Actress Tiffany Shepis
One of schlockdom’s reigning Scream Queens, Tiffany Shepis has starred in more than 80 films, beginning with a small role in the B-movie classic “Tromeo and Juliet” before moving into roles in films like “Terror Firmer,” “Bonnie and Clyde vs. Dracula” and “Live Evil.”
Shepis sat down to talk with The Film Yap about “Trade In,” her latest film, in which Shepis plays an oversexed car salesperson whose dealership is in danger of going under. Shepis, who was once engaged to the late Corey Haim, talks about his last film appearance (in “Trade-In”), making horror movies and setting a film at a car dealership.
So we’re talking about “Trade-In,” your new movie … well, one of your new movies. You’re pretty busy.
Yeah, thank God. [laughs] Sombody’s gotta keep turning these things out, right?
Absolutely. Can you tell me about what drew you to “Trade-In”?
What drew me to it is that I most often do horror films. My life is mostly going crazy on a horror movie set, and when someone comes to me with something different, it’s like, “Oh, really? I get to run around and try to be funny and not be running around in the cold in the middle of the night, half-naked with a machete?” As much as I love that stuff, this is a welcome break. And we shot in Arizona. I moved to Arizona from Los Angeles, and nothing beats being 10 minutes from home. Most often I’m shooting in Iowa or Louisiana, and as much as I love travelling and seeing new places, you definitely miss your bed at night. And I have a little mini-person at home, and it was definitely an enticing number for them to say, “You’re going to go home every day at 6:00!”
Can you tell me about Crystal, your character?
Well, the movie is about two competing car lots. They have to make the most sales to stay open. Unfortunately for our car lot, it’s staffed by some of the most insane, bizarre characters you’ve ever met. My character is a lesbian that hates men, but she’s kind of the straightest of all the characters. You have the Vietnam vet who has flashbacks, the dude that doesn’t speak English, the sex addict, so mine is kind of the straightest of the group, but definitely the bitchy, attitude problem, always flirting with the wrong people to get the sale done kind of person. It was a fun little character to play.
I worked at a car dealership for four years, and we always used to talk about how there should be more movies set at car lots because, really, the way it’s depicted in “Trade-In” isn’t that far off.
Yeah, where we shot was an actual working car dealership. The executive producer owns a lot in Tucson, Arizona, called Trade-In. During shooting, part of the car lot was open. I was talking to the producer saying, “Dude, how crazy is this?,” and he said, “Oh, I’ve seen crazier come through here.” And everybody can associate with a movie like that. Everybody has walked into a car lot to buy one or lease one or at least browse on a holiday weekend, and there’s the car salesman trying to wheel you and deal you. So I agree; why haven’t there been more?
That’s almost art imitating life, filming while the dealership is open, since in the movie there’s a movie shoot of another kind going on at the dealership.
Exactly. Definitely a different kind of film. I thought the executive producer said a porn crew came in one time and wanted to use the back part of the dealership to shoot, because the one problem Arizona has, they have everything you need for filmmaking except for soundstages. What better soundstage than a car lot? So they had a porn group come in and ask to lease the space, but unfortunately for him, he said no.
“Trade-In” was Corey Haim’s last film.
Yeah, I was friends with Corey, and he was hanging out talking to me, so the producers said, “Hey, while you’re here, why don’t you jump in front of the camera?” You know, he was helping out with the grips and messing around with lighting and trying to put his hand in every part of it, since, like me, he’s been in 1,000 movies. They didn’t really have anything left, so they wrote this bizarre dream sequence in for him, and he had a blast doing it. He would have worked all day if they had the money to afford him. I think what he did came off fine. It was definitely creepy and weird.
Speaking of creepy and weird, you’ve done many horror films. Can you talk a little about what appeals to you about horror movies?
