The Austin Chronicle

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Remembering Susan Tyrrell

By Richard Whittaker, July 6, 2012, Screens

Kid-Thing's return to Austin will be a time of mixed emotions, of victory and loss: Three days before this interview, actress and Austin transplant Susan Tyrrell, who voiced the unseen Esther in the film, passed away. Tyrrell – Susu to her friends – was the film's Annie writ large and glorious. A force of nature with switchback tastes, she was a street-scuffed icon, barflying her way to an Oscar nomination for Fat City and raising hell as a gloriously inappropriate grandma in Cry-Baby. What was often forgotten in all the eulogies was that she was an accomplished voice-over actress, working twice with Ralph Bakshi (in Wizards and his sword-swinging fantasy, Fire and Ice) as well as guest-starring on TV oddities like I Am Weasel and Cow and Chicken. Who could be more perfect as the disembodied voice down the well that taunts and pleads with Annie? "We'd always loved her voice," says Kid-Thing director David Zellner. "It displays this amazing range that in one sentence can be terrifying and commanding and pathetic and happy and sad."

David and his brother Nathan Zellner became friendly with her after they were introduced by mutual friend Wylie Wiggins. She was a fan of the brothers' psyched-out web series Fiddlestixx, but the siblings were still nervous about approaching her to work on their project. "Fortunately, she really liked it a lot," David Zellner says, "and that meant a lot to us, because she's really opinionated and we knew it could go either way." Her free-spirited idiosyncrasies meshed well with the Zellners' wild world. "She doesn't read scripts," Zellner continues, "and that's cool by us, because we spent more time talking about the project tonally and what we were going for with it."

Soon after she moved to Austin in 2010, Tyrrell told the crowd gathered at an Alamo screening of her cult classic Forbidden Zone, "I'm just stopping through on my way to Mexico, where I'll end it all." That was never to be, and now her work with the Zellner Bros. stands as her final film and monument. Says Zellner, "She was really special, and I'm just really sad and caught off guard by her passing. I'm just really glad that we got to be friends and we got to collaborate with her, and that the project is meaningful to her."

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