This week we talk to Tonya Kay, actress, stunt woman and self proclaimed most dangerous woman in Hollywood. She is crazy and that’s what we love about her. Being a dancer, Tonya brings a lot of physicality to her performances which is unique in and of itself. She is an actress appearing as a series regular in the upcoming Puppet Master: Axis Termination by Full Moon Productions.
As a lead actress she has graced the screen with leading film roles in A Better Place (Cannes), Dark Space and Earthtastrophe on SyFy and The Other Wife on Lifetime Movie Network. The only female nominee, Tonya Kay won Best Villain from the Horror Society 2016 for her lead role in Bastard (20th Century Fox) and draws upon Meisner, Anthony Meindl, Second City and iO West training to shape her fearless instincts.
Adding to Tonya’s diversity she’s been a stunt woman for Pink and a stilt walker in American Horror Story. Tonya also used a whip on stage with Howie Mandel as a contestent on America’s Got Talent. This is guaranteed to be one of the most diverse Imperfect Podcasts to date due to the varied talents Tonya brings to the table.
Check out Tonya Kay’s acting reels on her site http://tonyakay.com.
Watch Puppet Master: Axis Termination starring Tonya Kay
Watch the Live Interview with Actress Tonya Kay
Where are you from originally?
I grew up in farm town in Michigan. Very rural. (a wholesome midwest girl?) My grandpa always said, “When they made you Tonay, they broke the mold.” I like that. I do appreciate nature and I do appreciate all the things that the small gave me and now I live in the city to pursue the things that the small town didn’t give me. I’ve lived in Chicago, I’ve lived in New york, I’ve lived and worked in Los Angeles. I’ve toured the nation.
I do appreciate that I did grow up in rural area because I can just sit down at a bonfire, stare at the stars and consider it a good time. I can also be around immense diversity in saturation of culture and art and feel like I’m still a pioneer, I’m still progressive and I’m still making shit happen. I’ve enjoyed that I’ve worked in all three cities so that I have a perspective on the markets and the type of vibe each city offers.
How long were you in New York?
I was in New York for a couple of years and I did Stomp, I did De La Guarda, I did concert dance and I taught dance as well. I worked in mostly experimental theater. New York is where I found out I was good at weird shit.
What are some examples of weird shit you’re doing?
I spin fire, I throw knives, I pole dance, I drum, body percussion and I started out as a tap dancer. As grinder girl, I grind sparks of my metal bikini cod piece. I swallow animal balloons whole.
What jobs have you landed because of grinder girl?
That’s my signature act. That’s landed me all over the world. I’ve done it in Spain, South Africa and the Caribbean. I’m brought in to do it because it’s so weird. I’ve done it in all sorts of music videos, television on Comedy Central. I have done stilts, dance and fire on Glee. On The Voice I just finished a stint doing dance, stilts and drumming. In LA its a small community after you do weird shit, then people know you do weird shit.
I’ve got this reputation where one day I fielded calls from five different agencies that don’t represent me. Everyone in town knows I do weird shit so this agent who doesn’t even represent me is like, “Oh this is weird, get a hold of that Tonya Kay girl.” It’s nice to know that if it’s the exact right gig its going to find you no matter what.
What came first dancing or acting?
When my parents read me bedtime stories, I acted them out on the stage of my bed. I’d say in my soul, acting came first. I started classes for dance first and then my first public performance was in theater, acting, singing, dancing, all together.
Where did you go to college?
I didn’t go to college, I was working before I graduated. I did graduate as valedictorian so I could have gone to any college I wanted but I didn’t want to. I’m very anti-system and I wasn’t into college and higher education. If you want to go to college that’s fine but it wasn’t right for me. You couldn’t convince me that going into debt was going to be good for my artist career. I couldn’t think of a single career that I wanted that I required a college education for and I didn’t want to go into debt.
I remember the time that I realized the whole system was lies. I’ve always been like this. I was in the fifth grade and we were handing in our social studies paper and all of the answers were guys names. I was a fifth grade chick walking up there going, this is lies. My history answers were all male. I said that’s not true, women did stuff. At
that moment I just thought I’m gonna ace this test and get outta here.
