Last week, I had the pleasure of chatting with actress/writer/director Deborah Voorhees. She is probably best known for her role as 'Tina' in Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning (1985), where she was credited as 'Debisue Voorhees.' Her role was small, but she immediately gained a following, in part, because Deborah coincidentally shares the same surname as Friday's killer, Jason Voorhees.
Deborah's most recent credits include her latest directing venture, the comedy Billy Shakespeare, which centers on the famous playwright in modern times. Check out the movie's website to learn more.
1. Deborah, you obviously have a following thanks to your role in Friday the 13th Part V. Would you return to the series if you were ever asked to?
-I’m sure that would be a blast. But I don’t know if they’d do one that brings the old “dead” characters back (laughs) unless it was a zombie flick.
2. Prior to that, you were a Playboy bunny. How would that experience compare with playing one of Jason’s victims?
-They are both iconic symbols in America. Everyone knows Jason and the Playboy Bunny.
3. Among your other screen credits are appearances on shows like Dallas and Days of Our Lives. Any memories that stick out from those shows?
-I really enjoyed being on Dallas because I also I worked as a stand in for two summers. I was there every day on the set; I felt more like I was a part of the team, rather than just coming in for a role and leaving. Larry Hagman (who played J.R.) used to sing “Peggy Sue” when I walked on set, except he changed the name to Debisue.
4. You’re also a writer, a teacher and a director. Is there one of those professions that you find particularly fulfilling?
-That’s a good question. They are different but they have characteristics that are the same. As a teacher, writer, director and actor, creativity is required to do well. Prior to teaching, I thought it would be boring, teaching the same thing over and over. I imagined that I’d say, “Kids open the book to Chapter 11, read it and answer the questions on the back.” That’s how school was when I grew up. Now, though, teaching is more dynamic. Good schools and good teachers teach outside of the textbook. They create curriculums and adjust the lesson on a moments notice if the kids aren’t “getting it.” I enjoyed working with students and coming up with new lessons. It could also be frustrating when parents, students, and administrators couldn’t see that learning requires a certain amount of frustration. If a child is never frustrated from a lack of understanding, it simply means that he or she isn’t being challenged. Many kids become bored and shut down. Teaching demands a lot of interaction with the faculty, the administration, the parents and kids. Writing is the opposite in this way. Writing is solitary; you’re on your own most of the time. I can become a hermit when I am writing. I may concentrate more heavily on it again at some point. But right now, with filmmaking, I am concentrating on putting my current works on film, and that’s a whole other level of learning. Billy Shakespeare has been an incredible learning experience. The most challenging, demanding, and creative side of filmmaking happens in the editing room. Being forced to edit my own film taught me more about directing and writing then actually writing and directing. That’s when you find out if you have what you need to make the story flow. It taught me a lot about what I can do next time to connect the scenes more smoothly. It taught me how to be a better director and writer.
5. Speaking of Billy Shakespeare, how did the idea for that movie come about?
-While working as a journalist with The Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, I covered arts and entertainment, so I went to the theater a lot and fell in love with Shakespeare. I started reading his works and reading about his life and compared them to my experiences in the crazy world of Hollywood. The city is vibrant and exciting in many ways, but actors and others in the biz are often treated like cattle. One audition I went on was for the role of a 16-year-old high school student. The casting agent liked my reading, but the feedback my agent received was ‘the character is supposed to be innocent and she has big boobs.’ Another similar incident was ‘she gave a great read; we love her, but this character is supposed to be smart; she has big boobs.” Shakespeare, likewise, went through his own struggles in London. The theater houses were viewed as only slightly more elevated than the brothels. I began imaging what his trials would look like in modern-day Hollywood. At first, it started out as a few jokes but soon it grew into a full script, for which I took historical aspects of his life and reimagined them in today’s L.A. For example, a love triangle in the film revolves around the historical question: who is ‘Mr. W.H.?’ Shakespeare wrote 126 sonnets, of a rather romantic nature, to this mysterious person, which has led some to speculate that he was gay. This isn’t necessarily so since during the Renaissance, the love between men was viewed as deeper because of the belief that women weren’t capable of the same purity of love.
6. Your production company, Voorhees Films, is currently making a comedy set in the 1800s. Can you tell us anything about that?
-We’re not shooting yet. We’re in pre-production. It’s about a 17-year-old Genevieve, who is jilted on her wedding day after she humiliates her husband-to-be by publically straddling a horse, which in this period is akin to fornicating in public. Her father sends her away to her aunt’s to be prepared for marriage to the man of her father’s “dreams.” Right now, I’m raising money for Cranford and promoting Billy Shakespeare.
7. Voorhees Films also records weddings and makes music videos and commercials. How does that differ from making a movie?
-Yes, we also create celebrations of life videos. All these are similar to writing a story for a newspaper because you are creating a story with a beginning, middle, and an end. The shorter pieces offer instant gratification, but I do love creating films—from writing the script, to directing, to editing. The challenge is intense. As a director, I really enjoy working with actors and being on the other side of the camera. As an actor on the set, you have a lot of down time. As a director, there is no down time. It’s very intense because everybody needs your attention. So you have to basically be working and thinking about 6 or 7 different things at the same time.
8. You’ve also written a novel called Memoirs of a Hit Man. Can you tell us about that?
-When I was at The Dallas Morning News, I spent time with three different men who were assassins. It’s fiction but the novel projects the emotional and intellectual integrity of what they went though in the Special Forces.
9. In addition, you have written numerous news stories. Is there any specific sort of news that you have a preference for?
-My favorite was to write about little-known artists such as a folk artist named Ike Morgan, who was a schizophrenic patient at a psychiatric hospital. His work has been seen in museums and high-dollar galleries. Another of my favorite stories was about a homeless man who created walking sticks on which he carved the psalms from the bible. He wasn’t easy to find to interview because he didn’t have a residence or phone. After visiting a few homeless shelters, I learned he was working behind a gallery close to downtown Dallas. When I met him, he actually pulled a knife on me. I wasn’t afraid, though, because I was thinking of the story. I explained who I was and he said, he had heard I was looking for him, but warned me to watch where I walked because “I might get cut.” After that we had a fabulous interview. I also interviewed an incredibly talented photographer named Laura Wilson, who created artistic photographic series on the Hutterites, ranchers and many other subjects. She is the mother of Luke and Owen Wilson.
10. I read that you don’t watch many horror films. Is there a genre that you especially like?
-I like romantic comedies and dark comedies. The House of Yes just cracks me up. I want to laugh. I don’t want to be scared. I don’t like that ‘boo’ stuff (laughs). I am too big of a chicken.
11. Do you plan to direct and write more movies in the future?
-I do. Besides what I’m working on, I want to do a documentary on Shakespeare. I’m working out the angle at the moment. I also want to do Romeo and Juliet in modern times but with a twist and some Shakespearean shorts.