An Interview with Actress Kelli Maroney From Fast Times At Ridgemont High, Night of the Comet and Chopping Mall
By Lee Sobel (8/20/20)
Lee Sobel: Tell me about Minnesota where you grew up - did you love the movie Fargo? Did people speak like that when you lived there?
Kelli Maroney: I had no idea before I first saw Fargo about the accents in the movie. I knew William H. Macy had come through the area and done a lot of regional theater but those actors really nailed the accent. I have heard people attempt to do the accent badly, but Fargo really got it right. After I saw the movie I called my sister and asked if she’d seen Fargo yet and she said (does Minnesota accent) “I doon’t tack like thaat.” When I moved to New York everybody laughed at the way I spoke so I had to work hard to get rid of my midwest accent. I feel like I picked up a bit of the New York accent even after all these years of living in California. For instance, I still say “cawfee.” Living in New York City was so exciting that I couldn’t help it because kids just imitate everything.
Lee Sobel: I read that you moved from your native Minneapolis to New York to study at the National Shakespeare Company Conservatory. Two weeks after you arrived in Manhattan, you were cast in the daytime soap opera, Ryan's Hope.
Kelli Maroney: I went there with only $500 and no job and no place to live. I had no idea what it was going to be like. It was just one of those things where you just say, “Do it” and hope for the best. I went to a Blimpie’s to apply for a job and found out that I couldn’t get a job because I wasn’t old enough. I went to look for an apartment
Kelli Maroney in Night of the Comet
and they said, you don’t have a job and you’re a kid and said well maybe we can get you a roommate situation. The rental agent had a friend who was casting Ryan's Hope and they were looking for a “midwestern Lolita.” So I went to this office that was the size of a closet and I only had one picture of me and it was kind of a modeling shot - it didn’t even really look like me. From there I got cast and called my mom to say, “I’m on TV now.”
Lee Sobel: How did you find New York City at that time in the late 70’s?
Kelli Maroney in Night of the Comet
Kelli Maroney: It was gritty. They still had what they called “The Minnesota Strip.” When I first saw Broadway I thought it would look like what I saw in movies from the 30’s and 40’s, but instead it was filthy with garbage everywhere and I didn’t know what to make of it. When I came out to L.A. I went to Hollywood and Vine and couldn't believe it either. I liked New Yorkers having come from what we call "Minnesota Nice." People in New York would just tell you to fuck off if they wanted to -- we didn't have that back home. But it was great - I'd look up at the ABC building and think, "I work there." It all happened so fast.
Lee Sobel: I read that you did 319 episodes of Ryan's Hope.
Kelli Maroney in Ryan's Hope
In Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Kelli Maroney: Yes, I was on the show for two years, then they wrote my story out of the show and I went to L.A. for a year to make Fast Times At Ridgemont High (1982) and Slayground (1983) and then Ryan's Hope brought me back to New York for a year.
Lee Sobel: So you were bi-coastal.
Kelli Maroney: I was finishing up Fast Times and I had a premonition they were bringing my character back on Ryan's Hope. So I called the producer and said, "This is going to sound crazy but are you going to bring Kimberly back?" and she said, "How did you know that?" I said, "I want to do it." Looking back it was immature, but I just didn't want anyone else playing my character.
Lee Sobel: Tell me about making Fast Times.
Kelli Maroney: The business looked down at soap operas - I was told to
get film on me. When they were casting Fast Times they had me reading for the part they cast Jennifer Jason Leigh in and one afternoon I read the script all the way through, over and over again as Stacy with Brian Backer and Phoebe Cates for director Amy Heckerling, producer Art Linson and writer Cameron Crowe. I think they already knew they wanted Jennifer for the part, but then they offered me the cheerleader. I had played an evil Loilita on a soap and then a psychotic killer in Slayground, so I was like, "Cheerleader? Where did they get that?" I guess looking back, it was my enthusiasm. I didn't drive so they said, well you can be driven with the teamsters to work so I would arrive hours early and see Universal Studios come to life. One thing I was unprepared for was craft services and the cast would stand around eating and put on weight. I wasn't the only one. If you watch that movie, sometimes we're slim and at at other times we're a little on the porky side. Jennifer was supposed to have a little baby fat but when they had to go back and do reshoots she had lost ten pounds and it really showed. Now they can use CGI to make you look slimmer or fatter. Everyone in the cast was super professional. Sean Penn wouldn't speak to you unless you addressed him as Spicoli. Amanda Wyss used to say that when we made that movie I was the most famous person in the cast because I had been on that soap and kids would hang out by the fences and yell, "Kimberly! Kimberly!" The minute I was on the set for Fast Times, I
Above; Kelli in Night of the Comet
Below: In Slayground
knew it was really special. I had read the book and my character was a lot more in the book than the film.
