Quantcast ICONS Interview with actress Gina Phillips of JEEPERS CREEPERS, DEAD & BREAKFAST and THE SICKHOUSE


FRIGHT fans, prepare for a treat! Ever since we've started the site, we've always wanted to talk to actress GINA PHILLIPS, who made a strong and impressionable debut in the genre as Trish in JEEPERS CREEPERS. She also appeared in the horror/comedy DEAD & BREAKFAST and now you can catch her in THE SICKHOUSE (now available on DVD)! She gives us the run down on all of those films, confesses to us her favorite horror films and explains why she didn't come back for JEEPERS 2! Read on for the FRIGHT exclusive interview! - By Robg. - 4/08

What are your earliest recollections of the horror genre? What do you remember being your first introduction or your first exposure to the world of horror?  

I have 2 that I remember. I grew up on horror movies. My father was a huge horror movie fanatic, and everyone else in the family would watch with him, so from a very young age, he would plant me in front of the television with him. I remember a film, which I actually don't think holds up in adulthood, but as a child it was terrifying called SALEM'S LOT. It terrified me when the kid came to the window.
Ya know, we're about the same age, that movie got all of us!  

Didn't it? (Laughs) Oh my God. Disturbed me for weeks. My father has a very sorted sense of humor, and he used to go outside of my bedroom and scratch and scratch on the window until I would get up and open it and then run screaming to my mother.  

(Laughs) That's terrible!

Isn't that awful?

It is!

I know. I know. He used to giggle, just laugh his ass off at me. The other one that tortured me until about 5 years ago was the first AMITYVILLE HORROR.  

You're naming the ones that had that effect on most of us for being at that ripe age.  

You know what it was? It was that 3:15! I will never forget. Every time they would grab the doorknob, it would flashback to 3:15 which is when the kids were shot in their sleep. Which is just the most horrifying thought, especially for a child that someone would come in and shoot you in your sleep. So, until about 5 years ago, if I was up until 3 in the morning, I would have to stay up until 3:20! To make sure it was safe. It's really sick! I logically knew it made no sense, but it was imprinted on me from a young age and I couldn't get rid of it.  
A lot of those movies psychologically scarred us, but hey! We're well shaped individuals now, so...  

(Laughs) So we hope!  

I read this on the internet, which is obviously a very reliable source...

Of course...  

It says that you had studied at the University of Pennsylvania and that you were very, very close to graduating before shifting gears and getting into acting. Is that true?
Yeah. I'm actually one class short.  

What were you going for, and what was it that made you decide to just dive right into acting?

Oh goodness. Well, I have to preface by saying that I had been acting my whole life. Just in theater. And it never really entered my mind that I could make a living doing that. I don't come from a family of artists, so to them that was just an absurd thought, and they convinced me that was an absurd thought. So, I was at Penn taking business classes at Worton and taking a lot of film classes at Annenberg School of Communications there and it really, my life changed because of a drunken evening at a bar called Smokey Joe's (Laughs) Where a very dear friend kept asking what I was doing upon graduation and all my answers ended with "but really, I'm an actress. I just am not going to do that." And he kept saying "Well, why not?" And I was drunk enough to have no answer that made any sense to me!
Liquid courage!

Exactly, liquid courage! And in the morning I picked up the phone and found a friend of a friend of my family who had a son that was acting and I flew out and visited him, and next thing you know I had an agent and manager and was on my way. And I was taking my last few classes at UCLA extension to finish up and work took over and literally to this day after almost 4 years plugging away at a silly ivy league college, I am one class short. It's my permanent torture to my parents!
(Laughs) Well, maybe one day you'll go and just finish it up for the hell of it.  

You know what? I would love to one day. I would love to.  

You just did a movie called THE SICK HOUSE, which is available on DVD now. How'd you get involved in THE SICK HOUSE? How'd that project come to you?

That project was a random call where these producers from London called my management - I think it came through my management, and they said "we would like Gina to do this film. Will she look at it?" And I read it and thought it was interesting. And truthfully, it sounded even more interesting the prospect of living in London for 2 months and working. So, it was one of those out of the blue things.

