In Tyler MacIntyre’s horror-comedy Tragedy Girls (in theaters October 20), Alexandra Shipp plays McKayala, who is the perfect mix of an outgoing, popular homecoming queen hopeful and deviant sociopath that enjoys the occasional act of Final Destination-inspired homicide. Along with her BFF, Sadie (Brianna Hildebrand) the two are amateur crime reporters on their “Tragedy Girls” blog and are hellbent on boosting their social media popularity. To do that, the kidnap a serial killer who has been wreaking havoc in their small town so that they can murder people themselves. Makes insane sense, right?
Shipp, who has starred in numerous projects in TV and film including the lauded NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton and superhero mutant extravaganza X-Men: Apocalypse (which we will get to later), enjoyed stepping into a lead feature role alongside Hildebrand.
“I just love Brianna as an actress, I’ve been a fan of hers — she’s also a friend of mine,” said Shipp. “I was like, ‘I need to work with you.’ Then I sat down and I met with Tyler MacIntyre, I was just like, ‘God, you are so twisted and ready for the gore and ready for the blood and guts!”
It is clear she had fun slitting throats and dismembering bodies in a film that calls back to satirical cult classics like Heathers and Jawbreaker, but more than that, Tragedy Girls continues that subversion of the horror genre by actually making female characters more than just, as Shipp puts it, “some sexy chick in boy shorts and a bra running around screaming.” She adds, “To think that these almost vapid characters could be so multidimensional is really fun.”
Deadline sat down with Shipp and she shared her experience and the inspiration behind playing a sociopathic popular girl with a craving for social media likes and how it isn’t too far off from this Instagram generation of millennials. She also touches on the current landscape for women and minorities in the current social climate and, of course, what we can expect from X-Men: Dark Phoenix.
DEADLINE: Tragedy Girls is a very one-of-a-kind horror comedy. What were your initial thoughts when you read the script and how did you approach it when you started filming?
SHIPP: My initial thoughts when I first read the script were, “Holy bananas, these girls are nuts!” They really are pretty crazy. Also, I loved the language. I loved the idea that these girls were so in tune with each other. I felt like the back and forth, when I read it, was something that’s Heathers-like — also a little like Jawbreaker and Gilmore Girls. They all had very distinct language and ways of speaking in those movies. They had a Valley Girl-esque language to them, but for us, it’s this millennial speech that no one really understands. It’s all abbreviated and you just don’t know what the f*** anyone’s talking about anymore.
DEADLINE: McKayla and Sadie are interesting because they are popular, but at the same time they are loners. Did you see McKayala as an outcast or influencer?
SHIPP: I felt like she was more so an influencer on the outside, but in actuality she was a total outcast. She puts on this persona for people and it’s one where she can snap out of it very quickly. She can go from smiling at you to slitting your throat very quickly. That’s what I love most about her — she’s able to trick you right in front of your face.
Everyone thinks, “She’s so great. She’s this upper-middle-class cheerleader, she’s got great grades, and she’s so sweet and funny. Her and her best friend have this crazy blog, and they’re getting super famous because of it.” I think that they’re at the top of the food chain. Unlike Heathers, where they’re killing the popular girls, Tragedy Girls has the popular girls killing everyone else because they f******* hate everyone in their high school. It’s so twisted and bizarre — and yet, I feel like it makes a little bit of sense.
DEADLINE: With Sadie and McKayla’s blog and their social media fame, how do you think this movie reflects on our current — and kind of crazy — social media-driven society?
SHIPP: I think that, when it comes to millennials — and I know that millennials hate hearing this but it’s so particular to their generation because anyone who’s not a millennial has no idea what the f*** millennials are talking about — there’s this idea that everything is so quick and so fast and so attainable, and yet we’re all creating brands — because now kids know about brands. Like, my roommate’s six-year-old niece has an Instagram page all about the different types of slime that she makes.
SHIPP: Yes, this is a thing! Now she wants to sell it. She’s under 10. It’s just so crazy that, by the time she’s 16, she could be making money just off of posting for things — and she could pay for her own college! Or she wouldn’t even have to go to college! She could’ve killed marketing at a young age and totally slayed.
There are positive aspects [to social media]. I can find as many make-up tutorials as I need, but the flip side of that is they’re all going to make me look like Kim Kardashian. Do you know what I mean? (Laughs)
We place so much weight on likes, favorites, re-tweets, and comments — and it’s real and it’s not. It’s hard to distinguish between the two. I think that that’s where Sadie and McKayla have their own twisted worldview about it is that they can’t distinguish between being popular in school and being popular online. It’s scary, it’s a scary world that we live in. For that, I don’t think that our movie is that far off.
DEADLINE: Did you use anyone in your real life or someone on TV or film to shape the character McKayla?
SHIPP: I did a little bit. I have always been a huge fan of The Craft. There’s that one specific character that had totally lost her f****** mind and I loved her.
DEADLINE: Nancy? The character played by Fairuza Balk?
SHIPP: Yes! I thought, “Man, this girl is so nuts!” I didn’t base my character off of her, but I definitely used a little bit from her. I just thought that was such an interesting way that she had lost her humanity because of her powers.
DEADLINE: I’m so glad that you mentioned The Craft and movies like Heathers. Tragedy Girls is like those classics because it was so aware of what kind of movie it was. It wasn’t trying to be something else.
SHIPP: How long has it been since we’ve had a movie like that? Do you know what I mean? That’s why, when I read this script, I was like, “Man, it’s almost been 20 years since we’ve had a movie that kind of touched on all of those satirical high school scary, trippy, weird-ass movies that are female-driven as well.”
DEADLINE: Exactly. It’s very much refreshing and filling a need for a different kind of female-driven film. Speaking to that, as a woman of color in Hollywood in a social climate heavy on identity politics, national anthem protests, and sexual abuse allegations, have you seen much change in the industry for people of color, women, the LGBTQ community and other minorities since you began your career?
SHIPP: Hmm. Not much. I would love to say that the world is changing and that we are evolving as a species, but I think that given this social and political climate, I’m at a loss. It’s like running a marathon and thinking you’re halfway done and you can see the finish line — but the finish line is actually the first checkpoint.
I feel like as a whole, when it comes to the “other” in this country — whatever that looks like for each individual person, whether it be someone who’s LGBTQ or someone of color or someone who’s just a religion that they’ve never heard of — whether you’re in entertainment or whether you’re in any other business, we’re not as evolved as we’d like to think.
DEADLINE: Do you think women are making huge strides?
SHIPP: I’d like to think that for women it’s getting a little bit better — but it’s hard to say. I’m looking to the future with hope, but I’m looking at the past and the present with a lot of f***** questions.
DEADLINE: But as a woman of color, you are playing some awesome characters like McKayla and Storm in the X-Men movies. As a nerdy fan of the movies and comics, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask about the forthcoming X-Men: Dark Phoenix — which just wrapped. We were introduced to a new version of Storm and her story in Apocalypse, but with Dark Phoenix, do we get to see more of her? How close is it going to be to the comics? And will you still have your mohawk?
SHIPP: Okay, I wish I could answer all of these questions for you. But, if I ever want to do another X-Men movie in the future I can’t tell you s***. (Laughs)
DEADLINE: Can you share anything??
SHIPP: What I will say is, as a fan of X-Men, you are going to be very happy — because I’m a huge fan of X-Men and so is our director, Simon [Kinberg], who’s also writing and executive producing it. He is not letting anything go. It’s very accurate to the comics and he really gives the fans what they’ve been asking for, in my opinion. All I can say is that you’re really going to like it.