Monday, December 17, 2012

My First interview: P.J. Soles

In 1983 I was recruited by Bill George to do several interviews for his book, Eroticism in The Fantasy Cinema. One of the actresses he wanted me to interview was P.J. Soles who had been rapidly making a name for herself by appearing in high profile movies such as Carrie, Halloween, Private Benjamin and Stripes. I was very excited that my first interview would be with an up and coming actress!

Now, in those days, you called up The Screen Actors Guild directory for either the actors home number or their agents business number. You were allowed to request three phone numbers per call. If you needed more, you had to call them back the following day. And even when you contacted the actor or their agent, it was no slam dunk that they would consent to an interview.

One agent in particular was quite nasty to me and said in no uncertain terms that her client was in no way interested in talking to me. The actress was Celeste Yarnell, a minor B movie starlet whose film and TV credits you could list on a napkin and still have room. You'd  have thought the agent would have been tickled to death that someone wanted to interview her client for a book. Instead, this woman practically handed me my head. Someone once said to me, "If you want to break your mother's heart, become an agent."

P.J. Soles agent, in contrast was very pleasant, extremely co-operative and we arranged for an over the phone interview. As it happened, on that day of the interview I was in the shower getting ready for my job as  manager/projectionist of a movie theatre. As soon as I heard the phone ring, I jumped out of the shower, wrapped a towel around myself and answered the phone. It was P.J. Soles cheerful voice on the other end. Undaunted and eager to talk to her, I simply turned on the tape recorder and conducted the following interview dripping wet and wearing only a towel(my then wife was rather perturbed when she came home to discover that the dining room chair was damp.). Since that time, I've conducted all of my interviews fully clothed and completely dry.

JV: Was the movie Blood Bath your first acting role?

PJS: No, I was never in that. Carrie was my first film.

JV: Because, incredibly enough, your name is in the end credits.

PJS: Blood Bath? I've never even heard of it.

JV: It was made by a New York filmmaker named Joel Reed. I heard that you did a partial nude scene in the film but it was cut out.

PJS: I don't know the movie or the guy. That's weird.

JV: You did your first erotic scene in Halloween, is that correct?

PJS: Actually, there was a brief scene in Carrie, in the shower but I wore a towel. Everybody else was nude but me. At that point, I didn't really want to do it.

JV: How do you feel about doing nude scenes or scenes that contain eroticism?

PJS: I think that if they are important to the film or they're nicely done, I think they're okay. Like in Halloween, I thought it was kind of cute because they were teenage characters. I really like the scene where the guy comes back up the stairs and you know it's him. I just thought that was a real cute scene the way I was trying to con him back into bed and he ends up killing me. You really didn't see that much.

JV: Are there any kind of scenes you'll refuse to do that are in your contract?

PJS: No, because I pretty much always know what it's going to entail before I sign it.

JV: Some actresses have a clause in their contract stating what kind of scenes they will or will not do.

PJS: But you sign a contract based on the script you're given. If there's nothing in the script, there's no problem.

JV: Have you ever been in any movie where the director or the producer, all of the sudden, out of the clear blue sky has said," Let's do this" and you didn't agree with it ?

PJS: No. In fact, in Stripes, Bill Murray and I had sort of a love scene that was cut out because they said it was too realistic and it looked like suddenly we were watching another movie. But we had a good time shooting that. That was a very romantic love scene. We were drinking champagne and Bill was doing push ups against the bed. It was really a cute scene.

JV:  With the women's movement claiming that horror films degrade women and show them as sex objects, how do you feel about the horror films you've done?

PJS: The ones that I've been in, Carrie and Halloween, both were sort of trend setters.  I'm actually very proud of them.

JV: You were in a movie called The Possessed. What was that about?

PJS: That was so long ago I can't tell you.(laughs) I had a minor role in that. Actually, what's his name was in it. He's famous as the guy in Raiders of The Lost Ark.

JV: Harrison Ford?

PJS: Yes, Harrison Ford was in it, even. So, that's how old it was. It was a television movie. He was one of the teachers of this girls school that's possessed and he's having a battle with all of the students. It's sort of like The Exorcist. I mean, it's not a great film. It's not one of those movies you'd try to find if it comes on TV.

JV: Or even if it's on TV at four in the morning, right?

PJS: Well, then you might have to watch it. (laughs)

JV:  Can you tell us about a new film you've done? I believe it's a horror film?

PJS: I did do a film in Australia. It's called Innocent Prey. When I first read the script, I really liked it and wanted to work with the Australian people. But since I've seen it, I think it's a little strange and probably something I don't want to do ever again. But it was a leading role and I liked the Australian people very much. It was basically about a young Texas girl who marries the wrong kind of guy. He has this passion for killing prostitutes after he's slept with them. His wife discovers this and turns him into the cops. He breaks out of jail and tries to get her. She goes to Australia with her girlfriend so she can be as far away as possible from this guy. And he, of course, follows her there and he traces what happens to her in Australia. He ends up dying and she falls for another guy who turns out to be the same kind of criminal. Innocent Prey being that it seems there could be habitual criminals out there and there could be habitual victims.

JV: So, you wouldn't call it a horror film, exactly?

PJS: Well,it's a thriller/chiller ,but there are some horrific moments in it. Their attempt at making an Australian Halloween. That's why they wanted me in it. So,it is a horror film, but it's not very bloody or gory. Originally, it was going to be for television.


JV: How do you personally feel about horror films?

PJS: I never go to see them.(laughs) I just saw Tarzan last night and I thought that was scary. I thought because my first movie was Carrie and it was a big success,that's why John Carpenter wanted me for Halloween. And after that, The Possession, which like I said was a small movie, but because they saw me in Carrie,they wanted me for that. So, in terms of casting people, they're never especially creative. But they always think," Who was in a horror film? Let's cast them. And if they're available,then let's get them." At this point, I don't want it to be a trend and I don't think it will be because I've done Private Benjamin and Stripes. After doing the one in Australia, after getting married again and having a baby,I realize that I've probably done enough. So, three or four is enough.

JV: Would Rock and Roll High School be considered a fantasy film?

PJS: Yeah, a fantasy and cult film.

JV: About that, New World Pictures is noted for it's exploitation values. Did you find that they attempted to put a lot of  exploitation,such as gratuitous nudity, into the film?

PJS: Rock and Roll High School had to stay pretty clean because they wanted the general audiences of kids. They did have this scene of me smoking pot on the bed and having a fantasy that The Ramones are playing in my bedroom. I'm taking my clothes off and I go to take a shower. I remember they wanted that scene more nude, but I kept my bra on in the shower when the shot was done. It was exploitative enough that they were shooting it for two hundred thousand dollars in four weeks. I've never run across especially lecherous directors. I've heard stories where people have,but in my case I've really never have come across that. Every one's been pretty considerate. Even in Private Benjamin I did sort of a nude scene. They pretty much go with what the actress wants.

JV: In other words, they don't try to cajole you into doing a nude scene by saying," We gotta do this to sell the movie?

PJS: Never. Never. Even in Carrie when everybody else in the opening shower scene was nude, that was up to the individual actress how she wanted to do it. Because I said to Brian De Palma," I want to keep my towel on."Amy Irving said," I want to keep my panties and bra on." But there's always people who are willing to do it.

JV: Let's say there were horror film producers coming up to you and offering to make you the next
Jamie Lee Curtis. Why would you refuse?

PJS: Well, like I said before, I think I've done enough of them. And they're not extremely productive movies except as a box office smash. I've been in enough box office hits where I have a certain amount of credibility and I really don't need to do that. It's not necessary and it's not terrifically productive.



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