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An Interview with Kelsey Zukowski, Writer and Star of Words Like Knives

by Mike Haberfelner

February 2013

Kelsey Zukowski on (re)Search my Trash


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Your new film Words Like Knives - in a few words, what is it about?


A disturbing and surreal exploration of real life horrors far scarier than any traditional monster. 

Honestly, itís hard to just say a few words on this film. Itís very complex with a lot of layers and possibilities, hitting on some very difficult and taboo material to portray in any light. This is the material that tends to attract me, discovering the horrendous effects of real life issues through the scope of horror, in this case the damaging effects of bullying and many forms of abuse. I believe horror is the perfect medium to show the darkness in this world and humanity. It is a film that deals with something so horrible most of us will never be able to understand, but more or less things that plague many people every day. I wanted to present the horrors involved, but just putting possibilities out there based on this poor girlís struggle between what is truth and what are rumors taking a life of their own. It is up to the viewer to try to decide what is reality and fiction in their perception of what theyíre seeing as well.


Words Like Knives touches some very dark issues in very intimate way - so was any of this based on your own personal experiences, and what were your inspirations to write the movie to begin with?


Thankfully, I havenít had to suffer anything quite like this character has. Most of my scripts are based on frustrations, wrongdoings, or injustices I see in my life or society as a whole. This script wasnít based on myself or anyone I knew, but it certainly dealt with something very real that many suffer from, feeling like a prisoner, often finding no light at the end of the tunnel. That is such a sad and crippling thought, but in some cases that is an unfortunate, grim reality. That being said I think everyone has been teased, bullied, had rumors spread about them, or didnít fit in at some time in their lives. You feel and emphasize with the main character no matter what you believe is true. Sheís being tormented in so many ways, something no one should have to deal with.


The idea for the script really came about based on the idea of a rumor spinning out of control and how damaging that could be. I wanted to think of the absolute worst, most horrific rumor possible to base this off of; something that was so cruel, you had to question the morality and maliciousness of someone who would think of something like this and spread it, using it as if it were a weapon.


Once the script was written, what got the project off the ground?


There was briefly an idea of doing a webseries or some short of anthology series of short films all based on the same theme of a rumor getting out of control from different directors, writers, and collaborative teams. When I proposed this idea, director Travis Legge [Travis Legge interview - click here] was very interested in reading my script. We had previously worked together on the grindhouse supernatural/action trailer Monster Mash. That was a great experience and came out as both a visually polished and very fun trailer. Travis and I were interested in working together again and he really responded to the script. We were very much on the same page on what we wanted to accomplish, a gripping and disquieting tale of a surreal and overpowering struggle to hold on to oneís sanity. We ended up deciding that Words Like Knives deserved a real run at festivals and to be treated as its own entity due to the strength of the piece. We moved forward from there with getting the teaser and poster together and launching an IndieGoGo-campaign. We used a pretty minimal budget for this, but we were lucky enough to raise more than our goal for funds so we could do the needed justice in bringing this story to life.


You have not only written Words Like Knives, you also play the lead. Given this is a very challenging role, did you always intend to play her yourself, and what did you draw upon to bring your character to life?


I rarely write a character with the intention of me playing them. This was such a strong, challenging character, so victimized and pushed to her limits. There are so many layers to her and she really is not meant to be your average girl, sheís different. There is a certain amount of exploration of why this is and what this truly means. I wanted the challenge of portraying a compelling and difficult role like this; it is really the type of role I crave as an actress. Also, having written it and having a complete knowledge and well realized perception of the character and this world she was in, I really felt compelled to bring her to life myself.


As an actress, filming Words Like Knives, is the best experience I have had yet in terms of pushing myself and allowing myself to grow as an actress. It was actually during filming the noir thriller, Year of the Ox, that I realized that Iím a method actor. Iíve always been concerned with physical situations being as realistic as possible. It gives me more to work off of and puts me in the shoes of that character, making the surroundings and situation more real. During the interrogation scene, duct tape is ripped off of my lips. As you can imagine, this goes on for many, many takes. The crew wanted to fake it more. Sure that would have been a little more comfortable, but within reason I would rather be a little uncomfortable and deal with minor pain, nothing extreme of course, if it means it will be more true to the character and situation. Someone made a comment about me being method. My reaction was that I really wasnít, but I realized at least physically I was very method. This got me to think about how I really work best as an actor and physical realism or having something to work off of physically is HUGE in pushing my performance to another level.

With Words Like Knives, I pushed myself beyond this. Itís a very depressing and dark character among everything she is attempting to deal with. I absolutely love being on set, especially when I get the chance to work with so many likeminded friends. However, any time I felt myself being more lighthearted and joking around, I had to take myself away from everyone and be more solitary. I drilled myself with constant depressing, self-loathing thoughts even. I had to keep myself in a dark place in every way possible. Itís the performance Iím most proud of so it clearly worked and gave me a chance to grow and learn as an actress.


Kelsey with Travis Legge

What can you tell us about your director Travis Legge [Travis Legge interview - click here], and what was your collaboration like? And what was it like to have your vision realized by someone else - who at times even orders you around in your own story?