I was going to ask if you shot that in London, because I know the cast is primarily English. That must've been quite an experience for you though. What was the working experience like in London versus the films you've done here in the States?

Well, it was very startling, a different experience from here in the States. It was a half British and half Indian production, and they brought in a whole Bollywood crew.  

And I'd never experienced anything like that. First of all, I've never worked with this big of a crew. There were 5 men to do every job. And the pride that they take in the work is something I've never seen. They would get dressed up everyday to go to work. It was a very different work ethic, a very different way of going about things. It was actually shocking to me.
It wasn't as fancy as when we work here in the States? We don't have the elaborate crafts service and as much of the pampering. We had a huge crew of everyone that was just really working so hard. Long hours, and we were working in an abandoned children's hospital, which was really creepy. And you didn't want to be walking around alone at night in. So, it was work. Put it that way, it was work!

Tell us about your character Anna? She's a teacher/archeologist in the film, so what's her story and how does it pertain to this movie?

Her story is, she's a very ambitious girl, and she's looking for her one big break. And she really, really thinks that she's on the verge of it. And they're about to shut down this hospital, which is above this site where she really believes she's about to unearth something really big. So she is determined to make that discovery before they start demolition and tear it down. She only has a few hours to do so. So, she does some things that probably aren't the brightest in order to save her site from being condemed. She's overly ambitious!
And I assume some trouble ensues?

Some trouble ensues. Yes, she makes a discovery or two. I'll just say yeah, some trouble ensues.

Ok! I was always fascinated by archeology. One of my good friends Chris is an archeologist. And I remember going back to your interviews on the JEEPERS CREEPERS DVD, you had said how you do a lot of research and backstory for your characters. How'd you prepare to be an archeologist for this movie?
Truthfully, I'm fascinated with it as well. Because I'm fascinated with stories that have some basis in truth. And I wanted to research at least the historical plague in London (which plays into THE SICK HOUSE) and these doctors, so that was a lot of the research I did, which was fascinating to me. I didn't realize how much of it was true. And they would lock all of these children up with these plague doctors, which were these sick doctors. So a lot of my research wasn't physical research this time, it was really just researching the time period and what went on.  
I didn't find too much information on the director Curtis Radclyffe on-line. Was this his first feature?  

No it wasn't. He did another feature before, but I have to be honest. Usually, when I work with a director, I like to watch a bunch of their work and meet with them and have long conversations, especially when they're a newer director, but this time he was in London, so we just had many, many phone conversations and truthfully, I found him very thought-provoking. There were a few things when I first got the script that I didn't really understand or that I thought needed some work, so we had a lot of conversations about that and I was very intrigued by his take on it, and how open minded he was. I decided to jump into this film with him.

The thing that impressed me about THE SICK HOUSE, it may be his 2nd film, but stylistically, the film looks really cool and it's very well made. Can you talk a bit about the actual work experience with Curtis and if you had an inkling as to how the final product would come out?

You know, I have to tell you, I had no idea what the final product was going to be! Which is a very strange thing. I sometimes like to watch dailies, sometimes I don't. But on this one, I was honestly too tired. It was one of those gigs where we worked a lot of long hours, and I was in a lot of the film and I just didn't have time to watch (dailes), so I had no idea what we were going to end up with. But Curtis had a very particular visual style that I knew he was going for. And also, a lot of that had to do with our director of photography, whom I thought was brilliant. He had done another film that I watched right before this called THE DESCENT.

Oh, Sam McCurdy!

Sam McCurdy, yes. I loved the way THE DESCENT looked. I just thought he knows how to tell a story visually and I loved Sam. He was fantastic. I have to say some of it was the director and some of it was Sam.  

Speaking of "not knowing what the final product's going to be like" for a movie, a couple of years ago, I picked up a little movie you did called DEAD & BREAKFAST. It was written and directed by Matthew Leutwyler, and around the time it came out, I actually interviewed one of your co-stars, Oz Perkins...

