Interview with Anne "Liquid Sky" Carlisle
by Lee Sobel (9/11/20)
Psychedelic Science Fiction. Androgyny. New Wave. Identity Crisis. Bisexuality. Heroin. Death. Welcome to the cult movie Liquid Sky (1982). When the movie opened to fantastic reviews and strong box office (then played movie theaters as a midnight movie for years), New York Magazine's film critic David Denby called the movie "the low budget triumph of the year" and "the funniest, craziest, dirtiest, most perversely beautiful science-fiction movie ever made."
Russian emigré director Slava Tsukerman gave Liquid Sky its incredible visual style, but it was the exploration of gender that appealed to hip audiences and the film gave us the mesmerizing Anne Carlisle who plays both Margaret and Jimmy who not only share the screen together but have sex with each other. You just don't see that happening very often in movies, do you?
In addition to co-writing the screenplay for Liquid Sky, Anne Carlisle also wrote the novelization of the movie. For years I've heard rumors of a sequel to Liquid Sky that she might appear in, but as yet it has not come to fruition. She also appeared in Playboy magazine and
several other movies before deciding to go back to school to get a master's degree in Art Therapy. Ms. Carlisle has been making art for decades, which can be seen at annecarlislegallery.com.
Lee Sobel: I understand that you grew up in Connecticut and then moved to New York City to attend the School of Visual Arts. What was your life like at that time?
Anne Carlisle: If there was a boundary, I wanted to cross it. And I didn't listen to reason. I was a person that had to test everything myself. I was, for a while, studying acting. It didn't take very much money to survive in New York then. And we were all kind of pushing the boundaries of behavior and style. I did that for a while, and then people started to die.
Lee Sobel: You mean the drug scene?
Anne Carlisle: There was cocaine everywhere. It was like nothing. There was the idea that it was totally an innocent thing.
Lee Sobel: People didn't think it was addictive.
Anne Carlisle: You saw an interesting person and you wanted to be with them, you offered them a drug. Since I had absolutely no money, I was one of the people that was offered it often. But it wasn't about the drugs, really. It was about expressing a creative drive. The drugs were just part of it. I usually did a circuit of clubs at night. I would do like five in a night. If there was a new one, of course that was top of the list. I didn't sleep at night. I slept during the day.
Lee Sobel: You were modeling, right?
Anne Carlisle: I was what they called a “New Wave” model, which generally meant you did modeling in a club at night. It wasn't very lucrative. But it was interesting because I got to connect with other people who were a part of that. After doing this for a while, I got a little bored. It got repetitive for me. I was very lucky. I didn't have a gene for addiction. I could try something once and then be like, “Okay, I tried that.” I wrote a script and I shot a Super 8 movie called "Fish," which I was showing in the clubs. Slava Tsukerman saw it, and he was interested in my view of life and what was going on and everything, and I started hanging out with them. And then I wrote the Liquid Sky script with him and Nina Kerova. Slava and I wrote the first draft. Nina helped us with rewrites.
Lee Sobel: I understand that you threw yourself into this character's
world when you were prepping the movie, and that you sort of became this character and your life sort of became her life. Is that true?
Anne Carlisle: I was already way out there before we started writing the script. However, I do have a tendency to go deep into character once something's going to be made. I don't do it on purpose. The parts of myself that are not that character kind of fall away until after it's done. And then I have to find myself again. So it's true and it isn't true. I used a lot of what was going on with me during the writing, and then as we solidified the character, I probably became more like the character is.
Lee Sobel: What was it like shooting the movie, and what kinds of things happened?
Anne Carlisle: It was low budget, and if there was any money, it went into making the production look good. It was shot in 35mm and it looked like this little jewel. So we worked really long hours in uncomfortable conditions. It was always too hot. And a lot of the times, I only got one take. That’s hard to do. I was always worried that I wasn’t getting it. We did what we could with what we had.
Lee Sobel: The most compelling thing for me when I saw the movie was the exploration of androgyny. You were playing both the man and woman. This was so fascinating. Where did this idea come from? I have to take my hat off to you. You really pulled it off. You look like two completely different people.
Anne Carlisle: At a certain point in my life I had long, curly hair. I was very femme. That was for a lot of the time I was studying acting. And then at a certain point in my life, I felt like my femininity was a manipulation. So I cut off all my hair. And I lived as, what I called it, an androgyne. I went through this right before I became involved in club life. I called myself an androgyne in my mind. I didn’t wear makeup. People couldn’t really tell if I was a
man or a woman. I wanted to strip away all that, and see who I was without it. Then after a while, I met a photographer, and we did some girl/boy photographs, me as a woman and me as a man. Long before, I was playing with gender, and thinking about how much of it was real and how much of it was artifice. That fascinated me. And I learned from it. I learned a lot about myself.
Lee Sobel: Was it always your intention to play a dual role in the film?
