Typically, we like to touch on the behind-the-scenes production on different movie sets, but we had the opportunity recently to touch on the other side of production — the acting. We talked to Cortney Palm, who quickly gained acclaim in the film industry with her titular role in Sushi Girl, catapulting her into other lead roles such as Daniela in Tourbillon and Zoe in the comedy-horror (with a viral trailer) Zombeavers.
PH: So Cortney, you’ve starred in a string of entertaining and often dark films including the popular ensemble piece “Sushi Girl”, cult horror film “Zombeavers”, and recent horror hits “The Dark Tapes”, “Silent Night” and “Death House”. Looking back, when did you first think of becoming an actor?
Cortney Palm: I can’t recall a specific time in my life when I knew I had to be an actor. My life was a series of performances. I was in pageants as an infant on up until I was a teenager, and was in front of people as a gymnast — so I suppose those key factors played a role in my desire to be a performer.
What's significant, and a little-known fact, I played with Barbie dolls for a long time. I was always creating scenes, developing stories and playing the parts of all the characters. I got into theater in high school and fell in love with plays and being on stage. Soon, I decided I needed to move to California to pursue film, but I didn't have a clue as to how to begin. I went to a university to study theater and to somehow figure out how to manifest my dream of being an actor on film!
PH: What were some movies that growing up were favorites and keep inspiring you?
Cortney Palm: Growing up, I enjoyed an array of films. I would have to say Mulan inspired me the most, as a young girl who needed to find her place and to prove herself worthy. I love badass chicks in film, so I was drawn to movies like G.I. Jane, The Underworld franchise and Tomb Raider. I’d love to do a modern G.I. Jane film.
The horror films that I was drawn to and consider favorites of mine include The Orphanage, The Ring, Mirrors, The Descent and The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Horror movies are my go-to, they're so much fun and create an excited state-of-being. I must say though, Alice (Resident Evil) had me flipping off of my trampoline pretending to cut off the head of an evil-mutated zombie. Movies are fun and despite the fact that many are fictional, I do believe they make an impact in people's lives.
PH: Where’d you study and learn your craft? And what were some formative early parts?
Cortney Palm: I learned most of my craft in college by studying Michael Caine, Stanislavski, Stella Adler, Chekhov and more. Out of college, I attended classes at the Ivanna Chubbuck Studio after having been assigned to read her book "The 12-Step Acting Technique." Her process is spot-on for me. Moving forward, when you have a vast knowledge and understanding of multiple techniques, you’re able to pull from each one in order to make it work for you.
Some of my early roles include portraying a maniacal tooth fairy in a student-written one-act and a love-struck teenager in The Learned Ladies. For film, I was in several student and short films including Prayers for Tracey and Losing Ferguson. Back then I didn't really know what I was doing. I had zero idea what SAG was, how to get an agent, and what basic film set etiquette was. I basically answered ads on Craigslist, and like Danny Trejo, I became a glorified extra!
Finally, things started to fall into motion when I booked Sushi Girl! I had to literally learn from the ground up. I was a fast learner, but no one was handing me bookings, or signing me to their agency until after Zombeavers - which was almost 10 years after arriving in Los Angeles!
PH: Looks like Sushi Girl really put you on the map! Can you share about working on that film, whom you got to work with and how that first big feature helped your growth as an actor?
Cortney Palm: The on-set stories from Sushi Girl will stay with me for life. Mark [Hamill] and Jimmy [Duval] would talk to each other while we were waiting to roll… and I was just chilling in between them, naked, covered in sushi. Their conversations would make me laugh and the fake plastic replica sushi would jiggle on my body and the actors would casually fix the pieces and tell me to stop laughing. It was great! The props girl would have to periodically come and "paint" the leaves on my body to make them look fresh and Tony [Todd] would never break character.
The experiences on set of Sushi Girl developed me to be a mindful actor on set and to make sure that I do the job that’s asked of me while being grateful for everyone's hard work.