Aw! He's so sweet!

I just have to know... because it's an odd, bizarre, inventive little film. There's musical numbers and animation - I can't imagine that stuff being in the script. Did you have any idea while you were making that movie that there was going to be all these creative things thrown into the final version?

Well... (Laughs) I'll tell you how that all came about. The truth is, Matthew Leutwyler is a friend. And almost everyone in that, we're all friends. Jeremy Sisto is one of my oldest friends. Portia (de Rossi) who did a little cameo is one of my best girl friends. We're all buddies. Ever Carradine is a very dear friend. Matt really rallied us all together and said, "Would you do this?" And we thought it would be really fun to all jump in together and we couldn't say no to him. And Zac (Selwyn) who does all the music, he's the one playing the guitar in the movie?
He's a dear friend and we've all gone to a bunch of his shows, so we knew his style, so... we knew it'd be wild? (Laughs) We knew it would be really different. We knew we'd have fun making it. We knew it would either be really fantastic or really terrible! It was just one of those things where friends decided to get together, do something really low-budget, have fun and cross our fingers. That's what that movie was!
It turned out to be a really cool movie regardless. But I like that mentality. Because if it was crap, you and your friends could've been like, "Remember when we made that crap movie a few years ago?!"

Exactly. And actually, there was a group of 30 of us, even the tiny parts were all really close friends. We were all staying at this motel together and playing poker every night. And ya know, having fun and hoping it wasn't a total disaster.

I was going to ask you about the fantastic cast of DEAD & BREAKFAST, but obviously you're good friends with a lot of them. Everyone from Jeremy Sisto to Oz Perkins to Erik Palladino. Was this the first time a lot of you got to work together?

Yeah, I feel like I did a short film before... I worked with a few of them. I worked with Jeremy Sisto. Ever (Carradine) and I did one of our first jobs, actually I think it was Ever's first job, my first lead for a TV movie. We did that together. Oh, and Portica & I did ALLY MCBEAL together for a year.  
Any favorite moments or scenes from DEAD & BREAKFAST that stand out for you?  

Oh my gosh... Honestly, there were too many to name. Because we were all friends and we were laughing the whole time. I have to tell you, but I loved playing someone who was, I hate the say this, the dumb girl? I never get to play that and it was so fun. The dumb character who was a savant. She would whip out with these strange little things that she knew everything about. I loved being able to play the vacant girl.  

The whole scene in the bar/barn where everything goes down is definitely one of the most memorable scenes for me.

(Laughs) Yeah.

Most genre fans know you from JEEPERS CREEPERS because you made a very strong debut in the genre. That's a fact!

Well, thank you!

It's been a few years. How do you look back on JEEPERS CREEPERS in retrospect, and how has it affected you personally and in your career?

Oh wow. In a huge way. I loved that experience. It was a strange experience. It was Justin Long and I in the middle of nowhere in a very small town in central Florida together, and it was really just him and I. And I adore him. He is one of my very dear friends. Thank God he’s an amazing human being otherwise it could’ve been a terrible experience truthfully. Um, but I loved it, I loved the character. The fact that it turned out so well was surprising to all of us, truthfully.
Because you just never know. But I loved the experience and the impact its had on my career has been that I think that horror fans are the most loyal, wonderful fans you could ever have. I really don’t think there’s another fan base like it. So, for me, I feel like there’s always work there and a lot of it is due to my work in JEEPERS CREEPERS. And sometimes that translates to me being offered a lot of horror movies. But it also translates to other genres as well and I beyond grateful, because I don’t know if I’d still be working if it weren’t for them! (Laughs)

Well, I’m sure once the FRIGHT fans read this, they’re going to continue falling in love with you, because that’s really wonderful of you to say.  

Well, I hope so!