Anne Carlisle: That happened during the production. There was an actor who was supposed to play Jimmy and he just was too much the real thing. We couldn’t use him. Then I said, “Slava, let me audition for this.” I don’t remember if it was Slava’s idea or my idea. So I dressed as a man, and I went to
a bar, and picked up a girl, and she really had no idea that I was a woman. I didn’t take her home, but I could have. I just had to walk out the door with her. And that was my audition. They were watching, Slava and his people were watching.
Lee Sobel: What was the whole point of capturing all that psychedelic imagery and was the film meant to give a psychedelic experience, like an acid trip?
Anne Carlisle: For my own part, I felt it was an anti-drug movie. A lot of people die. I was very surprised that people would tell me they took drugs and went to go see the movie. I was upset by that.
Lee Sobel: Was the film also attacked because it seemed to be pro-drug?
Anne Carlisle: I don’t recall that. I recall some feminists attacked it.
Lee Sobel: Really? Feminists attacked the movie? I would think feminists would love the movie, since a woman is playing a man.
Anne Carlisle: They said that it eroticized violence against women, which I didn’t see that it was erotic for that at all. I thought it was horrible. I was very upset by that.
Lee Sobel: You had a strange cast in the movie. You have all these people who were super young and then you have all these other people who are kind of older. I’m just
trying to figure out, what was the thinking behind this? Was it like, “Well, we’ll kind of give the audience a break from all this intensity”? Or will the older characters appeal to older people? I don’t know. I just couldn’t quite figure it out.
Anne Carlisle: We had some people in the acting class, and we could use them. That was part of it too. I mean, you have to have people with skills that can do something in one take. We knew these people. We knew them all. They were all part of Bob Brady’s acting class.
Lee Sobel: So any other memorable incidents with either the making of or the release of Liquid Sky? Anything else come to mind? Anything either hilarious or horrible?
Anne Carlisle: Well, you know, my sister is in the movie. She
interviews me, and it’s very funny, because she’s interviewing me and I’m talking about the apple pie we ate, how we ate the same apple pie. I thought that was so funny.
Lee Sobel: Anything else?
Anne Carlisle: We had a lot of problems. The crew struck over the food. Nina had hired caterers, and she was serving the crew gourmet Russian food, which was very good, but they didn’t understand that. So there was a strike, and they wanted this and they wanted that, but the main subject was the food. So then she fired this caterer and started giving them pizza and stuff. But the
In Liquid Sky, Anne Carlisle plays both Jimmy and Margaret
and gives new meaning to the saying, "Go fuck yourself."
shooting stopped and it was a big crisis because there wasn’t a lot of money. I remember at one point, I said to one of the guys, “You’re striking over pizza?” And he said, “Well, it’s art for you. For us, it’s this.” But I was perplexed. I couldn’t understand why people would care so much about food that they would stop the movie.
Lee Sobel: Well, when you make films, on almost any level, there’s always a lot of politics. I think that all gets exacerbated by people’s exhaustion, their diet and all that. Crews do have a tendency to eat a lot of sugar to keep going.
Anne Carlisle: The place where we shot was in my actual apartment.
Lee Sobel: Where was your apartment?
Anne Carlisle: It was on Broadway and 28th Street.
Lee Sobel: It was a loft, right?
Anne Carlisle: It was a penthouse, on the top of a business building. During the making of the film, one of the crew stole my vibrator.
Lee Sobel: So when the film was playing in New York did you go see the movie with audiences?
Anne Carlisle: I did. I went to the initial screening and my parents were there, and that was very upsetting to them.
Lee Sobel: Your parents came to the initial screening? Had you invited them?
Anne Carlisle: Yes, I did.
Lee Sobel: And I take it, you’re from Connecticut, your parents are pretty straight?
Anne Carlisle: They’re very straight, but my mother is a painter. She always appreciated the creative life. I was proud of my accomplishment, and I wanted them to appreciate it too. It made my father sad. But once they initially got past the violence of the movie, the weirdness of the movie, they could appreciate the creativity behind it, sure. I was more preoccupied with how they would take it. But then afterwards, there were some screenings that I went to where I was invited to speak, and I saw it. I was enough removed to where I could appreciate it.
Lee Sobel: How shocked were you by the film’s success? You knew you were making an art movie. You knew you were pushing the limits.
Anne Carlisle: I totally believed that people would want to see it. I did. I believed that, wholeheartedly, that people wanted to see this, that they were tired of seeing the same movie over and over. I was totally on board. I never doubted it.
Lee Sobel: What was it like when the movie came out and became popular?
Anne Carlisle: It was scary because it attracted a lot of odd, weird people too. And I didn’t have money. Most actors have money to insulate themselves somewhat. So if I was walking down the street, some odd people would approach me. So it was a little scary on one hand. On the other hand, when I tried to make the transition to becoming a professional actress, I was an actress, but I tried to do that transition, and I changed my appearance somewhat. After a while, I changed my appearance and no one recognized me.
Lee Sobel: Yeah, you looked completely different in Perfect Strangers. Obviously the part is completely different, but it’s almost like, “Wow, that’s the same person! That’s amazing.”
