You know her best for her role as Beatress Johnson in American Mary, but Tristan Risk has been a very busy girl lately, and she’s about to break big. She sat down with Dread Central to talk about her work, past and future.
Little Miss Risk is a compelling performer, a staunch horror fan and a charismatic interviewee. She talked about her beginnings, her affinity for her beloved character Beatress and the loads of work she’s done since. Risk is as witty as she is alluring and we’re sure you’ll enjoy reading her interview as much as we enjoyed speaking with her.
We started at the very beginning and asked Risky how she got started in the acting business. “I’ve been a performer all my life,” Risk said. “That’s everything from doing stage shows, school plays, musicals, things at my grandpa’s church. I didn’t go to the church, but still performed in the recitals. I think my first emceeing gig was there when I was eight years old and that was the first time people learned the lesson, do not trust me with a microphone and a captive audience.”
Risk continued, “I didn’t really plan on screen acting. I’d been doing burlesque dancing for about 10 years and had been touring with a band as a dancer and sideshow performer and had had enough of the touring lifestyle and just wanted to do something else. I felt like I was in this Groundhog Day where all I do is spin tassels and entertain drunk people…and that’s really fun, don’t get me wrong, I love doing it…but you want to be able to prove to yourself that you can do something else.”
And that desire for something new found a spark one night at The Rio. “I had a date night with a friend and she and I said it doesn’t matter what film is playing, we’re going to go to The Rio, we’re going to see a movie. It’s not about the movie, it’s about hanging out. The film in question was a one-night screening of Dead Hooker in a Trunk,” Risk said. “I was like, with a title like that how can it be anything other than amazing?! I’m a grindhouse fan. It was a full-on love letter to grindhouse. It was the Soska’s first film. Unbeknownst to me, there was a part in it that would make me puke and I didn’t think a horror movie could still make me puke. But it was really awesome to find out I still had decent revulsion left.”
After that, it wasn’t long before Tristan Risk and Jen and Sylvia Soska would become fast friends. “I messaged the Soskas and said I saw Dead Hooker last night, that it was amazing and if they need any help with anything to please let me know. At that point my burlesque troop had a studio. So I said I have space we can use, I’ve got tons of costumes. Anything, I’ll help. Eventually they said, ‘Hey, we’re getting started with our next movie, American Mary would you be involved with it?’ Initially I came on as a dance coordinator. And it wasn’t until I was in a face to face meeting with the girls…and they were both staring at me intently, which was unnerving because I’d never had that happen before…and they were like, ‘It’s too bad you can’t act.’ I said, ‘I can act!’ I’d been doing a lot more theater then. So they said can you do voices and I told them I can do any voice you want, I’m a human parrot. I can pull that off. So they asked if I wanted to read for Beatress and I was said ‘Oh yes. Yes I do!'”
So what new projects are in the future for Risky? “The guys from Astron 6, who I was a fan of from Manborg and Father’s Day, contacted me and said we’ve got this film we’re putting together. It’s giallo style if you’re interested. I said, ‘Yes, there’s always room for giallo,'” Risk said with a sly grin. “And then Jill Sixx put out a post about her film Call Girl with Laurence Harvey, who’s a friend of mine, involved and she said I could audition for that, so it’s been like a snowball.”
As Risk’s snowball rolls on, she’s becoming involved in some interesting projects. “At Fantastic Fest, The ABCs of Death 2 is coming out and I’m doing something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Between that and a number of my stage performances, people are really going to be wondering about my anatomy,” Risk said. “And I’m okay with that. And if crazy rumors start to surface…she’s had ribs removed, she’s had other things done, I’m totally going to perpetuate that myth, whatever myth may arise. I’m just going to go with it like, ‘Yeah, her eyeball crawls out of her head and lives in the sewer by night.’ I’ll be like ‘Yeah, sure. It hangs out with the Ninja Turtles. Sweet.’ ‘She actually has fangs.’ ‘Yeah, yeah. I just had them filed down and capped because my orthodontist is a dick.’ I don’t know. I’ll make something up.”
In addition to The ABCs of Death 2, Risk went on to discuss her new film, Save Yourself, directed by Ryan M. Andrews, in which she co-stars with Jessica Cameron. “It’s about these five women who’ve done a film,” Risk said. “There’s a writer, director, producer and two lead actresses. They’re on a road trip together. Sounds like the beginning of a joke, doesn’t it? ‘A writer, a producer and director are on a road trip…’ While they’re on this road trip to screen the film they’ve made, they run afoul of mad scientist stuff. But when I was reading the script, it was almost too intense and I was like, ‘Whoa, we’re going to go here?’ It’s not The Human Centipede, it’s not gross-out, but it does fuck with your head, which I enjoy because, being a Scorpio, I do enjoy a good head fuck now and then.” Don’t we all?
Risk went on to compliment her co-star “I had never worked with Jessica before and seeing how she could just switch back and forth between business mode to acting mode back and forth again, it was really amazing. The woman’s work ethic puts the slaves who put the pyramids together in Egypt to shame.”
Then we got a quick look into what shaped Miss Risk into the unique and magnetic performer she is today. “I didn’t have a lot of friends growing up,” Risk said. “I was an only child. I read a lot of comic books and watched lots of movies and I was like that moody goth teenager who painted and wrote and sculpted in her parents’ basement. I was a recipe for either being a crazy performer or a serial killer. My parents put me in a fine arts school. Kind of like Fame, but no impromptu dance sessions at lunch time. And that gave me a chance to hone my skills and focus my attention. And that was the point where I decided who I wanted to be and develop who that person was. I got a chance to mature in later life…such as I have and not go into a clock tower with a high-powered rifle.”
Before we finished the interview, we had to get Risky talking a bit about the beloved Beatress Johnson, her character in American Mary. “I took a couple approaches of getting into the character,” Risk said. “I watched lots of old Betty Boop cartoons, but I also watched Madonna in Who’s That Girl. I watched Ellen Greene in Little Shop of Horrors. Beatress kind of just came out.”
She continued, “If I never get another role that defines me so much as a performer like Beatress, I can at least say that I have had that. People strongly identify me with her and everyone seems to really like her. It’s not like you’re getting strongly identified with a character everyone hates. What happened to the guy who played Jar Jar Binks? Yikes!”
Risk went on to profess her love for one specific section of her fan base. “The best response has come from the LGBT community because a lot of trans people have taken a shine to Beatress,” Risk said. “And I’m a big supporter of the LGBT community and the queer lifestyle. And anyone who is having difficulty coming out their family and friends. I think a lot of people saw the body modification folks in American Mary and felt a kinship to that going ‘I don’t really feel comfortable how I am now or how I was born and that’s not who I am.’ To have something on the inside that doesn’t reflect who you are physically and that’s how people perceive you, I can’t imagine what it’s like for a lot of trans people, to go through life in the wrong body. I can’t even fathom what that’s like. And for them to even begin the process to admit that’s what it is and tell people they trust in their life and hope that they don’t freak out or react poorly or treat them differently and go through the actual physical steps to do the changes is so remarkably heroic, especially in light of how closed minded a lot of society is about that. I love that they really enjoyed Beatress as a character and feel that kinship with her and I’ll fight to the death for those people because I feel that until everybody can just be who they are and be accepted for that we’ve still got a long way to go on that. It’s an uphill battle for that, but I’m gonna man the Gatling gun if I can.”
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