Women in Horror Presents: Tristan Risk

The first time I was introduced to Tristan Risk was when I watched “American Mary” by directors Jen and Sylvia Soska.  Tristan played the iconic character, Beatress Johnson, who’s addiction to plastic surgery makes her look very similar to that of Betty Boop.  I remember watching her on the screen and being instantly charmed by her acting as well as feeling such heartbreaking emotions for her character.  Tristan has quite a large film resume, having been in such movies as the horror anthology, “The ABCs of Death 2,” the Giallo inspired “The Editor”, and the sexually charged (in all the right ways) horror movie, “Harvest Lake.” Being an actor isn’t all that Tristan is capable of, as she is a performer in all sense of the word; traveling with the Voodoo Dollz burlesque troupe and the Vancouver-based Sweet Soul Burlesque. She’s also a pin-up model as well as a part of a circus troupe where she is perfecting her art of aerial performance.  It has become apparent that Tristan Risk can do just about anything, and we here at Nightmarish Conjurings are so honored to have her be part of our Women in Horror Month.  

NC:  What influences you in choosing the roles that you do?

TR:  I’m interested in fresh concepts and materials. There are in film, and in the horror world in particular, a lot of well-worn tropes in this format. We have seen the spunky sidekick who is feisty but not a threat to the male lead. We have seen the female protagonist who exists solely as a device to further the male’s plotline in the story. These well-worn characters we have already seen a thousand times in media already. I’m bored of them, and I’d hazard a guess that the people who have seen the same stereotypes are also bored of them. I detest being bored or boring.

When someone has taken the time to write an interesting story where all the characters have some arc and development that is exciting to me. If there is a chance to play a character that might be reflective on that in a way and put a unique spin on it in execution, that is something I seek out. 

NC:  Have you always been a fan of the horror genre?  What you do like/dislike about the horror genre?

TR:   I was always the kid that liked to scare people. Scaring people made me feel safe. Monsters were always made of unfounded fear and were misunderstood. I was a picked on a lot growing up for being the weird kid. Kids at my school made up rumours that my family was Satanic and that we killed cats and ate them. I used to go to school scared every day and would hide out in the library at lunch and recess because I liked to read more than be around other kids and also because the other kids couldn’t put mud in my hair or say shit to me because there was were adults coming in and out. I always empathized with monsters because they were misunderstood for the wrong reasons, and I felt a kinship to them. For a long time I just thought that I was one too, so when there was a monster in a movie, I wanted to be that monster or it’s friend and have the safety of that imagined kinship.

As an adult, I’m well aware the scariest monsters wear the most normal faces. They are the bosses who will make passes at you. They are the person who forces you into conversations you don’t want to have. They are the athlete who sexually assaults women and gets a pass because they are a football star. They are politicians who make people scared of other people and not unsure economic climates. To me, real horror is a reflection on the worst aspect of humanity and teaches us to acknowledge it and face it.

NC:  You have accomplished so much between your acting, burlesque, and stage shows.  Is there anything that you really have wanted to do but haven’t had the time to do yet?

TR:  I am dipping a curious toe into the waters of directing this year. I have written many stories and I feel that I want to try to bring them alive as visuals. I’m not sure whether or not I’ll succeed or if I’ll just write them and then collaborate with others so I can focus on being in front of the camera. But I’m happy to try and see what the results are.

I’ve also been delving deeper into my skills as a live performer. Having performed now with my circus troupe, The Caravan Of Creeps and completed one tour to date and a number of shows, I’m excited to hone my aerial performances. I am in a collective where members have broken world records for juggling and physical endurance, given TED talks and been Cirque Du Soliel alumni. The pressure to step up my game and not be the weak link in the show in my mind is huge, but also a major inspiration for me. The drive to want to be as good as my peers is massive and I am excited to work on an acrobat number with Vixen Von Flex and my duets with Burns The Dragon.

NC:  What does the term “Women in Horror” mean to you?

