Chatting with actor Bill D. Russell
Recently I had a lovely chat with actor Bill D. Russell. Bill got his start doing improv in Chicago, including performing with the Improv Olympics, and then made his way into movies. Bill has acted in movies such as Puppet Master: Doktor Death and Evil Lurks (both streaming on Tubi), and It Came from Somewhere (Amazon Prime and Tubi).
SM: You started in improv. What made you switch to acting?
BR: I started improv in 1983. I dropped out of Bible college (I was just as surprised as you are!) in 1983 in Wisconsin. But that’s a whole other story! I started taking screenwriting and directing classes at Columbia College. I wanted to get into filmmaking but I really wasn’t thinking in terms of acting. People were coming out of Second City and making these wonderful comedies, so I thought maybe that might be a connection. I started taking classes at the Player’s Workshop and that’s how I started doing improv. I kept doing it all these years primarily just to build a brand for myself. I’d done regular theater and sketch comedies, and I found improv to be another facet of acting.
SM: So which do you enjoy more – improv or scripted acting? Or do you even have a preference?
BR: Film is what I love. As far as written stage material or improv stage – they both have their good and bad points. The one thing for me (and probably a lot of improvisers), is to have a really great show because you can’t recreate that. With a written sketch show – if it’s funny night one, it’s going to be funny every night.
SM: Is improv harder?
BR: As long as everyone knows the basics of what makes improv work, which is not denying your partner’s reality. You might tell me something and I’m gonna add to that. Ideally, we make a discovery and the audience sees that and we all laugh.
SM: As I was going through your shorts and movies, I noticed you have an affinity for horror, sci-fi, and comedy. What’s your favorite movie in each genre? (Bill called me out for saying that I was going through his shorts. He’s right…that didn’t sound good!)
BR: I grew up watching the Universal horrors and Hammer movies, and I don’t think I could pick just one. I saw the original Halloween in the theaters and loved it, so that’s one I’d have to say is close to being my favorite.
SM: What about sci-fi?
BR: I would have to say Fantastic Voyage. It’s about a team of scientists that shrunk to miniature so that they can swim through someone’s bloodstream. Raquel Welch is one of them, so it made quite an impact on an adolescent Bill!
SM: And comedy?
BR: Animal House. When I was in Bible College, one of the tenets was that you don’t go to the movies. No dancing, no drinking, no smoking, no going to the movies – rules like that. But that last summer I must have gone to see it seven times. It was like a revelation. I was like “What am I doing?” In my college, boys and girls weren’t allowed to touch each other. If you were dating you couldn’t even hold hands. And Animal House was like this whole other side of college!
SM: I just watched It Came From Somewhere, and I loved that movie so much!
BR: Did you? Thank you, thank you! We’re still kind of promoting it
SM: I love a good, cheesy B-movie, and that one made me so happy! I wish you were in it more. [NOTE – if you like cheesy movies, I recommend that you check out It Came From Somewhere (It’s on Amazon Prime). It’s a super fun 1950s sci-fi spoof!]
BR: So do I!
SM: In your movies, you have quick parts – kind of like you’re in, you’re out. When I was watching Puppet Master: Doktor Death I was like “Bill no! Come back!” Do you ever want to do a lead role?
BR: There are future projects I have bigger parts in. We’re recording one (and starting to film in August) called Sweet Christmas, where I play the patriarch of a very dysfunctional family.
SM: So you’re looking to transition to bigger roles then.
BR: I consider myself a character actor so that usually means supporting parts, but not necessarily always. As far as the short films – I’ve gotten to play a mob boss (which I enjoyed) and the vampire lord of a coven of recovering addicts… But I look forward to playing a lead, it’s just something that hasn’t come my way yet.
SM: I like that one! Camp Sunshine, right? You were a good vampire. What’s been your favorite role that you’ve played?
BR: My favorite role? Of course that vampire. I’d love to play more vampire roles. And the guy in Split the Bottle, the guy in the wheelchair. There was a lot of opportunity to play a lot of fun stuff there.
SM: You were creepy as fuck in that role, I’m not gonna lie.
BR: Thank you! I was trying to be creepy as fuck! I think the filmmaker, Claire Cummings, did a fantastic job creating an air of suspense in the film.
SM: If you could play any role, what would be your magnum opus role?
BR: This is gonna sound silly, but a mastermind that takes over the world.
SM: Well who doesn’t want to take over the world? You have a bunch of stuff upcoming listed on IMDB. What’s coming next?
BR: It should be a movie called You’re Out. It’s a baseball-themed movie, not horror. I play a baseball coach that has a history with the lead character. He has a kid that he’s taking across the country to try and get signed to a big league contract. He had a chance and he blew it. I was his coach. And I never let him forget it. It also involves rescue dogs and a woman that wears very low-cut outfits and calls herself Boob Ruth. She has a YouTube show and wears a mask so nobody knows who she is. But I suspect it and I get to stalk her.
SM: Do you have more horror coming?
BR: Yes, something called Soul Sucker. It’s an anthology, and I’m going to be in a segment called Six Pack of Terror. Are you a hockey fan?
BR: Another film I worked on is called Black Ice. It’s based on a true story that happened in Detroit, to take the city-owned recreation centers in the black neighborhoods and convert them into hockey rinks so the kids can play hockey. I play the Director of the Department of Recreation that wants to see the property razed and sold to developers.
I’m also in a movie called Business Hair, where I play the HR manager. It’s another movie about how white people don’t get black culture.
SM: This was fun. Thank you so much for doing this!
BR: Are we done already?? This was fun. Thank you.
Follow Bill on Instagram @billxrussell. Hit the link in his bio to his Linktree where you can check out his demo reels and watch some of the short films that he’s in.