. So I got in to meet with them and we were sitting there talking. They were both just starting at me - it was really unnerving – and they said, “It’s too bad you don’t act.” I was doing theater, I’d just gotten back into doing musical theater, so I said, “Oh, I act.” So they went, “It’s just too bad that you don’t do voices.” I said, “Oh, I do voices, usually when I’m drunk and whether you want me to or not.” And they were like, “Well we know you can dance… so do you wanna audition for Beatress?” That was the first time for an actual legit motion picture that I tried out for anything like that. Up until that point I’d done friends’ or small independent features, comedy things or music videos. It was pretty casual, pretty low-key and very independent – kinda like we’ll pay you in catering and beer, and I’d be like, “Sounds great! I’ll be there at 2pm!” Whereas this was a totally different animal. That was kind of my stepping-stone. Then I didn’t really do a lot, for like a year or so. It wasn’t until I did The Editor that it just kind of sparked-off doing all of these movies pretty consistently through the last year. The last 13 months have been ridiculous; I feel like I’m doing a movie every once in a while, then they get edited, finished in post-production, then they come out and I’m, like, “Shit! I forgot I did this. This looks really good.”
You most definitely seem to be a very busy girl right now.
Yeah, I’m enjoying the ride on the carousel right now, terrified to get off it at any point.
With all of the projects being in the horror genre, is it safe to say that you were always a horror fan?
I was. I was a weird kid growing up, didn’t have a lot of friends, got made fun of pretty much through elementary school and high school. I already liked darker things but the horror thing, my mom said when I was really little, when the Thriller music video first came out, I was alternatively scared of it but fascinated by it. She couldn’t work out what I was doing – I think she thought I was going to shit myself – but what was actually happening was I was trying to turn into the cat creature that Michael Jackson turns into at the beginning of the movie. I don’t remember this but she swears it’s true, that I bit her ankle. I’ve always had this thing about, y’know, maybe because nobody else liked me then maybe the monsters would like me. So yeah, I had a lot of make-believe friends.
And with movies and TV, what grabbed your attention and really piqued your interest?
I always liked cryptozoology. Growing up in Vancouver, we’ve got a really lush backdrop of First Nations’ legends. Each band has its own takes on myths and legends, so there’s such a huge variant and it’s really, really beautiful. And terrifying. Western culture has nothing on the First Nation and some of their legends. Also we’ve got Lake Okanagan, that’s 4 hours from where I live and it’s got its own version of the Loch Ness Monster in there. Then we’ve got different things in the mountains. We used to go up to Whistler, go skiing when I was really little, and you’d always be looking to see if there was a Big Foot there because people had seen them around. So growing up with local legends, that was something that always fascinated me; it’s like kind of a ghost story, kind of an urban legend, but it could be true. That’s why I hate shows like Monster Hunters, because they’re like, “Okay, so what’s the conclusion at the end of this? Well there could definitely, might be something out there.” But you basically know as much coming out of it as you doing going into it, that you can conclude that there might be something out there. That does not help me at all to know if the Jersey Devil is an actual thing!
So with that love of monsters and myths, did that mean you levitated naturally towards ‘creature feature’ films?
I always liked creature features because I always preferred the company of animals to people. So watching Orca, I’m like, “No. No, that Orca has every right to be pissed off. They killed its wife and its baby, I’d be pretty pissed off, too.” And then, y’know, Jaws, of course. Jaws, I must’ve been a really weird kid because I saw that and I wasn’t afraid to go in the water; in fact, I wanted to spend more time in the water. What I found terrifying, I saw my first shark when I was 9. I was swimming in Hawaii with my parents, we’d gone out to Molokini, and it was just black-tipped reef sharks, but that moment of seeing the shark face-to-face… I was utterly hypnotised with how beautiful they were. I think that’s kind of why I like the cryptozoology thing, because whether it’s a legend or an actual animal that exists that’s just a lot bigger than the humans are, I always feel empathy for the animal. And I think that goes back to the whole idea of the monsters will like me more than the people will. So it’s like the big crazy monsters, the big animals that are eating the people or going crazy… I’m like, “Well the people shouldn’t have been there in the first place.” Simple as that. I’m Betty White in Lake Placid, I’m the one who’s feeding the giant crocodile. It’s not that an animal has any personal vendetta towards you, it’s just like, “Oh, I thought I could eat you…” And sometimes sharks test things with their mouth, like puppies do. It’s just sharks tend to leave a little bit more of a mark than puppies. It’s a little bit more fatal when a shark’s like, “Oh shit, sorry! I didn’t know.” Then you have no hands…
You say there’s no grudges, but Jaws: The Revenge, that was personal, that was a grudge…
Yeah, well after four films I’d have a grudge too, I think. At this point, I don’t think anyone was taking that shark seriously. Jaws 3-D was the one where I was just, “Meh, my suspension of disbelief is officially dead and buried.”
