If you watch a lot of television, you’ve probably seen actress Marissa Skell and said “hey, it’s that girl again!” Since cutting her teeth on VH1’s reality show “Scream Queens” in 2008, the 24-year-old stunner has scored memorable—often intense—roles on such popular shows as the CBS crime dramas “Criminal Minds” and “The Mentalist,” Showtime’s “Dexter,” and Spike TV’s “1000 Ways to Die.”
Clatto recently caught up with Skell to discuss her slasher film debut Sorority Party Massacre, the importance of having fun on-set, her desire to kill discreetly, and what she learned from her first experience as a “Scream Queen.”
Read on and don’t forget to visit MarissaSkell.com.
MUERTOS: Tell us about your role in directors Justin Jones and Chris Freeman’s Sorority Party Massacre?
MARISSA: I’ll be playing Paige, an athletic and competitive Alpha Pi Omega member with a dark side… and that’s about all I can say for now.
MUERTOS: Is this really your first slasher flick? What drew you to the project?
MARISSA: Yes! This is technically my first slasher flick, although I have been getting killed off or threatened on TV a lot lately. I originally auditioned for Chris and Justin’s feature called Mirror Image, and to make a long story short, I ended up shooting the made for TV movie “Left at the Altar” the following month instead of Justin and Chris’ movie.
A couple months later, I get an e-mail from Justin asking me to come in for a promotional shoot for their next movie. I show up and Chris explains that they’ve written a role with me in mind and we’ve been putting this movie together ever since. And we all lived happily ever after.
MUERTOS: I hear that the gory scenes will be shot over the next few weeks. How are you preparing for that? Are you squeamish at all?
MARISSA: Nahhh… the blood and guts is the fun part. The fight sequences are more challenging to really look good. I took a few boxing classes before shooting Sorority Party Massacre so that I wouldn’t look like a pansy on set. But dying is easy!
MUERTOS: Along with spring chickens such as you, Eve Mauro, and Yvette Yates, Sorority Party Massacre also stars some noteworthy old-schoolers, namely Kevin Sorbo, C. Thomas Howell, Richard Moll, and Ron Jeremy. How familiar were you with their previous work?
MARISSA: Yeah, I could probably name the big, mainstream stuff that these guys are known for, but sadly, I won’t be sharing scenes with many of them. I have to admit that I’m reeeeeeally looking forward to working with Ed O Ross, known for Full Metal Jacket and Dick Tracy. Most of the guys have worked with him on several projects by now and apparently he’s got this “$#*! My Dad Says” kind of attitude where you can’t believe half of the things coming out of his mouth.
MUERTOS: On the CBS show “Criminal Minds,” you played the abducted victim of a sadistic serial killer and his protégé. You were also kidnapped and held for ransom on “The Mentalist.” Now, here you are being stalked by a serial killer with a taste for sorority girls. How do you still go outside? Which of those roles has freaked you out the most and why?
MARISSA: I go outside with mace and brass knuckles. Nah… I have to say that I’ve been pretty amused by how much everybody wants to kill me off. I guess I have bad karma left over from a past life or something. I’m hoping to edit together a video of my many deaths eventually, but I probably have a few more good death scenes to go before I can pull that one off. I don’t know that any of the roles freaked me out, persay… In fact, usually they’re my favorite roles… maybe that just means I’m already pretty psycho.
MUERTOS: If you could play any character on a horror, sci-fi, and/or fantasy show, who would it be and why?
MARISSA: I’d want to be the killer!!! Of course. Preferably an intelligent, clean killer like Hannibal Lecter or Dexter, who lives a double life. Like have a normal day job working as a doctor and then methodically picking out my victims in the evenings over a nice glass of Pinot. But I have to come to terms that most people aren’t all that intimidated by me. Can’t figure out if it’s the 5′2″ height… or the blonde hair… or the peaches and cream body lotion… hmm…
MUERTOS: Did your experience on VH1’s “Scream Queens” help you prepare for the roles you’ve played on “Criminal Minds,” “Dexter,” and, now, Sorority Party Massacre?
MARISSA: I think one of my best lessons came from James Gunn. I specifically remember working with him on the bathtub scene in Episode One. They barely aired any of it, but afterwards when I ran into him he said that it seemed like I wasn’t having any fun on set and that I was too serious. And I realized that I was so focused on “trying to do a good job” that I wasn’t any fun to hang out with.
