Gavin Schmitt Interviews Tiffany Shepis
Tiffany Shepis is a well-known face in the world of low budget and b-grade horror. Still under 30, she has appeared in over 60 films to date with no signs of slowing down. She is probably best known for “The Hazing” and “Nightmare Man”, both directed by her friend (and incredibly nice guy) Rolfe Kanefsky.
I had the honor and privilege to join Tiffany for a cup of coffee in Milwaukee. In this interview, you’ll learn about filming with actual corpses, how to piss off David Hasselhoff, Tiffany’s intense dislike for cats… and much more.
GS: In your earlier acting days, you spent a fair amount of time around Troma. What is it like being a Tromette?
TS: Oh, working with Troma was awesome. You know, I’ve said it eight million times, but I was a huge fan of all their stuff and when my mother would go away for the weekend, my brother and I would have big parties, get really high, and watch bad, bad b-movies. The bad b-movies were almost all Troma films and I became this big fan of “A Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell” and I don’t know why, but I did. (laughs) So, I was like a fan of all these films and when I was going to school in the city I saw an ad in this actor’s paper and it was like, “Come down and audition to be a Tromette.” I was like, where do I know that name? So I went down and they happened to be casting for “Tromeo and Juliet”… blah blah blah blah blah, I got the part [of “Peter”]. Working for them was awesome. It’s 100% free film school. You know, you learn everything from acting to promoting to distribution. If you want to learn editing, you can go in there and help them edit it. It’s such a small company, and nobody’s getting paid, they want you to help with everything.
TS: It was probably the best experience I could have had, because it taught me every side of the industry possible. Which was pretty cool. And I still work with them to this day if I get a chance, but they’re just not doing as much stuff as they used to.
GS: It’s mostly distribution now.
TS: Yeah, it’s more the distribution end. I really wanted to be involved in “Poultrygeist” — I think it’s the most awesomely titled movie ever — but I was on set, I think I was shooting “Nightmare Man” at the time, so I couldn’t do it. But working with Troma is awesome, they’re my family.
GS: Troma not only helped you launch a career, but it has helped a variety of other people who have gone on to make a name for themselves. What is it about Troma that finds such talent and is able to promote it?
TS: (laughs) You know what it is, man? You get so many kids that can’t find another way to break in, and Troma’s like the easiest place because you can just knock on their door and go work there. (laughs) You don’t really have to have very many credentials to get in the door. It’s not like knocking on Paramount’s door. Look at James Gunn. That guy’s fucking talented.
TS: And you can’t walk into a studio and say, “I want to make this film about decapitation and lesbians and this and that and the next thing”, but Troma’s like “That’s awesome. Let’s do it.” So they give you a lot of freedom, whereas I think a lot of these kids that come out — like Joe Lynch and James Gunn — even Eli Roth was kinda floating in and out of Troma. It just gives them a place to be able to do what they want to do without having stipulations like another studio would do.
GS: Since most people think of you as a horror or b-movie actress, it might be surprising to them to learn that you appeared in a Destiny’s Child video. How do I phrase this precisely… what the fuck?
TS: (laughs) I used to, I don’t know… I became kinda the go-to white girl with the ass that would dance in all these hip-hop videos. I worked with everybody from Wu-Tang Clan down the line and I got a call from Destiny’s Child. I went in and it was for this video called “Nasty Girl”. I thought it was the funniest thing ever. They’re like, “Come in, we want you to hit on our cameraman.” I was like, “Fuck yeah, I can do that.” It just became this really really funny thing. They offered me the job and paid me a crapload of money. So I did a Destiny’s Child video, why the fuck not? (laughs)
GS: No reason not to. It’s just different than what many might expect.
TS: Totally different. And it was like the world’s worst song. Dreadful, dreadful, dreadful song. I used to dance a lot for hip-hop videos and… yeah.
GS: In an interview with a rival website, you said you had “been forced to work in a working funeral home with real dead people because we couldn’t afford the fake corpses.” I think there’s a story there that wasn’t told.
