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 Tara Cardinal Interview 
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Owen Keehnen of says about actress Tara Cardinal, "Sizzling red-hot redhead Tara Cardinal is set to make some serious waves in the horror world." Cardinal, already an experienced actress in her early 20's, is that deadly combination... She's beautiful.  She's intelligent.  She's intensively driven and she damn sure wants to make a difference in the world along the way.

Currently at work on "The Legend of the Red Reaper," Cardinal has been busy making a splash in films such as "Delivery," "Genius," "Dangerous Games" and others along with a wealth of stage work.

In addition to her work as a "Scream Queen," Cardinal is actively working to produce "Haunted: The Movie," a film based upon her own childhood experiences that is part supernatural thriller, part horror flick and part social commentary.

Tara Cardinal sat down with me for this exclusive interview about her childhood, her acting, her upcoming films and her intense desire to help others.


From what I've been able to learn about you, you grew up in a bit of a bohemian lifestyle. Your parents were a psychic and a traveled frequently and left home at 16 to pursue acting. How does a 16-year-old make such a bold decision? Was it encouraged/supported by your parents? How did you get started?

Tara Cardinal:
I was young and stupid. At 16 I thought I'd seen everything, most of it bad, violent, and ugly. I had no idea how beautiful life could be. I lived in Indiana with my step grandparents from 8-12, and went into foster care just after my 14th birthday. I never felt like my parents wanted me, and quite consciously separated myself from them. I moved back in with my mother when I was 12, but I was so emotionally numb from my experience in Indiana, that I couldn't connect with her, or my father. From that point on both of my parents were forced to accept me as I was, or they were excluded from my life. I became fiercely and irrationally independent. When I was 16, I think they were just happy that I told them I wasleaving first. I think I scared my parents a lot. I ran away more times than I can remember, each time traveling further than the last.

You started a humanitarian organization in the area of child abuse at the age of 12. Tell me about that organization and your ongoing efforts in the area of child abuse. Share as much or as little as you'd like about your own experiences/motivations.

Tara Cardinal:
I was living in Florida, and my two best friends, andI had been abused by "family". Like almost all abuse victims, we felt it was important to take care of everyone else around us. Almost every single one of our female classmates had been abused, or was being abused. Our goal was to get these girls through the day. When I moved up to Canada I took the Club with me, and started it up there. We did peer counseling, some interventions (I once broke into a house with a screaming child, to find a 6-year-old holding off 10 kids with a baseball bat), and studied alcohol and drug abuse. After I moved out on my own I had homeless kids and runaways staying with me as well. Some of them were older than I was!

At 21, you've already got around 50 credits (theatre, film). You seem to have found a way around the idea of a struggling you just immerse yourself in projects?

Tara Cardinal:
I started VERY young. I did my first live performance in grade 3, and from then on I've almost always been involved in a project. As I've gotten older it's gotten easier. I used to get so lost in a role I couldn't remember who I was when it was over. I'd feel so disoriented after a show close, or a film wrap. I couldn't remember how to walk like me, or talk like me, or sometimes dress like me. Now I learn more about myself with each role, and am always grateful that I get to be me at bedtime. I still struggle. I still study every day. I am constantly trying to perfect my craft. I want to stay that way too. I never want to get so good that I don't need to practice.

You've managed to develop a reputation in both the horror and romance genres on the indie film scene. Tell me a bit about your film you got started, some of your film projects. What was your first film, and what upcoming projects do you have?

Tara Cardinal:
Film was an accident. A friend of a friend needed an actress for a student project. (Those take like, a day to film.) My first film project took 4 hours, with no preproduction, and no script in advance. I don't have
to tell you how terrible it was. It was a horror film, and I got killed at the end. My second film was also a student production, I played a 16 year old girl who
met a guy on the internet who kills her. My 3rd film was a Freddy Vs Jason student film long before the real one happened. I got killed in that one, too. It was a running joke among my friends. I had 2 lines in the Freddy movie, and 2 scenes, and I was in a night gown for the death scene. My movie career was rapidly going in the WRONG direction. I did extra work in a bathing suit
for a European film in Russian after that. Less clothes, less lines. Bad news. So I went back to doing theatre. I hooked up with the Nova Players, and ran
the theatre club for 3 years. That was fun. My second year there I was playing a 14-year-old. Now, I'm working on my own projects. Film work is
pretty scarce in Florida, where I live now. All my agents (I have 5, I think) send me on the occasional commercial audition, but it isn't really my niche. A
lot of the independent work here is non-paying, super low budget (like $8,000) and may never get into distribution. And believe me, I've done my fair share of those!

