Interview by Lee Sobel
(c) Cool Culture Magazine #1, 2001
Lee Sobel: How did you get started as an actress?
PJ Soles: Initially I was modeling and doing commercials in New York. I had gone to high school in Brussels and I'd grown up around the world. My dad was from Holland and my mom was from New Jersey. I wanted to go to college in the states so I went to Briarcliff College in New York. My roommate lived in Manhattan so on the weekends we would go into the city. I got a job one summer at the Actor's Studio, running the spotlight in some of their productions. I met an agent through a friend who told me I could make money doing commercials while going to college. The first commercial I went up tor Crisco Oil and I got it and made a lot oI money. I went back to college For six months and decided not to pursue a career in language and focus on acting. I'd always been in school plays but never thought it was something I could do for a living. As I got more involved I realized that most actors in New York wanted to be in plays and it just didn't suit my personality type. I also didn't like the New York scene and wasn't into hanging out in bars or smoking or drinking so I thought maybe I should try L.A. I came out here in '75 and in two weeks I had an audition with Brian De Palms and George Lucas who were doing a simultaneous casting session for Carrie and Star Wars and checking out all teenagers in town. The two at them sat behind one desk. There were hundreds at us in the hallway. We walked in and handed them a headshot. They whispered something to each other and De Palma said "You‘re on my list." Two weeks later I got a call to report to his house on a weekend. I thought that was kind of strange but my agent said a group of us were going. He had the group of actors that ended up being in the movie interchange the characters, ma|e or female, so we all read the different parts. We had a ball doing it. When then has a day of screen testing so De Pa|ma who was going to p|ay what part and we were all cast.
Lee Sobel: So this whole thing was a whirlwind - it all happened very quickly. Was that a rush for you?
PJ Soles: I thought it was normal. I thought this was how it worked. But looking back now I know it wasn't. It was a different time though. Hollywood was not as into teenagers or as big with teenage parts as it is now. Now teenage movies are the big money makers.
Lee Sobel: So you paved the way for the teenage movies, so to speak.
PJ Soles: I believe so. The mid to late seventies opened up the door for teenage leads. It you were in Carrie you were the talk of the town and your agent could get you in for any casting session after that. You were at the top of the list tor everything so it worked out pretty well.
Lee Sobel: What do you recall about the shooting of Carrie?
PJ Soles: It was a great time. It was favored nations so everybody worked for thesame fee, which at the time was about $620 a week, which we thought was awesome. My apartment was $200 a month so I was doing pretty well. It was my job to bring Betty Buckley to the set every morning because she was in from New York and was staying at the Chateau Marmont which was down the street from where I lived. She was really funny, always putting her makeup on in the mirror before we got to the set at 5:30 in the morning, which is kind of strange. She was a character. Everyone was really nice. Travolta was playful and very childlike. I
remember William Katt and Amy Irving had gone to high school together and had dated but had broken up right before so Amy was constantly trying to fix Bill up me. Sissy was just the nicest girl. The set was extremely friendly -- there may have been a little competition between Amy and Nancy Allen who were the more beautiful girls. I made myself more like the goofy tomboy. We were all excited to be part of this big event. We were all there every day and we all went to the dailies every day, De Palma was really neat in that way; that just doesn't happen anymore. I got to really see how movies were made; it was so new to me. A lot of the other actors had done TV shows and I'd done commercials with basically one camera.
Lee Sobel: Any recollection of Stephen King? Carrie was his first movie to be shot.
PJ Soles: I remember the first week that we were shooting they kept talking about the writer and they meant the script writer. I asked, well what about the writer of the book? Somebody told me Stephen King had been barred from the set. I guess Brian De Palma didn't want him interfering in what his vision was.
Lee Sobel: In '78 you mode john Carpenter's Halloween.
Were you worried about making another horror movie?
PJ Soles: No, not of all. I just liked the port of Linda and it was a very different type of horror movie. A girl with telekinesis and a guy that stabs people is a little different (laughs).
Lee Sobel: Did you ever do any other nude scenes?
PJ Soles: There was a scene in Stripes that was cut where I'm wearing a little teddy and Bill Murray pulls it down. Pictures of that end up in Playboy's Sex in the Cinema section.
Lee Sobel: What do you recall about the production of Halloween?
