Quantcast ICONS Interview with actress Erika Smith

Erika Smith!

Erika Smith first caught our attention back in 2006 with the movie SINFUL co-starring Erin Brown (aka Misty Mundae). Since then, she's appeared in dozens of genre films including SKINNED ALIVE, CRIMSON, iMurders, SPLATTER BEACH, SEXY ADVENTURES OF VAN HELSING & SOUL KILLER. She also recently appeared in the comedy BACHELOR PARTY 2 and will next be seen in Darren Aronofsky's THE WRESTLER as well as Greg Lamberson's SLIME CITY sequel, SLIME CITY MASSACRE. Read on to get yourself more familar with Erika in our FRIGHT exclusive interview!- By Robg. - 8/08

What are your earliest recollections of the horror genre? What do you remember being the first thing to scare or have an impact on you?

Two movies. THE SHINING and JAWS! I don’t know if JAWS counts as a horror movie? (Laughs)

It totally does! It’s a giant monster that kills people! It’s a horror movie.

Ok. (Laughs)

So, those were the first two, but would you say you became a fan of the genre from there?
No, I didn’t become a fan of the genre until I started working a lot in the genre. It was never intentional, I just happened to become involved with EI, POP Cinema and then they kept putting me in their films and they do a lot of horror films, and I started to get a little recognition. So, I thought, “Well, let me look into this!” (Laughs) And I started getting interested in the genre.

Well, let’s go back a bit further – What are the origins behind your acting career? You’re originally from Massachusetts, so what influenced you to get into acting?
Well, I’ve always really been into all the arts, literature and music… I would say what first triggered me into wanting to be an actress was seeing the movie GONE WITH THE WIND. I was really into that book! I was 12 years old when I read that book, 1200 pages? I read it in 5 days. I was just so into it and then I saw the movie and I just loved it. So, I started getting really interested in how they made the movie and how they cast it, and I read all about “old Hollywood.” I got so into old movies, that I would ride my bike to the library and take out all these old films like CASABLANCA, and even more obscure movies from the 1920’s! I watched silent movies and started reading all these actors biographies. I don’t know if I put all the pieces together that that was what I wanted to do at that point, but when I was about 15, I got really into Elvis and Bob Dylan and just thought maybe I’ll be a folk singer! (Laughs) And I really wanted to come to New York City and do that whole thing and be in the arts. I was reading all these beat poets and thinking “I want to live in the East Village!” And be a beat poet and play the guitar! So, I got a guitar and I could not learn how to play it.

So, you actually tried to be a musician first?

A singer! I was writing songs, I was writing lyrics. I thought I was like Bob Dylan Part 2. (Laughs) But then part of me was really drawn to the whole acting thing, but I was really shy about it. I would always try out for school plays, but I was kind of shy and I never got the lead, I would always get the chorus or the really small parts. I knew I just wanted to come to New York City and try everything. I thought that maybe if I came to New York City, someone would see me on the street and put me in a movie! Or something like that. I went up to college in Massachusetts when I was 18, and I saw an ad for a student film. One of my friends convinced me to go to the audition and I got the lead. My friend was upset, because she wanted the lead (Laughs) and she got some other part. That kind of started out the acting bug really full force. I realized “Ok, this isn’t something I need to be shy about. It’s a legitimate thing. I can pursue this.” I moved to NY when I was 20 and I studied music, because I wasn’t sure which way I wanted to go. So, I studied music in school and actually got a degree in it. And at the same time I was going to acting school. By the time I graduated, I just realized that I think I had more potential as an actress then a musician, so I just went full force with acting.
I don’t know! I like the idea of “Erika Smith – Folk Singer”. (Laughs)

I could not learn how to play! It hurt my fingers!

Well, it seems to me that you have a genuine love of New York, which is great. So, why NY as opposed to LA? It seems if you want to act, you should be in one of the other, and LA is big on film, whereas NY is big on theater.