There’s a lot of interesting things I wanted to talk about with JEEPERS CREEPERS. First of all, Victor Salva admitted on the features of the DVD that he didn’t do justice when writing the Trish character, and he credited you a lot to fleshing out that character and making her who she was. In your interview on the disc, you talk about coming up with this whole back story for Trish, and figured out what kind of music she’d listen to. Have you approached all your characters since in a similar way?
Well, you know, every one has their different ways of working. Every actor does, and some are very method in their ways. Ya know, they like to walk around being called their characters name, and some like to break down scenes and decide what they’re going to do in every moment and they work that way. Some people like to rehearse a lot. For me? It’s none of that. For me, I love to do a ton of research so that I feel like I know who that person is. And then I get to set and throw it all away, so that in every moment I can go “Ok, well what would she do right now?” And that’s it. And I don’t want to decide what I’m doing in scenes. I want to play off the other actors. I feel like for me, that’s what keeps it all alive and interesting, but I definitely like to do my research. It makes me comfortable. It puts all of my neurosis to rest! (Laughs)
One of the other aspects I love about JEEPERS CREEPERS is that it takes what could be a traditional clique, which would be the boyfriend/girlfriend role, and totally changes it by making you both brother and sister. That’s always been one of the things that’s stood out in that movie for me. Can you talk a little bit about the dynamic between you and Justin? Did you have prep time to get the brother/sister relationship to work?
We had a little prep time, but we didn’t have a ton. I was cast first in the film and I read with a few other actors that came in, Justin being one of them. I think there were 3 that were kind of upward at the moment. But something happened when Justin walked in, aside from the fact that he’s I think just a beautiful, wonderful actor. I love his work. But he and I had something where immediately that chemistry was there. That chemistry of a brother-sisterly thing. And it was there from the first time we read together.
So, I was crossing my fingers that they would see it and they did. And that just kind of continued. We adored each other, but he was definitely younger and messier, and I’m sure I was a little older and probably nagging him sometimes. It was a really natural thing for us. Also, we went down 2 weeks early to Florida to do a lot of improving with Victor and work on the characters and re-write a little bit. And Justin and I had tons of time, just the two of us together just kicking around central Florida and going to Walmart together at night. So, that naturally developed.

This movie was back in 2001, and the “Creeper” was really the first movie “monster” that we’d seen in a couple of years. How intimidating was Jonathan Breck when you had to work with him in the full “Creeper” make-up?

Well, here’s the thing… (Laughs) And Victor will get really mad at me for saying this. Victor really wanted it to be really frightening, so he kept us away so that Justin and I were never allowed to talk to Jonathan until finally he was on set. So, there were weeks where we were shooting a lot of scenes, since Justin and I have a lot of scenes without him. So we never saw him – on set or in the costume. So, the first second we saw him in a scene, there was a little bit of a startling response, but I have to admit… you’ve got all these make-up FX guys running in every second, so we were kind of really aware that it was this guy in a suit. (Laughs) So, Victor worked really hard to create a certain effect, and I’m not sure it worked because we knew that it was just a guy in a suit.

Well, you’re both wonderful actors and you both sold that you were very scared, so well done!

(Laughs) Thank you!

There wasn’t much going on in horror around the time that JEEPERS CREEPERS came out, yet it became a very successful movie. Do you remember what was going on in movies around that time and why was it as successful as it was?

Oh goodness. Ya know, I could sit and tell you a few thoughts as to why. But when it comes down to it, I just call it “the movie gods”. The movie god just comes down and kisses a few movies sometimes. I really think just all things came together, the stars aligned, and I don’t think anyone can really, really pinpoint why certain movies do well and why certain don’t. There are wonderful movies that don’t do well, we all know that. And there are terrible movies that do fantastically and it had to do with whatever people are looking for at that moment. It comes out at the right weekend. All the pieces fell together! The music, the editing, the acting, the marketing campaign. It was just one of those things where it all came together. I don’t think any of us thought it was going to do as well as it did.
For me? I really took it because I was doing ALLY MCBEAL, I wanted to do something really different. I’ve always loved horror. I hadn’t found one that really psychologically messed with my mind as much. And this one, I really was getting frightened as I was reading it. Especially the first 30 pages of the script. I love the feeling it gave me. I really wanted to do it, I also had been doing a TV show and I wanted to do a movie, and be able to carry a film. And I had all my own reasons for doing this. As much as Victor feels he didn’t flesh Trish enough, what he did was he wrote – it’s actually funny, what he thought his weakness was, he thinks he can’t write women.
And he thinks he wrote a male character. And one of the reasons I loved it was that I felt like for once, there wasn’t a stereotype. It was a really strong female character that yes, was written like a man, and then you hire a woman to come in and bring feminine sensibilities to it! (Laughs) So, that was really what drew me to it, it really wasn’t anything more intellectual then that.
Justin had done a cameo for the JEEPERS CREEPERS 2. Was it true that you were asked back to cameo in the second one as well?

