In keeping with the mores of a young, Hollywood actress, Gillian Shure walks into the 101 Café fashionably late for breakfast. And, yes, heads turn when she does. After all, she’s a beautiful, 5-foot-10-inch redhead. But in knee-length cutoffs that were actually cut off from an old pair of jeans, a basic tank top and Converse sneaks, she doesn’t bear the usual Robertson Avenue-supplied signifiers of young Hollywood. No yappy purse dog or glaring bling. Her only accessory is a vintage costume-jewelry necklace adorned with red stones that she suspects are plastic. Still, it lights up her red hair and striking blue eyes. Also, she’s not really walking. She’s hobbling. Which is cause for alarm, considering her penchant for playing horror-flick damsels in extreme, often bloody, distress.
I wonder what instrument of terror — ax, chainsaw, serrated blade? — is responsible for her injury, but it turns out she mangled her knee surfing in Maui. Kind of mundane for someone whose résumé includes getting tortured and killed in mostly straight-to-video splatterfests such as The Slaughterhouse Massacre, Hollywood Kills, Dead and Gone and Animals. She also got minced in the hit Shia LeBeouf vehicle, Disturbia.
“It was an onscreen attack and an off-screen death,” she says. “I got hacked up.”
There was consolation, though, in the fact that the murder did propel the psychological thriller’s narrative.
“I started thinking the other day about the ways I’ve been killed,” Shure says. “I’ve been chopped up. I’ve been raped and murdered. Shot twice ...”
“In the same movie?”
“No, different movies. Eviscerated, that’s my favorite ...”
“What do you mean by eviscerated?”
“Like, cut in half. Then, the best one is in this short that’s playing [in festivals] right now. I trip on macaroni and cheese and get stabbed in the eye by a toy tank. I die. It pierced my brain.”
“Are you just good at this sort of thing?” I ask as we settle into some eggs and fruit salad.
“I don’t know. For a second I was scared that would be my typecasting. ... It all kind of culminated in this one pilot I did where I did a double-murder, suicide flashback in silhouette.”
“What’s the biggest challenge for you in doing something like that?” I ask.
“Pretending like this is really important,” she laughs. “That was like the teaser for the pilot and it was a bunch of years ago and, literally, in silhouette. You can’t even see my face — me and my lover shoot each other in the window of the mansion . awful.”
“How many movies have you been killed in?”
She pauses to consider. “I’d have to look at my résumé. ... Dead and Gone is one movie where I didn’t get killed, but I get chased by an ax murderer.”
“You didn’t die?”
“No, I win in the end.
In Death In Charge, the short that’s making the festival rounds, Shure plays a dysfunctional mother who doesn’t notice that the babysitter has been replaced by Death.
“Death comes to babysit,” she says, by way of plot summary.
It’s one of Shure’s favorites. The writer/director, Devi Snively (yes, that’s her name), is one of just a handful of women to get accepted to AFI’s directing program.
“She’s just this awesome chick who used to live in Indiana,” says Shure. “She taught a class strictly devoted to horror movies, at Notre Dame. And she made all these quirky, lesbian vampire movies.”
The short, she says, “is awesome, actually.”
I ask Shure to tell me about her background and she demurs. “Nothing’s more boring than an actor’s background. Have you ever heard of an interesting acting background?”
When I insist, she tells me that she started out at the University of Wisconsin, where things didn’t go as planned. “They had me be either a paper towel, tin foil, Saran wrap or a Kleenex. I transferred to USC the next day. It wasn’t the direction I was heading — paper products.”
She immediately felt the typical Midwesterner’s culture shock upon arriving in L.A.
“Everyone dressed up and had acrylic nails. It was very strange to me, a granola from a hippie town, Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was so much weirdness at USC. Girls took sororities seriously and wore makeup and, literally, I went through high school in Umbros [soccer shorts] and J. Crew men’s flannel shirts.”
At USC she went against the grain and studied theater.
“I’d say I like theater more because there’s a lot more freedom in it and there’s a momentum you get onstage that I haven’t found a way to get in film, which I love. So, I do theater, but it’s hard to do good theater. A lot of stars have to line up for that.”
I ask what she feels is the biggest challenge in navigating the Hollywood maze.
“Just getting in the rooms, getting the auditions you need to get better work. I don’t think I’m easy. ... There’s not a lot of 5’ 10” redheads walking around. We’re going extinct.”
Well, yeah, how many eviscerations and deaths by macaroni and cheese can the gene pool survive? But it must be daunting. I ask Shure if she’s nervous or excited about her prospects.
“I’m horrified,” she says. “No pun intended. I don’t know, I feel like every time I get really daunted, something happens to keep me going. But I never really ever consider stopping. Not yet.”
Nor should she. She’s got serious chops, which I saw for myself when the stars lined up and she was cast in an ensemble examination of marital stagnation, It’s Just Sex, at the Two Roads Theater in the Valley. Shure was a force onstage.
“Yes, I was brilliant,” she laughs. “It was incredible. You get to be in a live theater every night and more than that, in L.A., being in a packed theater, sold out.”
Still, despite that and a dozen television episodes and nine movies — some of which don’t call for her to be sliced and diced — Shure isn’t about to take herself too seriously. A throwback to an earlier era of Hollywood dames, she’d rather match wits and trade quips than tout résumés.
“As an actor, you’re part of the art that you’re talking about so it just feels silly to talk about it sometimes, even though it can be profound and it can change people’s lives and it can do those things. But sometimes,” she laughs, “you’re just getting shot ... or eviscerated, or murdered, or raped, or chased by an ax.”