I was pressured to go to college. I had an argument with my Vice Principal. She was saying no valedictorian of ours isn’t going to college. She says what are you gonna do with your life? That’s the type of support I got and I said, “Be a tattoo artist.” I’m not a loser I’m an artist.
How was working with Eric Roberts in Paradise Club?
It was great, Eric is cool. He’s a vegetarian and he and his wife Eliza are big on animal rights which we share in common. I’m a vegan so we had a ton to talk about on set. He and his wife were both on set, she was in the movie too. It was fun to work with him, he’s such an old pro. He’s done more movies than I think any actor in Hollywood. (Over 400 listed on IMDB). He doesn’t turn down roles, he likes to work and I do too. I look forward to having 400 credits some day myself.
With over 63 acting credits, what roles have stood out and why?
I would say every single one. This year on Lifetime, a movie called The Other Wife was cool because I learned a lot about myself as an actor. Through that process the director Nick Lyon and I both found out I can do what’s called ‘cry-on-command.’ I’m pretty good at it and now know that. He used that to the extreme.
Every scene, they’d setup then do a rehearsal and get in place. Nick would walk up to me and say very quietly right before saying action, “It’d be good to get a few tears on this one. Action!” I did it for every scene and I learned so much about myself. I call it always on the verge of breakdown but in acting they call it cry on command. I’m really good at it. I’m good at accessing a genuine despair on command. That’s why I really like The Other Wife because I learned a lot about myself as an actor.
What about the horror film Bastard?
I get a lot of villain roles. Everyone says I’m nice off stage but you’re so evil on. Bastard was really cool, it was cool to work with the co-directors who were fresh out of school. This is their first feature every and look at it. It’s beautiful. They were a joy to work with, they had that comradery vibe, nothing was a big deal. The product was great, it got theatrical release, it got released by 20th Century Fox. People saw it, it got great reviews. I won Best Villain for it from The Horror Society. That was cool because I like villains. It’s my favorite. Who would want to be an ingenue when you could be a villain? I can be very cold inside and love it.
I’ve thought a lot about villains. What makes a bad girl/guy different than a villain? The difference is if you’re the bad girl/guy you are that way from the top of the film all the way to the end of the film. As soon as people lay eyes on you they are like that’s the bad guy. If you’re a villain, they don’t know. You win their affection, they engage with you, root for you and even support you. They relate to you and then, flip, you’re a villain. You destroy their world but they’re still in admiration of you because you’ve earned their respect and the relationship before that. That’s why villains are way better than the bad guy/girl.
How was working with Penn Jillette?
Working with Penn Jullette was unlike working with anybody else in the world. He has a loud voice. He has a strong presence and he has big opinions. And he’s a big dude. By the way I can say after we worked together he stopped eating animal products and lost over 100lbs. I’m not saying thanks to me I’m just saying there could be something to it. Working on that show it had a lot of heart. It was called Street Cred on Travel Channel. It took us out to the streets and we went to Boston for example and unbeknownst to the street performers in the square we were watching them.
We were on microphone broadcasting back to our secret lair where we were judging them. We had someone on the ground walking around talking about what they were seeing in person and we were back in the room judging them from different camera angles. In the end, we saw so many street performers and award $10,000 to one of them just by putting it in their hat but they have no clue they are even on the show. It had a lot of heart to it.
America’s Got Talent or The Voice or whatever talent competition show, the heart isn’t there like it was for this show. Because all those people have expectations. They are going to be seen by 11 million people. They’re going to be a star. They have ideas of fame and these people were just street performers, performing for the people in front of them and we gave them $10,000.
Didn’t you whip a rose out of Howie Mandel’s mouth on American’s Got Talent?
I’ve been on Amercan’s Got Talent a few times, Season 1 and Season 8. Howie Mandel was very brave. I got to work with him for five minutes. He did a great job.
What’s the craziest stunt you’ve ever had to perform?