TR:  Recognition and equality. The horror genre, and indeed the film world as a whole, largely caters to white, hetrosexual men. Women in horror helps to highlight and celebrate women in the genre who tell stories, create monsters, and portray these characters. This is awesome because women as storytellers are incredibly powerful and have a lot of viewer and ideas not previously seen a thousand times or more. I’m pleased to be a part of it, but even within this community I want to see a greater reach to women of colour and the LGBT community who. I feel that even under this umbrella, are still under represented. But as someone who does have that platform in this arena, I hope that I can use my voice to talk up and bring attention to these other artists who might have to fight a little bit harder to get their art and their own voice and stories out there in the media. Hopefully one day I won’t be a woman in horror - I’ll be a person in the horror genre (and hopefully beyond that as well) but given that we are still working towards equal pay and representation in the media, I know we are still a ways off from that goal yet. The best that I feel we can do is to keep making art and awareness.

NC:  Out of all the films that you’ve done, which character do you think represents you as a person the most?

TR:  I think a lot of characters I’ve played are deeper aspects of myself. Twisted, magnified grotesquely out of proportion, but me nonetheless. I think Beatress (American Mary), Yumi (T is for Torture Porn) and Val (Frankenstein Created Bikers) are all parts of me that flare up from time to time, depending on whatever situation I’m in. I think that is why it feels so easy to play these roles is because I find these characters to be representations of myself.

NC:  What do you prefer - to be in front of the camera, to be on stage performing, or to be photographed for a pinup shoot?

TR:  It depends on the projects and who i’m working with. I feel like I have been fortunate enough that in each of these medias am able to express myself. But I also think that I still need these three things in concert as I will start to dwell in one area too much then feel like I need to get back to the other two, It’s all about balance - and like acrobatics, I require a degree of balance that is healthy in all areas of my discipline.

NC:  Is there anything that you are scared to do or anything that makes you feel shy?

TR:   I don’t think scared of shy comes into it. I find certain social situations to be uncomfortable, but if someone is saying or doing something that I don’t like, I call them on it. I’m not scared of things that you would think of like being naked in front of people, or doing stunts that involved dangerous animals or fire. I would be scared to walk into an abortion clinic for fear of some self-righteous nut shooting me, because they take exception to myself or any women having control over their reproductive rights. I’m scared to get major body modifications done, not because I don’t want them but because I’m afraid I’ll have difficulty finding work as an actress because of it afterwards and not getting typecast. Things that make me worried aren’t the typical fears that most people face, yet are still valid fears that at the end of the day, I still don’t have absolute control over my body and it’s governance. That’s scary to me.

NC:  What is one thing you would to tell people that they wouldn’t expect from you?

TR:  I detest talking on the telephone and only do so when it is 100% necessary. I have lived since September, phone-free and while I love it, my partner informs me that I DO need one. I prefer emails and texts and find phone calls invasive outside of my immediate family. In other words, if you call me it must be either 100% succinct business, or you’d better be bleeding and in dire need of medical attention. I’m a firm believer that if you can’t articulate what you need from me in printed words, then I’m ultimately unable to help you. I’ve been told that it makes me sound rather prickly, but I’m fine with that as it creates the desired effect - no unsolicited phone calls.

NC:  What do you consider to be your biggest accomplishment?

TR:  I have a lot that I’m proud of. I’ve worked long and hard and am recognized by my peers as someone who’s driven by her art but what grows my happiness is from that I have created for myself where I can make a living off of my art. It is not a life of wealth and excess, but I have the opportunity to take what makes me happy, and share it with others. I have been able to do this on stages worldwide in over twelve countries, on screens in independent films, in my writing and my painting. I am able to work with other like minded creative people and pursue our passions and bring other weird, strange people into that world with us. I would honestly say that biggest accomplishment is that I have formed a reality of my own choosing, and in doing that, invited other people into it. That’s pretty fucking cool to me.