TS: (sarcastic) …that wasn’t told because that rival website SUCKS. (laughs) We were shooting a movie called “Corpses” and it was for York Entertainment which is pretty well known to be quite cheap and we were working in a working funeral home. We’re there on set and there’s coffins everywhere. It’s this movie I did with Jeff Fahey, right, and there’s supposed to be zombies and there’s all these X’s on the coffins and I’m like, “Oh, awesome, are these like our breakaway ones?” and they’re like, “Um, no, there’s a bunch of real dead bodies in there.” And I’m like, “Yeah, right.” “Go ahead and open one.” I did, and sure enough, tons of dead bodies in them. And I’m going, “Holy crap.” It’s like the world’s worst funeral home. Bunch of dead bodies just floating around everywhere — there were fuckers in the closet and it was weird. This place was in Compton and it’s like “holy shit”. There were dead people everywhere — EVERYWHERE. And I don’t even know if that’s legal. I don’t think you’re supposed to keep them lying around and it’s definitely not legal to put them a movie where some chick’s going to be pushing the coffin, sending Grandma flying into the wall. It was pretty creepy. We also got to shoot in their embalming room which was pretty fucking freaky, too, because there’s the stench of death. (laughs) You know, the stink of rotting flesh. Pretty disgusting. But that was a fun movie to shoot. That movie, “Corpses”, gets a bad rap, but I thought it was pretty funny. It was like a way cheaper, way lower budget, not as funny version of “Shaun of the Dead”. Your Z-quality “Shaun of the Dead”. So I thought it was pretty fun, and I think it’s Jeff Fahey’s best performance ever. (laughs) He doesn’t think so, but I do.
GS: My degree is in philosophy, so I’m obligated by law to ask you: If you were forced to choose, would you rather burn down an orphanage or run over a litter of kittens with a lawn mower?
TS: (without hesitation) The fucking kittens, man! Dude, I hate cats. I’ve been trying to kill my own cat for like ten years and that fucker will not die. I’m not kidding. That thing is so old and she keeps on ticking and you’re like, “Dude, just give up already.” So, yeah, I would totally take the kittens out. And after you do that, you stomp on them a bunch to make sure they’re dead. Orphans are cool. Which one would you do?
GS: If you assembled a League of Extraordinary Scream Queens, who are going to be your core members?
TS: Fucking “D-Ro”, Debbie Rochon. And motherfucking Brinke Stevens. Those would be my head honchos, my sergeants, my go-to badass women. And I guess you’d have to throw in some fucking flavor, give them Monique Dupree. She’s fucking crazy. Have you met that chick?
TS: She’s nuts. Dupree’s pretty badass, she’s our first black scream queen. Or so she claims. I don’t know, I think there were some before. But she likes to claim that title. I’d have to say Debbie Rochon and Brinke Stevens would be my girls. But how many is a league?
GS: I don’t know. Three’s a good start.
TS: Three’s a good one, yeah. Let’s stick with three.
GS: Everyone seems to love “The Hazing”. Me, my horror critic colleagues, other interviewers, and even my friend Trixie who has horrible taste in moves. But fuck those guys. Which film do you consider your favorite and why?
TS: (laughs) “The Hazing”. (laughs) You know, man, “The Hazing” really was a fucking letdown because it should have done a lot better than it did. We had a producer on it [B. Thomas Seidman] that didn’t know the genre. I think the only thing he ever worked on was “The Golden Girls”. He was pretty old and he was a nice guy, but he didn’t get the genre and he didn’t understand what we were trying to do. He was like, “Horror movies are supposed to be scary, but this is funny. Are you making a comedy?” And we’re like, “Yeah, it’s a fucking horror-comedy.” Look at the success of “Evil Dead”. We were trying to give him examples and he didn’t get it. Even when we finally had the locked picture of the movie he didn’t think it was good. He brought it down to his film students at USC and they loved it. We’re like, “See?” and he was like, “Well, they just don’t know what they’re talking about.” Four hundred students that are 18 years old? Our demographic? They don’t know what they’re talking about?
GS: If the fans want to see it, that’s what matters.
TS: Yeah. And I thought that movie could have done great in a midnight run at college campuses. I thought it could have been awesome. Still to this day I’ll get e-mails and people are like, “I just saw the Hazing for the first time and it was fucking awesome. That silver space suit rocked.” And you can’t beat Brad Dourif. He’s awesome, man. You know I get possessed by him in the movie and I get to take on his English accent. So he came to my house like five times to coach me on how to talk and I remember people calling me and I was like, “What the fuck is wrong with you? You don’t call me while Brad Dourif is here!” (laughs) “Stupid!” So yeah, “The Hazing” was probably one of my favorites because we had the budget so we could kinda do what we wanted to do. It would have been better if we had another million to do it, but it was just enough to pull off some of the effects and have a sleek little look. Man, fucking Brad Dourif was cool. Brooke Burke. We should have had her naked, but that was our producer’s fault again. She was willing to get in a bikini and naked for this whole montage scene and he’s like, “Oh, we don’t have time. I guess we’ll just take an extra 45 minutes to shoot the sidewalk.” Moron. The only reason to have Brooke Burke is to get her fucking naked.