I just recently finished my BS degree in psychology, and have really struggled with the idea of merging my two loves. How can I make films that help people? Well, I have to make them myself, that is for sure. So the first one I'm doing is a documentary called Half Way to Normal. I recently went back to Indiana where I grew up with my psychotic step grandparents. My super
religious, pillars of the community, faultless grandparents. No one believed me when I told them how abusive they were. So, here I was, almost a decade
later, I decided to go back with my best friend, and a camera crew. I visited the house where everything happened, dropped in on the class reunion even though I never went to the high school, and visited my grandparents' graves for the first time. Inspired by the documentary, is the film "Haunted."

But before I get to Haunted, I'm working on Legend of the Red Reaper. A mostly fictional character, inherently evil, unlovable, a product of rape, and
living in times where demons are real. She protects the people who despise her, and serves a world that will never accept her.

So, you've got this reputation in horror and romance. You're beautiful (I think we can all acknowledge that). Yet, with Tara, there's so much more...first, off, you're incredibly intelligent. Beyond starting an organization at 12, you learned two languages (Italian and German) for your role in "Genius" and you're now co-producing "Haunted." Have you had to consciously work to avoid being the "pretty face" in a film? Your roles seem to largely be balanced...attractive, intelligent, gifted, strong values.

Tara Cardinal:
You really think I'm beautiful? That is so sweet. I don't see myself as pretty. Actually, growing up, I was told I was ugly and fat. When I auditioned for "Delivery" I was floored when the director told me he thought I might be too beautiful to play the part of Bibi. Not to worry when you see the film, I'm a complete dork!

I had a friend tell me once that I wasn't a leading lady, and that I should content myself with character roles. Time after time I got cast as the romantic
lead, but tried to play them like character parts, so people would know I could act. Now that I've figured out what I'm doing, I try to bring the love, kindness,
compassion, and humanitarianism that is who I am to my characters, because it's who I am. It occurred to me eventually that if a director didn't want to see me in the role, they would cast someone else. And they often do! :)

Tell me about "Haunted."

Tara Cardinal:
Oh boy... ok. Haunted is the true story of a girl/women who was sexually abused by her grandmother. Now in her early twenties, she is relieved to find out her grandmother is dead. But things only get worse. She starts to see her grandmother in bed with her at night. It's her grandmother's hands on her body instead of her boyfriend's. She's hearing a voice that tells her the same things her grandmother told her when she was a little girl. No one loves her, she'll never be any good. Grandma is the only friend she needs. Her nightmares get worse. Violent. I'm not entirely sure how it ends. It's a true story, and the haunting isn't going away. You can see the trailer for it on or on my myspace page
The Indie film circuit can be notoriously harsh....what are some of your best and worst experiences?

Tara Cardinal:
 :) I met the love of my life at a casting. I knew the moment I met him he was the one. The project is still on hold, but we have been together ever since. He is the most wonderful, caring, kind, compassionate man I've ever met. He's also a writer, director, and producer. We make a great team :)  One of the student projects I worked on, the director handed me $50 for my services, and in front of the rest of the cast and crew said "I feel like I'm paying a hooker".  
Most recently, I was begged by Landon House producer Kevin Dolan to work on two of his films, Sabres and Roses, and a Civil War zombie film. He lied to me about his budget. I offered him a very reduced rate, flew up to Maryland, brought my assistant. When I got there - there was no director, no official DP, no script. The movie set was being used as a haunted house. All the lights had been unscrewed, there were holes in the floor, bugs on the walls and ceiling, dirt on the floors, some of the rooms smelled like various excrements - and he wanted me to STAY there for 5 days. I told him I needed a place with a clean shower. He threw a fit and told his production manager to send me home. The whole trip cost me several thousand dollars, and he refused to reimburse me for any of it, or even pay for the day I worked. It turns out his budget was over $500k.

You're a strong advocate for children. How do you reconcile being against abuse and starring in films that often feature violence?

