The subject of this interview, she can be called many things. An Actress, Scream Queen, Horror Icon, Writer, Producer, but the one thing you could never call Brooke Lewis Bellas is unmotivated.
Brooke Lewis Bellas has been acting for over 20 years and is known for her work in movies including iMurders (2008), Sinatra Club (2010) and Slime City Massacre (2010). I was thrilled to set up this interview with Brooke shortly after working with her on Leave Quietly (2021), a streaming series I wrote/directed which is currently in Post-Production.
I can tell you first hand, that Brooke Lewis Bellas has an incredible work ethic and is a joy to work with. Her personality should shine through in this interview and if you are not already a fan, you soon will be.
Curt Wiser: How did it feel when you were first given the honor of Scream Queen in 2008? It was 2008 right?
(I did my research here, but some trivia like this can get mixed up. Brooke was quick to answer.)
Brooke Lewis Bellas: It wassssssss… technically yes, I would maybe put 2007-2008. January 2007 because that was when we shot Kinky Killers, and that was what put me on the map as a “Scream Queen.” It was released in 2008 and that is when I truly had the title Scream Queen bestowed upon me.
How did it feel? It is an absolute honor. So, I was a huge Horror fan as a child, as a girl growing up in the 80’s and getting a VCR.
(I remember VCR’s! It’s sad to realize some readers might not know what it is. A Video Cassette Recorder was a device that let you play and record audio/video content on a tape which was spooled inside a plastic, rectangular case called a VHS tape. Now back to our regularly scheduled interview.)
BLB: I would watch the marathons on TV, of Friday the 13th and the Halloween movies. So, I was truly a fan girl and I say that with pride. Although, I started my career on Broadway, performing off-Broadway, musical theater, so my Horror career didn’t come until later. I idealized so many of the women of the 80’s, the ones I watched, from Elvira to the greats like Jamie Lee Curtis, Adrienne Barbeau and Nancy Allen.
CW: I had the pleasure working with you on the streaming series Leave Quietly. What attracted you to this project?
(Since this project is currently in post, I edited this answer down to eliminate spoilers, but I’m looking forward to sharing all the news about Leave Quietly when the time is right.)
BLB: Thank you for saying that Curt, as it was a joy to have this opportunity. I think it’s relevant to mention that we’re still in a time, of Pandemic. So, my life and career has changed drastically in the last year and a half.
So, personally and professionally, I have been compelled to think outside the box. To find avenues to be creative during this time. Especially because, I’m challenged with an auto-immune disease. So, I have to be extra mindful right now of what it looks like for me going into crowds or walking onto a movie set at this time. When you reached out to my reps, and by the way, thank you for doing it the professional way. I want to acknowledge you for that first and foremost, because now-a-days with social media, people have easy access to anyone.
When I first read the script, I thought wow, this is so innovative, Curt is a talented writer. I am a new fan, I must play this role of Amber because I’m totally in love with her and she spoke to me with her sassiness and her playfulness and yet, she had so many layers and heart.
I said to you, Curt, I can’t believe you’re giving me this offer because I believe I manifested this. I prayed for a project to come that met my requirements: union, respectfully paying, that I could act in virtually from home, and lo and behold, you appeared with Leave Quietly.
CW: Wow, you make me sound like a phoenix rising from the ashes.
BLB: Take the compliment, yes you are. Like I said, this opportunity, it meant so much to me.
CW: Speaking of opportunities, you worked on another remote project Red Rooms. How do you feel about this way of working compared to traditional production? Would you still consider working this way post-pandemic?
BLB: Not in a million F-ing years, I’m kidding! I’m totally kidding.
(I should mention Brooke was kidding.)
BLB: But… I, as a producer could attest to your struggles and this new world of directing/producing/acting virtually. I can’t believe that people like us have been able to stay creative during the pandemic, I’m so grateful.
In speaking authentically, I have to say, these projects as you now know, are challenging on a whole-nother level. That being said, look what we have been able to accomplish with lower budgets and not having to deal with half of the crew you would normally have to hire if you were on a full union set.
On the flip side, it brings many challenges. For example, what my Red Rooms director Joshua Butler and I, alongside our amazing cast, chose to create, and jump through hoops, to be able to pull off a project of that magnitude as a full blown limited streaming series. With everyone being filmed on camera, 100 percent virtually, in the height of the pandemic in April 2020.
We were picking wardrobe virtually, the actors would remotely show us around their homes so we could scout locations. I’m really proud that we got through it. We did it at such a professional level.
CW: With Philly Chick Pictures you made the transition from actress to Producer/Actress. What led to this change? Have you found producing to be a way to give you more opportunities as an actor?
BLB: I think that, nowadays especially, it is important to be a multi-hyphenate. Actually, I was producing long before a lot of the indie producers I know who are doing it now. Even when I was young back in New York, to me it was anything I could do to better a project in some way and I just love the whole creative process so much. My mind works very much like a producer, unfortunately it also works like a crazy actress, but it does work on the business side.
