If you’ve seen any Twitchy Dolphin Flix production since 2009, you’ve seen actress Terissa Kelton. She began with them as an extra and had her first starring role as Becca in 2010’s Snatch N Grab, which earned her a best supporting actress award.
The native Texan began her acting career while a student at Texas State University, which she entered at age 16, as being home-schooled put her a couple of grades ahead of her peers. She entered her sophomore year of high school at 14 and despite feeling “socially inept,” fell in love with the theater during that time. While in college, Terissa studied in Stratford-upon-Avon, England with the Royal Shakespeare Company. A time she considers to be one of the best times of her life.
Terissa’s recent work has been a far cry from Shakespeare, but it’s impressive nonetheless. Being recognized by fans and peers as a top actress in indie movies has put a lot on her plate these days, such as her appearance at Twitchypalooza 2012 (which the above photo is from), so I was especially glad to get the opportunity to talk to Terissa for this exclusive interview.
CHRIS CHARLES: You were born, raised, and still reside in Texas. Ever wanted to live anyplace else?
TERISSA KELTON: Well, I absolutely love traveling, so I find that many places I go there’s always a part of me that would just like to stay in that location for a period of time to experience it more fully. But I’ve most seriously considered New York City. I love the city, not just for its theatre/film appeal, but because the energy is so inspiring. I’m just not sure about those winters.
CHRIS: If you moved to another state, what do you think you’d miss the most about Texas?
TERISSA: My family and friends! I’ve built such a wonderful support system here, so leaving it would be one of the most difficult things I’d ever do. I’d also miss the Texas sun. I actually love how hot it gets in Texas!
CHRIS: I understand you started college at 16?
TERISSA: I did! I was home-schooled for most of my life, which put me two grades ahead. I entered public school in my Junior year of high school, as a 14 year old. Apart from being a little socially inept, I feel very fortunate to have had such great mentors and awesome classmates who made sure I knew what was going on, both in the educational and social aspect of my high school years. I fell in love with theatre and public speaking pretty quickly, and before I knew it I was preparing to take that new-found affinity off to college! I ended up enrolling to a small, local university in my home town. Again, I got to enjoy the shock and awe when people found out I was 16!
CHRIS: During those college years, you studied in England and worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Tell me about that.
TERISSA: One of the best times of my entire life was spent studying in England! I went with a small group of people from the theatre program at Texas State University to Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare. We had a two-week Shakespearean intensive course load with the Royal Shakespeare Company, including stage combat, voice and diction, dramaturgy, and text analysis. It was such a rich and overwhelming experience. My favorite class time memory, however, is workshopping a monologue from Taming of the Shrew with Jane Lapotaire, a very prestigious actor. After several attempts at trying to convey what was happening in the text, she stopped me, and asked me to do the monologue in an extreme Texan/Southern accent. As simple as it seems, I would have never thought to do that as a way of finding the rhythm for that piece. Her guidance opened my eyes to how much room there is to play when acting (in any medium) and that your personal research and creative ideas are just as important as your director’s vision of the project overall. In a nutshell, my job is acting, not guessing what the director will want to see.
Some of the best memories from that trip came from the conversations and people I met outside of class. We often visited the Dirty Duck Pub after seeing performances at the RSC. We very quickly realized that this was the regular hang-out post show for not only the audience, but also for the actors. I was able to meet and speak with several of the actors I had just seen working on stage, like Greg Hicks and David Carr. Both of these gentlemen were so kind and open with us about their experiences and their own fears as actors. David and I spoke at length one night about what it means to be an actor and he made the comment: “We’re all doing the same thing when we get on stage.” That always stuck with me as I went on to work on stage and in film. There isn’t really room in my mind for arrogance in my art, because we’re all doing the same thing. Meeting such talented individuals and seeing how humble and honest they were was one of the most inspiring experiences.
CHRIS: I do a lot of interviews with ladies who work in independent films, and most of those indie film companies lean towards horror. Would you say horror is your favorite genre?
