Felissa Rose first made an impression on horror fans with her dead on performance as the shy, troubled Angela Baker in the 1983 summer slasher Sleepaway Camp.
Although the cult film's resurgence in popularity originally caught her off guard, the actress has more than embraced her part in the original camp classic.
The Terror Trap spoke with her and found her as charming as we knew she would be.
The Terror Trap: You're from New York. What part?
Felissa Rose: I was born in NYC and raised on Long Island.
TT: When did you realize you wanted to be an actress?
FR: Probably the minute I could speak. I loved performing in front of anyone; in shopping malls, family gatherings, on a bus...so my mom decided to enroll me for dancing and singing lessons.
TT: Did you see yourself as a singer at that point? A Broadway star?
FR: That's exactly what I wanted to do! I was always such a ham and loved singing and dancing but realized I really didn't have what it took. In fact, when I was about eleven...I auditioned for Annie (the movie) and cried when I didn't get a call back.
It was later on in high school that I fell in love with acting. I was in Forensics, the speech and debate club, and I won the New York state championship for dramatic interpretation. It was then that I realized I'd pursue acting and not musical theater.
TT: Annie was such a bomb, it's just as well that you didn't get the part!
Was Sleepaway Camp your first real acting role?
FR: Yes, it was the first time I got a paycheck! It got me into the Screen Actors Guild.
TT: How did you hear about the audition and what exactly was required for the role of Angela?
FR: My manager thought I was too ethnic looking so they sent me on three auditions and said if I booked a job, they'd sign me. Sleepaway Camp was one of those auditions...they signed me! Apparently (director) Robert Hiltzik was looking for a wide-eyed, flat chested, quiet, thirteen-year old. Well, two out of three ain't bad.
TT: How did your parents react to the script? Were they apprehensive at all about the material?
FR: They were so excited that I got the job, they weren't too worried about the script. They just didn't want me doing anything dangerous so Robert reassured them that I'd be fine.
That's when he decided to use the hands of Jonathan Tiersten (Ricky) for the killings. In the original script, Paul opens my blouse on the beach. Robert cut that as well. Everything else was fine.
TT: Did you understand the adult matter at the time?
FR: No, in fact I still don't understand it...
TT: Were there any specific things you did to prepare for the film?
FR: We had rehearsals and Robert and I talked about Angela's background and her mental state. Other than that, I used my imagination. As a kid, it's really easy to play "pretend" and that's just what I did.
TT: Sissy Spacek felt the need to isolate herself from the rest of the cast when she played an outcast in Carrie - in order to add realism to the role. Did you do anything like that?
FR: I loved socializing way too much! For me, it was all about hanging around everyone and enjoying myself because once the camera was rolling, I was in my own little world.
TT: Being so young at the time, were you affected by how your character was treated by the kids at Camp Arawak?
FR: I don't think so, only because of how much fun we had once Robert called "cut." It's funny how different it is making a film and the film itself.
Sometimes in a long run of a play, people take on the role they're doing. They almost live out the characters' real lives...but film is so technical. There's a lot of down time and waiting - so it breaks up the world that exists in the film.
TT: What kinds of directions did Robert give you?
FR: To stare intensely and really understand their fate. I was thinking about their demise when I was staring. It sounds creepy but I really felt like Angela believed they deserved it.
TT: And some of them did deserve it! The cast of Sleepaway Camp was unusually young for that type of film. Was the set as raucous as it appears in the final product?
FR: Even more so. I remember the constant parties that were going on. Too bad I was so young...my mom was there!
TT: Were there drugs or was it more innocent?
FR: I can't say for sure because I wasn't around for much of it...but from what I can understand, there must have been. They were definitely getting high in the scene with Kenny and Mike - but anything else is questionable.
TT: Karen Fields and Katherine Kamhi played Judy and Meg (the school bullies) to the hilt. What were they like to work with?
FR: They were two of the nicest people you could ever meet. We were all really good friends.
TT: Did you go over to each other's houses? Were there slumber parties?
FR: I hung out with Kathy a lot after filming. She came to see me perform in a show in the city and we'd visit John Dunn (Kenny) at his house...but there weren't any slumber parties. Well, actually...there was one.
TT: Okay, do tell...
FR: John used to visit me all the time on Long Island at my parents' house. This one time, he didn't want to go home and he asked if he could sleep over. Now, I knew my parents wouldn't go for it. I was fourteen and he was eighteen.
We had so much fun and lost track of time. It became too late for him to go home so I snuck him in my closet. This closet was so tiny and he slept in it the whole night. In the morning, I pretended I was sick and my mom went out.
TT: Interesting! So what happened next?
