Wednesday, 14 November 2012

An Interview with Michelle Shields by Paul Worts

At the 1st Misty Moon International Film Festival, the short film Dark Worlds: Slasher and and the feature-length Frankenstein: Day of the Beast were both shortlisted for competition. Dark Worlds: Slasher went on to win the judges vote on the first night and made it through to the final. Both of these films featured stand-out performances by a young actress by the name of Michelle Shields. In an exclusive interview for Fleapits and Picture Palaces, Michelle opened up to me about subjects ranging from corsets to cosplay costumes; from comic books to conventions; from comedy to Cagney and much, much more...     

I began by exploring her early childhood influences...

From as early as I can remember I’ve always known that I wanted to be an actress and I’ve always wanted to entertain people. There’s a home video of me, I’m maybe 2 or 3 and I’m spinning in a circle saying: “one, two, three, action!” I’ve always had a love for it.

That would be a nice extra for a DVD release one day! At school you received many awards for your singing and acting ability. Is there any particular role / song stand out as a memory for you?


I always loved to do Italian songs, but in terms of favourite roles at school I’d have to say ‘Marty Maraschino’ from Grease. She’s kind of like supposed to be the sexy one in the group. Now, I really wanted to be into the character, so I told my teacher I wanted to wear a nightie on stage for the slumber party. And I remember her giving me this look like ‘are you sure; this is a high school play?’ I said I was going to wear shorts underneath it and stuff, but my character would do this! In the end she said if you want to do it then go for it! I remember being into the character was what I really liked to do: and that’s something that’s never changed for me.

What was the first film you saw which really made an impression on you? [Mine was ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and in particular the Wicked Witch who gave me nightmares]

That’s a tough one! When I try to think back to the earliest films that I’ve seen, I was one of those kids that wasn’t really sheltered from the blood and gore – and I think I turned out fine!

I remember watching Abbot and Costello Meets Frankenstein, and I used to watch it over and over. I think what I loved so much about it was that it had that kind of suspenseful horror aspect to it, but it was also so funny - it had comedy – my two favourite things wrapped up into one. Growing up I was always more into the Marx Brothers, The Three Stooges and I’m also a big Jerry Lewis fan. So growing up I was more into comedy but I still had a real love for horror, and Abbot and Costello Meets Frankenstein was the first film I remember really bringing those two aspects together. I thought this is what I want to do; I want to make people laugh and scare them at the same time.

So my nightmares as a youngster involved The Wicked Witch, what was the worst nightmare you can remember having as a child?

I honestly think that because I was exposed to horror films from such an early age I was never one of those kids who would watch A Nightmare on Elm Street and not be able to go to sleep afterwards because I knew it was just a movie. But I do have to say that especially when I was really little I was actually really religious. I don’t think this is something I’ve ever really said in an interview before but when I was little I really wanted to be a nun.  

How young were you?

I’m talking about first, second, third grades: six, seven, eight years old. I was really into it, I used to wear black all the time and the kids at school would call me the devil – ok well that’s ironic! But I remember having dreams when I was really little, it was always a recurring dream of me fighting the devil.

Right...

In hell.

Ok...

I’m sure that is a normal thing for a child that age to be dreaming about right? I always remembered in my dreams never being necessarily afraid or scared of the devil, it was more like: ‘I have to get you before you get the people I love’ type of thing. It was never a nightmare where I woke up scared for my life, it was more like a nightmare where I’d wake up and run downstairs or next door and see if my grandparents were ok or my dad was ok type of thing.

Blimey that’s intense, thank you for sharing that with me.

Yeah, well that’s what happens when people ask me different questions!

Ok, so you obviously felt a calling to be a nun at an early age; how does a young novice nun celebrate Halloween?


Halloween is one of my favourite holidays, even up to present day. I make all my costumes and I’m a real stickler for making sure things are accurate. I couldn’t just go and buy one off the peg. Honestly I was just doing some finishing tweaks for next year’s costume!

Now that is an attention to detail! So what was your costume this year?

I was ‘Poison Ivy’, which was one I was working on a few years ago but I got frustrated and threw it in the back of the closet because I had to sew every single leaf onto this costume so it took a lot of hours and a couple of years ago I wasn’t as patient... But this year I thought I’m going to do that. And I helped my boyfriend make a ‘Scarecrow’ costume for him because we’re both big ‘Batman’ fans. But I can remember being like this all my life – I remember being in third grade and I really loved ‘Elvira’. So, I got one of those kiddie Elvira costumes and I put it on and thought this doesn’t feel right at all and I remember going to my parents and saying I need balloons...

Erm...

And they kinda laughed at me and I said trust me it’s gonna help. I remember we had a parade around the school for the parents...and there I was in an ‘Elvira’ costume and two big balloons on my chest!

They would never have allowed you in the convent you realise that don’t you?

I know! I had mixed feelings as a child!

So, can we have a world exclusive – can you reveal what your costume is going to be for next Halloween...?