TERISSA: I definitely love horror! I think I specifically enjoy psychological horror/thriller movies. But I’m not sure I would say that I have a favorite genre. I’m always watching new things and discovering different things I enjoy. In a week I can go from wanting to watch La Misma Luna to Amityville Horror. As far as acting, I would like to do more horror. I’ve only done two up to this point, and they’re so much fun!
CHRIS: Speaking of indie film companies, you’ve worked with Twitchy Dolphin Flix as have a couple of other ladies I’ve interviewed. Did you approach them or did they approach you first?
TERISSA: I approached them in 2009 about auditioning for one of the leads in Look At Me Again. James Christopher got back to me and even though all the leads had already been casted, he invited me out to be an extra in several of the scenes. So I came out and I guess they liked me! I ended up with a few lines in LAMA, and I was asked to audition for Snatch N Grab. They gave me the opportunity to play Becca, one of the leads. Since then, I’ve been in every Twitchy Dolphin project.
CHRIS: Of your more recent movies, Snatch N Grab, has won several indie film awards. Would you say your role in that one has been your favorite so far?
TERISSA: I’ve been given so many awesome roles that it’s always difficult for me to say which is my favorite. Becca was my first big Twitchy Dolphin role, so I was always absolutely terrified while shooting. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still so NERVOUS during shooting, even now. She is such an innocent and somewhat naive individual, so I wanted to bring out a sort of awkward, quirkiness on screen for her. I did a lot of thinking back to high school and how clueless I was about everything, especially boys.
There was also this level of immaturity in her that I found difficult to tap into at first. But again, I just did a lot of re-visiting my journals from high school and re-reading all the entries about the hardships of high school, which now seem so petty! But I had to make that relevant again in order to portray Becca, and I feel like that was a big accomplishment for me!
CHRIS: Were you allowed much room to ad-lib (in Snatch N Grab) or did you stick pretty close to the script?
TERISSA: It was pretty much all scripted. There were a few of the ‘interview’ scenes where we were invited to ad-lib. Those turned out hilarious!
CHRIS: You individually, have been nominated and won some acting awards. what would you say have been your crowning achievement, so far?
TERISSA: Just being recognized is an awesome feeling! I actually won Best Supporting Actress for Snatch N Grab at the 2011 Aphrodite Cinefest International Film Festival, which took me by surprise. I’ve just recently been nominated for Best Supporting Actress for my role in Abram’s Hand at the Action on Film International Film Festival. Just being spotlighted for these roles has been an achievement. It takes so much time and energy to put yourself in a role that just a little nod here and there means the world.
CHRIS: Do you have any acting mentors?
TERISSA: I’ve really been fortunate to work with James Christopher the last few years. Although he is usually my director, he comes from an acting background, which is extremely beneficial. He knows my strengths and weaknesses on screen and how to shift my focus during shooting, if need be. He’s been able to bring out a lot of color and variation in my work, which has been transforming. I also really look up to my best friend and former classmate, Ariane Powell. She is technically a grade below me, but I learn from her all the time. Just seeing her work and discussing with her the art of acting, in general, has helped me grow and become a better performer.
CHRIS: I won’t ask for names, but have you worked with some people, on either side of the camera, whom you would never work with again?
TERISSA: Oh definitely! I’ve walked into some strange movie making messes. I just believe that if I’m going to be prepared for my role/job that everyone else on the project should be too, and unfortunately, I’ve encountered some situations where that is not the case.
CHRIS: You’ve also done some work behind the camera. What have been some of your non-acting roles on films?
TERISSA: Well, I’ve pretty much done production assistant work on everything Twitchy since my first role on Look At Me Again. However, the past couple projects I’ve taken on bigger roles within the company. On Goin’ Guerrilla, I acted and was a producer. That was also the case on 3 References, my latest film. I’ve directed two short films, Myra and Dear Boss Ripper. I also edited those two along with another short Old Man McGregor. I’ll be the director of photography on a short film called Satanae Domina in September, my first time actually behind the camera!