FR: John got out of the closet when my mom left...and then when she got home, she put it together. We tried to pretend that he came back the next day but she didn't buy it....that was our little sleep over story!
From then on, John and I were inseparable. We had a really close bond. The next time he slept over was the night of my dad's funeral. He's one of my dearest (and oldest) friends.
TT: The on-screen chemistry between you and Jonathan is wonderful. The idea that you two are related is entirely believable. Does that reflect how you got along with him?
FR: Absolutely. I had a huge crush on him but we had a really nice friendship - and still do.
TT: Was he aware that you had those feelings for him at the time?
FR: Oh yeah...we actually really liked each other and so called "dated." I was way too young for him. When we reunited this past August, we confided in one another how much we cared for each other. It's amazing how much time had passed and yet it felt like no time at all. We felt a very strong spiritual connection, almost like we'd been siblings in another lifetime.
TT: Doesn't Jonathan have a rock band now?
FR: Yes. His band, Bambi's Apartment, is amazing. They played a bunch of gigs in L.A. when I was out there and I felt like a real groupie. In fact, the band named me Bambi! Jonathan actually didn't like that idea but his bandmates felt it was appropriate since I went to all their shows.
You see, he's always that protective older brother!
TT: Do you have a favorite anecdote from the shoot?
FR: It would have to be when we all went to see The Amityville Horror. Being that we were making a horror film, we didn't think we'd be too scared. Little did we know! I think we screamed the whole film...
TT: Wasn't that a few years after its initial release?
FR: We saw it in a local movie theatre. Maybe they were slow with the times.
TT: What were your feelings about the finale in SC?
FR: It was definitely strange. But I thought it was an interesting twist.
TT: For those who don't already know, how was it done?
FR: There was a mold made of my face and they put it on some college boy's body. The poor guy had to get drunk so he could get through it.
TT: Did you know him?
FR: I met him briefly the night the final scene was shot. He didn't have a whole lot to say.
TT: How did your classmates react to the conclusion and to the film in general?
FR: They thought it was cool. Everyone thought it was pretty neat that I made a movie and they were pretty scared.
TT: You mean your classmates didn't tease you at all because of the film's subject matter? Or do you think they weren't allowed to see it at the time?
FR: My whole class came to see it with me opening night. I think they were probably stunned. I don't remember anyone saying anything about it. They just seemed to think it was really cool.
TT: Any reaction from your teachers?
FR: I was in Catholic school to boot! Isn't that amazing? My teachers enjoyed the fact that I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life. I was very involved in my school's activities and did all the shows...so I guess they didn't want to seem hypocritical.
TT: Have you kept in touch with any of the other cast?
FR: I've been close friends with John Dunn for all these years...and I'm just recently back in touch with Robert Hiltzik, in addition to Johnny Tiersten.
I also saw Chris Collet (Paul) when I was in L.A. a few months back. Glenn Ford, who was a cook and on the production end, is also a good friend. Hopefully, I'll see a few more faces in April at Fangoria in New York.
TT: Do you know who else is going to be there?
FR: Robert will be there, John Dunn, and possibly a couple of the other actors - but nothing is confirmed.
TT: Did you enjoy recording the DVD commentary on the Anchor Bay disc? Were you surprised that you were contacted?
FR: I loved doing it. It was the first time I saw Robert Hiltzik since we did the movie. It was a surreal experience. Anchor Bay contacted me because of Jeff Hayes from the SC website. Jeff's the one who told the company they could get us to do the commentary. Anchor Bay had no intention of getting us if it weren't for him.
TT: Why weren't you asked to reprise your role in the two initial sequels?
FR: I had been asked by Jerry Silva, the producer of 1, 2 and 3 - but I had just gotten in to NYU...so I chose school. They told me it would be six months in Atlanta but school was my priority.
TT: What do you think of them?
FR: I've seen Sleepaway Camp 2 and I really liked it. I'm a great admirer of Pamela Springsteen and I think she did a great job. I'd love to meet her one day.
TT: You seem to really get a kick out of your experience of having played Angela. There's a column you do for www.sleepawaycampmovies.com called "Ask Angela." Do you enjoy the social aspect of that?
FR: Oh, I love it! I'm so grateful that anyone remembers SC. I hadn't even thought about the film until a year ago when all these websites came around. It's so much fun reliving that part of my life.
TT: Why do you think Sleepaway sites have popped up in the last two years?
FR: I think it's time for horror again. It seems to be younger people who weren't even born when we made it, who brought it back. They've given it life again and I'm thrilled. Hopefully, they'll keep it around.
TT: In your teens, you co-starred with Adam Sandler in a show called The Party Phone Series. What was that experience like?