Anne Carlisle: Yeah, I have that ability and I had a little problem, because
casting directors don’t think you can do that. So they saw me. I can really go deep into character and look completely different and be completely different, but people don’t realize that. They think I wasn’t acting.
Lee Sobel: It’s shocking to me given how unique the film is and how successful it was that there weren’t more movies with you directed by Slava. It seems like you made such a unique statement that, I’m guessing, the industry didn’t know quite what to make of you, right?
Anne Carlisle: That was it, yeah.
Lee Sobel: When you go to these screenings where you speak, do you feel that the audience reaction is similar to what it was when the film opened? Or do you feel that people see it in a different way now? Do people appreciate it more now?
Anne Carlisle: A while ago, people wanted to laugh at the movie, so I was a little surprised by that. They didn’t want an earnest view. They wanted to be entertained. I guess I wasn’t enough cued into what they wanted. They wanted entertainment.
Lee Sobel: So you’re saying that when people see the movie now, they are laughing more?
Anne Carlisle: Yeah.
Lee Sobel: And what about when the movie first opened? You said you didn’t go see it with an audience, but when you went to the screenings—I heard that the one in L.A. that
At the Liquid Sky premiere with co-screenwriter Nina Kerova and director Slava Tsukerman
you all went to for distribution, there was no response from the audience at all.
Anne Carlisle: I didn’t go to that one.
Lee Sobel: But I heard that they just sat in shock, right?
Anne Carlisle: That’s what I heard too.
Lee Sobel: Did you ever feel schizophrenic while you were making Liquid Sky because you were playing a dual role? You’re not just playing a dual role; you’re playing scenes where the two characters are playing off each other. That’s pretty amazing.
Anne Carlisle: Yeah, I was splitting myself into two and I was pretty confused for a while there. I tend to overdo it when I go into character, so it takes me a while to get back to myself, to heal back to myself. I think that’s why I dove into the Larry Cohen movie, because it was another character and I could get a little out of that.
Lee Sobel: So tell me about Perfect Strangers and you also appear briefly in Desperately Seeking Susan. So Perfect Strangers is obviously a very interesting
movie for you because it’s the only other movie that I know of where you’re the lead and you really got to do a lot of acting in the film.
Anne Carlisle: It was a fairly low-budget movie. He came to me right after Liquid Sky and I did it. And I thought some of the writing was very good there. That’s what attracted me. But it wasn’t the huge creative release that Liquid Sky was.
Lee Sobel: How did you like working with your co-star Brad Rijn? I loved him in Smithereens and he kind of disappeared off the face of the earth.
Anne Carlisle: I never really got to know him. In my mind, I had a picture of who he was. In the movie, I’m playing someone who falls for him a little bit. So I never really got to
In Larry Cohen's Perfect Strangers (1984)
In Downtown '81
know him. I was in character. I was doing my job. He seemed like a nice person.
Lee Sobel: And what about Desperately Seeking Susan?
Anne Carlisle: Well, they just called me and the day before I was to shoot, I had an eye infection because I was modeling for Ford at that time, and I actually went to the hospital twice because my eyes were so infected. So I called them, and I said, “Gee, I have this eye infection. Maybe I should wear sunglasses.” And I think they thought I was pulling a
diva number. I really wasn’t. But I did wear sunglasses during that. It cleared up during the making of it, so I was sorry that I wore the sunglasses, but it was already too late.
Lee Sobel: You were in Playboy magazine. What was that experience like?
Anne Carlisle: The shooting was going okay. The photographer did try to jump into the closet with me while I was in the middle of a change. And that sleazed me out. I was so pissed off. And then because I was not interested and got pissed off, then he started to make negative comments about my body.
In Crocodile Dundee
Lee Sobel: What was the thinking behind doing Playboy at the time? Was that to promote the movie? Were you thinking that this would open things up for you in Hollywood?
Anne Carlisle: I didn’t have any money. That was the thinking.
Lee Sobel: So at some point, I guess you made the choice to stop acting, right?
Anne Carlisle: Yeah, I went back to school but then after about a year and a half, I did a movie. I went to Germany when the wall came down. And I did a movie called High Score, which I’ve never seen. I wish I could get a copy of it and see what I did there. So I interrupted my school, I did the movie and came back, and went back to school.
Lee Sobel: So what's it like to look back at Liquid Sky? Have you watched the movie in recent years? How do you feel about it now?
Anne Carlisle: It was a great creative release and probably the most creative thing I've done. There should be more movies like that and it’s just a shame that it’s not possible. In other countries people are able to get money to do creative films. On one hand, we have this wonderful ability to create mega-movies that are entertaining and across-the-board pleasing to a lot of people, and there’s times when I want to watch a movie like that, with a lot of dolly moves and special effects. It’s very entertaining. But there should be more movies that are unique that should get distribution. People want to see them. So it was very gratifying for that aspect to make Liquid Sky. But I paid high. I didn't have a personal life.