CHRIS: Is that a type of character or role you’d especially like to play but haven’t so far?
TERISSA: I’d really like to do roles similar to April Wheeler in Revolutionary Road. Very real, but very tragic. I think it would be an extremely difficult sort of experience, but I would really like to attempt at bringing that kind of character to life.
CHRIS: Would you ever consider doing a nude scene?
TERISSA: I would, but I would have to really see the necessity in it. For me, it’s not about “oh no, I’m going to be naked in front of people,” it’s about how the scene pushes the story. I’ve seen some projects where nudity completely distracted from what the story was about and was just distasteful. So, I would have to agree to the script and have a very serious discussion with the director about how the scene would be done.
CHRIS: You last completed project was Turkey Day. What was making that one like for you?
TERISSA: My last completed project was actually Turkey Day. It started its festival run in April and will also be screening at the 2012 Action on Film International Film Festival. Both were amazing to be a part of!
CHRIS:Abram’s Hand was a fairly intense film. What was it like for you doing that one?
TERISSA:Abram’s Hand was shot in early 2010, and it was my third with Twitchy Dolphin. I had become very comfortable with the crew and many of the cast members had been a part of Snatch N Grab, so I felt a little more at ease during the shoot. This was really helpful throughout shooting, since a lot of the movie is very intense. It took a strong ensemble of a cast and an effective crew to make shooting some of the emotional/dramatic scenes as seamless as possible. I enjoyed the intensity of this movie a lot, and it taught me how much focus really must happen on a film set.
CHRIS: What are you currently working on?
TERISSA: Right now I’m gearing up for our festival season. I’m going out to represent Abram’s Hand and Turkey Day at the Action on Film International Film Festival. Then I am going to San Antonio, TX to the San Antonio Horrific Film Festival to represent a few shorts I am involved with. My short film, Myra, is screening and nominated for Best Short Film. Werebitches II: Daughter of Werebitch Meets Skankenstein is a short I acted in and it is nominated for Best Short Film, as well! I’ve also been nominated for Best Actress in Old Man McGregor, which I acted in and edited. We’re also in post-production for our feature, 3 References, which wrapped in June! And we are starting pre-production on XXXX and XXXX II, our adult film mocumentary which will start principal shooting around March/April of next year! And, of course, I’m always auditioning for new projects!
CHRIS: Do you have any hobbies, interests or special skills that you don’t include on your bios?
TERISSA: I pretty much put it all out there. I’m always intrigued by new things, so my list of interests is always expanding! I’ve recently really started to enjoy and become more interested in cooking! So, who knows what I’ll be adding next!
CHRIS: I heard an interviewer once introduce you as “Teresa” Kelton. Does it drive you crazy when people call you “Teresa” instead of “Terissa”?
TERISSA: (Laughs) Well, a little! Terissa is my name, so when I get Teresa, there’s an “awww, name fail” moment. But I completely understand it! I’ve messed up people’s names before, so I know people probably feel terrible when they realize they’ve said my name incorrectly. After a while, I just tell people to call me T-Dawg. You could say that that has become my indie film persona.
CHRIS: Well, thanks for doing this Terissa. Any parting words to fans, friends, or family?
TERISSA: Just a huge amount of thanks! Without those people, I wouldn’t be anywhere. And thank YOU, Chris! It thrills me when there are people out there who want to get to know more about indie actors and filmmakers. We work hard and we really appreciate being recognized!
This 2009 spot for Big E’s truck accessories was Terissa’s first TV commercial.
Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Chris flirted with the music business there and in Nashville before joining the U.S. Army and serving in South Korea. He remained in Asia for several years afterwards, teaching English and covering the regional entertainment scenes. Currently in a mindset between Seoul and San Francisco, besides Idol Features, you can also catch his writings in the print edition of the quarterly magazine, Effective.