#35. A Conversation with Katt Shea

Jason Anders: As a director, you have helped start the careers of such actors like Drew Barrymore, Leonardo DiCaprio, Mena Suvari, Alison Lohman, Christina Applegate, and Angelina Jolie; as a writer, you have helped create scripts for Roger Corman and have even been the recipient of the Peabody Award for your first television movie for CBS. Let's start with your acting career, specifically with your role in the 1986 film Psycho III; what was it like to work with the legendary Anthony Perkins, not only on screen as an actor, but being under his direction for the film as well?

Katt Shea: Anthony was under a lot of pressure as he was starring in and directing his first feature film, not only that, it was for a huge studio and part of a franchise, and that was pretty difficult to live up to. Psycho was a masterpiece, and Psycho III was memorably brilliant.
JA: Tell me about your memories of being on the Bates Motel set; what was the energy like being around Perkins for his directorial debut, how much exposure did you have to the production, and what overall memories stick out in your mind when thinking back to being involved in this film?

KS: Anthony was appropriately stressed out. I had a relatively small part, and I think I created a little bit of respite for him. I was using being on the set as a directing lesson. I essentially became his leading lady, although I was dead for 3/4 of my screen time. I tried to make him laugh as much as possible, and it worked. It was a very flirtatious, by the nature of our parts, and fun relationship. He didn't really fall for my character until after she was dead.
I actually had a lot of interaction on the set. I knew I was going to be directing Stripped To Kill, and that this would likely be my last acting job. Mike Westmore (The Raging Bull) was my makeup artist, and he was instrumental in my convincing Roger Corman to allow me to make Stripped To Kill, which required prosthetic makeup, which Mike was willing to build for me for cost. The movie involved a male posing as a stripper, this was long before The Crying Game, and Roger didn't think it would be possible. Mike was part of my arsenal that convinced him. So Psycho III was a key element in my directing career. How funny is that? The guy who won an Academy Award for makeup in Raging Bull, exploding eyes and such, was applying my foundation and blush! Also Bruce Surtees shot the film, and he was very open to my asking him questions regarding shots.

JA: Let's talk about your work with another Hollywood legend, Roger Corman; what was it like being involved in the scripts for his projects, such as Dance of the Damned?
KS: I wrote Dance of the Damned with Andy Ruben. It was always a process of including the elements Roger wanted into the script and story that Andy and I envisioned. We always had very high aspirations. Roger didn't discourage that, in fact I think he was proud of it, but he wanted to make sure his style of commercial elements were included.

JA: Your 1992 film Poison Ivy, which starred Drew Barrymore and Leonardo DiCaprio, received critical acclaim; Peter Travers of Rolling Stone even wrote, "...look at Jonathan Demme's Caged Heat, or Martin Scorsese's Boxcar Bertha. Shea follows in that tradition and does it proud." What inspirations did you have as a child to get involved in the entertainment industry, and is there an area of professional work which you have enjoyed most in your career?
KS: I was directing plays I'd written in my back yard when I was twelve. I was a total misfit and didn't have any friends, so that's what I did instead. I recruited younger kids from the neighborhood, and their parents paid me to put them in my productions. I made some pretty good money, actually. Helped put me through college. Yay for being a misfit! Yay for not having friends! As for enjoying filmmaking, I love working with actors and working with the camera, getting the good stuff on film.

JA: You were nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival for Poison Ivy, and would go on to write and direct Last Exit to Earth for Roger Corman Presents; what do you feel has been your strongest moment as a filmmaker?

KS: I don't know what my strongest moment on film is. I guess that's for someone else to judge. I'll bet it is either Streets or Poison Ivy, although there was a really strong memorable moment in The Rage: Carrie 2.
JA: Actress Alison Lohman is quoted as saying "You have given me confidence and I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. I feel like I can do anything now. Never have I trusted someone so much." Why do you think your actors have such high admiration for you as a director, and what standards do you set for yourself while involved on a project?

KS: Actors know that they are the most important part of the filmmaking experience for me. Even if I'm doing an incredible shot, that takes precedence for the moment, they still know that I am with them all the way, and I'm there to help them give the performance of their life.

JA: Tell me about your workshop, and what can participants expect to get out of attending the sessions?
KS: The workshop is mind-blowing. It puts actors in touch with their instincts in a way that is more effective than anything they've ever done before. It frees them up. Acting becomes fun again, it becomes the amazing experience they expected it to be when they started, and then the pressure of the business is taken away.

One of the reasons I started teaching again was because Angelina Jolie came and auditioned for the lead in a script I wrote. She'd already done Hackers, but she just couldn't deliver in the room. She didn't get the part. I knew she was wonderful and I knew she could do it, but it wasn't happening. That experience inspired me to put together the exercises that would free up an actor to deliver under any circumstances. Actors in my classes find their joy and really have fun again. If they haven't worked in a while, they often book a job.

JA: What are a few of your favorite films of all time?

KS: Dog Day Afternoon, The Philadelphia Story, and Pale Rider.
JA: What is one important piece of knowledge you feel that every individual who is trying to break into the entertainment industry should know?

KS: The thing that is most often criticized about you in the real world might just be your genius in the entertainment business.

JA: What has been a truly defining moment for you in your professional career?

KS: The year I was honored at Sundance, MoMA, and The British Film Institute. That was unbelievable.

Follow Katt on Twitter here: @KattShea1
Visit Katt's website here: KattShea.com