BELLINGHAM, Wash. State — Michelle Nessk’s second-grade teacher told them they (Nessk is non-binary) would never accomplish a single thing on their list of aspirations. The very next year, Nessk began crossing items off that list. Today, they’re an actress, model, author, publisher, award-winning special-effects artist, photographer, multi-award-winning filmmaker and the list goes on—though Michelle tells the News Station during an exclusive interview, “I wanted to be a velociraptor back then, too, but the science is still out on that.”
Type “Michelle Nessk” into Google, and you’ll see a long list of movies they’ve either acted in, directed or produced through their company Gloomy Sunday Productions. Many have opened at major festivals, received excellent reviews and featured highly regarded horror icons.
We wanted to know what elements must come together to breathe life into an artist like Michelle Nessk, so we asked them to talk about life, art and activism.
“I don’t know if I can speak for all families,” Michelle asserts, “but for mine, one of the things we all loved to do together was watch movies—especially horror movies. It was just the thing to do.”
Puerto Rican and Mexican, Michelle grew up mostly with their hard-working mother, becoming familiarized with the Puerto Rican side of their heritage. From the time they could read, they ate up books by authors like Clive Barker, Stephen King and Anne Rice.
“The most age-appropriate books I read,” Michelle says with a chuckle, “even though they weren’t really age-appropriate, were by John Saul. I didn’t have the patience for anything unless it was scary.”
They say it was Conan the Barbarian who opened their mind to fantasy fiction, and Star Trek that hipped them to sci-fi. Stop-motion films from the ’60s and ’70s were among their favorites. One night when Michelle was about nine, they snuck up to watch TV, and caught a movie that blazed a trail right into their destiny.
“I saw Dario Argento’s Suspiria,” Michelle reveals. “I think that’s a movie every child should watch at that age. When I saw Barbara Magnolfi, all I could think was, This is the prettiest woman I’ve ever seen, so I started writing Mother’s Day: Cicadas. It was my first venture into seriously writing a script which didn’t bore me. From that time on, I was fucking enamored.”
Proving their second-grade teacher wrong, they wrote a play in the third grade, which was performed in the school’s auditorium, and subsequently adopted by a local theater. By high school, they already had multiple poems published in academic journals, were learning photography, acting in plays and television commercials and making films that highlighted issues such as the unethical sourcing of diamonds and chocolate.
Michelle recounts, “I had a really encouraging art teacher who would let me get away with playing with the film equipment. I would get passes, and drag my friends with me, and put together stop-motion stories. We did one about the lynx and the liger, because I was really interested in the idea of these hybrid cats that can’t breed easily on their own.”
When they were 17, Michelle acted in a film about a suicidal kid, titled All of This. Though it didn’t end up going anywhere, it was their first paying gig in the movie industry. After that, they entered college for criminal psychology, discovering quickly the field wasn’t for them. They decided, instead, to study ballroom dance, and soon became an instructor.
“I kind of fell into a creative slump when I became an adult,” Michelle explains. “The things I accomplished as a child were fast in the rear view of my life. It was almost defeating how quickly that happened.”
But the allure of film continued to beckon. Despite self-doubt, Nessk persevered, landing acting and modeling gigs, and walking off the set of a TV show when they were asked to do a skit that crossed inappropriate racial lines. They won the ABC Family Writing Contest, which allowed their work to be translated into live action with Jane Curtin, Chelsea Handler and Jenny McCarthy on the show In the Motherhood.
“Meeting Jane, in particular, was a dream come true,” Michelle recalls. “I mean, she was so encouraging, and hyped me up, which was beyond surreal, and I thought, Okay, so I can achieve something with my writing. Jane Curtin said so.”
With a renewed sense of confidence and an outdated cassette camcorder, Nessk went on to develop Gloomy Sunday Productions, and make their first film as an adult in 2013, titled The Devil’s Fool. They continued to act as well, winning multiple awards for their portrayal of Carmen in Robert L. Butler’s film We Need to Talk.
Gloomy Sunday continued to produce, releasing movies such as 333: Illuminaughty, starring revered scream-queen Debra Lamb, and Just a Prick, starring Westin Halvorson of My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult. Michelle won two awards in 2015 at the Bleedingham Film Festival—based in their hometown, Bellingham, Washington—and when Mother’s Day: Cicadas was finally released in 2019, it featured none other than the actress who had inspired Michelle to write the script before they were even into their teens: Barbara Magnolfi!
Today, Michelle is a judge for Bleedingham, and their anthology series Horrors of the PNW (Pacific Northwest), which has gained popularity within the independent film circuit, kicks off Crypticon Seattle every year. Their 2016 movie O. Unilateralis became an instant cult-classic.
The future looks equally exciting, as the full-length version of 333: Illuminaughty, created with Tonjia Atomic, will soon be out, and Horrors of the PNW 7 is currently in development. The actor/producer participated in a Quarantine Special version of The Room, put together by Lisa Ovies, and they’re working on a sequel to 333: Illuminaughty (Illuminaughtier), in which rising star Gigi Saul Guerrero has expressed interest in playing a role. Michelle is also working with Nicole Pouchet Skuba on her Octavia E. Butler project.
Every movie in which Michelle Nessk has been involved has won awards, but ever true to the high schooler who made films about tigers and diamonds, it’s not acclaim that moves Nessk. Seizing each and every opportunity to advocate for the underrepresented, they work on the side with organizations such as Louder than Wolves, a charity event that raises funds to benefit the domestic violence shelter My Sister’s House. And as far as their art, well, in Michelle’s own words, it’s about “building and being a part of a global community to bring awareness to human rights issues, to uplift fellow artists and, as ever before, to simply celebrate being alive.”