*I’ve received so much press material in regards to the upcoming scifi-thriller Rogue Warrior: Robot Fighter that I had to speak with the leading lady, Tracey Birdsall. A multi-talented performer and enough charisma to take over the world, Tracey is the latest in the long line of women who are paving the way for strong women in media. Capable of commanding attention in any genre of film, Birdsall has been an up-and-coming actress for the last handful of years and I’m glad to see she’s reaching such a high level of success now. Hard work and dedication pays off and no one knows it better than her. Read my interview with her below as we discuss career beginnings and highlights, the science fiction genre, her new movie that is premiering at Action on Film tomorrow and where else you can find her in 2016 and beyond.
H: I read in one of your bios that you have a background in music. Is that true, and if so, is there any place I can check out your tunes?
T: I grew up singing and performing any chance I got, but when it came time to focus on my career… acting is where I focused all of my energies. I also sang in clubs on weekends in order to make ends meet in my early 20’s (mostly blues). I did work on a film almost 20 years ago where my character was a musician called I Might Even Love You. I’ve attached links below to both of those songs that are online (one as a trailer). I adore singing and would love to do more of it, but it would have to be in film or TV because I am just too busy to focus on anything else!
H: Though you seem to have been acting all your life, you really made a splash in 2010 with Tick Tock, a multi-award winning short film that you wrote and starred in. How does it feel to really be recognized for your talent after so long?
T: I’ve had definite peaks and valleys for sure, but Tick Tock was made for that exact reason! I had taken a few years off after selling my production studio and had to kick-start my career. I stayed up late every night and tried to write the most disturbing short I could. It was amazing – the dark places my mind went! I had only done features before, so I had to do a lot of research on what makes a good short, just how controversial I had to be in order to get noticed and win awards. I knew this was how it would work out. I spent way too much money on it in order to seal the deal and put it out there. I was officially back on the map as it won festivals worldwide – almost like I hadn’t taken the time off! I love it when a plan comes together, but of course I had the training and experience to back it up.
H: Whether it be through physical appearance or lending your voice, you’ve been in a lot of scifi-thrillers including Dawn of the Crescent Moon, Dawn of Destruction, Starship: Apocalypse and Doomsday. Why do you think this genre is serving as your home-front lately?
T: I think sci-fi is actually more noticeable because it has a huge fan base to draw from and people remember scantily clad women carrying big guns. Ironically I can prove this point by your question! I’ve done two science fiction films (Rogue Warrior: Robot Fighter and currently shooting The Time War) and two comedy leads (Diary of a Fatman & Who’s Jenna…?) this year… evenly split across the genres!
H: What genre would you like to submerse yourself in outside of the realms of horror and science fiction?
T: I’m a huge fan of comedy and studied it intensely. It’s another favorite genre to perform in. I don’t want to get pigeonholed, so I try to do projects back to back. I love the intensity of drama, but it’s fulfilled now by science fiction as these are very character driven scripts we’re dealing with. Rogue Warrior: Robot Fighter has the biggest arcs I’ve ever played all in one film. That film exhausted every muscle I have from physical to mental and emotional. Now that’s a good workout!
H: Speaking of, everyone is anticipating the release of Rogue Warrior: Robot Fighter, a feature film in which you star. What can you tell me about your character and her plot progression in this movie?
T: I don’t want to give away any spoilers of course as it would ruin the journey for the viewers. I can tell you that it’s a huge one for Sienna – not just in trying to save the worlds in an AI war zone, but also in self-discovery. It was so complicated to prepare for as her time-frame of what she knew versus didn’t know, what disasters had she experience so far, etc. that I had to color code my scenes as to her state of mind – there’s at least 8 levels of realization. Director Neil Johnson did such a good job of taking the viewer not just on a journey story-wise, but on letting the viewer experience Sienna’s journey. I can tell you that it took me weeks to recover emotionally from the last scene we shot – it was just that intense! PTSD from living the life of a character I created… I wonder if that is covered by insurance! (jk)
H: I assume you had to do quite a bit of work on the green screen? What can you tell me about the trials and tribulations of acting on terrains that aren’t really there or fighting robots that aren’t there, either?