I was a big fan when I was a kid. I was a horror-movie nut and had no aspirations of being an actress by any means, but I went for an audition because a friend was an actor and got an audition for a Troma movie. I said, “I love Troma movies! I wanna go to that!” So I went and got a tiny part in a movie called “Tromeo and Juliet.” I loved it. I thought it was the most awesome thing in the world. I thought, “Really? You can go on set and be crazy and make money?” You’re talking about, like, a 15-year-old kid. And this genre is really loyal, and they kept me working, and it’s fun. Certainly doing comedies and dramas is fun, and being an actor certainly beats than having a day job, but to me personally there’s nothing more fun than pretending to be scared or running around with a meat cleaver trying to attack somebody. It’s fun stuff, and the majority of people working on a horror movie are fans themselves, so you’re hanging around with people like yourself. As far as the schlockiness of some of them, certainly they all tend to be, but the ones that do intentionally make it, it’s because there’s a market for it. People don’t always want something super-serious. They want something where they can sit down with a beer and some popcorn, sit back, be able to use the bathroom without really missing anything, just kind of have a good time. Kind of an ’80s throwback. But in recent years my stuff has changed significantly to things that are a bit more serious. I did a movie called “The Frankenstein Syndrome,” which we’re promoting now, about stem cell research gone wrong. There’s certainly nothing schlocky about that. And I had a film that played at Sundance this year. When the schlockiness gets boring, you go to something else, then go back. Keep people guessing. [laughs]
Can you talk a little about what draws people to horror? I’ve always thought it was more than people being bloodthirsty and wanting to see someone get killed in a gruesome way.
Definitely there is. There are many reasons. What’s more fun when you’re 15 than the movie that will make the girl sit close to you? You’re not going to watch a romantic comedy or the action movie. People want to be scared. What was more fun than going into your basement when you were a kid because you thought there was something creepy down there? There is something enticing and exciting about that, like wondering if it’s your creepy neighbor that’s killing people. And for the more serious, horrific ones it’s an escape. The news is absolutely dreadful, and it’s easier to cope with a supernatural serial killer who comes back seven times than it is thinking about the guy down the street who mutilated children. It’s a lot easier to stomach ghosts and killers like Jason who can get killed, set on fire 100 times and keep coming back. It’s nothing compared with what we see every day.
Another thing that you’ve been known for is a willingness to do nudity. Can you talk about that?
There was a time where I didn’t do it, but I got to a point where the movies I was doing, regardless of whether there was actual nudity, I was scantily clad, or showing things from the side, and every picture I was taking, I certainly wasn’t shy about showing skin. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it if you’re comfortable in your own skin, and no one is forcing you to do anything. Why not? In horror movies, it’s gone hand-in-hand — blood and guts, tits and ass. I thought, “Wow, if people want to see me naked, I’d better do it while they still want to see it.” [laughs] It’s like the woman who takes naked pictures of herself at 25 because when she’s 45 she won’t look the same. That’s exactly how I feel.
Do you think there’s too much of a deal made of nudity with the ratings boards?
I definitely think there’s too much of a stigma put on it, and the ratings board, I think, is absolutely ridiculous. I did a movie called “Abominable,” on the SyFy channel, and because it’s TV, they had to blur everything out, but they can show someone’s face being bashed in and mutilated. How many kids do you see having nightmares about a beautiful naked woman? They have nightmares about a guy’s face getting ripped open. It’s kind of silly that America is the last place that still has mega issues with the body. As far as the fact that if you get naked in a movie, (the stigma) is that you’ll never move on in your career, but that’s changing too. You see big stars doing horror movies nowadays. Before it was the stepping stone. Now people realize they cost $1 million and make $50 million, so everything that’s gone hand in hand with horror movies, the blood and guts and nudity, they now embrace it because they realize it’s marketable.
It looks like you’re branching out a little. You’ve done several comedies, but are you looking to continue to branch out and maybe do some drama or other genres?
Well, I’ll do whatever. Certainly if a drama came to me, I’m not going to say, “No, not unless you have a machete.” It’s just my heart has always been in horror. I know if well enough to say, “Wow, you want to do that that way? Because I can tell you the movie that’s already been done in.” Certainly, I’m branching out as far as producing, and I looked into directing a bit before I realized it was way too much work. I want to be able to walk away from a movie and at least let someone equally bad work on it [laughs]. I mentioned “Frankenstein Syndrome.”