Icons of Fright Interview with actor/writer/director Amanda Aday!


(photo credit: Collette Lash Photography www.collettelash.com)

Known for her recurring role as Dora Mae Dreifuss on HBO’s CARNIVALE (amongst countless other projects), Amanda Aday has surely proven herself as much more than “Meat Loaf’s Daughter.”  An actress and writer, Aday has recently taken the leap to try her hand at directing, with her new horror flick PAINLESS.  Icons of Fright was fortunate enough to have a chat with this jack-of-all trades about the industry, dream projects, and directing while female.

ICONS: I know you have been acting for a very long time and you’ve developed a pretty nice career out of it, what made you decide to direct?

AMANDA ADAY: I think it’s always been in the back of my mind.  Even when I was little during class projects, instead of making dioramas or writing papers, my friends and I would always make movies.  So I’d be this kid directing all of my friends around on the weekends as space robots in refrigerator cardboard boxes.  But being that my dad is who he is, I focused on acting for most of my whole life.  I was recently in Cleveland working on a film called MADTOWN and there were a few moments with Kinsley Funari, the actress who played the younger version of my character “Madison” in flashbacks, where I had the chance to not necessarily direct her, but work with her on developing the character.  I had already created this character and her mannerisms and I was able to work with her on helping capture that.  I thought to myself, “Wow! This is almost like directing. I think I could do this.”  And then to be honest, everything just sort of fell into perfect place.  I ran into a childhood friend from acting camp and he had this script and after reading it he asked if I wanted to direct it and I said, “Yeah. I think I do.” Chistopher Heule, my co-writer/producing partner also plays “Zeke” our protagonist. Without him bringing me the script to begin with, none of this would have been possible.

ICONS: That’s awesome!  I’ve seen the photos of you and Kinsley and the casting on that was spot-on. You two have such similar facial features.  Excellent, excellent casting.

ADAY: Ah! I keep forgetting you know Kinsley. Yes, she was great. Which is why I also cast her in PAINLESS.

ICONS: How have you as an actress related to your directors over the years?

ADAY: You know, every director is different and has their different ways of doing things. I’ve been privileged enough to work with someone like Charles Moore on MADTOWN who is collaborative, and he makes that point from the beginning.  Which is nice, because I’m allowed to come to the table with my own ideas and work along with his ideas.  There are other directors where it’s very much “I expect this and you deliver this” and there’s nothing wrong with that by any means.  Especially with a medium like television, where you are on such a time crunch and you need to show up and perform.  To each his own, both ways work.

ICONS: Speaking of television, how was it like jumping from something so big budgeted like CARNIVALE to making a low-budget horror film as your own project?

ADAY: It’s so vastly different.  On something like CARNIVALE you show up, you get your script, you get your wardrobe, and you have your one specific job.  With something like PAINLESS, we were working with only $5,000.  I was the director and co-writer, but I ended up being the executive producer, 1st AD, UPM, locations manager, set dec., script supervisor, transpo. etc. etc. The amount of hats I wore was unbelievable and at the end of it I swore to myself, “Never again! At least not without a 1st AD and script supervisor!” I was exhausted, but it was completely worth it.

ICONS: I can only imagine. That’s an insane amount of hats for your first project! In working with a lower budget, do you think the style or the content is more important?

ADAY: I think they’re both equally important, which is why I brought in my good friend Shawn Booth as my cinematographer.  I wore many hats, but I did not wear all of the hats.  There’s a big thing in Hollywood now where people don’t like the term “Director of Photography” because they’re not “directing,” but I told Shawn, “Dude, you’re the Director of Photography. I trust you. I trust what you do. You handle how this is going to look.”  Before we starting shooting, we talked about it all of course, so we were on the same page as far as composition and style, but I trusted him.  I think on my next project I will be a little more hands on just to give my cinematographer a break, but on PAINLESS, I was definitely focused on the content. I had a great cinematographer to work on the style.

ICONS: If PAINLESS had to play a double-feature with any other film, what would it be?

ADAY: I don’t know, man! It’s…it’s like PULP FICTION meets NINTH GATE! (laughs). What do you do with that? When PAINLESS was brought to me it was about a man who loses his wife and child in a car accident and relapses into heroin use and can’t control it. When I got the script, I thought the story was great, but as a female writer/director, I immediately thought it would be fun to give more focus to the female characters.

ICONS: That’s right up my alley. I can’t wait to see it. I did like that you said “as a female writer/director,” because that’s such an unrepresented market. I guess this is an easy question, but do you think it’s important that we have more female writers and directors?

ADAY: I think there ARE a lot of female writers and directors, the real question is why don’t we recognize them?

ICONS: Agreed. Completely.

ADAY: It’s important to recognize these talented women who have wonderful voices and have these wonderful stories to tell.  Regardless if they’re talking about men, women, or mythical creatures, women have a voice and we have stories that deserve to be heard.  It seems illogical to me that we don’t celebrate more female writers and directors. It seems illogical to me that only four women have ever been nominated for “Best Director” at the Oscars, and only one of them has ever won.  How many years have the Oscars been going on? It’s bananas.  A couple of years ago I put the AFI “Directors’ Series” on my Christmas list and when I got it, I realized that on a 20-disc DVD, there was not a single female director.  No Penny Marshall, no Katheryn Bigelow, nothing.  Of course I watched all of them and learned a great deal from these male directors like William Friedkin, but that doesn’t mean female directors are any less brilliant.

ICONS: Did you see what Friedkin said about Jennifer Kent’s THE BABADOOK?