GS: And at that time, nobody knew her.
TS: Mmm-hmm. Exactly.
GS: Whatever happened to a movie I heard you were involved with, “Dead Girls Don’t Say No”?
TS: Dude, it was a movie that the producers of “Unconventional” did, which is a documentary we did on the Chiller Theatre Convention. It was an awesome little script and Danny Aiello was going to produce it. It was ready to go and then, like many things, just sort of fizzled out. They didn’t get all their funding or whatever. What’s really funny about that is I believe there’s now a movie called “Dead Girls” and their tagline is “Don’t Say No” and it has nothing to do with ours.
GS: With a title like that, you have to make it.
TS: I know. It bummed me out, but yeah, it didn’t happen.
GS: Having starred with pretty much every big name in horror, it’s hard to pick just one for you to tell a story about. How about the biggest horror star of all, George Wendt, your co-star in “Bryan Loves You”?
TS: (laughs) George Wendt. I don’t know, man. We didn’t have any scenes together.
GS: You weren’t on set with him at all?
TS: Not once. I got in to Phoenix the day he left. (laughs) We had no scenes together at all. I’ve never even met him… no, wait, actually I take that back. I believe I met him at a bar ten years ago, before we ever worked together. I met him at a bar and he was a nice guy.
GS: I had the perfect set up on that question and it failed. [For a similar failed question, see the interview with Raine Brown.]
TS: (laughs) George Wendt! That’s awesome. He’s like a big Broadway star now. The movie I did with him, “Bryan Loves You”, comes out next month from Anchor Bay.
GS: “Nightmare Man” was picked up for the 2007 After Dark Horrorfest and received DVD distribution in the spring. Has the mainstream exposure opened up any new opportunities for you?
TS: Well, you know, it’s not gotten me any new avenues, necessarily, but it did bring me to an audience that hadn’t necessarily seen a lot of my stuff before. A lot of my stuff, with maybe the exception of “Abominable”, just hits the hardcore horror fans.
GS: Yeah, I was gonna ask about “Abominable” but now I’m not going to. That’s a bad movie.
TS: Understandable. Jeffrey Combs is in it, though.
GS: Which is why I watched it.
TS: Yeah… WAIT. (points to herself) That’s some bullshit, Gavin. Tiffany Shepis is why you watched “Abominable”.
GS: That’s the second reason. Jeffrey Combs was the first. I’m sorry.
TS: He’s old, you know. Time’s a ticking for him.
(off-topic discussion for a few minutes)
TS: But yeah, “Nightmare Man” brought me to a more mainstream audience. The people who went to go see the new piece of shit “Prom Night”, you know what I mean? Or only have seen the remake to “Chainsaw” [Texas Chainsaw Massacre] and never saw the original. So you got a lot of those kids who are like, “Man, I never heard of her, and the movie sucked, but I thought you were great and now I want to see all your fucking films.”
GS: It was a great movie.
TS: See, I thought it was a fun movie. You know, considering the budget we had to work on it, which was next to nothing… We made this movie out of love. We thought it would be fun to do and me and Rolfe like working together. And we had absolutely zero idea that it was going to end up in 300 movie theaters across the U.S. with this huge distribution thing through Lionsgate and it’s going to be on the Sci-Fi Channel come October… Nobody had any idea of that. We might have tried to make a better movie. But it definitely opened doors to more of a mainstream audience and people who maybe only saw me run and die in a movie are like, “Oh shit, she can kick ass. Let’s cast her in THIS.” And you get more people at conventions who are like, “Rock on, I saw that and now I want to watch the fucking ‘Hazing'”…
GS: Good luck trying to find half the other ones.
TS: Yeah, that is the tricky part.
GS: On to your upcoming directorial debut, “The Devil’s Pies”. What’s the current status on that? Has shooting started?
