There are perhaps no more prolific actresses out there than horror icon Debbie Rochon. She has a list of credits to her name over 230 movies long and it’s always growing. But she recently completed filming her directorial debut, Model Hunger, and can’t wait to unleash it on the world.
Model Hunger stars Lynn Lowry, Tiffany Shepis, Carmine Capobianco, Brian Fortune, Michael Thurber, Aurelio Voltaire, Suzi Lorraine, Babette Bombshell, Geri Horn and Jayne Caswell. Rochon also enlisted the talents of well-known composer Henry Manfredini (who did extensive work on the Friday the 13th series) and a crew that she described as the best of the best for creating Model Hunger.
With such an extensive acting career, one wonders why Rochon never directed in the past as she’s been in the entertainment business for most of her adult life. What finally triggered that desire to get her working on the other side of the camera? “There has never been material given to me that’s made it interesting enough to take on the role of director, knowing (because I have done so many movies) that you live with the movie, not only your whole life, but you live creating it,” Rochon said.
“Before it even goes out, you have to promote it. You live with it one to two years, done properly. At least a year and that’s certainly what it’s turned out to be for Model Hunger. It was 1000% the script. I did a movie with James Morgart, who wrote and produced Model Hunger. I did his first movie Won Ton Baby, and he kept asking me, ‘When are you going to direct?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know; maybe I never will. And I’ll know when I need to. I’m not going to do it until I literally need to.’ And reading this script, I was like, ‘Oh god, I need to.’ This is exactly something I want to say. It has all of the horror elements but there is a lot of multi-layer stuff. So it was amazing on that side of it and on the practical side of it that made it very complicated to shoot because it was a very ambitious first movie because of the multi-layers.”
Rochon decided that the power of the film would lie in the team she assembled to create it. “The first thing I did was surround myself with the best,” Rochon said. “The best possible. The movie deserved it. I surrounded myself with actors who could pull it off, Lynn Lowry, Tiffany Shepis, Brian Fortune, Votaire, the whole cast. Michael Thurbur from Exhumed is in it. If they couldn’t pull it off, I was sunk. My first choices were in there and it was just beautiful. And that’s just the casting aspect of it. Then we decided to shoot in Buffalo and Greg Lamberson was the line producer and all of the amazing things he made happen. Wolf (Wolfgang Meyer) did a great job It was really great and exactly what I wanted. And now that we’re in post-production, I’m seeing the magic of collaborating with such an incredible editor I have in Darryl Leblanc. I had one of many big conversations with Harry Manfredini last night and it’s just so damn exciting. These guys know what they’re doing. They are making it possible. Just talking to Harry about the sounds that go with each character…everything is so multi-leveled. Even if the viewer never gets it, we do. And that’s what makes it so exciting and that’s what I wanted for my first time. Whether it’s my only time or not, who knows. We’ll see what happens.”
Another reason Rochon hadn’t stepped up to take a directing gig in the past is because, through studying her craft, she knew what a huge task it was. “For a long time, I didn’t want to be on the other side of the camera,” Rochon said. “Certainly in the 80’s when you’re acting you read a lot about directors as well. And so I would read Scorsese on Scorsese, Cronenberg on Cronenberg, all these amazing books. I really knew what went into making a movie and I was like, ‘Oh my god, you really need to know everything about everything.’ And by the way, I didn’t. Which is why I surrounded myself with the DP, Wolf, people who knew their shit, know their lenses, know their lighting. Dan Lipski just fucking killed it. Every character has their own lighting and costume and sound. It needs to be that detailed for me. If it’s to be my only movie, it needs to be everything it can possibly be with the budget we’re working. But there was never a moment I decided I wanted to direct. I really felt it was too much of a daunting task, not in a bad way, because I’m not afraid of hard work, I felt like unless I had all the right people, it all sort of came together. The planets aligned and I feel like it really did. Again, with the hardships included, but the planets did align in so many ways for this.”