I tried LA. I moved to New York in 99 and in 2005 I moved to LA. I thought I would just go there and make it! Again! (Laughs) I stayed for a year and it just wasn’t my thing. I love the idea of being a girl in this crazy city. I love walking around (NYC). I walk everywhere. There’s just so much life going on around you, and in LA, you can’t really walk. Everything’s more spread out. It just wasn’t as interesting to me, it felt cold. Just not my thing. But I’m totally open to go there for work! Maybe it’d be great to live there if I had a beautiful big house and a role on a TV show. (Laughs)
The most recent thing of yours that I’m familiar with is SKINNED ALIVE, aka EAT YOUR HEART OUT written and starring Joshua Nelson. One of the things I always liked about Joshua’s material is he’s such a strong writer. He tends to work with a lot of New York based independent filmmakers, so I’m just curious how you hooked up with them? Had you worked with anyone from that crew before?
I saw the part in The Breakdowns – for people that don’t know, in the acting world, The Breakdowns are classified ads that come out everyday that say what parts are available, what’s casting, who needs actor’s, etc. So, I go through those everyday and it was in The Breakdowns. I don’t recall if it was me or my manager, but I submit myself sometimes, my manager submits me – somehow they got my picture and name, called me in and I auditioned. Joshua actually recognized me from another movie I did. A friend of his worked on that movie I did, which was a comedy called HOTTIES. (Laughs) There were roles open for 3 different prostitutes, so I auditioned for all 3 of them and I made each one different. He liked my audition so much that he didn’t know which one to cast me as, but he definitely wanted to use me. He ended up casting me and he wrote a much longer thing for me to do, which was cool.
Of all the “prostitutes” in the movie, you obviously have the most humorous bit of dialogue. I’d like to think you didn’t cull that monologue from real life experiences! The whole talking to hemorrhoid’s bit? (Laughs)

It was not based on real life experiences! He wrote that for me after I got the part, because he thought I was funny, and he really wanted to show that. So, he wrote those extra lines for me. (Laughs)

Now, SPLATTER BEACH! Fun movie, I totally dig it. But first of all and most importantly… I’d like to think that the real Erika Smith would never date a douchebag like the Rodney character.
Ya know what? OK! The SPLATTER BEACH script, I get it and all that stuff is not on the page! I looked at the script and thought, “Ok, I’m getting a 60’s beach movie vibe. I’m going to go this way with it.” And I rented a bunch of those movies and I really got the flavor, I costumed myself, and I tried to look 60’s. And then the Rodney character… it’s not on the page that he’s supposed to be a “wigger”! It’s not on the page at all! If I was him, and I’m not criticizing Brice (Kennedy’s) choices, the way it ended up was really funny. (Laughs) But if I was him, I would’ve thought, “Oh, he’s Frankie.”
I don’t think he went out and rented those 60’s beach movies like you did. (Laughs)

No, he decided to go the other way with it. Which ended up being so whacked out, I think! I don’t know, I think it’s funny! (Laughs)

I love the concert on the beach. It’s so funny, and they keep cutting to this shot of you doing a 60’s dance. (Laughs)
Well, that’s funny because that was another thing about the retro vibe. In the script, there were all these things like “beach party, people dancing”, so when we were on the beach shooting, I suggested “Wouldn’t it be funny like when you see all those movies and you just see a girl’s ass dancing?” But I didn’t mean to go up my skirt! I did not mean that! I meant straight, you see an ass in a bathing suit doing a 60’s dance! So, later I saw the previews and thought, “Oh great, they went up my skirt!” (Laughs) I guess it was a big misunderstanding because I did not expect them to go up my skirt. One of the Polonia brothers, I think John, when he got behind me to film that shot, he was like, “Don’t tell my wife!” (Laughs) It was cute!
Erin Brown, aka Misty Mundae and you have done a couple of films together. What’s the relationship like between the two of you having worked together several times?

We’ve become good friends. I just saw her for lunch a few weeks ago, and we’ll talk on the phone here and there. She’s busy, I’m busy, but we really like each other, and we love working together and we try to make time to see each other as friends. She came to my birthday party one year! We get along really well.
Well, SINFUL is interesting. It’s the first thing I saw you in and it’s got very bizarre subject matter. The idea of a woman obsessing with her pregnant neighbor because she desperately wants to conceive as well. How’d you feel about it when you first read it?
They gave me one of Tony Marsiglia’s movies to watch, it was called ASHES TO FLAMES. And I think I saw that before I read the script (for SINFUL). I really liked it, it was really bizarre. It had this David Lynch-vibe. It wasn’t linear, the imagery was really interesting and it had all this symbolism, and I wasn’t quite sure I understood it but I was like “Wow! Ok, so I’m going to be in a movie like this! That’s great!” So, I read SINFUL, well MINE, at the time it was called MINE. And Pop Cinema had introduced it to me as an opportunity to show off my “acting chops”, because they knew I wouldn’t do the Seduction Cinema stuff. But they told me “This is a good movie! You can show your acting chops!”
You are very good in it, by the way.


