Actress Kristen Vaganos was really put to task when she was asked to sprout piercing choppers and additional hair for her latest film, werewolf feature I Am Lisa.
The film, currently screening in virtual theaters via Laemmle, tells of a young woman, brutalized and left for dead in the woods, who is bitten by a werewolf – opening doors for her to return with wicked supernatural abilities and revenge on her mind!
Bitten by a werewolf, a young woman seeks revenge against those who left her for dead in the woods.
I Am Lisa is directed by Patrick Rea from a screenplay penned by Eric Winkler.
Dread Central was lucky enough to score a sit-down with Kristen Vaganos; give our conversation a read below!
Dread Central: Kristen, let’s start at the beginning. When did you know you wanted to be an actress?
Kristen Vaganos: When I was a kid my parents signed me up for everything, as parents do, and let’s just say I didn’t really take to the sports but I loved being on stage! The first play I ever did was Hansel and Gretel. I played Gretel and I think I just never wanted to grow out of playing make-believe! My friends also always joke that I’m the therapist of our group because I really love analyzing human behavior and acting allows me to take that one step further. By embodying the behavior and circumstances of my characters I can share and illustrate a very personal experience that is unfamiliar to an audience and hopefully create more empathy. That’s my true goal, to spread and promote empathy.
DC: And what were some of your favorite films growing up?
KV: Some of my favorite films are Good Will Hunting, Crash, and Fight Club. Growing up I was also a huge fan of the show Friends and that cast definitely inspired me. I couldn’t believe how fleshed out the fictional characters were. I really felt like I knew them and I’d think about them during the day like, “Oh that’s something Chandler would say”. They warmed my heart and I wanted to do that for people.
DC: What about horror – remember your first horror film?
KV: Saw was one of the first horror movies I saw and it scared me completely. Another one of the first horror films I remember watching was actually Will Smith’s I Am Legend. I think I was on a bad double date and cried when the dog died, but it’s ironic because Lisa is heavily influenced by the film and original book. There’s a nod to that when Lisa and Sam go see Last Man on Earth in the movie theatre.
DC: Freddy, Michael, Jason, Chucky or Leatherface?
KV: Ah, I’m so embarrassed to say that I haven’t seen all of these! To be honest I don’t watch a ton of horror films and definitely had my work cut out for me in terms of research before filming Lisa. But I swear our director Patrick and our SFX makeup artist/producer Jake Jackson have seen every horror film out there and can discuss them at length for hours if you let them so I’ll have to get their take on this. For now, I’ll go with Chucky because I have seen that and dolls are ****ing creepy!
DC: When did you feel, “Hey, this acting thing is working!”?
KV: I went to college for acting which was a tremendous experience. I went to NYU Tisch and I loved living in New York City because I could take classes all day, take the subway to an audition on my lunch break, go back to class, and then rehearse for a play at night. It was the life and even more so, I saw how I could make a life out of acting. During college, I played Heidi in a production of Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles and if you’re familiar with the play, Heidi never leaves the stage; she also has several quick changes and three multiple-page monologues. It was such a grueling and rewarding experience and some of the praise I received from the team and from the audience also really solidified it for me. I’ve got to get back on stage soon!
DC: How did I Am Lisa come to be?
KV: Eric Winkler, the writer of I Am Lisa actually found me online sometime in 2018 and sent me the script. He’s a first-time screenwriter and at that time, the script was in its early stages so I politely declined the role and gave him a bunch of notes, the main one being “show less and don’t underestimate your audience, everything is scarier when left up to the imagination”. Then in 2019 he cast the role, crewed up and filmed a teaser. But about a month before filming he reached back out saying something along the lines of, “I’ve always pictured you in this role, will you please give it another read?”. At that point, the script was in a much better place and everything I liked about it the first time around was still there. I chatted with our director Patrick on the phone about his vision after that, sent him a couple scenes and was in Kansas City for life casting (for the special effects) shortly thereafter!
