By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—If you’ve watched prime time TV over the past 20 years, odds are you’ve seen actress Missi Pyle in one show or another. Her list of credits includes guest shots on “Heroes,” “Mad About You,” “Boston Legal, “Frasier,” “The Sarah Silverman Program,” “Two Broke Girls,” to name a few.
The blond beauty has recurring role on the Cedric the Entertainer comedy “The Soul Man,” playing his campaign manager, and she also is the voice of feisty five-year-old beauty pageant queen Gert Buckwald on the animated Fox series “Bordertown.” Her big screen credits include the Oscar winning “The Artist,” “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story” and “Gone Girl.”
Pyle, 43, gets a chance to show off her dramatic chops in the futurist horror movie “Pandemic.” In it, she plays a post-apocalyptic survivor who is part of a small team sent out by the military to the dangerous streets of Los Angeles to rescue a group of stranded people, unaffected by a deadly virus that has turned most of the population into zombie-like killers. The film currently is playing in select theaters and available on VOD and iTunes.
As Denise, she serves as the rescue group’s navigator, responsible for leading them to a distant school where the survivors are supposed to be holed up.
Directed by John Suits, the low-budget action-thriller was written by Dustin T. Benson.
Pyle co-stars along with Mekhi Phifer (“ER,” “Dawn of the Dead”), Rachel Nichols (“Chicago Fire,” “Conan the Barbarian”) and Alfie Allen (Theon on “Game of Thrones”).
Born in Texas and raised in the Arkansas-Tennessee border town of Germantown (Tenn.), Pyle always wanted to be a performer. She starred in musicals in high school and later was part of a country-western duo with singer/actress Shawnee Smith. They’re professional paths eventually diverged but they’ve been talking about a Smith & Pyle comeback. Pyle recently adopted a baby, and her daughter now comes first.
During a recent phone interview from her suburban Los Angeles home (with her baby girl cooing in the background), Pyle spoke about becoming a first-time mom, her new movie and what’s ahead, career-wise.
Q: In “Pandemic,” your character is smart and pretty self-reliant when it comes to fending off the undead. How did you get involved in the project and what was the main attraction?
Pyle: I do a lot of comedy, which I love, but I don’t often get a chance to do something where I’m a bad (expletive) and fight zombies. Well, they’re not really zombies, but something close to it. It looked like a lot of fun, just the idea of us going out on these (rescue) missions. The action of it all really appealed to me. So I read the script and met with the writer and director. They said, “What do you think of this character?” And I said, “It sounds like a lot of fun,” and that was it.
Q: You shot the film in L.A., right?
Pyle: Yeah, it was here, which is always fun. It’s just rare. It’s kind of sad that it’s so rare (because of runaway production). A lot of it was shot at this former correctional facility for boys in Norwalk. They just tore it down. I think we shot right before they tore it down. I think they’re putting up some condos there, which I wouldn’t want to live in.
Q: Did you hear any weird sounds or children’s voices when you were working there?
Pyle: No, but the place is so creepy. I’ve actually shot three different movies there: pieces of “A Haunted House 2,” and (Adam Rifkin’s comedy) “Director’s Cut.” We had lunch in an area where they used to keep some of the inmates in solitary confinement. You walk in and there are these cells and you can imagine it when they used to keep these 13-year-old boys there. It puts you in the right mood for this film.
Q: How was it working alongside your cast?
Pyle: They’re all fantastic. I’m such a “Game of Thrones” fan and Alfie plays this horrible—at least he was horrible—character on that. He’s so good in this film and so different. He speaks with a flawless American accent in this. I really really liked Mekhi Phifer; he’s such a calming, fun presence. And Rachel has become a good friend of mine now; she’s such a cool lady.
We were in (antivirus) suits and we thought it would be a good idea to tape our gloves to our suits, so in between takes, in order to access our phones, it was hard, so a lot of times we just sat in these silly costumes. We either sat on the bus and chatted or if we were somewhere else, we’d just hang out. Normally, on projects, you go off on your own and check to see if your agent called. But with those heavy gloves, we couldn’t really use our hands.
Q: Was it hot inside the suit?
Pyle: Oh yeah, we had to be careful. They would fog up and you’d struggle with your breath if you made bad choices the night before.
Q: You’re spending your days shooting this killing and running away from zombies. Does that affect you when you get home and try to sleep?
Pyle: These people weren’t necessarily dead; they were one step away from being dead. They were like rabid humans. It was so creepy because we were shooting near Skid Row downtown sometimes. So between that and the boys prison, I think it does get under your skin a little bit. It’s hard to shake off. So you come home and have a glass of wine.
Q: You are now a mom. Congratulations! How old is your daughter?
Pyle: She’s six months old. I adopted her about six months ago right after she was born.
Q: Hopefully, you’re getting a full night’s sleep now.
Pyle: I didn’t the night before last so my brain is a little foggy. I couldn’t even think of the word “emphasis.”
Q: You’ve done so many comedy TV series. You’ve got “Bordertown” right now in which you voice 5-year-old Gert. Are there Gert-centric episodes coming up?
Pyle: Yeah, I’ve got a couple of great episodes coming up. I think one is the Sunday after next. Gert has a heart attack and they don’t have enough money to take her to a doctor so they have to get Ernesto and take her across the border into Mexico. It’s a pretty funny episode. I think she’s in the middle of a pageant when she has a heart attack. I have another episode coming up where Gert wants an American Girl doll but (her family) can’t afford it. It’s really really funny satire. I think that episode is my favorite because once she finally gets the doll, it’s sick. I’m so looking forward to seeing them.
I’m also on the last season of “The Soul Man,” with Cedric the Entertainer. He’s running for mayor and I play his campaign manager. My episode starts airing Wednesday. I’m on the last 11 episodes.
Q: Though you were born in Texas, you were raised in near Memphis. What do you remember most about growing up in Tennessee?
Pyle: I love Tennessee. I went to school in Germantown (near the Arkansas border). It’s so beautiful and laid back. I really miss the south. The people are so friendly. I went to college in Winston-Salem, N.C. Just the drive along the 40, driving through the Smoky Mountains, is so beautiful. I spent a lot of time in those mountains. I really miss that part of the country. I miss seasons, humidity, a little bit. (She chuckles.) I’m thinking of getting back there someday. I miss living in a place where it isn’t a one-industry town.
Q: Do you still play music?
Pyle: I’m working on a new show now. I wrote and recorded a song called “I Wanna (expletive) You Up,” and recorded a video for it. I raised $10K. It’s a beautiful video. It has some fun cameos like Jaime Pressly in it, and some other people. That’s on my YouTube channel, MissiPyle.
I also released an album on iTunes called “Poo Poo Platter, Vol. 1.” I have two more (volumes) I want to release. The first one is just some silly songs, but the next one I’ve written more serious ones. I hope to get back together with Shawnee (Smith) as some point. She’s kind of hinted that she may be ready (for a reunion) at some point. But she has three children and I think she’s still a couple of years away from us performing together again.