Going back to creatures and monsters, did you have any leaning towards the classic Universal monsters at all?
Oh yeah, absolutely. I went through the moody Goth teenager phase where I read all the Anne Rice stuff, we all had these hopes and dreams of a sexy teenage vampire, we would meet them and they’d bite us. I dunno what would happen next, but it’d be awesome. Then I read stuff like Twilight and I’m like, “There’s gonna be this entire generation of completely sexually-confused women who read that when they were younger.” I read some pretty good erotic horror when I was younger, ‘cos you’re kind of exploring that about yourself, right? And vampires are very representative of that, I think. Werewolves, too. If we look at Ginger Snaps, there’s that whole thing, the change, the hormonal beast within that’ll, like, flare up from time to time. Kids really go through a lot and that gives you something to just get you out of that shitty situation that you’re in at that moment and just let your imagination run away, have that escapism. And I think classic monsters are just great for that.
At STARBURST we love a good monster movie, but some of the more recent CGI-heavy offerings lose the rich gothic charm that made the original stories so special…
That was the other thing, the one thing that was a really consistent seller for those early movie houses was the classic horror. That was the thing that kept people coming in and paying for stuff. Everyone liked the romances, the dramas, but they’d get a full house for horror at every show.
It’s nice when modern movies still embrace the practical approach and make that work, like this year’s WolfCop…
Oh, wasn’t that great? That was the little movie that could! Isn’t that great? We were all so excited about that being made. We were all, like, “Oh man, we’re all really excited about this, let’s see how it does.” And it’s everything you want it to be, from the poster art to the special effects. That was Emersen Ziffle who did the practical effects, and he also did part of the effects for The Editor as well.
Risk as Beatress in American Mary
And to go back to your first venture into motion pictures, was it really your meeting with the Soskas for American Mary that saw you make a concerted effort to do this for a living?
Well that was happening around late-2010, nearly 2011. I had just quit my band that I had been touring with for 6 years as a dancer. It got to the point where it just wasn’t working out anymore. I had done this really extensive 3-month tour of North America and Europe, we got home and we were all at each other’s throats, so I just said I’m done with that. I’d been doing it for 6 years and so it was just time to step back. I had been doing burlesque before that for a significant amount of time, like 4 or 5 years, so I was kind of getting into… this was around about the time that there was a burlesque show, there was something happening every weekend, every day of every weekend, in Vancouver. So it was a very busy time for burlesque. I started to think that maybe I’d done this for so long that maybe I should look at doing something else. So I started to do more live theater, get back into it, then the opportunity to help with Mary came up. I messaged Jen and Sylv saying, “Hey, I’ve seen Dead Hooker in a Trunk in the theater at the Rio, when you screened it I loved it, I threw up in my lap when Jen’s eyeball popped out, and if you guys need any help for anything then let me know, I’d be super happy to give you whatever I’ve got to offer.” They were like, “Hey, do you wanna read our script for Mary?” and I was like, “I so totally wanna read your script for Mary!” That’s where it all kind of started. I don’t think of myself as a particularly good actress, I think of myself as perhaps a very accomplished liar to the camera. I really enjoy a lot of these opportunities where I get to play these roles. It was that thing where I was like, “Oh, people actually really like what I’m doing.” You get really insecure about this, that you’ve not done it before and that you don’t wanna fuck up your friends’ movie. Then it was like, “Oh, people actually like this. Maybe I should try this again because it was fun and I enjoyed it.” That’s kind of like the moment, after I got the nod from the guys for The Editor, it was like “Oh, I think that I could keep doing this if people keep hiring me for it.” Fortunately, people have been consistent in hiring me. I’ve said to myself that I’m not going to take on something if I read the script and it’s really shitty. That hasn’t come up yet. I’ve been extremely fortunate, and I think that’s because we’ve had a renaissance with our genre again. I felt like in the ‘90s it was a little bit suspect, but I feel like we’ve now fallen right back in love with all different subgenres within horror. That’s where we’re at now, so that’s a lot of opportunities for someone like me. I’m just lucky - the right place, the right time, horseshoe up my ass sideways.