ADAY: Yes! It should be on every front page, everywhere.  The director of one of the scariest movies of all time is promoting a female directed horror film. That’s wonderful. I haven’t seen it yet, but I really want to.  Horror is my love.  Horror, sci-fi, thriller, and all of that goodness is where my heart lies.  As an actress, of course it’s fun to do drama and cry, but as a writer/director, I just really want to scare the shit out of people.

ICONS: If you could have a dream team, who would you want to direct?

ADAY: It’s funny, because there are people I grew up with that I would love to direct. I’d love to direct Robert Patrick. I’d love to work with Brett Cullen, who is just a brilliant character actor and one of my dad’s closest friends. Look him up if you don’t know him.  It would be a lot of fun to work with people like that who I’ve known my whole life, but fantasy/dream team wise…Kathy Bates.  To work with her would be spectacular.  I like quirky people, I like characters.  Kathy Bates is a big one and Juliette Lewis is another I’d love to direct.

I was working on this project a while ago with a friend of mine who unfortunately passed away, Brad Renfro, and it was about a band so I wanted to work with actors who could also play music.  So I had in mind Brad Renfro, Ethan Embry..

ICONS: God, I’m obsessed with everything Embry has been doing lately.

ADAY: I know! He’s great! He’s just a phenomenal person. But yeah, it was Brad Renfro, Ethan Embry, Jason Schwartzman, and Devon Sawa.

ICONS: Oh man, make this movie. Bring Devon Sawa back!

ADAY: I know, right? 10 years ago, that was my dream team. I’m more of the type that gets inspired by actors as I’m writing.  I don’t think I’d ever say, “Oh, I want to direct Kathy Bates so I’m going to write something for Kathy Bates.”  But would she be fun to work with if I ever had the opportunity? Absofuckinglutely. (laughs).

ICONS: Do you think you could ever direct your dad?

ADAY: That’s a hard question. A good one, but a hard one.  Do I want to work with him? Absolutely.  I think I would be more fun if we were both in actor positions, but the idea of trying to direct my dad would make me crazy.  I mean, he’s absolutely brilliant. I mean, his name is Robert Paulson.  My dad was an actor long before he was a singer and he’s brilliant…but I’m his daughter.  Try to imagine directing your dad when he’s been doing this for 30 years longer than you have.  Who knows?  I could write something and we could both be on the same page on it but I can see him coming to set and having his own ideas and then the roller coaster begins.

ICONS: Do you think you’ll push more towards the directing track or are you going to try and juggle directing and acting?

ADAY: I’d love to do both. A great example of that is that on Day 6 of PAINLESS. After 5 days straight of wearing every film set hat I could fit, Day 6 started at 1pm and ended about 8am for me.  Sometime around 4:00 or 5:00 in the afternoon (in the middle of trying not to lose my light) my manager calls telling me, “I have a recurring audition for you on a brand-new series. It’s a big deal. It’s 6 pages of dialogue. I need you to get yourself on tape by 9am.”  Somehow, by the skin of my teeth, I made it happen.  So in-between directing my actors, I’m memorizing these lines while the crew was preparing for different set-ups or moving the dolly.  I don’t ever want to have to do THAT again, but I now feel like I have a split-heart.  Directing/writing and acting makes me feel very dichotomous.  I don’t think I’m ready to be a Woody Allen or a Ben Affleck and write myself into playing the lead, but writing myself into a little supporting role doesn’t sound like a bad idea!

ICONS: Okay. Last question.


ICONS: Gun to your head: 5 favorite horror films.

ADAY: Oh jeeze. THE ENTITY with Barbara Hershey. Um, you know, I REALLY loved SINISTER.  There were so many things about it that was so brilliant.  When it comes to horror, as much as I love the B-Movie gore stuff, I am really into paranormal films.  Although it’s not necessarily a “horror movie,” I think the film WONDERLAND with Val Kilmer has some really great horror elements to it.  I think what James Cox did with WONDERLAND and Scott Derrickson with SINISTER is that you don’t actually “see” anything.  It’s all implied. You hear it, you see the shadows, and it’s far more visceral.  It’s so much scarier when you see where your imagination takes you, and that’s what I love.

ICONS: Two more.

ADAY: THE DEVIL’S REJECTS.  I liked HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, but as a director and as an actor, the character study in the sequel is just fascinating.  I’m a big fan of Sheri Moon Zombie, not gonna lie. I adore her.  The juxtaposition in the way we see Baby Firefly in the two films is so interesting.  There’s this down-to-earth nature that we see in DEVIL’S REJECTS that we don’t see in the first one, and I loved that.

Okay. Last one. GHOST STORY.  I haven’t seen it in years, but I remember sneaking into my parents’ VHS tape collections and the film just scaring the crap out of me.  As a writer there are films that stick out that made me think, “I want to do that,” and GHOST STORY was definitely one of them.  As an actor, it was THE MIRACLE WORKER.  As weird as it sounds, Patty Duke made me want to be an actress.  Now that I’m thinking about GHOST STORY, I feel like I need to go back and watch it, but I’m sure it would still hold up. It’s not a film, but I do have to add Takashi Miike’s IMPRINT that he did for MASTERS OF HORROR.  Showtime banned it so I had to track it down and it is just brilliant and horrifying.

ICONS: Well, I’m super excited to see PAINLESS and I thank you for talking to me.

ADAY: Thank you for asking me such great questions!


You can check out Amanda Aday in the upcoming films MADTOWN as “Madison” and THE SHANGI-LA SUITE as “Gladys Presley (Elvis’ Mother).”

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