It’s hard to believe that Tiffany Shepis has been in the business for over twenty years. And in those twenty years, her resume has grown to include well over one hundred and twenty titles. It doesn’t matter if she is the lead or has a two minute cameo, she always brings her ‘A’ game to a ‘B’ movie. She’s a real pro and a damn fine actress which tends to get overlooked by the mainstream. If you go back and watch some of her early Troma work, you’ll also see just how funny she is with a great sense of comedic timing. I recently had the opportunity to talk with Tiffany about working with Troma, her latest film ASYLUM OF DARKNESS, and protecting our children from the horrors of modern technology.
Corey Danna: So this might be a weird way to kick of the interview but a couple of weeks back I was catching up on some Adam Green stuff and I watched the SCARY SLEEPOVER episode you appeared on and I know you were mostly joking around but when he asked you about what scares you, you responded with “the internet” and your children.
Tiffany Shepis: Yeah, man! Do you have kids?
CD: I have two daughters, a nineteen year old and a nine year old.
TS: You’re just like me. I have a twelve year old and a four year old. It’s scary! I just recently had a weird thing with a dude at a convention. He was a volunteer at the show and I had my daughter with me. It was really cool and everyone was having a good time. He had taken a picture and my daughter wanted a copy of it so he text it to her. Next thing you know, this guy is writing her some really weird shit. Needless to say, the guy is no longer working for that convention anymore but it was like a wakeup call. There’s some really fucking creepy people out there. It’s scary, you just have to monitor stuff, man.
CD: TROMEO AND JULIET was your first appearance in a Troma project. Can you tell me a bit about that experience?
TS: It was unbelievable! First off, I never thought I could be an actor. I never had any filmmaking friends or anything like that, I was just a kid who loved horror movies. There was an ad in an actor’s paper, my friend was an actor and I saw the ad, it was for TROMEO AND JULIET. They were casting extras and I couldn’t help but think how awesome it would be to be in it. I was just a sixteen year old kid who was super excited about this possible opportunity. I cut school early and went to the audition. They not only let me be in the movie, they gave me a little part. It was like, “Holy shit!”. I cut school to audition for this movie, for a company I was a fan of, and then they offer me an actual part. It was so crazy! When people think of Troma, they think these cheap indie films but you know what? Lloyd Kaufman knows his shit! They’re always prepared, there’s real schedules, and for my first movie to be that, it was unbelievable. No one knew at the time it would go on to become a cult favorite or even a favorite of all Troma films. Who knew that James Gunn would grow up to be super famous (laughs).
CD: That film kicked of your working relationship with them, what was it about Troma that had interested you at the time?
TS: For most people, when you think of Troma it’s this fun, crazy, and outrageous company. Now imagine being a teenager, it seemed like a non-stop party. With all the crazyiness, the bizarre costumes, who wouldn’t be attracted to that? Plus, they were in New York and I was New York based. It was easy for me to just walk down the street and say, “Hey, I’m going to Troma today!”. They threw me in all kinds of stuff. I would do random covers for movies I wasn’t in. They had a show on Channel 4 in the U.K. called EDGE T.V. and I hosted a season of that which was unbelievable. I was hosting a T.V. show! It did very, very well at night over there which was pretty awesome. Because of that, because of them, and because of going to Cannes for so many years to promote their films, horror fans started to take notice of me. Things really started to blow up for me from there.
CD: EDGE T.V. was, and still is, hysterical. What was your favorite segment to work on?
TS: My favorite was doing a Mother’s Day episode. In the segment, my fake mother is staying at my house, by the end I decide I’m going to murder her, and throw her body into the ocean. For whatever reason, my favorite scenes are the packing of her body and I’m acting crazy. For a long time, I kept certain scenes from it on my reel because I thought it was so batshit crazy. So yeah, that was my favorite.
CD: You had cameo parts in other Troma flicks like TERROR FIRMER, CITIZEN TOXIE, and even their acquisition BLOOD OATH. Can you talk a little about your involvement in those?
TS: Those were literally just like a three second walk on cameo. I was busy working on other stuff or couldn’t work out a schedule but I still just wanted to be involved in some capacity. It was like, “Hey, if you have a spare minute why don’t you come by the TERROR FIRMER set, act scared, and watch a head get crushed.” Lloyd and Troma are just cool like that. BLOOD OATH was an acquisition I did a small part in. People really seem to like that movie too. It was just a crazy little slasher flick.
CD: What did it mean to you being considered a Tromette?
TS: Being considered a Tromette was literally like being brought into a family. It’s sort of like the same thing as the term “Scream Queen”. It’s way cooler than just being considered another indie film actor, you know? I was part of the team, part of the family, and at the time I started with Troma, the Tromettes were awesome! I mean, they were cool, beautiful, really funny, and smart. I was like, “Whoa, I’m being lumped in with these women? Right on!”. I couldn’t have been more thrilled and I’m still friends with Lloyd and Troma. I adore him, his family, and the rest of the Troma Team. Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll be in another movie for them.
CD: Lloyd and Michael Herz have kept Troma going for over forty years now, what do you think is the secret of their success?
TS: I think the fact that they just keep cranking them out. It’s hard for something to go away if you’re constantly churning out a movie. Their branding is unparalleled! Lloyd is the master of making people feel comfortable and welcome. Lloyd will always come over and shake your hand. He makes a big deal over your presence and when you leave it’s an experience you won’t forget. It really comes down to branding, even if you’ve never seen a Troma film, you know who they are.
CD: After cutting your teeth in Tromaville, what did you take away from your experiences there?