TS: No no no no. I don’t start shooting until October. It was supposed to be July but I kept pushing it because of other movie jobs, acting stuff. But it’s awesome, man. It’s like two of the craziest, dumbest girls on the planet meet the devil and creatures and tentacle monsters and have to try and save the day. The cool part about me directing the film is not the fact that I know how to direct by any means, but through all the years of working at conventions and working on these films I’ve got so many horror celebrities that I’ve grown up with. It’s almost like, “Hey, you want to do me a favor and come in for a day?” Hopefully if all goes as planned, it will be chock full of genre stars and ones that haven’t been seen in a while.
GS: And it’s already been getting major publicity from Fangoria.
TS: Yeah, they’ve been really pushing it. Which is really cool, and the fans have been really supportive and super behind it. I don’t know if I could make any kind of serious, scary horror movie but I know I can make an exploitation-fucking-no-holds-barred-show-me-your-tits-and-get-killed-by-a-creature movie. I don’t think I’ll have any problems there. We’re really excited about it, we have interest from many people. Not only genre stars, but different genre stars. Porn stars have been e-mailing me because everyone thinks they’re gonna be the next Jenna Jameson in “Zombie Strippers”. Which is cool. “If you wanna get naked, come on in.” Pro wrestlers. There’s been a lot of different people. Hopefully it will have something for everybody. We’ll see… and I’ll be in it. I’ll have a small part so as not to disappoint. I wasn’t going to do it initially, but a lot of people were like, “What’s the matter with you? You gotta be in it!” A small part.
GS: Last real question. You have an upcoming television series with Robert Englund that you’re not supposed to talk about. But you gotta drop something on us.
TS: The hopes for it… and the deal was just signed yesterday [June 6th]… the hope for it is that it’s an ongoing series. And right now it’s with a pretty big production company and they’re taking it out to different networks in the next week to sell us. It’s cool. It’s a reality series. That’s what I can tell you. You’re the first one to ever hear that. (laughs)
GS: I don’t buy that.
TS: (laughs) Maybe off the record I’ll tell you what it is. [Anyone who asks me to repeat what was told to me off the record isn’t going to get very far, so don’t bother.] But I can’t tell you on the record. The reason is that if some other assholes go out there and make the show before I do then we’d be screwed. But then again, they wouldn’t have Robert Englund, and Robert Englund is a fucking badass.
GS:That’s your selling point right there, Robert Englund. (sarcastic) Oh, yeah, and you.
TS: Fuck me. Robert Englund’s fucking cool.
GS: Here’s the fade-out fake question. I’m either going to make you share a David Hasselhoff story or, on the record, say, “Rolfe Kanefsky is my dominated love slave.”
TS: Rolfe Kanefsky is totally my dominated love slave.
GS: Well yeah, we know this.
TS: That’s pretty obvious. Except that [word unclear, sounds like “cocksucker”] didn’t put me in his new movie. That’s bullshit. “One in the Gun”. Well, he wanted to put me in it but I was on another movie. But, I do have a story about David Hasselhoff.
GS: Okay, strange… but excellent.
TS: David Hasselhoff used to be Rolfe Kanefsky’s dominated love slave. And I met David Hasselhoff at the premiere for “Spy Kids 2” years and years ago, because I think my ex-boyfriend did something on it. I don’t remember. But I was there and I was there with my mom and all these people were taking pictures of David Hasselhoff and, fucking, I was like, “Mom, why are all these people taking pictures of David Hasselhoff? Who cares about David Hasselhoff?” And she’s like (high pitched), “He’s really famous in Germany.” And I’m like, “Oh, whatever. Really famous in Germany. It’s David Hasselhoff. Who gives a shit? It’s a kid’s premiere, shouldn’t they be taking pictures of Hilary Duff? What a dick taking the limelight.” All of a sudden he turns around — I didn’t know I was being that loud — and he gives me The Look of Death, and I was like “oh, shit” and for the rest of the premiere he just turned and he was staring at me like the whole time. My mother’s like, “I think he’s staring at you.” And I’m like, “Huh? What?” And then he goes like this [Tiffany flips the bird and makes a mean, squinty face] and gives me the finger. Then he turns back and watches the movie. I’m like, “Oh my God.”
TS: What a douche! (laughs) So, that’s my David Hasselhoff story.
GS: Nothing like ending on a high note. We’re out of here. [We were actually being pushed out of the bar at this point.]
Thanks to Tiffany Shepis for taking the time to join us for this very interesting chat. And a special thank you to Frank, for helping coordinate the interview and for a rather tasty cup of coffee (I owe you one).