Felissa Rose’s journey as a Hollywood actress began in the early ’80s, where she cut her teeth on the cult-classic film, Sleepaway Camp. While her performance in the film was legendary, it wouldn’t be until years later that she would fully immerse herself into the world of genre film.
Her professional exploration began at the age of 17, when she applied for early admission to New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and was admitted that fall. Later she attended The Lee Strasberg institute, where she began formal training as a serious actress. In 2003, Felissa returned to the horror genre that had started her career. In 2008, she would even reprise her iconic role of Angela in Sleepaway Camp’s fourth instalment: Return to Sleepaway Camp.
For almost two decades she has continued to build upon her core foundation, while amassing an impressive resume and establishing herself as one of the most versatile actresses in the industry. In 2020, with her momentum continuing to build, she finds herself busier than ever as she continues to take on more challenging material while exploring new creative territory throughout the entertainment industry. As an artist, she continues to push boundaries and evolve both on screen and behind-the-scenes. Most importantly, she has managed to stay grounded, laser-focused, and grateful for the opportunities that come her way. Her attitude of gratitude is simply infectious!
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down for a quick chat with Felissa Rose to discuss her amazing career in the film industry. They cover her passion for the horror genre, it’s dedicated fans, her creative process, and what the future may hold for her in the years to come.
You’ve become one of the most familiar faces in genre film. What drew you to the craft of acting early on in life?
You know, similar to most kids, I loved the idea of singing and dancing! My Mom took it very seriously and enrolled me in a local dancing school, where they did have managers in the New York area who would come and send us on professional auditions. My first audition for a film was actually “Sleepaway Camp” when I was 12 years old. I was 13 years old when we filmed, and I really caught the bug and it’s been like that ever since!
Angela is such a beloved character in the horror genre. What is it about her and “Sleepaway Camp” that resonates so deeply with the audience?
“Sleepaway Camp” is an interesting film in that we hadn’t really seen bullying in that way before. I do a lot of conventions and I speak with so many people that feel like they enjoy the film and many people tell me that they relate to the film because they were bullied growing up. I think that character resonates so deeply with people because she was a child and seemingly very sweet. I think it’s a great revenge story, so we root for Angela!
That iconic role, along with your continued work in genre film, earned you the title of “Scream Queen.” It’s something you embrace and is very well deserved. What does that title mean to you?
It’s a title I love because for so many years I just worshipped the women I looked up to in film from Jamie Lee Curtis to Brinke Stevens to Barbara Crampton. They were such marvelous actresses in some of my favorite horror movies. That title always seemed like the quintessential “you’ve arrived” kind of title! [laughs] Years later, I have worked in so many horror movies and I still worship so many of the actresses who work in the genre. It does mean hard work, great character work and roles that are meaningful. They can be funny as well. In Adam Green’s “Victor Crowley” for example, I loved the role of Kathleen because she’s really hilarious! There are a lot of different characters that I’ve gotten to create where they have a strong female voice! That’s essential these days, to have these strong, amazing women on screen! So, thank you for that! I love to believe it’s a title I can live up to, but I certainly feel very honored when people refer to me as such!
You would go on to pursue your passion even further by going to the Tisch School of The Arts. At what point did that fire inside of you start burning hotter, so to speak?
That’s a great question! Since I was a child when I first started, I did take some time off. When I was in high school and in college, I continued acting and studying but I really didn’t pursue it further until I was in my mid-to-late 20s. I actually had a business and did other things outside of acting. I guess it was when the internet came around and I saw that there were so many people interested in “Sleepaway Camp.” There were horror directors who were calling me. It became a serious thing and, ultimately, my profession once that began. I studied so much and really took it seriously when I would read a script or create a character because it was my profession. I work really hard at the craft. I really love the heart in independent film. So, for me, it’s typically the characters written on the page and the director that help me find my creative voice.
You have been part of so many cool projects. At what point in your career, did you feel you came into your own as an actress?
As we said, when I did “Sleepaway Camp,” I was very young, and I really hadn’t come back to it until later on. In my mid-to-late 20s, I did a short called “Birds of a Feather.” I had already studied acting but it wasn’t really until I did “Camp Dread” with Harrison Smith that I felt like I was an adult working in the genre. Prior to that, I had done theater and a bunch of horror movies with some great people, but I think “Camp Dread” started my journey to becoming a more serious actress. From then on, after I met Harrison, I took the roles very seriously and was challenged in the roles I was taking. That led to me doing another movie with him called “Zombie Killers.” That’s when I stepped into shoes that were completely unknown to me! I was working with Dee Wallace, Billy Zane, Misha Barton, Gabrielle Stone and a lot of other great actors. All of a sudden, I was surrounded by these great people. Danielle Harris and Eric Roberts were both in “Camp Dread.” So, the movies were getting bigger and the casts were getting more serious! That’s when I really felt like I was coming into my own. I was also having babies at that time! So, I was juggling both but as the kids were getting older, once I was able to do “Camp Dread,” I was able to leave and see it as my full-time profession.