The craziest stunt I ever had to perform is drowning. It was in a supernaturl thriller and I’m scared of water, I don’t swim. In the shower I don’t get water on my face. In fact I don’t even take a shower, I take bathes. It’s more controllable that way. We shot in Maryland and it wasn’t in the script. I knew I had a death stunt. I don’t remember what it was supposed to be but it wasn’t drowning.
We got there, all the way to Maryland, Washington D.C. and we did the table read and the script was different than the one I had read back in Los Angeles. Now it said you’re going to pulled by the unseen force under water. Pulled! Forecably! Under water! I said I’ll do it but looking back at the playback the terror in my face is true. That was the craziest stunt because I don’t like water.
I think indie film making, in some cases, we’re doing 10 to 13 pages a day. I’ve also been on blockbuster sets where they do half a page a day. When you think of the team work and the ability that needs to come together to accomplish a 12 page day, you feel like, who’s the real film makers here? And we don’t have money! That’s some real film making when you can do that day after day and get it done. It’s like boot camp for film making.
What was the job like as a stunt double for Pink?
It was for a commercial campaign for Cover Girl, she was their Cover Girl. It was pretty easy actually. At the time I looked a lot like Pink. My hair was cut like hers, I’m a lot taller than her but we do some of the same specialties like fire and aerial. That’s why I got it because I looked like her and could do the same specialties. On the day it wasn’t that hard because she does a lot of her own stuff.
It wasn’t an uncontrollable stunt like drowning. They had me doing specialty stuff like fire and breaking glass, kicking glass and standing in for the aerial stuff. It was cool working with her because she took the time to learn my name and some celebrities don’t. She took the time to acknowledge me and say hi to me and talk with me so I got a lot of respect for her.
Tell us about your role as a series regular in Puppet Master on the El Rey Network?
Puppet Master is a franchise by Full Moon Features. You have probably all seen Charles Bands work, Evil Bong & Puppet Master. This is number 11. I was hired on as the villain in a feature length film but because distribution is so interesting these days it is actually going to premiere on the El Rey Network as a mini-series first. Can’t wait to see it on El Rey Network. They feature a lot of grindhouse stuff and they’re interested in entertaining the English speaking Hispanic audience. Puppet Master is a perfect fit for that network. It was a quick shoot for the actors but the animitronics takes months.
It’s going to take months but I think, don’t quote me on this, but February 2017 is a projected idea so it’s still a short amount of time. Puppet Master is Full Moon Features 273rd film. This is a production company that knows how to make their product. They know how much time it’s going to take, who’s going to be working on it, they know the budget and what they’re going to recoup. Charles Band is brilliant. Full Moon Features is brilliant. There is such a cult following for these films.
Do you have aspirations to produce your own films or web series?
I have a television pilot that I’m working on with a development company and we’re going to pitch it. I’ve pitched in the past, TV series ideas. Just the other week I was thinking I should executive produce my own film. It’s time.
How has your diversity including Burlesque dancing helped or hindered your crossover to network television?
It’s both. I’ve worked as a performer exclusively for my income for 26 years. I’ve never had to waitress or do any other jobs. My diversity in performance genres is why. If I just acted it would be so much more difficult to make the money I need to live in LA or New York. I happen to be good at many things which works to my advantage. On the other hand, sometimes it’s a hiccup.
I try to keep things segregated even on my website. If you go to my website, if you’re there for acting hopefully I make it easy on you to look for the acting stuff all in one place. Because burlesque especially and grinding sparks of your metal bikini cod piece, it’s so sensational, once you see it you can’t forget it. You can never unsee that. I kind of keep it away from my acting contacts until it comes up.
Where can people find you online?
I’m on every social media there is and available to interact because I likes my fans and interacting and having genuine connections with people. I think that’s why we do it. In theater its very easy. It’s to go, those are my employers sitting in the seats because they paid for a ticket and that pays my wages. We sometimes forget that when we are on camera. We see our employer as the studio or the network. They’re our buyer but they’re not our consumer. Our consumer is still the audience and the fans and the people that watch us and support us. To me those are the most important people to please and be interactive with and have a positive conversation with. Find me, I will interact with