Your movie Showgirls
2: Penny's from Heaven - in a few words, what is it about, and
what can you tell us about your character in it?
It's about a girl who is
going to risk everything to chase her dreams of being a professional
dancer. I play "Penny Slot/Helga", Helga becomes her stage name
and the name she hides under because she is running from the law and there
is a warrant out for her arrest.
drove you to revisit the world of Showgirls 16 years after the
original movie, and your character in particular? And how did Showgirls
2: Penny's from Heaven get off the ground to begin with?
I felt I had more to tell,
she went deeper than what I was able to reveal with this
"character" in Showgirls… or Mulholland
Drive or Striptease… all kind of similar Penny
characters to me ;). And what drove me is the Showgirls-community and my
fan base, I wanted to tell this story for them and I tried my best to make
it inspiring and 2 1/2 hours of entertaining enjoyment. It was something I
wanted to do since 95', before Showgirls was released there was a little
talk of a sequel (but, maybe it was just a fantasy of a sequel, obviously,
lol), and it was mentioned to me that it could be "all about
Penny", which I said yes to. So, I was excited for this to
happen. And when it never did happen, I thought, well, "it's now or
never. That's what Elvis said." (Showgirls) I started initially writing the
script way back in 2004, and finally I sat down and focused on it and
completed the script years later. But, Verhoeven didn't want to do it
because he doesn't do sequels nor does he want to go back into Showgirls
world, but he said he liked the script very much. I wrote it as a big
budget film and it was originally titled "Stardancer". And I
went out into the world trying to get investors, but it was just a waste
of time. So, after this went on for two more years, and I kept having
birthday after birthday, that's when I decided to make it like I had made Trasharella. I knew I could make the film, but the film
wouldn't be the perfect slick big budget film I had hoped for. So, I did a
rewrite on the script trying to make it simpler for a no-budget approach,
but I couldn't change much because I was locked into certain story lines I
wanted to keep which would prove to be very challenging to pull off
locations and props on a micro-budget. I did a Kickstarter to raise money
for the first week of shooting, which the campaign raised about $5,100,
minus the Kickstarter and Paypal percentages and rewards, I was left with
$4,200. Which totally got me through the first week and more, plus some
magical things happened like the location for Penny's mansion and lots of
help from friends. The producers pitched in to the micro-budget as a
"fund as we go" approach to get the movie in the can.
were your inspirations when writing Showgirls
2: Penny's from Heaven, and to what extent did you follow the
spirit of the original movie?
A big inspiration was
listening to the soundtrack to L'Ours by Philippe Sarde while writing,
it's very melancholic and inspiring at the same time. I think the movie
could have turned out a little less comedic if it was performed the way I
wrote it and the way I saw it play out in my imagination. I followed the
Showgirls spirit in a way of using melodramatic absurdity and blunt
dialogue with a pay off (that was the goal anyways). But, I was also
filling my head up with camp classics, watching Sunset
Boulevard, Valley Of The Dolls,
Marlene Dietrich films, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Whatever Happened To Baby
Jane, and going into my Mulholland Drive-world. I was
also very influenced by Brothers Grimm fairytales, Wizard
Oz, and The Red Shoes fairytale by Hans Christian Andersen. SG2: PFH
is a cautionary tale of what not to do when chasing your dreams, a fable
set in the competitive world of dancers.
How would you describe
your directorial approach to the subject at hand?
I gave the actors very
little direction, like for example, I directed Shelley (Katya) to play it
like Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, and then after that I
just watched her unfold and let it be, embracing it all. Because of the
circumstances, I decided to let things unfold as they wanted to and have
confidence that it is meant to be this way… that meant I would have to
"fix it in post". Which I did, and it was extremely exhausting
and frustrating at the end of the day... but, also, it worked. I relied so
much on my DP because I was in front of the camera, I would set up the
shot, and then jump in front of the camera and go into character, he would
be DP/1st AD. My DP (Rick Stevens) is my BFF, my angel, my everything, and
was truly my knight in shining armor. ;-)
also play the lead in Showgirls
2: Penny's from Heaven - so what did you draw upon to bring your
character to life, and how much of Rena Riffel can we find in Penny Slot?
There is a lot of me in
the character, of course.. or at least a part of me, not so much in the
circumstances or who this character is, but the way I played it is
"me". Like the possum line is something I would definitely say
in real life, my friends call them "Rena-isms". I drew upon the
desperation of wanting to achieve a dream that never did come true, kind
of like making this film and setting out into the big bad world going up
against every imaginable obstacle and somehow overcoming it. I did try to
use an acting approach I would never had tried on anyone else's movie. And
I studied how Elizabeth played "Nomi", the way she made
"interesting choices" that may not be humanistic or truthful,
but more theatrical and more entertaining. Which I realized I like this
approach better than my Meisner technique I had been doing all these
can you tell us about the rest of your key cast, and why exactly these
Rena with Peter Stickles
I was lucky. The cast all
just kind of fell into my lap. It started with Peter Stickles, he was the
first person I cast. He was a big Showgirls fan, so he understood Showgirls, the seriousness of
Showgirls and not to play it as a sitcom, it
was a serious story of tragedy. I met Peter at a midnight movie screening
of Showgirls at the New Beverly Theatre in Hollywood (Tarantino's theatre)
where I was doing a Q&A with my friend and the editor of Showgirls,
Mark Goldblatt. Then Peter came to the premiere at Lionsgate Theatre for Trasharella and he loved it, so he said since he totally loved
Trasharella he agreed to play the role, plus he was a
Showgirls fan, so, it was all perfect and Peter has also become one of my
best friends so we have great chemistry together.
Shelley Michelle with Rena
Shelley Michelle popped
into my head for "Katya" and then by a stroke of luck I ran into
her on a casting a few days later, she is also a trained ballerina and was
perfect for the role, and a very good friend and a real sweetheart.
Labaredas was perfect for the role of the maid, "Maria", it
needed to be someone who Penny could use her Identification Card, so we
had to have a somewhat similar look (blond hair and green eyes) she is
also a very good friend and we get along great and I love working with
I contacted my Showgirls pals and they wanted to be part of this
film, Greg Travis, Dewey Weber, and Glenn Plummer. It was very special and
meant a lot to me, and ultimately, meant a lot to our fans to see us all
together again calling each other "whores".
Do talk about the shoot itself and the on-set
atmosphere for a bit!
The shoot was scheduled
around everyone else's availability and took about 4 months to complete
the shoot, but shot only about 20 days in total. And we would shoot for
only a few hours some days. I would always "make my days"
(complete the shot list), so I feel confident in that regard that I can
get it "in the can" under unfavorable circumstances. There were
a few days I would have to complete 20 pages with dances and so many props
and costume changes and many actors, and I am proud to say I always
completed my shot list on those days as well. We were always happy,
enthusiastic, but focused, and would always share a good laugh at least
once or twice during the day, kind of cracking ourselves up to the point
of uncontrollable laughter which made for good bloopers which I think I
added one of those moments to the DVD extras where Peter and I lose it
after he accidentally pulls out a chunk of my hair sprayed helmut hair
which had a radish stuck in it from Penny falling into the trash, a scene
which I had to cut due to the 3 hour first cut of the film which people
told me would be too long to sit through.
What can you tell us about
critical and audience reception of your movie?
I didn't show the film to
anyone except to Peter, because I knew everyone would have an opinion and
then I would start to second guess myself and I just didn't want that. I
wanted to just tell the story and edit as I thought was right. The first
screening at Laemmle's Sunset 5 Theatre in West Hollywood was sensational.
It was sold out, in fact people had to sit in the isles because all the
seats were full. And my dear audience totally loved it! I was, of course,
very nervous. I didn't know how they would react. But, they laughed at way
more than I thought they would, they found humor in things I didn't know
were funny, and they kind of shined a light on some humor I didn't even
see myself, especially the very long "hot dog scene". The same
thing happened at the Cinefamily screening in West Hollywood, it was just
great, and for me personally, so rewarding. Basically, going through what
you have to go through to make a film like this, and at the end of the
day, that is the reward, that the people you made this film for like it
and understand it. The critics (the professional critics) have all given
it really good reviews, deep psychological reviews, which I think is
brilliant and I am so grateful they understood it. I imagine it is easy to
not understand this movie, the camp aspect, the low budget execution... I
designed it to go further in this direction because of the way it was
shot/made and actually was expecting to get "1 Star" votes to
round out the whole Showgirls-experience, which I totally embrace and
actually makes me feel like I did the job I was hoping for. And of course,
there are some "user comments" which don't understand why the
sound quality isn't as good as Showgirls, etc., and why technically it
isn't a big Hollywood picture, and they don't understand the camp
technique of acting, they think it's just "bad acting". The film's tag line is, How BAD Do You Want It?... it's a double
entrendre. My fan base understands what this means ;-).
future projects you'd like to share?
Of course ;-)! I made a
new film, Astrid's Self Portrait. It's basically my recovery
film, recovering from Showgirls
2: Penny's from Heaven Instead of setting out to
make an even bigger movie, I went the opposite way and made the smallest
movie I could imagine. It's a self portrait and I use some flashback video
footage which I have been shooting over the last decade. It's a story of a
mysterious woman named Astrid, she is a film critic and an alcoholic but
that isn't what the story is about. It is a story of peeling away her
hardened shell until we see who she really is. She has been widowed 6
times out of 7 marriages, her only surviving ex-husband comes to help her
make her own art film after she has been fired from her film critic job,
she makes her avante-guard digital film as an art installation as a
rebellious message to her Hollywood boss who fired her and has threatened
her life, and it all spirals out of control and her film turns out to be a
huge disaster. It's a film noir/mystery. And
I am planning to carry this film out (for it's distribution and
screenings) by showing it as the character of Astrid would have, as a
digital media installation. So the film will be an extension of itself
when it is viewed. I also have two other big movie projects I am putting
together now, which I have written both scripts, one is a big romantic
comedy and the other is an erotic thriller/horror film.
Let's go back to
the beginnings of your career: You started out as a model at a rather
young age, right? So what can you tell us about that part of your career,
and how did you eventually get into acting?
Yes, I started out as a
model with Elite Models in LA. I was in their New Faces division and I
would see supermodel Cameron Diaz in the Elite offices and on castings,
and other top supermodels like Naomi Campbell.
I had actually landed my
first SAG acting job before signing with Elite, with director Bert I.
Gordon who has a cult B-movie following for his sci-fi films. Satan's Princess was his last movie he made before retiring,
starring Robert Forster and the beautiful French actress, Lydie Denier.
But I had a boyfriend at that time who convinced me that Hollywood was a
dangerous and bad place and convinced me to quit acting when I was 19. He
was right, but after leaving my agent and quitting the acting biz, I got
discovered by Elite while working as a hostess at Stanley's Restaurant in
Then I went back into acting class with Floyd Levine, and
his daughter became my manager, and then landed the lead in Art
Deco, Detective (with John Dennis Johnston, Brion James, Stephen
McHattie, Joe Santos, and Mel Smith, directed by Philippe Mora). And from
there, I finally got an agent after going with this film to Cannes Film
Festival and met the agent through attending AFM and my first audition
they sent me out on was Showgirls.
still remember your first time in front of a movie camera, and what was
that experience like?
Yes, I took it very
serious. My first time on a movie set was as an extra in a film called Second Sight. It was in an airplane on a sound stage, I think
I was at Warner
Bros or Universal. I was so excited and also so nervous
because I wanted to do a great job.
first time playing a character in front of a movie camera, and I went very
method with my acting approach. My Mom was on set with me because I was a
teenager who agreed to do a topless moment where my dress rips during the
Highlights of your acting career?
I think my biggest and
most popular films will always be Showgirls and
Mulholland Drive. It's hard to top those two. Just getting to
be in a David Lynch epic film and a Paul Verhoeven epic film is a
highlight in my book.
And I think Breaking Bad is great and
currently one of my favorite shows, so looking back, I am so lucky Bryan
Cranston played my mafia boyfriend in the TV series Land's
End, and I got to work with him, he is amazing... and so were the
other actors on that show, including Fred Dryer and Jeffrey Lewis. I've
gotten to work with lots of amazing actors, like in HBO's Breast
Men with David Schwimmer, that was a highlight also (lucky to get
that part thanks to the director, Larry O'Neil) ,and the list goes on and
The all-star cast of Striptease was amazing to work with, Burt
Reynolds, Demi, Ving, Robert Patrick, etc etc. And the episode I did on The Pretender was a highlight, and it was pretty awesome to
work with Wayne Newton (Mr. Las Vegas), Leland Orser and everyone on that
Getting to be on the grand finale of Married With
Children, that was a highlight, too. And, even though it was just a
small little uncredited part, it was a highlight that I got to work on Batman Returns with Tim Burton, that was really cool, you can
see me in their movie coffee table book, too. And so many more highlights,
actually, your question kind of gets me going down memory lane. I should
write a book on this question, lol ;-)
have worked on both high and low budget movie sets - how do the two
compare, and what do you prefer, actually?
As an actress, I prefer
high budget films or TV series. They are more organized, they run
smoother, more professional, better craft services ;-). Better pay, better
accommodations, and, from my experience, on bigger higher budget projects
you get to work with people who are very experienced and know what the
heck they are doing, which is important to me now and I appreciate that
more than ever. This can apply to low budget, but the constraints of
resources trickles down into other areas (for instance, like not having a
trailer/honey wagon and instead having to pee in the woods). It was once
fun for me to do low budget, but there are so many downfalls on that road,
it doesn't interest me at all anymore. And I consider a film like Candyman 3: Day Of The Dead to be in the high budget and the
films I have done in Prague with Lloyd Simandl are done the same
professional higher budget approach… low budget to me these days means a
hard road to travel, I have learned from experience.
What got you
into directing eventually, and what can you tell us about your directing
efforts outside of Showgirls
2: Penny's from Heaven?
Well, I directed some
commercials back when I was starting out in the early 90's, writing,
directing, editing them. And in high school I was a choreographer, which
is like directing but with dance instead of acting. I also had a boyfriend
(after the other one I mentioned) who was a great director and I learned
a lot from him because I was there with him during 3 big studio films that
he made. So, I learned a lot about the work flow that way, from start to
finish. Directing is an extension of writing the story and writing the
script, along with editing. For me, it all goes together. Like a favorite
quote from Barbra Streisand when she is asked is it difficult to direct
and act at the same time, she says, "it's easier, because then there
is one less actor to direct." Lol. I eventually got into directing
because it's a better way for me to be able to do the projects I want to
do and make them the way I want to make them. I wish I would have started
directing feature films a long time ago, the ability now to shoot in HD at
24f for a film look and FCP has made filmmaking affordable, before you
needed 35mm film and hundreds or millions of dollars and the video back
then looked awful so that wasn't an option to make a feature.
Trasharella (an improvisational musical horror feature film),
also titled in 2011 as Trasharella Ultra Vixen, and
wrote/directed the short film Showgirl shot on 35mm film
(which was made before Showgirls
2: Penny's from Heaven), wrote/directed/starred in my new
film, Astrid's Self-Portrait, did the "Break Away"
music video for my brother's band Slow Fade, and did a music video for my
song "Deep Kiss" which was more of a co-directing effort.
How would you describe
yourself as an actress, or as a director?
I describe myself as "A Filmmaker".
filmmakers, whatever else who inspire you?
I am inspired by so many actresses and so many
great filmmakers. I love old movies I watch on TCM, Bette Davis inspires
me because she could play great roles after 40 and Hedy Lamarr inspires me
being an actress who was also an inventor, she invented the Wi-Fi base
technology. Thomas Edison's inventions inspire me, of course. I am getting
more of an interest in technology and inventing technology or inventing
I love the films by Lars
Von Trier (Melancholia, Breaking The Waves, Dogville,
Dancer In The Dark,
etc) and I am looking forward to his new one, Nymphomaniac. I
have so many favorites, I don't think I can name them all. The same films
that I mentioned above that inspired Showgirls
2: Penny's from Heaven, Eyes Wide
Shut, Fellini's Juliet of the Spirits, Staircase (Richard Burton and Rex Harrison),
Swimming Pool (Charlotte Rampling), and... to be continued.
... and of course, films you really
Me and War Horse. I was crying the whole time in War
Horse because of the images of animal cruelty and the same with Marley
& Me, watching the dog get put to sleep during flashbacks of when it
was a puppy was not enjoyable on any level for me, I was traumatized. I
had the same reaction after seeing King Kong (with Jessica Lange), I couldn't stand that they killed poor King Kong at the end. Very
Your/your movie's website, Facebook, whatever
or follow me on Twitter: @RenaRiffel.
Wild Eye Releasing's Showgirls
2 Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/showgirls2
Anything else you are dying to mention and I have
merely forgotten to ask?
The last few months have
been wonderfully drenched in Showgirls. I did a month of"Showgirls!
The Musical! Off-Broadway in NYC! And two weeks ago we did Peaches
Christ's Sweet 16 Showgirls Spectacular in San Francisco, her annual
Showgirls pre-show and screening extravaganza. I performed with Peaches, I
sang "Deep Kiss" live on stage (with 20 back up dancers) which
was my song in Showgirls during the lap dance scene, and Dewey Weber (Jeff
from Showgirls and from Showgirls
2) made a surprise appearance on stage
and returned Nomi's suitcase which his character stole from her in Showgirls. Also, I will be launching my own line of Apps for iPhone and
Android which will be interactive movies/games, so I will post updates on
the website when those are available or other news or updates will be
posted on the www.showgirls2movie.com
website of upcoming films or
projects. So, please stay tuned! And thank you all for your love and
support on all these things, it means so much to me and I appreciate you
all very much for going on this Showgirls ride with me. And thank you Mike
for your great review and for your support and
your Q&A!! Thank you thank you thank you!!! :-)
Thanks for the interview!