Travis was wonderful. There were a few producer-type things I handled while filming, but while the film was in production, he pretty much took over everything from the outside looking in, allowing me to completely focus on my character. That was huge. I really needed to stay in that mindset as much as possible. I knew we were completely on the same page and that he would bring out everything that was needed for this to be an effective film. Trust is really essential when more or less handing your script over to someone, even more so when youíre acting in it in a very challenging portrayal that your focus needs to be on. This film wouldnít have been made if that trust didnít exist. He enhanced everyoneís performances, picking up on little things even to push us all and to bring out the difficult balance of the very possible two different realities that were coexisting in the same world.


Kelsey with Michael Wexler

Would you like to talk about your co-stars for a bit?


Absolutely! I am blessed that we got such incredible talent and how much everyone put in to this project. 

First of all, Michael Wexler - just wow! - he really nailed the perfect combination of a caring, parent and a creepiness that cuts at you in such a disquieting way. The character is completely gray, a balance of black and white, both terrifying and genuinely caring. Also, so much of him lives in this surreal world, so itís hard to judge whether one side is his true identity or whether the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Both the performance of my character and the dad were the most essential and it was incredible to have him to work off of as well. Valerie Meachum also did a wonderful job as my mother, who gave a fantastic performance. Within just one scene she subtly portrayed her love, concern, and own potential inner struggle.


Kelsey with Myke Wilson

Melissa Revels definitely had the catty bitch and essential antagonist of the film down. Again, making it easy to work off of her dynamic and life like portrayal of this horrendous self-involved girl who really couldnít care less about the damage she created. Mike DiIacova also did a great job as the caring, loyal best friend, Miles. He definitely shows such desperate, genuine concern and lightness, attempting to save Emma from her darkness.


Myke Wilson is among the best young, male actors I have gotten the chance to work with on a few occasions. I hadnít even met or known of Myke when I wrote the role of Landon, but both looks and performance wise, that scene is 100% exactly what I had in mind in terms of Landon when I first wrote the script. Itís a rare occasion as a writer when a character can come to life so realistically just as you imagined. We happen to work very well together too, especially considering the scene we shot was not only very uncomfortable, but also the first scene of the film that was shot.


What can you tell us about the actual shoot and the on-set atmosphere?


I think both were very different for me than any other person on set. Generally, it was laid back and fun, but professionalÖand intense! Like I mentioned before, I really couldnít allow myself to have too much fun even though I was with such a talented and awesome group of people who I love to work with. I had to keep myself more isolated and thinking depressing thoughts that I could use towards the character. For most of the shooting I was on very limited sleep and extremely caffeinated; feeling drained, jumpy, and anxious being an additional element I could use physically to add to my performance.


A few words on critical reception of your movie so far?


Iím just so excited the film is out there and starting to be seen by others. Itís been almost a year and a half since we first started moving forward with the film and itís incredible just to have it completed and ready to be viewed. Considering my involvement in it and the nature of the material and what is portrayed, I am very vulnerable as an artist in respect to viewpoints, hearing and awaiting peopleís reactions. So much of myself as an artist and what I strive to portray and accomplish through my art, is in this film and among some difficult, touchy material that isnít easy to watch. There is a lot up for debate or up to the viewerís digression in how they want to perceive things that are presented in the film, which I noticed in your review and found your take interesting. I am happy most of the reviews and thoughts I have heard so far have been incredible, really understanding the film and showing what an impact it had on them. I am a film critic myself and am totally open to negative constructive criticism as well as long as itís thorough and been given some real thought and consideration. I think this film is something that is going to have a lasting effect. For some it will be troubling to process, where they really might not be able to see the bigger picture of the exploration and social messages. It is not for everyone, but for those that can really take it in, I think it will really resonate with.


Any other future projects of yours you'd like to talk about?


Itís more of less in the development stage now, but The Hazed is a psychological slasher film I wrote and will be starring in. Itís another very brutal, surreal tale about someoneís past coming back to haunt them. It centers on very cruel pranks, which turn to eventual torture, in a sorority who use hazing to get revenge on our main character. Iíve never understood why anyone would put themselves through something like that for acceptance, ďsisterhoodĒ, or even career connections. In the case of the main character itís her way of proving that sheís not afraid and is willing to take whatever torment she has to in order to put one mistake in her past where she would like to keep it. 


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There are still so many engaging yet inconceivable mindsets involved such as once you go through this type of torment, being demeaned as a person, and many are physically and mentally damaged (if not killed, which has happened more than you would think) how could you do this to another person? Is it the only release? The only way to feel like you are no longer the victim to have the illusion of control? Either way, itís a horrendous cycle that continues, scarring all along the way. Weíre currently exploring the best options in how to go about funding before we move forward, but there is a teaser trailer and posters for the film which were shot last June to be released soon.


Your/your movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?


My website:

My IMDb:

Words Like Knives IMDb:

My Facebook:

Words Like Knives Facebook:


Thanks for the interview!


© by Mike Haberfelner

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and shall not be held responsible for
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Thanks for watching !!!



Robots and rats,
demons and potholes,
cuddly toys and
shopping mall Santas,
love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

is all of that.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
a collection of short stories and mini-plays
ranging from the horrific to the darkly humourous,
from the post-apocalyptic
to the weirdly romantic,
tales that will give you a chill and maybe a chuckle, all thought up by
the twisted mind of
screenwriter and film reviewer
Michael Haberfelner.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
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directed by
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written by
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out now on DVD