(I’m happy to confirm that Brooke Lewis Bellas was very helpful during aspects of Pre-Production on Leave Quietly and even now when it is the early stages of promoting the project. I have witnessed both sides of Brooke in full force.)
BLB: The real catalyst was, when I moved from New York to LA, and everything changed. When I moved to LA, it was not so easy. When I came here my big-league agents in New York would not sign me in LA, because they said “Where’s all your television?” Things turned, so I felt I needed to find a way to create projects for myself as an actress. No one was kicking down my door in Hollywood.
(I hope not, that sounds scary. Bad joke. Okay, moving on.)
BLB: I was getting offers to go back to New York to act in edgy, mobster movies and stuff. So, I then said, “Let me jump on board as a producer and I can bring some things to the table.” I worked with one of my New York producing partners, Ken Del Vecchio, and we created Kinky Killers (2007) for SHOWTIME. And, of course, any project I signed onto as an Executive Producer/Producer, I had to play one of the lead roles in.
I feel like I’ve earned my stripes, paid my dues, and as soon as I moved here, I launched Philly Chick Pictures. Because you can take the girl out of Philly, but you can’t take the Philly out of the girl. And, I’ve owned my production company for almost 20 years.
(That part about having to adapt, I can identify with that. After thousands of doors are shut in your face, is when you know it’s time to break a few down.)
CW: Is there any type of role you are still dying to play?
BLB: There are so many. As a woman in this industry, I don’t allow the negative chatter to get in my head with the ageism stuff. So, I feel I haven’t even scratched the surface of the meaty character actress roles that I’m starting to step into.
I love the power struggles; I love the intensity. I look at Elizabeth Taylor in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? I mean, that kind of role to be able to play as you grow as an actress. I love the empowered female roles, that’s why I love Horror so much. I think Horror really embraces women of all ages, races and body types. I want to play one of those psychotic, villain characters.
CW: Any nod to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? I’m all for that, I’m a huge Mike Nichols fan. They don’t make them like they used to.
BLB: They sure don’t. They don’t make them like Nichols’s movies, or Billy Wilder. I want to play Norma Desmond!
(She punctuates this plea with a laugh. For anyone who does not know, Norma Desmond is the character played flawlessly by Gloria Swanson in the classic Sunset Boulevard (1950). These are the kinds of movies people my age used to watch on VCR’s. And… that’s what is known as a call back.)
BLB: Things now are so watered down and dumbed down, and they don’t have to be. We can create more than ever on low budgets, really artistic, creative, meaty stuff.
CW: For a Web Series, you created and embodied the character of Ms. Vampy. What are your thoughts on working in the reality or show hosting space?
BLB: Great question. I created Ms. Vampy and yes, she is a cross between my inspirations Elvira, The Nanny, and Mona in My Cousin Vinny (1992), and incorporated the body of my greatest work at the time. Ms. Vampy was born in 2008.
I started with her as a host. I’ll be honest, I just love acting so much… I wouldn’t want to step into the reality/hosting space with her again. I think that she was such a gift, and I was able to use my philanthropic mission with her, as well, to support teen girls and I authored an award-winning book based on my teen talk show.
Now, I’d really like to commit her to scripted. If my acting Gods came down and said you could have her scripted series on [any great streaming platform], I would be the happiest woman in the world.
CW: Do you have any advice for an actor also thinking about producing?
BLB: Before you choose to start producing, dig deep and figure out your motivation for producing. And know that it is a full-time job. I can attest to a film Sinatra Club (2010), it was seven years of my life, and I played an incredible supporting role as an actress but focused on producing.
Just know, producing is a huge commitment and you are sacrificing a lot to do so. I know it’s “sexy” these days and “everyone” is “producing” now. But to do it on a professional level, it takes a lot to really do it the right way, and to even bring a micro-budget project to fruition.
CW: Is there a question you always wish you were asked in these Q and A’s? Now is your chance to answer it.
BLB: Oh gosh. I’ve done thousands of interviews throughout my career. I think so many interviews delve deeply into projects, titles and, on occasion, feel surfaced, not your interview.
(Gulp, I was worried there for a second.)
BLB: But other interviews can be all about the glamour of Brooke Lewis Bellas. I’ve been so blessed with magazine covers and indie films, but I think, sometimes, editors and interviewers forget that there is a part of me who is also a scared, challenged… what’s the word?
(Complex? Elusive? Enigmatic?)
BLB: … who also deals with fears. Real life stuff. I’m open to any questions, just don’t ask me my weight (she laughs!). But anything else, just keeping things real. I’ve been incredibly blessed with a fan base that follows me to every genre and follows me on social media.
I get fan letters and they’re like “My dream is to come to your mansion in the Hollywood hills and meet you and have a drink with you.” That would be fantastic, but that’s not my reality. So, I think it’s important to remain humble, realistic, and share with your readers… that my life is challenging too. Things are not always how they seem on social media.
I just hope that I inspire people to follow their hearts, follow their dreams. Do what feeds your soul and just find fulfilment, because life is challenging.