T: We actually didn’t use a lot of green screen because Neil wanted it to feel “real” and “gritty,” which he succeeds at greatly. Of course we had to for the space ship stuff, but I’m such a sci-fi nerd that when I was in the spaceship I had no problem actually living that as reality. The robot stuff was trickier as I have a ton of scenes with Hoagland (brilliantly voiced by British actor Tony Gibbons in a role that was almost impossible to find an actor for surprisingly enough – we auditioned almost 3,000 voices for that role). Hoagland had to be REAL to me because we go through a lot together… so I created him in my mind. The actual physical robot I sat in my office while I prepared and I would have conversations with him, interact with him, I created his “life” in my head. He was real to me after several months of interacting and developing his personality in my mind. The real problem, which I didn’t expect, was when a reader would do his lines OS and they didn’t do it how I had prepared it. I mean, how could they?! It was in my head! So moving forward once I made that realization, I memorized Hoagland’s lines and played them through in my mind to react with perfect timing. VERY hard work!
H: I love behind the scenes stories. What is your favorite on set memory?
T: Working with such great actors, there are a ton of stories! Probably the one that’s currently making me laugh the most became more obvious when I saw the finished film recently. I have an interesting relationship with the role of Blister (fabulously played by Tim McGrath – also a VERY tough role to cast). When the scenes began to unfold I found myself being drawn to physically whack him on the head for things that his character said. It got to be a bit of a joke on set as I just couldn’t help but whack him. It really works well onscreen now that I’ve seen the final edited version but it was living that character that brought it out. Speaking of whacking Blister, there’s a really intense scene that we’ve nicknamed “The Monster Scene” because I look so awful in it with the emotion and torment I’m feeling. When we first filmed that scene we were on the ground in the Salton Sea which is quite gritty and disgusting – but again – real. As I’m choking him (yes, Sienna was having a bad day) this fly kept landing on his cheek and I’m feeling all of these intense and vicious thoughts – so this fly was driving me nuts because it was distracting me. Right in the middle of the scene I whacked the fly and said, “fucking fly,” because I couldn’t help it. I was emotionally tormented and this fly was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Unbeknownst to me in that state, the fly was on Tim’s cheek when I hit it. The Director loved it so had me do it each take… of course a little more gently! #PoorTim
H: As with any other genre, science fiction has a lot of subgenres, scifi-thrillers being equal parts science fiction and action. Removing superheroes from the category, I can’t really think of any other female that’s carrying the torch in this genre as a complete ass kicker like Sarah Conner in Terminator. Do you feel capable of shouldering this burden?
T: Yes. Most absolutely. I don’t think that most actresses would want to go through the brutality and the training so thank you very much!
H: Why do you think it’s important to showcase strong women in the scifi-thriller genre, and really in any action based genre?
T: Strong women exist. It’s important for people to have role models and learn to fight harder, stick in there longer, and stand up for yourself. I grew up a bit of (okay more than a bit of) a tomboy and my dad always told me that I could be whomever I wanted to be and do whatever I wanted to do – regardless of my actually being female. I took that to heart, but not everybody grows up that way and it’s important that they do. Every parent should tell their children that, and if they don’t – we can show them at the movies. #Blessed
H: Finally, what do you have in store for your fans going forward in 2016 and beyond?
T: As I mentioned up above, 2016 is a really big year for me with four films coming out. I’ve never worked so hard in my life. We are also currently filming The Time War which will come out the first part of 2017 – a time travel film. We are still in the development stages of The Gods of War, a television series that picks up where Rogue Warrior: Robot Fighter leaves off – which will lens in 2017.
*Thanks for taking the time to chat with me, Tracey. For anyone who wants to see the premiere of Rogue Warrior: Robot Fighter tomorrow at Action on Film Fest in Monrovia, California – tickets are still available through the festival’s website here. To keep up to date on Tracey and all of her upcoming gigs, make sure to follow her on the links below: