Tristan Risk Interview

Often one’s career path takes an unusual turn. Perhaps you wanted to be a firefighter and become an accountant. Maybe you dreamed of being a pilot or flight attendant and then wound up working in an office in the same city for thirty years. To top that, you were studying to become a veterinarian technician, and then one day found your passion busking while swallowing swords. Stick with us, it gets even more amazing than that.

Tristan Risk is one of the most compelling and entertaining performers to grace the stages and streets of Vancouver.


HNMAG: Where are you currently living? 

Tristan Risk: I live in New Zealand. I’m in Vancouver until Halloween but then I go home and do a six-month tour with the Extravaganza Fair. 


HNMAG: When did you move?

Tristan Risk: I haven’t been living in Vancouver since 2021.


HNMAG:  Were you born in Vancouver?

Tristan Risk: Yes, I am Vancouver-born and bred. 


HNMAG: What part of town did you grow up in?

Tristan Risk: I grew up in Tsawwassen and moved downtown when I was in my 20’s and spent most of my time living in East Vancouver.


HNMAG: Around the Drive?

Tristan Risk: Yes. Definitely, I moved twice and it was into the house next door. 


HNMAG: When did you become interested in performing?

Tristan Risk: I’ve always had the performing bug. Even as a kid, my best friend and I would make up stories and make our poor parents watch us perform. I would do recitals in my Grandpa’s church. Youth choir and then musical theatre in High School, big shock! I started Burlesque in my early 20’s. It either took off or spiralled from there. 


HNMAG: Were your first paid gigs Burlesque? 

Tristan Risk: It started out as a joke then it became a schtick which turned into a fun and profitable schtick. So I schtuck to it.


HNMAG: What was the initial joke? 

Tristan Risk: A friend of mine was having a birthday party. They asked me to jump out of a giant fake cake or present to do the Happy Birthday Mr. President thing and I said “Yes of course. I’m totally down to do this.” This friend had a band and they asked if I wanted to do something like this to open for them when they played a small venue, the next weekend. One thing turned into two, then three. I started running a weekly night down at the Plaza of Nations for a while around 2002-2003. 


HNMAG: What was the first band called? 

Tristan Risk: I started off with Crystal Pistol that first time.


HNMAG: Did you have a name for your Burlesque shows back in 2002?

Tristan Risk: I used to call the ones down at Plaza of Nations the Sin-O-Matic before social media. 


HNMAG: What manifested into something more viable?

Tristan Risk: Once I had the regular nights, I attracted some of my friends to give it a go. I was also going to college for veterinary medicine. I got certified and did my practicum. I loved working with animals. I loved working in the service of animals and their care but I absolutely detested working with the people that came attached to them. That was a bit of a stumbling block for that career. 


HNMAG: You also modeled for pin-ups.

Tristan Risk: Yes. I was one of the OG, retro-pin-up girls. It was all pre-social media in old print magazines. Eventually, I started my own website. 


HNMAG: Was that like Betty Page?

Tristan Risk: I used to do a retro Betty roll in my hair and it was all 40’s and 50’s style photo shoots. Vintage lingerie, corsets…etc. Eventually, it went into a weirder direction such as Ghostbuster pin-ups, and cheeky stuff. That was also when I started to do Burlesque full-time. 


HNMAG: What was the change then?  

Tristan Risk: The change was going on tour with the band Big John Bates and Voodoo Dolls as the director of this stage portion of the show and one of the dancers. We toured North America and Europe. I joined another troop in Vancouver called Sweet Soul Burlesque. From 2005 to 2008, there was a real boom for Burlesque in Vancouver. 


HNMAG: How did you transition to Film? 

Tristan Risk: In 2010, I quit the band after a three-month world tour. I was very tired and I wanted to do something else. I needed a change. I started doing more theatre, getting back into acting and that’s when I got an opportunity to audition for American Mary


HNMAG:  How did that audition happen? 

Tristan Risk: Originally I was supposed to be a dance coordinator. It was originally arranged by a mutual friend of the Soska’s and I. (Jen and Sylvia Soska are screenwriters, directors, and producers.) I went to meet with them about the dance stuff and they told me they were having difficulty finding someone to play the role of Beatress. They asked me if I wanted to audition and I said “Actually yeah, I read the script, I know the character. I’ll have a go. I didn’t actually really believe I had it until we started shooting which has stuck with me to this day on every production. I always think it can be taken away from me. I could be fired at any time. I got to keep my nose clean. 


HNMAG: Was that your first real audition?

Tristan Risk: I didn’t go out of my way to do that. It was mostly a friend saying “Hey, I’ve got this role they have to fill on a show, can you wear this outfit?” It was a very low commitment. 


HNMAG: Your partner lines up live performances for you. What’s that like?

Tristan Risk: When I felt like I’ve done enough shows, even ready to retire, I set my price ridiculously high, thinking no one will pay that much and Burns gets it every time. 


HNMAG: What kind of theatre work did you do before American Mary?

Tristan Risk: Weird stuff. I was with Spectral Theatre and they did these short format plays at a black box theatre on the Weekends in Japan Town in Vancouver. It was almost like Tales From the Crypt. They were really, really fun. 