A quick glance at your IMDB page reveals that you are busier now than ever before! What do you look for in the material you take on at this point in your career?
For me, right now, it’s about great character work and a good story. Certainly, a few of the films I have coming out, like “Terrifier 2,” come down to working with great people. I love Damien Leone and Fuzz on the Lens, the producers, and David Howard Thornton. I just did a movie called “Stepdaddy” with Vincent Ward in the title role. He’s a dear friend of mine and a fantastic actor. It’s really a remake of “The Stepfather,” so that’s great material. I also did a creature feature with director/writer Thomas Churchill called “Big Freaking Rat,” which is awesome! I really like the character because she is really simple. That’s the other thing — I like to jump into roles and characters that I haven’t explored before. I feel like I want to play as many different parts as I can. I don’t want to keep doing the same thing over and over! For instance, I did a movie called “Garlic and Gunpowder,” where I got to play this big, heavyset mob boss! That was so much fun. Then there is something like “Zombie Killers” where I play the preacher of the town, who is wild and out of her mind! There are all of these different kinds of characters that really speak to me and I think would either resonate with an audience or drum up some kind of reaction! Those are the most important things to me, the story, the people and the character!
Tell us a little bit about your process for bringing a character to life.
I always read the script 3 times. This is truly the most important thing for me! When I first read the script, I’m simply reading it for the story. The second time through, I am reading it and thinking about what everyone is saying about my character. Finally, on the third time through, I am completely focused on my character. Once I break it down that way, I give a biography to the person. It’s really important for me to think about their whole backstory. Once you know where a person/character has come from, you can better illustrate where they are going, why they are making the choices they are and why they are motivated the way they are. Fortunately, I have worked with so many great writers and directors who love being collaborative that allows us to speak extensively about the character. I might ask, “Why is she this way?” I have played men, so I might ask, “Why is he that way? What propelled this person to do this or say that? Maybe we should change it.” It’s always a great process and even more so when working with these wonderful people I’ve had the pleasure of working with. I love what I do and I’m really super passionate. I feel like a kid in a candy store! It’s just like being a child. We play from when we are really young, whether it’s “soldiers,” “cops and robbers” or “Barbie dolls,” we are always getting into that headspace of being imaginative and creative. We are born with that and I’ll never grow up! I’m always a kid playing! I get to put on a costume and play these great characters that I love so deeply. For that, I am so grateful!
Has there been anyone behind the scenes that has kept you inspired through the years?
I have a lot of dear friends who are in the industry. As I mentioned, Harrison Smith has always been very helpful in my career. He has created great roles for me, and we’ve collaborated as producers on many films. I also look up to actors like Meryl Streep. Every time I see a character she creates and portrays, it’s inspiring! It makes me want to do something better, bigger and more exciting! My mom has also been a great mentor and someone who has pushed me, shaped me, and always cheer-leaded me along the way. Joe Bob Briggs is another person I adore. He has poured so much greatness, laughter and life into my career. Adam Green is someone who I have always absolutely loved so much! I loved his work and then to actually work with him on “Victor Crowley” was absolutely a dream come true! Certainly, my husband has always been a champion of anything I have done. I produced Slayer’s last three videos off the ‘Relentless’ album, and he had a big hand on introducing me to the record label, to Nuclear Blast and Gerardo Martinez, who hired me to bring these videos to life. I think there are people meant to come into your life who fill in the colors, if you will. It’s like you’re the illustrator and then they help color the picture, help elevate you and make you feel like you can do it!
What a beautiful way to put it!
Thank you! Being an artist is a really interesting life because it does take a village. When you create a character, you are inspired by all of the places you use with your senses and you’re filling all of that in with every single moment that you experienced on your adventure.
One of the things I love about the creators in the horror community is the amazing connection you share. Adam Green is a great example of what I’m talking about.
Oh, my gosh! I love that man so much! I mean, I will always be a fan of his! We just did something really cool together, in the beginning of February, that we can’t talk about just yet. We went somewhere and shot something. Every time I am with him, I feel like a little kid! Inside I’m just jumping up and down, screaming and laughing because I have such great admiration for him. I’m a huge fan of the genre, so for me to work along people like Kane Hodder, Dee Wallace or Danielle Harris is just mesmerizing. I have always loved them and now I’m working alongside them! It’s so surreal! It’s crazy and it’s great.
It seems you are definitely up for expanding the role in the world of entertainment. What’s on the horizon for you?