PH: What were some other films that were important stepping-stones for you? Were there certain directors or actors that you learned a lot from?
Cortney Palm: I learned a lot from actors like Tyler Cook (One Last Time), who is trained by a phenomenal teacher and he helped me with my craft tremendously, as well as Tony Todd (Sushi Girl), David Brackett (Dazed), Amy Johnston (Female Fight Squad). I really consider Trisha Gum (Losing Ferguson), German Izquierdo Valero (Tourbillon), Mathew Koppin (Fragile Hearts) and Brandon Buzcek (Your Own Road) to be wonderful directors due to their aesthetic and attention to detail. I love Harrison Smith as a person and he was a wonderful person to work with on Death House.
I adore the energy and charisma of Miguel Ferrer (Female Fight Club), Chris Emmons (The Eighth House) and Mathew Shapira (Sunflower). I can't forget Kern Saxton (Sushi Girl) for his belief in me, and his ability to direct me in powerful ways. When a director or fellow actor can elicit a powerful performance from you, you know you’re blessed to be working with a true fellow artist. I felt that the most with German who directed me in Tourbillon. Most of these individuals I’ve worked with more than once — and that’s when a true connection has developed.
PH: What have been some of the biggest challenges in building your career over the last decade?
Cortney Palm: The biggest challenge in my career is believing in myself in an ever-changing and very difficult industry. To be told "no" on countless occasions and to keep pressing forward is not an easy task.
PH: Do you have a favorite part of the process?
Cortney Palm: The best part of being an actor is the rehearsal time. The second best part is putting all your work together and solidifying it with costumes and a set (unless it's green/blue screen). The magic fully comes to life.
PH: How do you keep developing as an actor? How do keep improving your skill-set?
Cortney Palm: The best way to keep improving your skill-set as an actor is to work, but also to participate in scene study or even improv classes. To keep developing and learning by watching others, and taking the time to fully break down a script or character, and then, to put everything into play is how you will stay fresh.
As all actors know, classes can be very expensive so the best thing to do is just take a few scenes, find a fellow artist and play around on your days off. Play with characters and challenge yourself. I also find it perfectly okay to channel fellow actors by watching their performance in a specific role and draw from that. For example, I drew from Uma Thurman in Kill Bill: Vol. I for my role in Sushi Girl.
PH: Can you talk about some recent projects that you’ve enjoyed being a part of?
Cortney Palm: There have been many films that I’ve enjoyed being a part of. Each one offering a different valuable memory or lasting relationship with the people I’ve met. Zombeavers was a blast. Your Own Road was life-changing. Female Fight Squad was magic to make, especially with Amy Johnston! Sunflower was an incredible oceanic experience. Death House was so much fun being on location in a hundred-year-old prison.
I couldn't have asked for better projects with better people. It's such a joy to be selected to make art with a dynamic variety of fellow artists. One of the most beautifully tragic films I did last year is called Herringbone — and I’m most anxious for this film as it touches base on a very profound subject near and dear to my heart.
PH: Do you have any interesting projects in-development?
Cortney Palm: I have a few films that are in the early stages of development: Savvy Strong, The Friend and Land of the Rising Sun — which is currently being written!
I’m also shooting Two Cents from a Pariah (Chris Emmons) in August, and waiting to hear on a film written by the rad Kaplan dudes (Zombeavers).
PH: Where can we view some of your films?
Cortney Palm: Zombeavers is on Netflix. The Dark Tapes, Losing Ferguson, Sushi Girl, Zombeavers, The Purge: Anarchy, The Reunion and Silent Night are all available on multiple streaming platforms, such as iTunes and Amazon. The Eighth House, Herringbone, Your Own Road, Tourbillon and Sunflower are TBA. Death House is currently in select theaters and hitting VOD this June. Female Fight Squad may still be available via Redbox, but it’s also available on platforms such as Amazon, and may be for sale at Walmart.
PH: Thanks, Cortney! Where can we follow you online?