Rochon discussed one experience she had directing a scene in The Chainsaw Sally Show and stated how it helped motivate her to move on to a feature length film. “It did. I was with my friend and I had Jimmy and April Burril,” Rochon said. “Me and April were on the cameras and there was David Maranick and Jimmy and it was a very intimate scene and whether you thought it was scary or funny or whatever your response is, to do it was very scary for the actors to throw themselves into it. It definitely got my creative excitement (considering the scene) going quite a bit because here I am again, working with actors, one of my deep passions. So that definitely triggered something in my brain. I didn’t think a lot about it, like, ‘Oh this tells me I want to direct a movie!’ But I just felt this is really, really satisfying, as much as when you’re in front of the camera and something works.”
But the draw from her love of interacting with a cast was strong and finally helped get Rochon to direct. “Going back a little bit, I was in a lot of theater companies in New York City throughout the 80’s and ’90s and warming up,” Rochon said. “What we would do for rehearsals is each take turns leading the group of actors through exercises and I found that I had a real calling for that. It was something I did well. People had fun, people loved it because they really felt like they were expressing themselves. So I knew that I had something, like a natural talent for working with actors. So I knew that and I loved that. But directing was something I had felt was on exalted level when done right. Not something everybody should do. But now I feel slightly differently and feel everyone should experiment and do their work and get it out there.”
And, always a team player, Rochon defers credit for Model Hunger. “I’m excited and it has absolutely nothing to do with me,” Rochon said. “I’m excited for people to see these people’s work. I’m the facilitator of trying my very best to showcase all of these amazing fucking people’s talents. That’s my job. It’s not an ego job. My ego never needed to do this. It’s all about the material. Now that we’re in post, the people in post can now have a field day because the material just opens up your creative mind and while seeing all these things are going on, what if I add this. But if the material is not there, it’s just kinda flat. Of course, there will be a lot of people that won’t like it. That’s just the way it goes and I’m fully prepared for that. But I challenge anyone, even if they don’t like Model Hunger, to say that anyone did a less than stellar job on it and in it. So I’m very proud.”
If it truly does take one to know one, then legendary scream queen Rochon knew Lynn Lowry was the perfect person to play the main character, Ginny Reilly. “Lynn, not only did she get it, but the details that she brought to the character,” Rochon said. “The detailed work that she brought was just so energizing for me because that’s what I try to do and that’s what I love to see and she just walked out and she said to me, ‘This character is really Blanche DuBois that went really wrong.’ And I said, ‘Oh my god, you just nailed it in one sentence.’ Of all the people, she of course has worked with some of the all-time greats in the business and is a true actor so I’d watch her in a scene and everything would be so detailed and perfect and then she’d ask me a question about her performance and I’d say, ‘No…It was right!’ This character has been in her for so long and she got to do it and be the star. She was just in one of those times when a movie expresses exactly what you want. Her little improvisations and the things she was adding were just perfect.”
And Lowry was surrounded by skilled and ambitious fellow cast members. “You have other actors like Carmine Capobianco, who is a fantastic actor,” Rochon said. “I’m a big fan of his Galactic Gigolo, because I like fun, funny movies. With him, it’s more bringing him with a straight man without losing any personality and he was wonderful because he would just allow me to really work with him and tweak him. So the amount of tweaks with the different actors was incredibly different. A lot of the younger actors needed a lot of rehearsal to be able to do it. But Lynn was doing all of her homework and she knows how to do this. She just got it. And Tiffany (Shepis) was very interesting because Tiffany has seen a lot of this and the most interesting thing she said to me, which was a huge compliment, she said she was really blown away, even by herself because when she knew when she was doing it, she felt like she was doing one or two notes, but she was amazed that my eye saw all these different variations and her performance is so multi-layered and I knew it at the time, but she didn’t know it. It was just really, really amazing.”