It seems like the genre is at a stage where a lot of those who grew up with the great horrors of the ‘70s and ‘80s are the ones who are now making movies themselves, with them taking risks with their films rather than just producing formulaic safe-scares or overly-convoluted efforts like in the ‘90s.
I feel like Idle Hands is a really good example of that; goofy, funny parts, teenagers that are being played by actors in their 20s at least. Like you say, it’s very formulaic and everybody just rolled their eyes. For a long time, it feels like horror never really got any respect from mainstream Hollywood or cinema. Then finally Quentin Tarantino won an Oscar, so I think that they’re finally starting to pay attention. If we’re doing these things, this is maybe what the public wants, maybe they don’t want the eighth or ninth sequel in whatever Michael Bay has decided to blow up. If he touches He-Man or She-Ra, I will be so pissed. Ruin Transformers for me, do not fuck up the rest of my childhood nostalgia, okay? If Michael Bay was stood in front of me, I’m very confident to say to him, “Dude, I get that you watched all of those things in the ‘80s that had all of the explosions, and I love that you’re like ‘Yah, I can totally do that on a big scale!’ Just don’t… Ninja Turtles and Transformers… just don’t. I mean, make up your own shit – you’ll get the fucking funding for it, you’re Michael Bay! Just don’t keep ruining my childhood memories.”
Michael Bay’s definitely someone who splits opinion with us, and it’s always a fear for some which property he’ll target next. Thundercats possibly?
Yeah, because G.I. Joe’s spoken for. I think you’re right, it’s either gonna be Thundercats or maybe Bionic Six or something random. My take on Ninja Turtles, my friend who loves the Turtles as fiercely as I do, we had a marathon night where we just watched all of the old-school ones and the cartoons and we read the comics. She saw it and was just like, “Just don’t. I wish I hadn’t seen it and now I can’t unsee it.” So if I want to see it, my philosophy is I’m going to download it. If I like it, I’ll buy it. If I don’t, then I’m not reaffirming the pattern.
We’d lost faith in a lot of the more recent Turtles stuff, but the Nickelodeon 2012 show was massively enjoyable.
I loved it when, in the comics, it was darker. Eastman and Laird’s response to the whole over-the-top craziness. The characters had pathos and problems and it wasn’t like, “Donatello’s the tech-guy, he’s kinda funny and nerdy; Michelangelo eats pizza and makes sexually-inappropriate comments about everybody; Leonardo’s just a brown-noser; Raph has an attitude problem.” They all had a lot more to them, which was awesome, and April was a legit journalist and not just a frickin’ news anchor. I would’ve liked to have seen something more Girl with the Dragon Tattoo-style.
Little Miss Risk with the Twisted Twins
You talked earlier about a renaissance of horror lately, and you guys in Canada are doing awesome work at the moment. Then there’s a new charge of women coming though, like yourself, like the Soskas, like Jill Sixx. Were they any particular strong females in the genre that you were drawn to when you were growing up?
I was really into Sigourney Weaver because of Alien and because of Ghostbusters, because she’s playing these two drastically different characters. In Ghostbusters, she’s an independent woman, she lives by herself, she has a nice apartment, she has a penthouse apartment, and she’s refusing this time every time, just like “No, no, no!” Then she gets possessed. This guy who’s constantly trying to get into her pants, she’s just not having it, whether she’s possessed or not. So that was really cool. Then, you know, she’s Ripley in the Alien series – the baddest of the bad who doesn’t put up with shit from anybody! And Jamie Lee Curtis was awesome, too. This is an actress that got her start as a “Scream Queen” but then went on to be what most consider a legitimate actor. It sucks that there’s kind of that thing of if you do horror you’re not considered legitimate. Well, no. You look at another who was an influence of mine, Elvira, who has a very active career. It doesn’t matter, you could’ve met her in 1985 or you could’ve discovered her last year. Either way, you’d be like, “Holy fuck, this is the best thing ever!” She’s acerbic, she’s sassy, she’s rock ‘n’ roll, she’s all the things that 8-year-old me aspired to be. You know when drag queens are emulating you then you’re doing something right.
And going back to your start in the genre, it was the American Mary stuff that saw you first really meet the Soska twins then?