You seem so humbled by that compliment!

Yeah, because I really don’t think I’m that good in it. It was a long time ago, but I think when I first read it, I remember thinking “I do not know what to do with this character.” I couldn’t quite get a handle on it, but I started to do that kind of work, with preparation and trying to figure her out.
I talked to Tony (the director) on the phone, and I explained how I was thinking of going with this way on the character. “What do you think? Do you agree with that?” And he said, “Don’t do anything! Don’t do anything at all! No acting. No prep. Don’t do it, you’re perfect as you are. Your audition was great. Just be you.” So, I was like…. “Ohhhh K.” (Laughs) I did what he said! He’s the boss. I’m not going to do my normal shit. I did not prep that role at all. All I could think was to be kind of dreamy, be like you’re cool with everything and everything’s great. That’s the one direction he gave me, “You’re so open and loving and everything is good with you.” So, that was the one thing I kept in mind.
That’s the one thing that stands out though, the confidence that you portray as that character.

When I see it now, I think it could’ve been more interesting if I did more. I don’t know! I just thought there could’ve been more layers to that character.
I read that you shot a bit part in THE WRESTLER, Darren Aronofsky’s new movie. I’m a huge fan of his, so how’d that go?

Well, ok, I’ve worked with the casting director before, and they called me in, and I auditioned for the role of a featured extra dancer, because in the movie Mickey Rourke is the star, he plays “the wrestler” and his love interest is played by Marisa Tomei and she plays a stripper, so they needed strippers for the club scenes when she’s at work. So, I was initially cast as a featured extra, and my manager asked, “Are you sure you want to do this?” I said, “I just want to work with Darren Aronofsky!” So, I took the role and I was sitting on set the first day and having coffee, killing time. I sat next to this guy at the bar on the set, and I just started talking to him, I thought he was one of the crew guys. Well, a few minutes into the conversation he introduces himself and he’s like, “I’m Darren.” And I’m like… (Laughs) “Oh. You’re Darren?”
I got really flustered, but introduced myself back and I was totally starstruck. And he was cool, he started calling me Erika all day, and I’m thinking “I’m just an extra! This famous director is talking to me and calling me by name? This is cool.” And then at the end of the day, they needed a couple of girls for Marisa to be having a conversation with, just to improv something while Mickey Rourke comes up. So, they asked me to do the scene, and that allowed me to get bumped up to a higher role. (Laughs) And they needed me for more days, so it was really good.
Wow, congrats!

Yeah! And then that got me my agent, because I sent my postcard out to a few agents and said, “I just shot this principal role in a Darren Aronofsky movie.” (Laughs) The agent called me and said, “Great! We want you!” (Laughs) So, yeah, Aronofsky was really nice and out of all the stuff that I’ve done, he really worked with the actors a lot, personally. Most directors kind of don’t… you’re kind of left up to your own devices and he really was hands on working with them.
Another movie I caught you in recently which came as a pleasant surprise was BACHELOR PARTY 2. I’m a huge fan of the original, so of course I had to rent it. I’ll be honest… it’s an OK comedy, but it’s tough to compete with one of my all time favorite comedies of ever, which is the first BACHELOR PARTY! If anything, it looked like it was a great time to make.

That was great, because that was the first bigger budget movie that I was in, so I was so excited. And it was such a fun character to try to step into because she was German, so I was studying my German tapes! (Laughs)
And that’s not the only time you spoke German for a role, right? I thought I saw you in a short perhaps in German?

Yeah, that was a student film.

Are you branching out to German roles now too? (Laughs)
It’s funny because my manager was like “Brush up on your German, it could be part of your marketability!” I don’t speak German! The only way I got those 2 German parts was because like I said before I have a degree in music and I sang classical music, and one of the things you have to do with classical is sing in different languages. So, I was used to translating text and figuring out what it means and pronouncing it right. So that’s exactly how I attacked those roles, just as if the dialogue was a song. It’s funny to think that I beat out real German people for those roles. (Laughs) Yeah, everyone on set – there were a couple of actors who were really, really talented comedians, so they were really fun to be around. I was there for 2 and a half weeks, I had my own hotel room, so I felt very fancy. (Laughs) It was fun!
I haven’t seen the movie yet, but there’s a great clip from your demo reel from SEXY ADVENTURES OF VAN HELSING, where you play this nerdy-type girl and I thought you were hilarious!