Rochon continued, “I thought the casting was genius. Voltaire just ripped up his role. He’s becoming an actor now but he’s really a musician. But he’s a performer. He has decades of knowledge about that. That was a dream, too. I wanted to have musicians in my movie. I was so happy to get Voltaire. My cast and their kindness, generosity, patience…not just their talent. Brian Fortune came all the way from Dublin and kicked ass in the role he had. And just the patience everybody had in long, long, hot days in locations that were stifling. And to be able to bring what they brought. It was easy for me and they just blew my mind. Everybody was there because they wanted to do a good performance. They weren’t getting rich.”
But even with a hand-picked team, Rochon noted that, like any film shoot, there were troubles. “It wasn’t like it didn’t have difficult times,” Rochon said. “Really fucking hard times, brutal times. It wasn’t this magical happy walk through the park. But it was amazing. Creatively, nothing could top it.”
Rochon discussed some of the challenges of the shoot. “The hardest part was dealing with the behind-the-scenes, non-actor elements,” Rochon said. “For this particular project, that was really the toughest. You do your long day, you prepare all night, all morning before you go to shoot at 6 again. Two hours of sleep a night, maybe three. You’d always have to have half an hour after the shooting day to just sit down, decompress and let all the shit go. All the stuff that seemingly has nothing to do with what’s in that frame because that’s all I cared about, but all these other things have to be dealt with as well.”
She continued, “When you’re dealing with a short shooting schedule, 18 days in Buffalo and two in New York, it’s really hard because everyone on the crew is working outrageously long hours and they get up and have to go again and it’s just so compact and a complicated script with all the nuances, the lighting changes for every single thing that’s just vital and it has to be right on the money,” Rochon said. “It makes people extremely tired and when you don’t have the money to either extend the amount of shooting days or have more days off so you can have a lighter schedule, then everybody, and rightfully so in that heat, is getting really, really worn down. But at the same time, nobody dropped the ball and that’s pretty amazing.”
So will she be back behind the camera again soon? “It’s not like you can call in favors like this repeatedly,” Rochon said. “Someone could say, ‘Well, you could make another movie.’ And I would think to myself, ‘Well, yeah,’ but you really need the money to pay people what they deserve because it’s not as if they wouldn’t do it, but you really need to because you’re asking for a piece of their soul. You’re asking for a piece of their soul if you’re making a good movie that’s incredibly intense to make. And, as an actor, when I’m used like that, like really intensely, emotionally, you walk away and you feel like you’ve really given yourself. And there’s no feeling like that in the entire world and the artist will tell you that. I love doing cameos and I love doing day stuff and you go and you have fun and you leave and it’s all good. I love that. But for gratification, when you’re there as one of the leads and it’s a very demanding role, there’s nothing more satisfying then doing that when you can just immerse yourself into it and walk away knowing you’ve given everything you’ve got. There’s nothing like that.”
And fear not, fans of Debbie Rochon, the actress. Her time behind the camera did not slow down her prolific acting schedule at all. We asked her about some of her upcoming acting projects as well. She’s been busy, as usual. The first movie is Killer Rack. “Killer Rack. Talk about a genius title,” Rochon said. “It is a hilarious comedy, Greg Lamberson is directing it and I play a doctor that implants the evil breasts that go on to become serial killers. So I have a vital role in this. It’s sort of me and my ‘Igor’ if you will. We run a very shady plastic surgery place and we’re sort of the ridiculous bad guys behind it, but the movie itself is just absolutely incredibly well-written and funny. It’s a great comedy. I can’t wait to shoot it this spring or early summer.”
We had to hear about Serial Caller. “Serial Caller. So much fun!” Rochon said. “Dan Bramley, the director, it was the first time I met him. Boy, what an amazing guy. I consider him a really good friend. We shot in the UK. Danny Thompson, who also co-wrote it, is in it. It’s just so much fun. Suzie Lorraine is in it. It’s just a great ride. It’s coming out in October 2014 from Wild Eye Releasing. Very excited about that.”
Darling Clementines will reunite Rochon with JimmyO and April Burril. “Darling Clementines is rolling along,” Rochon said. “It’s going to be a really big budget movie so it’s one of those things where you ride out the funding process. In the meantime, Jimmy and I and April have been collaborating on some new ideas. Good Sisters 2, some phenomenal stuff he’s come up with for Good Sisters 2. So there’s gonna be some really big stuff coming from Jimmy Burril this year.”
