By Matthew Sorrento.
When Patricia Arquette debuted in the hit A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987), few could have imagined the major artist she’d become. Granted, she soon shined in vehicles with room for her talent, as an innocent yet subversively sexual ‘50s nurse – the gal who gets Ed Wood – in Tim Burton’s delightful 1994 biopic (and likely his best film), and her work with Richard Linklater; their recent collaboration, Boyhood (2014), brought her an Academy statuette.
Her horror film origins only suggested as much, and I can’t help but think a similar road possible for a young performer named Cortney Palm. She is happy to have served in the title role of Sushi Girl (2012), as a passive piece of decoration (and permanent mainstay in numerous sexual fantasies) that turns active by narrative’s end. While appearing in some art films with minimal exposure, Palm feels comfortable in budget genre work, like her new role in the consistently funny spoof Zombeavers (2014). Her willowy appearance, similar to the latest indie “it” girl’s, also has a sensuality for viewers bored by the craze for Brit Marling types. With a talent as unique, Palm can go places, in an industry that hopefully welcomes her. She checked in for a lively phone interview when Zombeavers went into release.
So, I have to begin with Sushi Girl, which as the title character, you are now known for. Were you worried that that role would, um, stick with you?
Well, actually, [the cast] was talking about that when we were on set, and Mark Hamill said, “oh, well, I am Luke Skywalker, and Tony Todd is Candyman; Jeffery, he’s Lawnmower Man, and Noah Hathaway is Atreyu.” They all had their names, and he said, you’re gonna be the “Sushi Girl” and I was like, damn, I like that. That’s cool. I’m cool with that!
Some people think that sushi girls, the actual models who have the food displayed on them, don’t really exists outside of tv/movies. What was your initial reaction to that script and the idea when it was sent to you?
I didn’t get to read the full thing until after I got the part, actually. But I knew that she’s very, a very powerful woman and I just thought, I’m in love with her. The script was on hold for a year and then actual shooting started and the revamping of the cast. I literally was married to her for an entire year before we started shooting and I was just totally in love with this very powerful role that stands up for women, getting revenge and fighting for her husband. She’s vulnerable, being naked the whole time, but I think that makes [the role] more profound and her, more of a bad ass.
You weren’t nervous about not seeing the full script?
I had three auditions. I had an audition and a call back and then a third audition to see if I would, you know, get undressed, but I could tell that I got the part and was already on board. Part of it was out of desperation to get a film role, but when I read the script I was equally as enthralled and wanted to keep doing it, anyway.
Moving on to Zombeavers, what appealed to you about that script?
I thought it was really funny, but when I first read it I was like, “Is this real?” And then, I was wondering if it would be totally dumb. But I loved [my character] Zoe. When I read it, I was like, damn, I really want to do this part. These are the roles that I love to play and so I was really happy that I got the part.
So you don’t have any problems with going into “scream queen” territory as an actress?
You know, I really don’t. I think a lot of really well known actresses have begun careers through the scream queen, and I definitely love horror films – they’re certainly the most fun to shoot. It’s unfortunate that you get into a genre and you can get into a type of category and that’s all you get offered. So it’s kind of difficult for me as an actress because I have so much more to offer as I keep getting typecasted into horror and thriller. It’s a little frustrating for my artistic capabilities, but it is fun, so I’d like to do some other indies where I can play a different type of character and at the same time, do horror. I wouldn’t mind if I went that direction at all. There’s a lot of good fans in [the horror] community and they keep me going.
Was Zombeavers and an especially fun shoot?
It was hilarious and so much fun. Off and on set I was laughing all the time. After a while everyone’s laughing and you don’t even know what’s funny and you’re just falling over laughing. My costars were really great, especially (director) Jordan (Rubin), who comes from a comedic background. The things that he would say would make me just wanna laugh.
Your role goes in an interesting direction – how did you feel about Zoe at the end of the script?
Well, the script was different at first, opposite from what it is now, if you can get what I’m saying…. We had some budget issues, so the ending was reworked.
Did you like the other ending?
I did – it’s still similar to what it is now, and when you’re thinking about a sequel there was more room for the possibility for that individual to be in the next film. Whereas the ending now relies on the audience’s interpretation of what happens. I would’ve preferred the other one, just for my own selfish reasons.
This film tributes 80s horror, especially with the keyboard soundtrack. Was that something that was appealing to you?
I love the score, and I love all the jokes that are reminiscent of these older films like Jaws, The Thing, and just being in a horror film is a huge joke that we could play on.
Do you have a favorite 80s horror film, such as Return of the Living Dead or Re-Animator?
I like Evil Dead, the original one, honestly. I would’ve loved to have been in that one. It’s so shitty, but fun shitty – okay, what’s going to happen to me now?
Your new film has the same DNA, with the kids going to the woods at the start of Evil Dead. I wonder if knowing about Evil Dead and liking it brought something to the film.
I use a lot of actors as inspiration to my work. An acting coach once told me that you can use other actors without stealing.
Anything else you want to share about the project?
I’d like to address something: a lot of people who follow me and are fans of my work know that I’m an ethical vegan. I’m worried they’ll get angry at the fact that we had animals on set, a live bear, live deer, and the beavers. While I don’t support animals in entertainment, I do know that these animals were taken very good care of on set, and I just want to be clear about that, that all the animals on set were not harmed and were treated very well.
Wow – Zombeavers just got political!
Well, yes, we all care about the ethical treatment of animals, right? So please go in with a fun, open mind and you’ll enjoy it.
Matthew Sorrento is Interview Editor of Film International. He teaches film and media studies at Rutgers University in Camden, NJ and is the author of The New American Crime Film (McFarland, 2012).