Two of the most ambitious and anticipated independent films of 2004 are about as opposite in tone, structure and genre as you can get. “Dr. Horror’s Erotic House Of Idiots” is a love-letter to the b-movie industry, a cameo-studded pseudo-anthology-cum-musical comedy. Nowhere Man is a grim, pitch-black story about the end of a relationship, and the ultimate test of “no-fault break up”. The only thing that these two disparate movies has in common is their lead actress: Debbie Rochon.
Dubbed “The Goddess of Independent Cinema” by no-less an authority than Troma Entertainment president and frequent co-star Lloyd Kaufman, Rochon has nearly twenty-five years of experience in the entertainment industry. Making her big screen debut at the age of thirteen in the rock comedy, “Ladies And Gentlemen: The Fabulous Stains”, she became determined to make acting her career. She received her training at such respected facilities as The Michael Chekhov Institute and gradually became one of the most sought-after and respected actresses in the independent film scene. To that end, she has over a hundred films under her belt—the bulk of which she took on the starring role—and is best-known for her magnificent performances in “Tromeo And Juliet”, “Abducted II: The Reunion”, and “American Nightmare”.
Determination seems to be Rochon’s defining characteristic. She grew up homeless on the streets of Vancouver, British Columbia, survived the harsh and dangerous world and worked hard to earn the money to enrole in the prestigious New York acting institutions. Because of the stigma surrounding the term “B-Movie”, she has often had to fight to be taken seriously by so-called “serious” directors and producers. And if that weren’t enough, she suffered a near-crippling accident in 2002 that would have put an end to the careers of those of lesser mettle. But adversity is an old friend, and Rochon forged. In 2003 alone she appeared in ten different and varied films, including “Dead Clowns”, “Scare Museum”, “Lord Of The Undead” and “Fort Doom”—as well as longtime friend Amy Lynn Best’s hilarious directorial debut, “Severe Injuries”. She is currently working on a 16mm black and white psychological horror film, “Screaming Alone In Silence”, directed by Edward Norris.
Which brings us back to the two ends of the spectrum that are “Dr. Horror” and “Nowhere Man”. The former is the debut film of writer and editor Paul Scrabo, whose most notable previous work was the internet and cable-access television show “The Front Row”. The latter is the latest production of seasoned director Tim McCann, a film-festival veteran who received accolades for his tense and unflinching look at schizophrenia, Revolution No. 9. A slapstick comedy and a harsh drama, produced within months of each other, both requiring nothing but the best from the actress.
“Both scripts required completely different parts of my brain,” Rochon says. “Almost like using the left side for “Dr. Horror’s Erotic House of Idiots”and the right side for “Nowhere Man”. “Dr. Horror” was about trusting the material, and my co-stars and my timing. I really just focused on what was going on for the character, and used a sort of staccato energy. It was OK to place the character’s required emotions on my exterior, kind of working outside to inside, and let it affect me and drive me. With “Nowhere Man” it was the opposite approach, I had to really delve deeply into my emotions and keep them there throughout the shoot. More like working from the inside outwards, and in more of an ‘in the moment’ energy level. Both styles are very rewarding but you don’t always get a chance to do either one of them in genre films. You rarely see a light, old school comedy like “Dr. Horror”’S being made and the same goes for “Nowhere Man” (in that) you rarely see a character-driven indie. Sadly, it’s more about murders and blood.”
In “Dr. Horror”, Rochon plays “Valerie Kenton”, a client of the world-famous sex therapist ‘Dr. Horace’. Unbeknownst to Valerie, ‘Dr. Horace’ is being impersonated by a hack horror writer (played by comedian and make-up artist Michael R. Thomas) who calls himself ‘Dr. Horror’. The film requires Rochon to play multiple characters (including a segment co-scripted by Scream Queen Brinke Stevens, in which Rochon plays an alien queen who is the most perfect woman in the galaxy). She is also called upon to sing and dance in the film’s musical title sequence. To make things even more challenging, one of the first days of production fell upon an infamous day in America’s history: September 11, 2002. With the world burning around them, Rochon, Scrabo and co-stars Thomas, Trent Haaga (“Terror Firmer”) and Conrad Brooks (“Plan 9 From Outer Space”) had to buckle down and make classic comedy when laughter was the farthest place from their minds.
“Well, the trick is staying concentrated!” Rochon says with an ironic laugh. “Paul was super easy to work with and really kept us on track. He loosened the reins but knew when to draw them in too. He trusted us and that gave us a lot of freedom. He has good instincts, that’s something that a director has naturally or they don’t. What worked so well in this case was Paul wrote material he knew, he liked and that he wanted to express. As they say write what you know. It really is true. Paul could be an amazing dramatic director for all I know but it seems to me he made the movie he was perfect for, from the heart, not a copy of anything else anyone was doing. He followed his own lead and thats why it worked so well!”
The interview continues in part two of DEBBIE ROCHON AT TWO ENDS OF THE SPECTRUM>>>