Being a Troma Entertainment alum, Rochon was thrilled to be included in Troma’s newest offering Return to Nuke ‘Em High: Vol. 1. “Getting to be in Nuke ‘Em High was a dream for me because it was one of those movies,” Rochon said. “Brick Bronski vs. Brick Bronski used to be my favorite thing to say when I started working for Troma back in ’92. I actually met Brick Bronski back in ’93. So it was a dream come true for me to work on that movie and I really mean that. Because of all the Troma movies I’ve done, even though I did Citizen Toxie, Nuke ‘Em High was sort of my personal favorite of the older Troma movies because it had all those punk rock guys in it. So it was really a dream come true to be involved in the new Nuke ‘Em High movies. I felt so strongly, I couldn’t in any way not be in it so I’m very grateful to Lloyd Kaufman, who made that happen for me.”
Finally, Rochon hit on some really outstanding indie projects she’s done recently. Nightmare Box was the first. “I haven’t worked with director John Keeyes since American Nightmare in 2000,” Rochon said. “He is one of my favorite directors because he comes up with an idea and he riffs off of you. He’s one of my all-time favorite people, which is funny because I work with him so little. But he’s just a pleasure. And the Nightmare Box script, smart, sharp as a fucking tack. It just goes to show, when I tell people don’t rush the writing of the script. That is the most important part. But that’s the part people kinda slap together so they can hurry up and quote ‘make a movie.’ That’s your blueprint. That’s all you’ve got when you’re out there in the trenches making it. So here’s a movie that’s so compelling and amazing and it’s basically in one room! Stellar cast. And it’s a movie that has something to say.
And in Axe to Grind, Rochon got to have a lot of fun. “Axe to Grind is a bizarre story,” Rochon said. “It’s a little crazy how real it is for so many actresses… and actors too. Definitely a variation for the men, too. It’s a very simple story. You’re not going to see people killed in ways you haven’t seen before, but it’s almost a throwback movie in a good sense. You can go on this fun ride and watch it unfurl. It’s a lot of fun and you get to do all the things you wanted to do and you get to say all the things you wanted to say. There’s something that’s so genius about that. Hopefully people will really like it, maybe some people won’t but it’s like that with every movie. But as an actor, you can go and do something like Axe to Grind and just be like ‘Ah, okay. That was a most excellent therapy session for me. I don’t know about you guys, but for me, that was pretty dam cool.’ I love it. I love when I get to go ape shit and people just let me go.”
Finally, Rochon mentioned another film, this one with an August release. “Dry Bones is coming out around August 2014,” Rochon said. “It’s a great comedy directed by Greg Lamberson. It’s a really good, small film. Solid. From a great original story Lamberson based the screenplay on. I love it. It’s great. I play a succubus.” Perfect!
And honestly, she probably could have gone on with upcoming projects all day, and we would have been happy to listen, but Debbie Rochon finally said, “And of course we have Wrath…but we can talk about that next time.”
Next time, indeed. She is amazing! Look for Model Hunger to be released later this year.
Model Hunger Synopsis
Former pin-up model and actress Ginny (Lynn Lowry) had been cast aside by the heartless and exploitative modeling industry when she was a young woman due to her body type. Ginny didn’t take rejection well and over the years developed into a revenge seeking, blood thirsty, broken woman. When her new neighbors Debbie (Tiffany Shepis) and Sal (Carmine Capobianco) move in, Debbie begins to notice strange things going on next door. Sal credits it to Debbie’s psychological instability and believes she is seeing things, falling deeper into her psychosis. Debbie is obsessively determined to figure out what secret life Ginny is leading. Her new nosy neighbor throws a damper on Ginny’s lifestyle activities; such as her cannibalistic food addictions and ever growing body count. Both women become determined to put an end to the other’s obsession.
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