Here’s what happened. There were a lot of rumors that went around about it, and I’ve heard a lot of rumors of people saying I turned it down. I didn’t really turn it down! There was a first script, an idea that had to do with my character and… it didn’t really work. It just wasn’t that frightening and everyone ended up agreeing it didn’t work. If it had been really up to par with the first one, I would’ve jumped in…

So, there was an original first draft for the 2nd JEEPERS CREEPERS that involved your character as a main character again?
Yes. Yes. And everyone, the studio, Frances (Ford Coppola), Victor – every one agreed that it just wasn’t as strong as the first one. So then they came up with this other idea, which was a version of what the 2nd one ended up being, and my character was a cameo in it. And truthfully, the reason they decided not to do it was they originally were going to kill off my character and they decided that they didn’t want to, to leave it open for more of the franchise. To be there later on. So, that’s the true story behind it. It wasn’t that I just turned it down.

I figured it was something along those lines.

It didn’t come together in the right way. I totally would’ve done it if it was right.

Were they trying to replicate what the first one was again or did it just go in a direction that didn’t seem to make sense (for the Trish character)?
Victor had a great idea, it just wasn’t scary enough. And he went a totally different route. But they wanted to leave room to be able to come back to the Trish character. There was a cameo in the beginning (of JEEPERS CREEPERS 2) where I was brutally killed. (Laughs)

Awww, no!

And every one made the decision to take it out so there could be a JEEPERS 3.
Well, I’m really, really glad they didn’t do that. I prefer seeing a cameo from the ghost of Justin over seeing you get killed in the beginning. (Laughs) Have you seen the 2nd one?

Yeah, I have seen it! And I did like it!

Well, they just announced that Victor is writing and directing JEEPERS CREEPERS 3. Do you know anything about it?

(coyly) I know a lot about it.

You know a lot about it?!

Is that a hint, Gina?

(Laughs) I will leave it at that.

Well, after everything you just said, they left it open so you could come back. Interesting.

I, I am very familiar… and yes, Victor and I have been speaking, and I will just leave it at that.

So, we will see what happens.

Well, I’ll keep my fingers crossed, because you and Ray Wise in the same movie together would be awesome.

(Pause) Thank you. (Laughs)

You said you were a big horror fan before, the first 2 that scared you were SALEM’S LOT and THE AMITYVILLE HORROR. What are among some of your favorite genre movies?

THE SHINING is my all time favorite. It horrifies me. I love it.
And as an actress in horror movies, what scares you?

Oh my goodness! What scares me? Things that go bump in the night, that’s what scares me! (Laughs) When I hear strange noises in my home!

Or when you’re dad is tapping at your window. (Laughs)
Ya know what, oddly enough, I will admit this and I don’t know if I’ve ever admitted this publicly except through people that know me very, very well. I’m actually scared of the dark!

Really? So, do you have a night light and everything for your fear?

I like to keep this tiny light in my bathroom, that stays on. And I really… I’m just scared of the dark! When it’s pitch black, I’m just not a happy camper. I need to light a candle immediately or I get a really terrible feeling inside.

Gina, I’m glad that we’re just breaking scoops left and right here with you.

(Laughs) That’s a big one. I do horror movies, and I hate the dark!

Well, you’d done quite a few genre films and you love the genre. Would you be open to do more horror?

Absolutely! I love them!

Special thanks to Craig Peters!

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