TS: Number one, I’m quite good at promotion. I have no fear at all talking on a stage or in front of people. I can tell you, 100% of that is because of working with Troma. You’re thrown into the thick of it whether you like it or not. You don’t have a chance to be shy or nervous, you’re thrown right into the fire. I you go to Troma as a shy kid, that will go away very, very quickly. My power of persuasion, whether it’ bullshit or not, is very good and definitely stems from having been a part of the Troma Team.
CD: How did you get involved in ASYLUM OF DARKNESS?
TS: I did a film with the director Jay Woelfel years ago called LIVE EVIL. It was a tiny little cameo and he just gave me a call. He said he had this new project that was going to be shot on film. In the day of digital, any movie actually being shot on film has my attention. Jay is a really nice guy and a talented filmmaker so I was in. Then after I agreed to do it, I found out Tim Thomerson and Richard Hatch were a part of it so that just sweetened the deal. It also helped being able to play a character that was strange, weird, and inter-dimensional. You don’t know if this chick is crazy, if she’s dead or alive, if she’s good or bad. It’s really cool for an audience to see that kind of stuff. The best part is that he does practical monsters. His stuff is so very 80’s and I just love 80’s stuff so you get to see these really cool, retro looking monsters. I was excited to be a part of it and I’m thrilled it’s finally coming out. It’s been a really long time since we originally shot it. I also heard that Richard Hatch really enjoyed the movie so it’s nice to know it is finally getting the chance to see the light of day.
CD: It’s always great to see filmmakers embracing the retro style by shooting on film or using practical effects. They actually look really good in this film too.
TS: They’re super fun! I think they did a great job with it. I know it can be pretty difficult when a movie takes a long time to get released. Momentum and motivation go out the door and I have a hard time remembering stories from that shoot since it was so long ago. Upon seeing it the other day I realized it really holds up well. Jay did a great job with it.
CD: The film is kind of all over the place and there’s this weird, dream-like quality to the narrative. How do you perceive it?
TS: I don’t know, I see it a couple of different ways. I think my character is a jilted wife and had some bad shit happen. She’s not going to let anything like this happen again. I think if you ask someone else, they might have an entirely different interpretation.
CD: Having worked with Jay before, how do you think he has grown as a filmmaker?
TS: I think Jay has always been really good. He knows exactly what he wants and he’s one of those filmmakers who always has an answer for any question I might throw at him. He really does his research and he’s ready to go. When you shoot on film, you really don’t have any room for error, unless you have tons of money and it doesn’t matter so you can burn through it all you want, but that wasn’t the case with ASYLUM OF DARKNESS. We all had to be on the same page before he would call action and he made it very easy to do that.
CD: Did you get a chance to spend any time with Richard Hatch on the set?
TS: No, we didn’t get to do any scenes together but I do believe we crossed paths on one of the days. That’s the thing about these indie horror film, they can have all these actors, you can even have scenes with them, but you shoot on a separate day and never even cross paths.
CD: I know Jay was an old friend, but was there a particular aspect to your character that attracted you to the role?
TS: I like playing roles where one minute I can be sweet and charming and the next I can be dark, evil, and fucking crazy. It’s that side of me that doesn’t know which type of role I prefer to play. It’s really fun to play the good girl, but it’s really, really fun to play the bad girl. In Jay’s movie I was able to do both so it was pretty awesome.
CD: You still do conventions quite often, do you still enjoy meeting the fans after all these years?
TS: Oh my god! Are you kidding? I love it more now, especially with the fans who have stuck around. I have fans who come up to me and tell me they were fans when they were like fifteen and make their own movies now and want me to be in them. With conventions now, there are so many celebrity guests there, really big names, and you still want to come talk to me? Please, we can talk all day.
CD: How often do you get caught up in a weird fan interaction?
TS: Very rarely, man. Ninety percent of all horror fans are super cool. But just like with any other job, there’s that ten percent that’s just crazy. It doesn’t matter if you work at a bank or a grocery store, that ten percent will always be there, the crazy, weird, or bizarre people. Do I run into people who are just a little bit too obsessed with seeing me covered in blood? You bet I do (laughs). It really is a rarity though. I would go as far as saying ninety five percent of every fan interaction I have is fucking awesome. They’re cool people, family people, just crazy, horror loving fans that enjoy talking to people into the same films.
CD: Now that you’re a parent, do you go after different types of roles?
TS: No, I don’t go after different types of roles. The only thing that’s changed is the fact I don’t want to be gone as much so I’m a bit more picky about the projects I take. Before I had kids, I would go anywhere, and be gone for as long as they needed me. Now, I really have to have a good reason to take off like that, one good reason would be money, something I couldn’t turn down. Or if the project is so cool or if it’s with someone I’ve always wanted to work with, I’ll go and do it.
CD: Do you have any other projects in the works you can talk about?
TS: Yeah, I’m pretty excited about THE NIGHT WATCHMEN which I have a small part it but it has a super cool ensemble cast. The film has been winning awards at almost every festival. It has clown vampires, man! It was directed by Mitch Altieri who is one half of the Butcher Brothers. He directed me before THE VIOLENT KIND which is one of my favorite movies that I’ve done. I believe that will be out in October. Another film I did is called TAR, it stars a lot of really cool older actors you don’t see in horror films Graham Greene, Timothy Bottoms, and that is about monsters in the La Brea Tar Pits, also out in October. I did a small part in a film called STRANGE NATURE from James Ojala who is also a Troma alumni and that’s an ecological horror film.
CD: Do you have anything you would like to say to the fans who have supported you all these years?
TS: Thank you! I’m very, very lucky to have worked in the genre for as long as I have and it’s one hundred percent because of the fans. None of the studios care about me but as long as the fans do, someone will keep casting me in their movies. Thanks for watching!