What’s in a name? Well, for actor-writer-director Zelda Williams, an awful lot!
She takes her last name from her father, the late, great comedic actor Robin Williams. And her first? It’s a nod to dad’s favorite video game, The Legend Of Zelda—a series that was sort a gateway to Williams being a pretty avid gamer, too.
Over the past decade or so, Zelda Williams has been busy making a name for herself, acting in film and television (including the ’08 queer musical fantasy Were The World Mine and a voice role in Nickelodeon’s The Legend Of Korra), and cutting her teeth as teeth as a filmmaker with short films and music videos.
How about we take this to the next level?
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And now she’s ready to unveil her feature directorial debut, the horror-comedy Lisa Frankenstein—another loaded name, referencing both the literary monster-maker and Lisa Frank, the designer known for her colorful, whimsical school supplies that were a staple of the ’80s and ’90s.
Lisa Frankenstein is the brilliantly bonkers ’80s-set story of goth girl Lisa (Kathryn Newton) who’s a total loner at school, but finds a new confidence when she inadvertently reanimates a Victorian-era corpse (Cole Sprouse) and begins to make him over into the man of her dreams. (And, by the way, it was written by Diablo Cody, whose last femme-focused horror Jennifer’s Body rightfully become a cult favorite.)
Sounds wild, right? Well, we promise that Lisa Frankenstein is somehow even darker, funnier, and, yes, queerer than you could even imagine. The latter point is something that Williams—who identifies as bisexual—takes a lot of pride in, creating something truly unique that feels destined to be adored by queer kids (young and old) for years to come.
Ahead of Lisa Frankenstein‘s theatrical release on February 9, we had the opportunity to speak with Williams as the latest guest in our rapid-fire Q&A series, Dishin’ It. In our conversation, the director opens up about the fantasy characters who made her want to be a “third,” why she thinks the gays are going to love Lisa Frankenstein, and how she felt a part of the LGBTQ+ community at a young age thanks to her parents’ many queer friends.
Is there a piece of media—whether a movie, TV series, book, album, theater, video game, etc…—that you consider a big part of your own coming-out journey, or that has played an important role in your understanding of queerness? Why does it stand out to you?
I mean, one of the ways I figured out I was bi when I was young was having a major crush on both Westley and Buttercup in The Princess Bride, as well as pretty much every character in the animated Batman Beyond series. I’m not sure it helped me understand queerness really, but it sure as hell helped me understand myself!
Lisa Frankenstein feels like the rom-com goth kids of all ages have been dying for (pun intended). And though it’s largely focused on a quote-unquote “straight romance,” what do you hope queer audiences will get out of the story of Lisa and “The Creature”?
A big camp laugh aside, as I think (or hope) a lot of people love one of those, there are definitely some Easter Eggs and lines in there that are absolutely as queer coded as you think they are, even if they also resonate with others. I just can’t discuss them without giving away spoilers!
The film features so many fun practical effects and so many imaginative sequences. We of course don’t want to give too much away, but can you tell us a bit about a scene or sequence that was especially fun for you to film and bring to life?
Since some of it’s in the trailer, maybe it won’t be seen as a spoiler, but recently undead Creature meeting Lisa for the first time and chasing her around the house was definitely one of my favorites to film, especially when she’s hanging from the ledge outside her bedroom window. There were just so many fun elements that went into making that scene—Cole’s mud monster suit, a false roof, wire stunt work, sprinklers, elderly neighbors with coke-bottle glasses, and one particularly fickle goo cannon. Bonus, all the families in the neighborhood brought out lawn chairs and watched from across the street. Truly reminded me how wonderful filmmaking can be.
Would you consider yourself a “goth girl” like Lisa back in the day? How would you describe high school Zelda?
Not that I particularly ascribed to any labels at the time, but I was probably more what would now be considered androgynous punk, at least when I was Lisa’s age. Short pixie cut, lots of plaid shirts, studded vests or jackets and uncomfortably skinny jeans tucked into combat boots I still have around here somewhere. I was also pretty deep into role-play writing forums, photography and tech… so a nerd with flair. Not much has changed really, aside from those uncomfy low rise jeans.
Where’s one of the first places/spaces you can remember that made you feel a part of a queer community?
My house. My parents have many queer friends, and as we’ve always been a family that loved sharing our home and our table, they all came to dinner, or hung around with us kids and played in the yard from as far back as I can remember. My own home is the same now. It was just a natural part of my childhood and community from birth, it never really needed naming or explaining.
Heck, there’re photos of me on the beach walking hand in hand with Dad in drag as [Mrs.] Doubtfire, clearly young me didn’t find any of it weird!
We know you’re a big gamer and that you’re even a fan of your namesake, The Legend Of Zelda. With that in mind, what’s a video game (or game series) you’d love to see turned into a movie and why
Hard to say really, as I’m one of those folks who always felt most games were more effective as they were. That said, if I had to pick one I’d love a shot at, it’d probably be Fatal Frame. Or if I was gonna get a little weirder with it, either Stretch Panic, American Mcgee’s Alice or Katamari Damacy, haha.
Who’s a fictional character you had a crush on at a younger age (or maybe still do!)? What do you remember loving about them?
I guess since I already discussed my Princess Bride moment above, I could talk about wanting to be in an Aragorn and Arwen sandwich [from The Lord Of The Rings]. Yes, in the books, too, but particularly in the movie. It’s funny because I’m super monogamous and have never wanted to be a third, but there’s just something comforting about the two of them and their eternal love that absolutely shredded my heart when those movies came out. That kiss at the end of Return Of The King? Put me smack dab in the middle of it please!
Who is a queer or trans artist/performer/creator that you think is doing really cool work right now? Why are they someone we should all be paying attention to?
I’m in love with Rabih Alameddine’s book The Wrong End Of The Telescope, everything Trace Lysette and Colman Domingo brought to screens this year, Kevin Abstract’s songs “Blanket” and “Madonna,” and Ethel Cain’s “Gibson Girl.”