HNMAG: What was the next movie you were in after American Mary?

Tristan Risk: Call Girl. It was made by Jill VI and co-starring Laurence Harvey. 


HNMAG:  How did that happen? 

Tristan Risk: Jill saw American Mary and she knew the Soska sisters. She was a fan of Human Centipede, so she was friendly with Laurence. She approached me and I said, “Absolutely, I want to do this.” We did an online fundraiser, met the goal, she flew us out and we shot it in a day at her friend’s house. It was fun because I got to be this crazy, creepy person. That kicked off a really nice time of having frequent work for so many years. Always something interesting going on.


HNMAG: You played Nurse Dana in Rabid in 2019. It’s a remake of the old David Cronenberg movie. Have you seen the original? 

Tristan Risk: Absolutely. I was a huge fan of both Davids, Cronenberg, and Lynch. There was a time in my life when I immersed myself heavily in both of those guys’ works. 


HNMAG: I grew up in Montreal and I watched it as soon as it came out on VHS. I was really happy to see a movie set in my home town. Where was your version set?

Tristan Risk: It was indistinct but I get the feeling it was Toronto. It gave me Toronto vibes. It never specifically mentioned where it was. 


HNMAG: You also write and direct.

Tristan Risk: I’ve written and directed two short films. 


HNMAG: How was that compared to being in front of the camera?

Tristan Risk: I liked it because I was working with good friends so it didn’t feel like work. I like all those people, we got to hang out and do a weird art project. I relate to people by doing weird art projects or doing stupid human tricks. It was a nice extension of that. 


HNMAG: What are some of your most memorable movie performances?

Tristan Risk: The Editor, Frankenstein Created Bikers, Ayla, Aliens Ate My Homework/Aliens Stole My Body.


HNMAG: What did you like most about those experiences?

Tristan Risk: With The Editor, I was part of a Canadian ensemble that I really respect, Astron6. They have done films like Manborg and Father’s Day. I was a fan before I worked with them on their Giallo spoof/tribute. It’s the same with Frankenstein Created Bikers and Amazon Hot Box… a combination of fun humans coming together to make some crazy cinema. With the Aliens films, they are based on books by author Bruce Coville. I am particularly fond of these films for two reasons. The first was that I thoroughly enjoyed playing Madame Pong. The FX team from MASTERSFX did some killer work. She looked like I imagined her to look in the books. The second reason is that as a child, I read tons of Bruce Colville books as a child. Getting a chance to bring one of those characters I loved reading about to life is pretty special. Ayla was such an odd, sad ghost story. I had never done a film with just my own face, really, at that point. Playing Ayla I felt that I got to tap into something I don’t normally get to engage in.


HNMAG: Are there any TV shows we can see or hear you in?

Tristan Risk: I did some Voice-over work for Tank Standing Buffalo’s short Only You featured on HBO.


HNMAG: Do you have any live performances coming up? 

Tristan Risk: I came back to Vancouver on July 14th and I have not stopped working. I did the Saskatoon and Edmonton Fringe Festival. I am looking forward to doing Fright Nights at Playland in Vancouver. I have gotten a lot of work as a sword swallower, a living statue, and a mermaid. 



HNMAG: What were you doing at the Fringe Festivals?

Tristan Risk: I was an outside entertainer. I was busking with my living stature. It was so much fun. 


HNMAG: Do you do a lot of busking?

Tristan Risk: I do. I do my living statue. I’m going to join my partner’s circle show and probably will have my own within a year. 


HNMAG: Will you do something different for your circle show than a living statue?

Tristan Risk: I will probably be doing sword-swallowing, possibly balancing stuff. 


HNMAG: What do you like about busking?

Tristan Risk: The streets a fast learner. You’ll quickly find out what works and what doesn’t.  It’s been really freeing to know I can go out and do my performance art and make money on it. Not having to worry about DJ’s, promoters, social media, putting it out on the net. It feels like I’m getting more art for less effort and it’s really, really freeing. 


HNMAG: What do you miss the most about New Zealand right now?

Tristan Risk: My pet ram is so awesome. His name is Rambo. He’s a Wilshire ram. I got him when he was three days old and he was a triplet. I named him Lambo. He was really small and I made sure to take care of him and now he’s a big, healthy boy. We have two ewes, Patty and Selma, and they had two babies, so now I have six sheep. 



HNMAG: When do you go back to see your Baby, Rambo?

Tristan Risk: We go home on the fourth of November. 


HNMAG: You’ll be here for Halloween.

Tristan Risk: Oh yeah and we’re going to be opening Bad Ass Film Festival at the Rio at the end of October. I will be doing a sword swallowing for that also. 




Life is not always linear. It’s not a clear path from A to B. When you are a creative individual who aspires most to be unique and innovative, traditional jobs are less alluring. For Tristan Risk it was about doing what she loves and finding amazing experiences along the way. From stages in Amsterdam, being a sexy nightmare performer with a rock n’ roll band to writing, directing, and performing in Vancouver to the star of the Canadian independent film scene. Then to make your own films and travel again as a fun busking show before it’s home to New Zealand and tend sheep. Life might be anything but usual for Tristan Risk but for one thing, it’s never boring. 

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