(Pause) Don’t rent it. (Laughs)

Don’t rent that movie? Ok! Well, that was one of your early parts, right?

Yeah, yeah. I liked a few scenes in there, but ya know what? Honestly? It’s really a softcore porn and I’m the comic relief. And I don’t have any sex scenes, I just tried to do funny stuff.
The clip I saw you in I thought was hilarious!

Yeah! Yeah, when she’s first a nerd, I really connected with that, and that was way before NAPOLEAN DYNAMITE came out. I have to point that out. He copied me! He must’ve seen that movie and totally copied me! (Laughs)

So, Jon Heder saw you in that movie and copied you for NAPOLEAN DYNAMITE?

I think so! (Laughs) No, whatever. I’ve seen an interview with him and he obviously has his source for that character, but they are very similar! Yeah, like any silly movie where the nerd character turns into the swan, I just wish I handled the swan part differently. I wish I kept my crazy, stupid nerd voice.
See, now I want to rent it because of the way you’re describing it!

Fine! Rent it! Well, whatever. (Laughs)

Most recently, you shot iMURDERS and SOUL KILLER?
Well, I shot SOUL KILLER when I was living in LA in 2005. Um, well iMURDERS I shot at the beginning of this year and it just premiered at the New Jersey Film Festival. That role I just auditioned for, my manager set it up and the director Robbie Bryan called me a week later and said, “I just wanted to call you personally and offer you the role. You did so great in the audition.” It’s just a small, but pivotal role in that movie. There were a few stars in that movie, so that was exciting. And it turned out good! (Laughs)

That’s all you can ask for! That they come out good! (Laughs)

I wish I had more lines. I just had one line and then I’m naked the whole time. (Laughs)

Well, hey now! (Laughs)
Maybe he’ll put me in his next movie and I’ll have more lines. SOUL KILLER was so long ago! Back in 2005, I did a few films while I was out in LA, same kind of thing I did in New York. I did SOUL KILLER, I did another movie called THE WANDERER.

So, what’s next for you? What’s on the horizon? Would you be open to continue doing stuff in the horror genre?
Yeah, I’d be open to. I have a role coming up that’s for a film shooting this spring called SLIME CITY MASSACRE. It’s the sequel to SLIME CITY. It’s great! I’ve been talking with the director Greg Lamberson, and it’s the lead. He said he wrote it for me. Whether or not he did, I don’t know! (Laughs) But it’s a really great part, and the character really transforms and grows and that’s something that makes it a really juicy part to play. We’re shooting that in Buffalo in the Spring of 2009. And then, I’m developing my own horror-based TV show. I don’t know how much I should say about it? But I wrote the pilot episode, and it’s a modern take on the whole horror host kind of thing, but totally revamped. Excuse the pun. (Laughs) So, I’m working on that, creating and writing it. We’ll see, we might be shooting the pilot this summer.

You wrote the pilot for this – Is writing something else you’d like to dabble in? Would you want to branch out and do things like writing or even directing?

I definitely don’t want to direct! I know that! It’s too much work. You have to see the big picture, and it’s just too confusing. Writing, however, I’ve always loved. I probably will end up doing something with that at some point in my life. I wrote another screenplay actually. But I’m focusing on acting right now. I wrote the pilot out of necessity, because we needed someone to write it! But I think it’s hard to perform what you’ve written. I don’t know if I would continue writing this show, but yeah, I imagine I’d end up writing things.

Last but not least, now that you’ve been working in the genre for a few years, what would you consider among some of your favorites?

I liked that movie DRESSED TO KILL, which I saw as research for this one movie that didn’t end up happening.
DRESSED TO KILL is good, but in turn, it’s PSYCHO!

Yeah. I had to see that as an example of a “giallo” because that was the tone this one movie I was up for was going for. I really like Lucky McKee’s work. Erin did SICK GIRL with him, and I love that movie MAY. I thought that was so well done and really, really great! I do have a memory of seeing HALLOWEEN 5 in theaters and being really spooked and not being able to walk home in the dark. (Laughs) Oh, and this is silly, but… FINAL DESTINATION got me! (Laughs)

Well, I like that one too for the unexpected death sequences. I mean, the bus?

Yeah! Oh, and I love YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN! I don’t know if that counts as a horror movie, but I love it.

I’ll accept that one. Thanks for talking with us, Erika!

Special thanks to Joshua Nelson!

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