Lee Sobel: After Fast Times you started getting bigger roles in movies, like Night of The Comet (1984). What do you recall about making that movie?
Kelli Maroney: I did Illeana Douglas' show and she said to me, "You didn't have anybody around you that said I don't think it's a good idea to play a cheerleader twice in a row?" Nobody ever said that to me. There was no career planning going on whatsoever, which is a shame. Thom Eberhart, the director of Night of The Comet, was originally planning to kill off my character in the movie and he wanted someone super annoying to play the part -- he said to the casting director, "Get me someone like that annoying cheerleader in Fast Times." They said, "We can actually get you that very annoying cheerleader in Fast Times." And so that's how I got in to read for them and then he ended up not wanting to kill my character after all. It was an interesting movie to make. One producer thought it was a comedy and another producer thought it was serious. Thom Eberhart is a very satirical person. He just based the script on talking to his daughter's friends and asking them, "If it was the end of the world, what would you do?" So he wrote down what they told him and that's how that script got written. Catherine Mary Stewart and I played sisters in the movie and we never auditioned together, but I'm from the midwest and she's from Canada
and we had both been in soaps, so we had a very similar sensibility. When we started shooting we just clicked, like we had known each other all our lives. Originally Heather Langenkamp was up for it and I had auditioned for Nightmare On Elm Street. I always tell people, "I got Night of the Comet and Heather Langenkamp got the franchise." Bummer.
Lee Sobel: You made Chopping Mall (1986) which seems to be a cult favorite. What stands out about that movie for you?
Kelli Maroney: It was originally called Robots and the pitch was that Robert Short who originally did Daryl Hannah's tail in Splash was going to design the robots. It was not pitched to us as Chopping Mall, because I don't think anyone of us would have met on it. I was making a movie called The Zero Boys (1986) which was super low budget and kind of a precursor to Saw and I had been up all night and then went in to meet with Jim Wynorski, the director of Chopping Mall. He had seen me in Night of the Comet and wanted someone who he said was fun to watch survive. My agency at the time was begging me not to take it, but I needed to make a living and I needed to work and I had no other skills - I had been acting since I was a kid. The concept of couch surfing and waiting for a really good movie to be in wasn't possible because I didn't really know people in L.A. whose couches I could sleep on. And by making these movies I could continue to work at my craft. Unfortunately, what I didn't realize at the time that I was doing was digging myself into a hole career-wise. Since it was pre-internet people would tell me, no one will ever see this. When they asked George Clooney, "Why did you make Return of the Killer Tomatoes?" he said, "Because I needed a job."
We had to shoot Chopping Mall at night and the arrangement with the mall was that by the end of our shooting day, everything had to be put back the way it was. I did quite a few night shoots in a row and to this day it screwed up my sleep. People have called the three movies I made, Fast Times at Ridegemont High and Night of the Comet and Chopping Mall "Kelli's Mall Trilogy."
Lee Sobel: Do you have regrets for not taking the advice people were
giving you about making these movies?
Above: Kelli in Zero Boys
Below: With Catherine Mary Stewart in Night of the Comet
Kelli Maroney: At the time the advice not to do those movies was probably right, but times change and things have come full circle. Horror is really popular and now there are people who go into these movies on purpose. There were lots of directors back then who would make horror movies even though that's not really what they were about. They did them to get a foot in the door in the industry, but now you have people making horror movies today that want to do horror. So, now it became cool and I have the last laugh.
Lee Sobel: Have you had any interesting experiences with fans?
Kelli Maroney: I've done a lot of work but those movies they call my mall trilogy to this day get me fan mail every day from people. Like this one person who said their mom had to work at nights and they couldn't afford a babysitter so they would watch Night of the Comet and because we had guns, they felt protected and wouldn't be scared. Some of these things that people say are so sweet, they make you cry. For an actor, that is the ultimate reward. It's nice to know that if I die tomorrow, that I made a difference somehow to someone.