No director wants to be stuck for weeks on end with an actor who isn’t any fun to be around. Since then, I’ve lightened up A LOT! And now I really understand that the acting ability is probably only 2% of what most people in the business are looking for. The other 98% has to do with a look and whether or not you’re a good person at the core.
MUERTOS: You were up against nine girls for a part in Saw 6. How cutthroat did things really get on the show?
MARISSA: The girls were really down to earth and interesting when the cameras were off. And the biggest problem I was having with the show was that I never reacted the way they wanted me to. This one time, I volunteered to go up and pull the next challenge out of a box. After I read it to the group, a bunch of snakes were thrown out from under the table onto our feet. A couple of the girls were freaked out and ran away, but a lot of us were like, “whaaaat?”
I started picking a few of them up and that was when the producers had to come out and ask us to redo the scene with “more of a scared reaction.” The whole show was just a really bad fit for me.
MUERTOS: What’s the funniest or craziest thing that you remember happening while filming Scream Queens?
MARISSA: My second to last day before leaving was definitely the craziest. We were shooting the window challenge where you jump out onto the stunt pad. And right before they rounded us all up this production assistant come up to me and pulled me aside because my roommate had gotten in touch with the production team to let them know that my landlord was trying to kick me out.
I’d just found an apartment a couple days before they pulled me onto the show, and I’d accidentally given my landlord the wrong check! So, if you’re paying really close attention to the “window challenge” you’ll notice that a lot of the time the cameras are really tight on the front row of the girls. That’s because I jumped out of the window and then ran to the nearest Washington Mutual to get out $900 in cash for my roommate. It really sucked.
MUERTOS: Are you still friends with any of the girls?
MARISSA: Yes! I consider Sarah Agor one of my best friends out here in LA to this day. The show didn’t do her justice. She’s crazy talented and has a wicked sense of humor.
MUERTOS: You were given the axe in episode three. How did you take that? What did you do?
MARISSA: I was so relieved! A part of me thinks that they took pity on me and let me out because the whole apartment thing happened the same day.
In general, I’m happy that I left early because they really smeared all the girls except Tanedra [season one's winner] to make them look mean, catty, shallow, etc. The worst they did to me was make me look really insecure and whiny, lol! I’ll take that over being “the shallow bitch” any day.
MUERTOS: What sparked your interest in becoming an actress? Which actors do you admire?
MARISSA: I started with afterschool drama clubs way back in third grade. I’d moved from Texas to New York in Elementary school, so I was kind of an outcast. Y’know… I had that accent where I’d say “y’all” and “tay-rible” instead of terrible.
So, one day in class when I was being a pain the ass my third grade teacher sentenced me to drama club instead of detention. I still keep in touch with her to this day because she’s one of those teachers who really changed my life for the better. And then the rest is a loooooong story as to how I got here to LA.
My favorite actor hands down is Daniel Day-Lewis. And beyond that, I have to say that I admire a lot of the work I see out there. It’s a really competitive business, so you don’t have much room for mediocrity in the long run.
MUERTOS: What things did you consider before heading out to LA to pursue a career in acting?
MARISSA: Moving out to Los Angeles was a last minute decision. I already had an apartment in New York City and had never thought I’d be interested in television or film. I was really determined to have a stage career. But the best manager I met with had been in Los Angeles, and I had this gut feeling that I would be missing out on an opportunity if I didn’t take it.
So I did, and it’s been a roller coaster ever since! I’d never acted on camera before “Scream Queens,” so after that was over I started taking classes in LA and with my previous acting training it just took me awhile to get used to acting for a camera instead of a 500 seat audience. And now, two years later it’s really paying off.
MUERTOS: Any upcoming projects you can tell us about?
MARISSA: Sorority Party Massacre is pretty much the big thing I’m looking forward to right now. I also have a couple short films like “Hold Up” and “Meaningful Mother” that will hopefully be done with post production soon.
MUERTOS: You were on Spike TV’s “1000 Ways to Die.” What do you think would be the most awful and/or embarrassing way to go?
MARISSA: I heard of a guy drowning in a bowl of jello. That’s pretty bad.