DC: And did you sit down and watch similar werewolf films – maybe Ginger Snaps – before production?
KV: It’s so funny you mention Ginger Snaps because I did watch it! Before shooting, I asked Patrick and Eric for a list of homework movies that they felt shared the tone and style that we were going for with Lisa. I also knew I’d be asked about certain comparable films and wanted to be prepared. I think Ginger Snaps is similar to I Am Lisa in that the protagonist’s werewolf transformation resembles a coming of age for the young lady but it differs in that Ginger is so excited by the growth and the transformation whereas Lisa is terrified of it and would rather not… until she figures out how to make proper use of it.
DC: Was it daunting being the star? Did you feel a lot of pressure?
KV: I’m proud to say that Lisa is one of five feature films I’ve been the star of so far, but it is always daunting to have an entire film stand on your shoulders. There’s some comfort in being in almost every scene in that I can steer the ship and dictate her arc, but those are things that can come together or change in editing. The first time I shot a film as the lead was for a Lifetime thriller Mommy Would Never Hurt You and my character in that is slowly figuring out that her mother is drugging her sister and has falsified an illness. So I remember I had endless notes about exactly how much my character knows in each scene and how suspicious I am, because when you film out of order those things can be tough to align. Anyway, I was so honored that Eric and Patrick trusted me with this role and I was so grateful that if I ever felt there were dots that needed connecting or holes that needed filling, they were open to a creative discussion and to letting me add those layers.
DC: Did you have a backstory for Lisa, even if it wasn’t on the page, that you created?
KV: Ah exactly what I’m talking about! Yes, I definitely had a backstory for Lisa. I imagined that she’s been in this small town all her life and grew up around Jessica and her minions. Lisa learned that the place she felt most comfortable was just out of focus, on the outskirts avoiding trouble and confrontation while enjoying a simple life with her best friend Sam and escaping into the fictional world of a good book. We also added the fact that Lisa finally managed to get out of town and got a “fancy literature degree overseas”, as Sarah McGuire’s character calls it, but she has to come immediately back because her grandmother dies and leaves her the bookstore. I imagine Lisa lost her parents young and was raised in that bookstore by her grandmother. It’s organized chaos in there, as you’ll see when you watch the film. That location was awesome but Lisa definitely knows where everything is.
DC: Horror vet Patrick Rea directed I Am Lisa. How did you enjoy working with him?
KV: Working with Patrick was amazing! As you say, he’s a king of horror so I trusted him implicitly. We actually clicked super well right away and I fell into a great rhythm with him and our DP Hanuman Brown-Eagle, who Patrick has worked with before. Patrick and I even started reading each other’s minds; he would have a thought and I’d already be on it or he’d think of a prop I should have and I’d already be carrying it. It was great that we were definitely in sync, which really helps move fast on these lower budget short shoots! We loved working together so much that we have a couple new things in the works so stay tuned!
DC: You’re also a producer on the upcoming all-star fantasy film Man and Witch starring Tami Stronach and Christopher Lloyd. How’s that coming along?
KV: Yes, I am an Associate Producer on Man and Witch, a fantastical kid-friendly film in the vein of The Never-Ending Story. It’s got a great cast and will be shot in Europe which is exciting. I also just Produced a film in LA called Bobcat Moretti starring Vivica A. Fox, Taryn Manning (who I shared a scene with), Matt Peters, Matt McCoy, Mindy Sterling, Oscar-nominee Sally Kirkland (who said I had a sexy butt!) and more! It’s been an incredible experience and I’m stoked to continue to work on projects with more creative control than being just in the cast.
DC: And the film will use puppets, like Labyrinth?
KV: The Jim Henson Creature Shop is making our puppets. We’re so honored!
DC: Good luck with everything, Kristen.
KV: Thank you!
Have you seen I Am Lisa? What did you think of our exclusive interview with Kristen Vaganos? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram! You can also carry on the convo with me personally on Twitter @josh_millican.