Well...I’m working on a couple of different ideas. I will tell you what I’m going to do for Comic Con. I do like to cosplay a lot. I’m currently working on a group costume. We’re doing characters from the video game Batman: Arkham City and I’m going to be doing ‘Harley Quinn’ in mourning.

You do like ‘Batman’!

Honestly I make a lot of different costumes but I would say the majority of them are different Batman characters. And I’m always doing villains, I should probably do a good character soon, but the villains are just more interesting.

How did your ‘big break’ come about at 16 with the film ‘Timeserver’?

My dad was looking through the paper and he found a little clip saying there were auditions in the town next to us...

Had you gone to any auditions before that?

No, it was the first audition that I ever went to that was not school-affiliated or anything like that. I didn’t necessarily know a lot of the tips about going to auditions that I know now - so I was sixteen, and I went to this audition wearing my normal clothes. These included: red and black leopard fur pants; fishnet t-shirt; and I had chains for suspenders that were hanging all the way down to my ankles. I was dressed kind of odd and probably not wearing what you should wear to an audition [!] I remember getting weird looks from the director and assistant director and I auditioned and I thought: ok I did my best and we’ll see what happens... I got a call about two weeks later from the assistant director and she said we thought you were too young for the role you auditioned for but we really liked the way you dressed and we’ve decided to add a character where you can dress like that in the movie.

Hey, that’s not a bad start, you’re first film and they wrote a part just for you!

Yeah it was pretty cool. They made a punk frat girl called ‘Dot’ and in the movie I had Liberty spikes that I got my friend to do for me so I was pretty excited!

You then went on to formally study acting – what’s the most useful piece of advice / training you were given – and the least?

That’s a tough one...Probably the most helpful thing that stuck out for me was how important it was to stay consistent with things, for example, reproducing the same mannerisms on take after take for continuity. And the least: I had one eccentric teacher who used to start class by having us all go up on stage and say pick an animal and be that animal for the next 10 minutes. I understand where it was coming from, but being on stage with 20 other people barking like a dog for 10 minutes – I don’t think it was really necessary.

Well that answers my next question which was going to be which animal did you usually choose?

Actually I was usually a tiger. I’m a fan of tigers, but sometimes I’d try to switch it up.

So how did the biggest ‘Batman’ fan ever get a role in ‘The Dark Knight’?

Just luck! That for me was more of a fan geek thing than an actress point of view honestly. I got to be on set for a couple of weeks; I got to meet Heath Ledger (as the Joker because he was really in character the whole time) and Gary Oldman; and Christopher Nolan picked me out of the crowd. I was in Chicago, which I’m very familiar with – and there are Gotham City taxis – in the bank scene the ATMs said ‘Gotham City Bank’ on their screens. Such an attention to detail.

Now let’s talk about one of the films shortlisted for the Misty Moon International Film Festival: ‘Frankenstein: Day of the Beast’. I understand you were originally being considered for a support role before you were cast as ‘Elizabeth’ the lead?



Yes, I was being considered for the role of ‘Agatha’ (which was played by Tricia Martyr in the film). She did a great job by the way and she helped out with special effects; she was on set everyday and she was a life-saver she helped me with my corset everyday – I absolutely love her! Anyways, I emailed the director and said I really appreciate being considered for the role of ‘Agatha’ but I’d love to audition for the role of ‘Elizabeth’. He agreed and I guess it just kinda clicked for both of us. I was at the audition for most of the day and I read for all the Victors too. (Quite a few; a good half-day worth). I remember Adam [Adam Stephenson – ‘Victor Frankenstein’] being one of them and I remember Ricardo [Ricardo Islas – director] saying to me: “Wow, he kinda looks like Peter Cushing!” So hearing that I hoped the guy would do a good job – he certainly looked the part – and he did a really good job: he’s amazing in the movie too.

It’s a traditional historically set film. Which do you prefer: modern or period (I presume the corsets are quite restricting!).



Well I do have to say the corset was something I pushed for because I wanted to make it as accurate as possible. It helped with posture and everything. But actually the corset went down so far that especially in the tunnel scenes when I was hunched over for a long period of time, I got a lot of bruises on my thighs from the corset. I had a lot of breathing trouble with it as well but I said I need to do this because it’s a period piece and it needs to be accurate darn it!

And the other film we saw you in – which made it through to the final, was the short film ‘Dark Worlds: Slasher’, a nice twist on the familiar stalking serial killer premise. Presumably a chance to ‘turn the tables’ with the role of ‘Allison Smith’ was something that particularly appealed?

Yes I really love it when twists and turns can be put on things.

Given a project with a short running time, does your preparation differ in terms of portraying your character from say a full-length feature film where you have a lot more time to build a character on screen?

Surprisingly for me there isn’t a whole lot of difference. I use a lot of my schooling that I’m doing now in the field of psychology. In preparation for a role I sit down and try to create a back story for my character; try to look at why they are the way they are – what could’ve happened in their lives. Sometimes I’ll try to go as far as finding out what their zodiac sign is and what kind of influence that could have on their personality. Once I get all that it’s usually pretty easy for me to go in and out of the character. I will say it’s easier when you’re doing a long film because you’re constantly in that mindset. ‘Slasher’ I filmed in just one weekend. The filming went pretty quick, but the book by Zack Daggy helped a lot with the back story.