No. What happened was they were showing Dead Hooker at our local theater, at the Rio, an art-house, single-screen movie theater. My friend and I were totally like, “We’re gonna go out tonight, we’re gonna go to the Rio and see a movie!” And she was like, “What’s playing?” I was like, “I don’t know, I don’t care, we’re just gonna go!” And we got there and there was Dead Hooker. I just said, “I don’t even know what that’s about, but we’re going to see that immediately.” So we went in, we were watching the film, I had had one of those Monster energy drinks and I’m not used to those things, then when Jen’s eyeball popped out I threw up into the cup that was in my lap. I haven’t thrown up from a movie that I can remember – it’s been a long time. So that was the moment where, like, “Holy shit, I didn’t think I could feel like that. That’s amazing!” Then they got on the stage and said their thank yous and stuff, so I e-mailed then and said that anything they need help with to let me know. I was keeping tabs on where they were taking Dead Hooker, and then the thing from Mary came through. That first meeting that I had with them was the first time I’d met them face-to-face. We’ve been pretty inseparable, the three of us, ever since, which is really awesome because you don’t normally expect to meet your soulmates this late in life, but I was like, “Hey, better late than never, right? Let’s make some cool art!”
And you’ve recently worked with the sisters on The ABCs of Death 2. How cool was it to be involved with that project?
I loved it! It was a dream come true. Sylvia was describing the character, I was like, “I get to play that right?” and she’s like, “Yeah.” I said, “Okay, but if you ever hire anybody else to do that I will cut them. And not like a little bit, it would be a lot of cutting. Nothing personal, I just really wanna play that character.” And I really enjoyed it, and that was actually my first on-screen sex scene, as it happens. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it when you see it. There’s been a million spoilers and stuff on the Internet that pretty much tell you what happens, but when you see it you’ll get it.
Risk in The ABCs of Death 2
Given your films to date, what are your preferred roles to play?
I like to play strong women characters. Generally I get a lot of more almost-dominatrix-type personalities. But I haven’t been offered anything yet where I’m like, “Oh no, I can’t do that!” I’d really love the chance to play someone who’s having a possession and is going through an exorcism as I do a lot of movement with my body and I’m quite flexible. So I think I would be able to add some strange and disturbing things to the visual, too, of someone having a demon ripped out of their body. And I do get the chance to play someone who suffers from mania disorder in Jessica Cameron’s Mania, which we’re shooting next month.
What information can you give us on your role in Mania then?
I play a woman whose name is Brooke. She has this mania and she kills someone and doesn’t know whether she’s actually legitimately killed this person or if it’s just a paranoid delusion that’s part of the condition as she’s forgotten to take her pills. So they go on this cross-country thing to try and get her away from the situation, to sort it out, but her lover’s like “So are you actually killing people? Oh God, this may actually be a thing!” You stand by your woman, so it’s how to make this work. It’s kind of a little bit Thelma & Louise, a little bit of Bound, a little bit of Maniac.
You’ve talked about strong female roles, but what’s your view on women in general in the horror genre these days? Do you feel there’s maybe been a bit of a change in how women are portrayed?
I think that there’s definitely a point where we can see a lot of women being shown being the victim. I think the difference here is that they don’t continue to be the victim or wait for someone else to rescue them. These are women who have been violated or something has happened, then a lot like Mary, somebody goes from being the victim to taking out vengeance, to not allowing themselves to be the victim anymore. The revenge thing has been around for our male counterparts for years, right? So it stands to reason that you’ve got films like Mary and She and Audition that turn that convention on its ears, that it’s actually a case that the female animal is likely more terrifying than the male. I’ll take Michael Myers any day of the week over that chick from Audition with the needles. That’s the real stuff of terror, right there.
Any particular thoughts on the Audition remake that’s on the way?
Oh they’re not, are they? I wouldn’t be surprised but I don’t wanna make a broad-sweeping generalisation, but I’d think that the good of this would probably be if it did what The Grudge and The Ring did for their originals. People were interested enough in it now, because they’ve seen the American versions, to seek out the originals.
As someone who has appeared in short movies, music videos, then feature films, have you ever thought about doing more writing or possibly getting into directing yourself?
I haven’t really given a lot of thought to directing, but writing I would definitely like to do a lot more of. I just need to complete something first before I get too carried away, too proud of myself. I have a lot of really awesome ideas but it’s one thing to have the ideas, it’s another thing to execute them completely. I am going to visit my parents for a month in New Zealand come January, so there’s going to be a lot of writing that happens. They kinda live in the middle of nowhere, which is great, but being in New Zealand I can’t drive on the other side of the road. It’s like being 14 again… “Mom, can you take me to the store?” So I’ll probably get quite a bit of writing done there because there’s only so much wine one can drink.
Any particular style of story you’d like to tell, as in a psychological thriller, a revenge movie, a slasher, etc? Do you have a jumping-off point at this stage?