Tara Cardinal: 
At first, like most people, I didn't think about it.  Now things are a little different. The film Red Reaper is a horror/fantasy film with a ton of violence. The first scene a man is killed, and my character tracks and kills the killer. Most of the way through my character is Buffy. She's selflessly hunting demons because it's her calling and she's good at it. Halfway through she slips. She's horribly betrayed and loses everything - her family, her home, her true love, and she ruthlessly slaughters the men who betrayed her - which is when she realizes that now she's lost her humanity.  This is a cold, violent world. Pacifism is a beautiful thing. If everyone were a pacifist the world would be gentle. But there are real demons out there. There are fathers who rape their daughters, husbands who beat and murder their wives, children who
kick cats and so on. Sometimes violence is the only way to stop violence. I've always been very utilitarian in my views. I'm all for the greatest good, the lesser
of evils, the equation of peace. Ignoring bullies doesn't work. I don't advocate violence, but I do advocate strength. I advocate NOT being a victim. I
advocate standing up for yourself, and most importantly those who need you to stand up for them.  Abuse is very different from self defence, or defence
in general. I am not a strong believer in rights for abusers.

Actor's Studio Question: What's your favorite word?

Tara Cardinal: 
Bashena (it's Portuguese for little - also my cat's name - you have to smile when you say it)

What's your least favorite word?

Tara Cardinal:
I'm not telling.

You've openly stated that you don't want to do more voiceover seems like every celebrity these days is doing such work. What about it doesn't work for you?

Tara Cardinal: 
Me. I'm just not Proctor and Gamble. I think, too, I'm working on saying more by saying less. I will frequently go through a script and try to say a line with my look, or gesture. I've asked directors if I can cut a line, and just do a reaction shot.

What are some of your favorite films (not just horror, which you've named previously)? Any particularly favorite actors/actresses?

Tara Cardinal:
Favorite films... The Princess Bride, Phantom of the Opera, Lord of the Rings, Crash - to name a few. Anything inspiring.

Favorite actors? Angelina Jolie, Meryl Streep (I would LOVE to do a film with Meryl Streep), Cary Elwes, Winona Ryder, Britney Murphy, Jack Nicholson, and  Amber Benson.

Who (if anyone) has really inspired you or helped you grow as a performer?

Tara Cardinal:
Watching Meryl Streep do anything is inspiring. She is so talented, and layered. I just love watching her work.

If a 16-year-old is reading this interview and thinking "I want to be an actor," what advice would you give them?

Tara Cardinal:
Wanting it isn't enough. You have to need it, eat it, sleep it, breathe it. Acting is a brutal business. If you can do anything else, do it. If I could do anything other than perform, I would.

Many would argue that horror films typically exploit women...your response?

Tara Cardinal:
I agree with that entirely. And I am working to change it. Women need to take charge of their career, and create roles for themselves, and for each other.

What kind of responsibility do filmmakers have in terms of their violent content? Is violence in film a problem?

Tara Cardinal:
Violence in cinema is not what is wrong with society. People being sheep, failing to take responsibility for their actions, and re-enacting the violence they see is part of what is wrong with society.

On the other hand, anyone who's familiar with Albert Bandura's observational learning theories would argue that people will mimic what they see, provided the reinforcement (reward) is pleasing. Glorification of violence in cinema is certainly part of the problem. Audiences have become desensitized to violence.

I believe that film makers have a HUGE responsibility to their audience. We have been afforded the unique privilege of sharing and to some extent enforcing our world view on everyone watching. For 90 minutes you
are sucked into my world, my rules, my schemas. I am your guide, and I think it's my responsibility to bring you through it safely, and if possible, better for it.

What else do you enjoy doing? hobbies?

Tara Cardinal:
Tennis, reading, fencing, taking personality tests and recycling.

I'm curious. You work tirelessly to help child abuse survivors. Do you believe it's possible to end child abuse?

Tara Cardinal:
Do I believe it is possible to end child abuse? I never thought about it on a global scale. There is so much wrong with our world, and children are the easier targets. Child abuse is about power. It is about the abuser feeling old, ugly, impure, out of control, and robbing a child of innocence, sweetness, and purity.Children are small, inarticulate, easy to blame, beat, abuse, condemn. The best part is, there are rarely repercussions from it. I certainly, have never met someone who was punished for abusing their children. Or someone else's (children).

I think it would take a huge shift in consciousness. All people would need to see their responsibility to all children. If you see someone hurting a child say something. Do something. Don't turn away. People need to understand that it is not normal, not ok, not acceptable. I think we, as a species, are in deep trouble.

Thank you so much for your time. It has been a joy to spend time with you today.
Tara Cardinal:
Thank you. I've enjoyed it, as well. I hope we get the chance to chat again.

For more information on Tara Cardinal, visit her website Edit

- Richard Propes
 The Independent Critic
RICHARD'S NOTE: Not long after this interview, Tara agreed to become a national spokesperson for the Tenderness Network. The Tenderness Network and The Independent Critic are grateful for Tara's ongoing support and involvement!

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