Inevitably your roles in the horror genre have given rise to you being described as a “Scream Queen” title. You’ve been quoted as saying however that you don’t really consider yourself to be one, but rather that you are an actress that portrays one.

Well I think being a ‘scream Queen’ is really just type-casting. While it’s a respectable title and a lot of people wear it with pride and that’s fine, I feel that once you’re a ‘scream queen’ it’s very hard for you to do anything else in any other kind of genre. It’s hard for a ‘scream queen’ to do a drama or a comedy without the audience saying: ‘Ok, when’s the guy with the axe coming out?’ I do have a lot of respect for ‘scream queens’. Linnea Quigley is one of my idols and good friends and she is one of the best ‘scream queens’ in my opinion.

Personally I’d really like to do more comedies but it’s really kind of hard to find people who want to do comedies in independent film.

Speaking of comedies, one of your most recent roles was in ‘Divorced Dudes’. Sounds like an opportunity for comedy there?

I do a cameo in ‘Divorced Dudes’. Tim Krueger (who played The Monster in ‘Frankenstein: Day of the Beast’) is one of the leads in it - actually there’s quite a lot of ‘Frankenstein’ people in it and it was nice to get to work with them again. I play one of the women that one of the divorced guys is trying to go out on a date with. I had some free-range with the character so I decided to make her...

Let me guess, it’s either a punk or a nun?

A punk character with fire-engine red hair.

Now of course with your love of comic books – Comic Book Divas must be another dream project for you?

Yeah it really was. Just like I grew up watching the Universal horror films like ‘Frankenstein’ and then when I got to play ‘Elizabeth’ it was a dream come true for me, ‘Comic Book Divas’ was along the same lines. They wanted to use my likeness in comic books for different characters and I was like this is the coolest thing I’ve ever heard of! So getting hold of a comic book and looking through it and seeing me as a vampire or a superhero it’s just really brings out that child-like nature in me and it’s just wow this is neat! You know, you can never really meet ‘Bruce Wayne’ but you can meet Michelle Shields!

And of course one of the ways fans can meet you is at conventions. Do you enjoy them and are there any stand-out funny moments with fans that you can recall?

I absolutely love going to conventions and my absolute favourite part is talking to people and meeting my fans. I know at conventions you’re supposed to get yourself ‘out there’ and ‘network’, but for some reason I’m never more myself than at conventions. When people come to my table and they say ‘Oh what are you about?’ and I say ‘Oh I make movies and comic books but tell me more about you – are you enjoying the convention?’ There’s usually always people at my table because I just sit and talk to them for hours! At the last convention I did in California I talked to a bunch of people at my table about horror movies and Batman for about an hour and a half. I really love asking other people why they love things.

This is your psychology fascination isn’t it?

It probably is. I spent quite a lot of years in retail too and I feel that really helped me with talking to people one-on-one. And you know whether people buy something from my table or not I always try to be the one person to put a smile on their face for the rest of the day.

And I’m convinced you do just that. Do you get nervous meeting other actors at conventions?

You know I’ve never really been like that. It’ really cool what they do but they’re just people and I’m sure they would just like someone to talk to them as a person.

If you could go back in time and ‘bag’ any role either in the horror genre or not, what would it be and why?

That’s a hard question to answer, but if I could go back in time and do any kind of role I would really like to be in a movie with James Cagney and do a song and dance. I love musicals and I think James Cagney is one of the most talented people ever to have walked on this earth and if I could be in a movie like Yankee Doodle Dandy with him that would be just awesome!

So what’s next for Michelle Shields, and do you have a clear / structured career path or do you just go with the flow?

I don’t do everything that I’m offered; I pick my roles carefully. I don’t do anything with nudity. I don’t like doing stuff that’s mundane and been done before like the bimbo running up the stairs. I really try to find things that are different. I really love doing the crazy off-the-wall characters - someone I can make a cool costume for and maybe have a weird accent or some kind of limp or something!

One movie I’m going to be working on soon is called: Hells Little Angels. I’ve always been a fan of grindhouse films like Faster, Pussycat! Kill Kill! and I really like the idea of a sweet innocent woman being anything but and you realise she’s actually a deranged killer! I really like this twist on things. So I’m going to be one of three girls who have, well let’s just say they have some ‘interesting’ hobbies...

You've sold it to me!

Also, a re-visioning [not a remake] of the original ‘Night of the Living Dead’ which takes place on the same night but in a different part of the town. It tells different stories about that night which I thought was really cool. And the original ‘Barbara’ is going to be in it as well which is also cool.

Talking to Michelle Shields was a really ‘cool’ experience – and something tells me she is destined for even ‘cooler’ and greater things in the future. 

To keep up to date visit Michelle's official website HERE 

 


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