FR: It was a little comedy on MTV and Adam was a friend of mine from NYU. He actually dated my cousin for a while and I just thought he was awesome! A few students were on the production team at MTV and asked me if I wanted to do this little sketch with him. I jumped at it because I thought Adam was so funny.
TT: Did you have any idea he would go on to be so successful?
FR: I definitely knew that he would turn out to be a big star. All the girls loved him and he was really down to earth. He totally deserves everything he's gotten.
As far as the show, I don't think it ever ran. It was a spoof on teenage antics and the skit I did with him aimed fun at party phone lines. Remember way back when people would call these numbers and talk to a lot of people at once?
TT: Of course.
FR: Well, I was this really annoying golddigger looking for rock stars on the other end of the phone and Adam was pretending to be Eddie Van Halen. It seemed funny at the time!
TT: You also appeared in commercials. Which ones?
FR: I did Kinney shoes with Barbara Mandrell, the first Coke Classic commercial, Publix supermarkets, Tide, Pillsbury...and they all ran quite a bit. There were more but some ran internationally.
TT: Barbara Mandrell? What was she like?
FR: I didn't work directly with her. They shot her
sequence separately...but I have a copy of it and it's funny to look at it now.
TT: What stage work have you done?
FR: I've worked on NY stages for years. Off Broadway, I played Desdemona in Othello, Karen in the original production of Phone Sex, Nikki in Tony 'n Tinas Wedding (an interactive comedy where the audience acts as friends of the bride and groom), Louise in Disorganized Crime and a few others.
I love performing on stage. For me, it's like sky diving...the rush is incredible. Just being in front of a live audience, you never know what could happen.
TT: Theatre or film...do you have a preference?
FR: Wow, totally different. Theatre is that immediate rush from the audience. You know right away if it's working and you must live in the moment.
Film is really technical. It's very intimate and if you mess up, just retake it. I love them both but I do believe that the most amazing actors first train on the stage. It's about timing and beats and really knowing what works. It's hard to say, I just love the work.
TT: Tell us about a little film you made called Birds of a Feather.
FR: That was a film made for festivals. It's a short thriller that mocks suburbanites with too much time on their hands and living in a world that's really small. Terrence Smith, the director, was great to work with.
You know, each project has so much to offer that I just try to learn as much as I can on the set. We shot it in two days and worked really hard.
TT: Did you enjoy the part of Dolores?
FR: I was happy to play this deranged woman. It's great to get into the psyche of someone you can't relate to. Somehow, I enjoy going to the dark side...and for me, it was a terrific learning experience. Plus, I made a good friend. Terrence and I will be working together on his next project, Into the Coven.
TT: You just finished a film with Dante Tomaselli called Horror. What is that going to be like?
FR: Amazing! He's a really incredible director. Very passionate, creative, spontaneous. I loved working with him and I think this project will really put him on the map. I can't reveal any surprises but it's a journey that's never been taken before.
TT: Sounds intriguing.
There's been much talk about a possible Sleepaway Camp sequel, tentatively titled Return To Sleepaway Camp. Is that a done deal?
FR: It's in negotiations right now so hopefully it will be a go very soon.
TT: Do you enjoy horror films? Any favorites?
FR: I enjoy horror films very much...even though I'm a big chicken. My favorites are The Shining, Nightmare on Elm Street and Silence of the Lambs.
TT: Silence of the Lambs is a masterpiece. Everything about that one is first rate. Do you admire Jodie Foster and what she's accomplished?
FR: I love Jodie Foster. She's one of the best actresses around. I recently met Anthony Hopkins. I love him!
TT: Now, in the tradition of Vanity Fair and Inside the Actor's Studio, we would like to ask you a few things that often give a good sense of a person...
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Being connected spiritually.
Which living person do you most admire?
What trait do you most deplore in yourself?
Constantly analyzing situations. (Is that a trait?)
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
"Absolutely." "Oh shit." "Why???"
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Being a good daughter.
If you came back in the next lifetime, you'd be...
What is your most treasured possession?
The memory of my father.
Where would you like to live?
What do you most value in friends?
What trait do you least admire in others?
Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
Favorite music act?
Name five CDs you would take with you to a deserted island.
Diva (Annie Lennox)
Purple Rain (Prince)
The Black Album (Metallica)
On The Radio (Donna Summer)
anything Frank Sinatra.
Favorite curse word?
What is your motto?
Don't sweat the small stuff.
TT: Thank you, Felissa. It's been fun. And by the way, you have excellent taste in music...
FR: Thanks for such great questions. As you can tell, I had a lot of fun answering them!