Actress and producer Tilke Hill created the micro-series “Why I Murdered My Roommate” to unify people with dark comedy, but also show how laughter comes in many forms. Along with Tilke’s many other projects, she has created a digital short easy called “Queer Suffragist” for the Toronto/ Buffalo PBS affiliate. The Knockturnal spoke with Tilke Hill about her career and Amazon Prime micro-series.
The Knockturnal: Why was it significant to create a dark comedy micro-series? How did you create the storyline?
Tilke Hill: We initially shot “Why I Murdered My Roommate” as a half-hour pilot episode. However, when we discovered that some studios were looking for shorter form content, we thought it would be fun to create an entire micro season out of our initial pilot. The micro formula is very interesting because you have a narrow window of opportunity to engage and entertain the audience. It makes your story, characters, their dreams and fears distilled or crystallized into their purest forms.
Regarding the storyline: you know the thoughts we all have, but don’t act upon? “Oh, I would love 5 minutes with this fool” or “If this dog won’t stop barking, guess what we’re having for dinner?” But you would never actually harm anyone. Well, I had a roommate who tried to kill me by strangulation. Seriously. And I use humor to process things so here we are.
One of my very dear friends married a writer, Mike Pauly, who shares a love for dark comedy. One day we were fawning over our favorites: the sincere depravity of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”, the flashback story framing of “How I Met Your Mother”, and the overall sleek, dark edge to “Damages”. And we thought it would be hilarious if we tried to create our own dark comedy with elements of that fateful relationship with my quasi-killer. One of the characters is based on this roommate I mention, though she is much more lovable on screen. And, of course, as a Buffalonian, I needed to share the absurd madness of Dyngus Day. We brought aboard my colleague and fellow filmmaker, Lukia Costello, who added even more whim to the whimsically sordid tale of EZ.
The Knockturnal: How does comedy through comic books, video games, and social media impact all people?
Tilke Hill: Laughter is universal but there are so many forms, from diaphragm rippers to hidden snickers. Whether in print, Playstation or Pinterest, laughter is endless. I love the unification of comedy. I miss those times in a theatre when the audience all erupts in ecstatic laughter as one. When the house lights slowly come up at the end of the show, and everyone grabs their jackets and empty popcorn bags, there is an afterglow, like an aura, where the audience is still smiling, relishing. With video games, oh god, so many worlds! And so much laughter. The “inside jokes” that accompany certain games are priceless, especially in the MMPORG worlds. And comics, what a wellspring of unification in humorous storytelling. I truly love the intimate storytelling of comics, which are more often than not graphic novels, or even a collection of stills that could easily be a movie through the power of image. Comic books have been the foundation for entire universes of media. But the part of these that is interesting to me and the foundation of my graduate studies is the concept and implementation of transmedia storytelling – telling/sharing/expanding your universe over multiple platforms. David Lynch‘s “Twin Peaks” is transmedia – a series, films, a physical copy of Laura Palmer’s diary… these manifestations expand the story, add more depth to the characters, shine a light or take it away from potentialities. And David Lynch is a master for grappling the grave with all shades of levity.
These types of media are art forms that act as conduits for human connection. We’ve supplanted many aspects of our lives with video games and social media to foster this vital sense of connection while physically apart. Tik Tok alone has created multiple stars in one year – my favorite vegan foodies Tabitha Brown and The Korean Vegan (Joanna Molinaro) come to mind. By sharing your story with strangers, you can create a bond. And nothing strengthens a bond quite like comedy.
The Knockturnal: When did you start your acting career?
Tilke Hill: I took an acting class when I was 12 and had two key takeaways. One, laying on the floor and pretending to be a cloud was liberating for my young and anxious mind. Two, performing a monologue for a group of people whose attention I enraptured allowed me a feeling of confidence that I did not have in everyday life. After that, I went on to be accepted at a Performing Arts High School and then to receive multiple degrees in performance. I guess you could say pretending to be a cloud is when it all started.
The Knockturnal: What was it like working with Queer Icon Dorian Electra? How do you think by starring Dorian Electra showed inclusivity and positivity towards the LGBTQ community?
Tilke Hill: I met Dorian at a filmmaking workshop, and I loved their vibe, style, and boundless creative energy. When Mike and I were casting the pilot, I knew I wanted to include Dorian. Dorian is truly committed and breathes so much authenticity into their art while manifesting their natural talent so effortlessly. Which shouldn’t be a surprise to read for any Dorian Electra fans!
I’ve always strived to be inclusive of communities. At the time we were filming, I did not publicly identify as queer, but I was living with and engaged to a natal-bodied male who had just begun transitioning to their true female identity. While we were filming, neither Dorian nor I shared our experiences on our own variegated queer identities, yet here we are at different stages of our evolution. I cast Dorian because they are a badass. I would hope that folks who watch it now and recognize Dorian reflect on how special it is to see another stepping stone on the path of self-development and realization. I really hope this reflection widens the spaces in which queer outliers are accepted and adds to their celebration.
The Knockturnal: Why was female friendship so important to EZ?
Tilke Hill: When we were pitching Why I Murdered My Roommate to potential producers, who were invariably cisgendered heterosexual white men, they always asked the same provincial questions: why isn’t EZ searching for a boyfriend or a father figure? AKA the male savior. In retrospect, the more I learn about the insidious societal demands and demands on gender identity, the more infuriating their inquiry becomes. Why does a female lead have to be in need a male figure? Mike’s wife and I have been friends longer than any romantic relationship with a partner I’ve had. In fact, all of my long-term female friends have been in my life longer than any romantic relationship and I’m a serial monogamist. So female friendship is important to EZ in the sense that these types of connections are vital, which I hope is evinced by the vitality these relationships summon.
And for EZ, perhaps we think it’s because she wants to see if she could have such a connection, even if she doesn’t want one. But there is a seed planted in her ego that compels her to determine whether she can hold one. So, if that seed is there that means there is a corollary struggle, the inverse. In the upcoming episodes (we’ve added another writer – Mary Poindexter McLaughlin), it is implicit that there is sudden birth of a need for humanity. She has had female friends in the past and they’ve all unceremoniously ended. We all have friendships that have ended because one of us irreparably messes up, or because circumstances change or even for no reason at all. But the need for these connections has never changed. So EZ says it’s because she wants to see if she could have one…but somewhere inside her, it’s because she wants one.
The Knockturnal: What inspired you to become the CEO of the New Hotness, Inc.? How has this media company benefited filmmakers?
Tilke Hill: Ultimately, I wanted to create a company that assisted filmmakers and amplified stories of underrepresented voices. I’ve always supported other artists through volunteerism, mentorship, and creative opportunities. As a queer creator, I feel like it’s my duty to be inclusive toward all underrepresented storytellers – wherever the barrier for entry lies. The New Hotness, Inc. has produced tons of events to help underserved filmmakers get access including workshops, seminars, and film festivals. We’ve provided opportunities to folks who may not have been thought of or just glossed over in favor of the traditional cisgender heterosexual white male to fill roles in serial content, films, and commercials. To be clear, I am not against this demographic of man, I am pro parity in opportunity and pay. It’s 2021, and it’s the first time more than one female director has been nominated in the Best Director category by the Academy Awards and the first time a woman of color has ever been nominated. In the Academy’s 93-year history only five women prior to this year have been nominated. So while these benefits of The New Hotness, Inc may be small and indie on first blush, we strive to create a ripple that joins the other ripples of inclusion and forms that wave of passionate change through the power art.