Today I am joined by director, writer and actress Deborah Twiss. Now you may recognise her as Kick-Ass’s school teacher but what you may not know is that she has been amassing a hefty back catalogue of impressive work in a real range of genre films over the years. Today she is here to talk about her new psychological horror film A Cry From Within, working with actors Eric Roberts and Sean Young plus much more. Make sure you read on for our chat…
From what I’ve heard A Cry From Within has some rather unusual origins. Could you explain what occurred and why you then chose to write the film?
Sorry, this is will be a long explanation….We were living in my husband’s parents’ brownstone in Cobble Hill Brooklyn when my daughter was eleven or twelve and my son was three and we were the targets of a haunting. A child’s spirit had somehow attached to my little girl, and would actually hit her, slap her, push her. She would freak out. My brother stayed with us over a summer with his dog who was a really wonderful, sweet, smart canine. One night the dog, Kiowa, lunged and bit my baby girl in the face! We went to the ER, got stitches, etc. When we got home my 3 year old son came to me and told me that ‘the bad boy made Kiowa bite Sydney (his sister)’.
Nothing happened for a few weeks after that. Then one night we were all sitting eating dinner, my daughter was on my lap, my son sat across from us in his high chair. Sydney started laughing and said ‘Matty, stop…’. She kept kicking her feet. I showed her Matty was in his chair and didn’t touch her. She laughed again and said ‘Matty STOP!!..Momma, Matty tickle me…’ I told her he couldn’t and she looked under the table to prove he had. Whatever she saw was NOT Matty. The utterly horrific reaction she had was beyond anything I’d experienced. She went into my shirt, tucked into a ball and was hyperventilating, paralyzed. I pulled her out and couldn’t unravel her little contracted body. Her eyes were squeezed shut and her fists were clenched. I handed her to my husband and told him to take her and my son and get out of the house, that I would deal with it myself.
They left. I stood there, in the middle of the parlor floor and said ‘I DON’T KNOW WHO YOU ARE OR WHAT YOU WANT BUT TALK TO ME, ME. LEAVE MY BABY GIRL ALONE!’ At that moment it was like a hood went over my head and eyes and I “saw”. It was horrific and sad and devastating. After showing me his story, he made me promise I would tell others about him.
Several times I began to write the script. But then I would stop, feeling it was too sensationalistic, like a tabloid story and cheap. But then the hauntings would increase. One particular night, I stayed up late, writing. I looked over what I’d written and had that feeling that it was exploitive. I shut the computer, vowing it wasn’t meant to be used as a film job. Within seconds of being in bed I heard someone small jump to the floor from the front of the room (it was a long 30 foot room) and footsteps come all the way to where I lay on my side of the bed and stand there. I heard the breathing. I opened my eyes and felt someone there but couldn’t see. It was so weird. I said, in my head, ‘Ok. If it is you, I promise I will tell your story Sebastien’ and I finished the script within two weeks.
That’s a fascinating backstory to a film being made! Was it in any way therapeutic to write it and get it made?
Asolutely. I kept my promise. I like to keep my promises and this was a big one.
Is it an odd experience to act in a film which has, at least to some degree, been influenced by an event in your life time?
Not really. The core of the concept is as it was in reality, the haunting, but everything else around it is a fabrication to create a better narrative vehicle for what happened. Ultimately, it becomes about the art.
In your mind what is it about A Cry From Within which sets it apart from all the other horror movies out there?
It’s really about characters and story. Not blood spraying and body parts being torn. It’s more of a psychological horror than a bloody horror. But that’s by far my most favourite kind of scare, the psychological. That’s the kind of thing that really stays with you and makes it hard to sleep at night. THAT’s fun!
Isn’t there a link between A Cry From Within and your new film The Confidence Game? Didn’t you get conned in some way?
Yes. I got conned into having my family put up the money for the film, which they couldn’t afford, because someone supposedly was bringing the money in. Each day on set that went by the dude kept saying ‘It’s coming, it’s coming it’s coming’. Then it never came and I was just told ‘Oh well. Too bad for your family. Whatever.’ There’s far more to that story but it kind of really pisses me off to talk about it. With my firm belief that the pen is far mightier than the sword, I have about three scripts that came from that experience and Confidence Game is one of them.
Confidence Game is a noir thriller about a bunch of desperate con artist people who are trying to change their lives and end up nearly being destroyed. It’s sexy and violent. I’m in the mood to make violent films again with my recent inspiration.
Of course the other link between the two films is that they both star Eric Roberts, Cathy Moriarty and yourself! What’s it like working with those actors? Do you prefer to work with actors that you already know?
Actually, it ended up being James McCaffrey and Sean Young. Eric and Cathy were both really busy in December so I did cast actors I already knew, but it was great. Virtually everyone in Confidence Game is someone I’ve known personally. It was the way I wanted to make that film, in particular. The relationships are so intense between the characters, I wanted to know, going into it, that there was already some form of chemistry between us all.
Generally, I think it’s a case by case basis. Some films work best when there’s already a history between people, and with other projects it doesn’t matter and then it’s exciting to branch out and find new actors that haven’t been part of my crazy film adventure.
And what can you tell us about the film’s plot?
It’s a thriller about a woman called Jessica who was raised by an organized crime ring after they assassinated her family. Sylvie(Sean Young) runs the business after finagling to have her husband (Robert Clohessy) framed and put in jail for white collar crime. With him out of the way, Sylvie turns to a more old fashioned form of crime family and sends Jessica on jobs that involve more and more bloody forms of violence and revenge. James McCaffrey plays “the mark” and Steve Stanulis plays Jessica’s lover/partner in crime.
Fantastic! And what else do you have coming out which we should be keeping an eye open for? The Last Taxi Driver looks interesting.
The Last Taxi Driver is a fun little short. The Networker is coming to the festival circuit in May and that’s where I star opposite Sean Young, William Forsythe, Steve Stanulis and Jeremy Luke with John Gallagher directing. Living With the Dead is a feature also hitting the fest circuit, directed by Christine Vartoughian. In it I play a Polish woman who married too young and lives under the control of her husband, played by Robert Clohessy.
In the meantime, I have a couple other projects I’m writing. One is a series called Crazytown…a dark comedy about indie film, strip clubs and the art scene in NYC.
And that’s all folks! If you found this interview with Deborah interesting then please do share it on twitter and comment on your thoughts below!