I would say it would kind of be like fantastical horror, kind of in the vein of Clive Barker, who’s been an inspiration. I think it’s gonna be kind of more in that vein, in that tone, rather than just a straight-up slasher, although I have something of an idea in the works with both the Soskas and Kevvy Mental from Fake Shark – Real Zombie! There’s something brewing in the kitchen, rest assured.
The Editor is hopefully to be released in the UK soon. What can you tell us about that project?
I love it. I’m a fan of Giallo horror, and reading the script it’s really hard to take something and read it and just take it straight. Now if you’re reading it and you’re imagining Fulci doing it, then it makes so much more sense. But these guys hit the perfect tone between parody and homage. It’s funny to hear Matt talk about it because every time they do a movie it beats the crap out of them. And everybody else loves it and they have no idea what wonderful thing they created. But this is genius! I love this movie so much. Even if I wasn’t in it, I’d want 5 copies of the DVD to watch. It’s really, really entertaining. If you know Giallo and horror, you’re gonna love this. Even if you don’t, you’ll just enjoy it for its kind of strange absurdities, and there’s lot of nudity both male and female, there’s all kinds of really interesting death sequences in it, too. I think even if you’re not a fan, per se, you’ll end up being like, “Hey, that was really good. Maybe I’ll go check out Don’t Torture a Duckling or Strip Nude for Your Killer.”
The horror genre is one littered with subgenres that get a lot of attention, like slasher movies, supernatural horrors, the Universal monster movies, even creatures features and shark movies. Do you ever feel that the Giallo stuff gets a bit overlooked by general fans?
It can be. But I think there’s a little bit of crossover within them. You can’t say, “Oh, Argento’s a little bit more suspense. Oh, Fulci’s more gore.” It depends on who’s describing the films, right? You could just say Giallo, blanket it, boom. Or you could say that this is a thriller and then people are like, “Okay, I like thrillers. I’ll check that out.”
Chainsaw Sally is something else you’re involved in. We’re liking the sound of that, so what can you tell us about it?
I’m liking the sound of it, too. I’ve always wanted to be a cartoon, and I like the idea that I’m going to be Sally’s nemesis/sometimes lover. That’s pretty much how I am most of the time anyway – so it’s art imitating life. And it’s got a really interesting cross-section of crew; Nicholas Brendon is on to play Ruby, we’ve got April Burril in the role of Sally, as well. I think it’s going to be a really interesting group. I’m really hoping this becomes Archer with a little more chainsaws.
In terms of tone, what can we expect? Something similar to Rob Zombie’s The Haunted World of El Superbeasto?
Yes, I think that that’s a major influence. All of the winks, nudges and head-nods to the genre in general, then just, y’know, all the good things you want out of a crazy, grown-up cartoon. But creative versions of that, not just the usual F-bomb or C-bomb. No, I want the really intricate Grant Naylor or Rowan Atkinson level of insults. Then you could have rapid-fire deliveries that Archer’s good for.
In terms of yourself in the genre, as somebody that is all about the horror, is hugely loyal to it all, do you ever come across anybody that you’ve worked where they see it as just a day job and how do you find that when you’re somebody that’s so passionate about the work that you do?
This is my approach to any job, but I guess some people just do it for a pay cheque. But if you’re not finding any kind of fulfilment out of it then why are you even here? I just truly don’t get it, because a lot of what I do is not for a huge pay cheque. I can’t imagine these other people are making giant pay cheques even, so if you’re not doing it because you love it then why are you doing it exactly? I kinda pity them, to be honest, because they’re obviously not passionate about their work. They can do it but they’re not passionate about it, and they’re missing out on something. That’s really sad. But each person has their own path, so you can’t really shift that. Maybe if they see how enthusiastic I am about it, that might encourage them to explore it a bit more or find joy in it.
And finally, what details can you tell us on what else you have lined up on your hectic schedule? And of course, is there any chance of you getting involved with the Soskas on Painkiller Jane?
Well I’m open to all possibility. If they said there’s a part that I can possibly read for, I would be really interested in doing that. I’m not gonna lie, I’ve been hitting the gym a little bit more than usual on the chance that it’s something they’re willing to consider and the casting person likes me… you never know. But I also might not be cast, in which case I’ll be standing in line to see it on opening night. But yeah, I hope something comes of that. In terms of what’s definitely coming up next, I’ve got Ryan M. Andrews’ Desolation and Jessica Cameron’s Mania, and then there’s something that hasn’t been announced yet but it’s going to be announced soon in terms of a film festival. Then come December I’ll be visiting beautiful Ireland to shoot.
THE ABCS OF DEATH 2 is currently awaiting a UK release date.
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