I’m working on a project right now that I think is going to be something unbelievable. It’s a medium that I haven’t worked in yet. I’m not allowed to talk about it because I just signed their NDA, but I just spoke with the team that’s putting it together for an hour on the phone. I just feel like, “Holy cow!” This is a space I haven’t worked in and It’s almost like the excitement you get when you first meet your spouse – that excitement, thrill and mystery! Right now, I’m in the honeymoon stage with this project! I’m really excited for the opportunity and it’s something I can’t wait to explore and work on. [laughs] That’s something that will hopefully be coming in the next year!
What lessons have you learned over the course of your career that continue to resonate?
At the end of the day, it’s always about gratitude and loving this journey. At the end of the day, I want everyone to know that I’m doing what I love! – Felissa Rose
I also wanted to ask about your connection to your fanbase. What can you tell us about that aspect of your life?
I love the convention circuit! I absolutely love traveling around and meeting people. I love people, so feel like being able to hang around and make movies and then hanging out with all of these people I call my friends is amazing. At the same time, I am a complete fan of so many of these movies and TV shows, so it’s exciting for me to go and meet everyone. Most importantly, we all get to talk about experiences. That’s one of the most important things we have on this planet, these relationships. It’s not about stuff. We’re not taking anything away other than remembering how someone made you feel or the interactions you had with someone. To me, that’s the greatest joy!
I also wanted to ask you about the status of “Angela: The Official Sleepaway Camp Documentary.” How’s that coming along?
The documentary is going really well! Thank you for asking! We were just in Atlanta in January. Mike Perez, who’s both my manager as well as the executive producer on the “Angela” doc was able to interview the cast for “Sleepaway Camp 2” and “Sleepaway Camp 3.” He’s putting it together and, obviously, we are on a little bit of a hold at the moment because of what’s going on with the Covid-19 virus. We hope to get back on the road once this lifts and do some more interviews on the East Coast with the original director/writer and the writer/director of “Return to Sleepaway Camp,” Robert Hiltzik, along with some of the original cast. We hope to connect with them and dive deeply into the making of the original movie! It’s definitely a passion project for me. I’m such a fan of documentary films! They are pretty much my go-to and, especially now that I’m home, it feels like I watch one or two documentaries a day. I am crazy amazed by the things that have happened in life, whether it’s about a cult, a crime, food or whatever! I’m always interested in finding out more about different areas of life! So, being involved with this documentary is incredibly exciting for me!
It’s also important to mention that you are a part of an awesome podcast!
Yes! I am very passionate about that! [laughs]
Tell us about “Casualty Friday,” how you got involved and what you love about it!
“Casualty Friday” is the podcast that Kane Hodder, Tiffany Shepis and I host for the Fangoria Podcast Network. Like I said, Joe Bob Briggs has been a great inspiration to me, and I was able to work with him on “The Last Drive-In” marathon. I’m their mangled dick expert! [laughs] Every once and a while they call me in! The producer, Matt Manjourides, he and I were talking one day. He said, “You know, we should do a podcast. We should think about doing it for Fangoria. I have an idea and it should be you, Tiffany and Kane.” I thought to myself, “Wow, that’s a space I haven’t worked in and hadn’t really thought about!” We all said yes and Fangoria was so excited and I love them so much! We all flew to Dallas and started doing it! It has been nothing short of absolute incredibleness! You have three friends with three different perspectives, and they throw a topic at us. We have a ball just rummaging through our own feelings, thoughts and ideas. I’m so glad people like it and are listening to it! It’s been one of the most amazing things I have ever done!
I really enjoy seeing those different sides of you all. In many ways, I see all of you in a different light.
Thank you! I have one word for it going into the process — authenticity. I really wanted all of us to take the masks off, so to speak, and not be afraid or feel inhibited in any way. I wanted us to be able to sit and really speak from our hearts. It’s really amazing to hear some of the stories Kane comes up with and I love the way Tiffany will guide us. I think I definitely supply a lot of emotion. I think the three of us together has been an amazing potpourri of interesting stuff! [laughs] We have some fun stuff coming up, so definitely continue to check it out. Fangoria is now showing the video from the sessions on the Fangoria YouTube channel. On Friday, they just posted the first episode of Season 2, so check that out!
I definitely will and I am excited to spread the word. Thanks again for your time today, Felissa! I’m sure we will cross paths again soon!
I really appreciate it! Thank you so much! Stay well, I appreciate your time!
Follow the continuing adventures of Felissa Rose on social media via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Felissa Rose can currently be seen in “A Nun’s Curse,” “For Jennifer,” and “Rootwood.” Check out the trailer for “A Nun’s Curse” below, along with teaser for Season 2 of “Casualty Friday”.