PJ Soles: It was shot in three weeks. It was shot in Hollywood and Pasadena. There wasn't anything spooky or scary that happened during production.
Lee Sobel: What were some of the differences between De Palma and Carpenter as directors?
PJ Soles: The difference between Halloween and Carrie was that we were making a three million dollar movie with Carrie and with John Carpenter we were making a three hundred thousand dollar movie -- and Donald Plgiasance got a hundred of it our budget was really two thousand. The schedule tor Carrie was eight weeks and the shooting dates for Halloween was just twenty-one. And yet I just thought John Carpenter was amazing. He just seemed so brilliant to me. I felt we were making a down home production where everybody could make a contribution, whether you were making lunch or holding a light. Even with De Palma. though, he let us ad lib and because he liked what he saw me doing in the dailies he extended my job from two weeks to eight weeks of shooting. De Palma was more aloof and would just sit in his chair and grin. He didn't really have a conference with you talk to you. He wouldn't make any comments -- he would watch you and enjoy what you were doing. You just knew the take was good if he didn't shoot another one. He's very much a voyeur on his own set, whereas John would explain everything, which way you'd move, what you'd do, and you felt like you were playing a basketball game with him. De Palma had made other movies and John was really just starting out and was doing the whole movie himself, the music, etc. I expected Carpenter to be very big after Halloween.
Every day was really great. Dean Cundey, the cinematograher was just starting out. The guy who operated the steadicam was really like a trial run; I think it was the first movie that used it. I remember being amazed by how that worked and how natural it looked in the dailies. That was something big that was later further developed.
Lee Sobel: What was Jamie Lee Curtis like to work with?
P.J: She was nervous. She was young, it was her first thing. She was sweet, very concerned with doing a good job. She didn't have a fun character - her character was very straight so she loved to talk about how lucky I was that I got to play Linda. She she wanted a part like that.
Lee Sobel: Did you hang out with the other girls?
PJ Soles: Oh, yeah. There was no place to go. We weren't at a soundstage and we couldn't go to a commissary or anywhere else. It was a very modest budget and there wasn't a trailer so you hung out in your car or wardrobe or makeup, very confined spaces.
Lee Sobel: How did you get the part in Halloween.
PJ Soles: On the DVD Carpenter says he saw me in Carrie and had written the part and was hoping he could get me for it. That's not my memory of it. I remember auditioning tor it but he did tell me as soon as I finished reading that I got the part and would I wait and pick out a boyfriend and I helped to choose one. I thought that was unusual, I knew that didn't happen everyday. I'm flattered if in his mind he had seen "Carrie" and had written the part tor me. That's cool.
Lee Sobel: Totally!
PJ Soles: I was the only one who read that word right. I don't know how anyone could have read it other than the way I read it. I was the onIy one who read for it that hadn't grown up in America.
Lee Sobel: Did the movie seem scary when you were shooting it?
PJ Soles: (laughs) No. The music had a lot to do with it. John created it and played it and recorded it himself. I thought that was just amazing.
Lee Sobel: Have you kept in touch with John Carpenter?
PJ Soles: No. They just had this big party last October on Friday the thirteenth at the Egyptian theatre. They screened the newly restored version of the film because it's coming out on DVD. All the girls came, even Nancy Loomis who apparentIy didn't want to come. The onIy one who didn t come was John, who they said was working. They had a huge party and lots of press. It was freaky to see everyone again after so long. I've seen Jamie; she invited me to the H20 premiere. We're not in each other's lives on a friendship level but whenever I see her it's a big hug and how you doing and how's the kids.
Nancy I hadn't seen since the cast and crew screening of Halloween. She had been married to one of the guys in John's band who also worked on Halloween, Tommy Lee Wallace (he created the mask worn by The Shape and also directed Halloween III, Fright Night II and Stephen King's IT) and they're now divorced. So he sat on one side of the stage and she sat on the other before the movie when we were answering questions from the audience. I know they had a child but she brought two little girls with her and I think the child they had together must be all grown up. There was some tension there. That might have been one of the reasons she wasn't going to come but ultimately she did anyway. There was a huge turnout. It was mainly for press but they either gave away or sold tickets too. There was such a big turnout that they ended up having three screenings that night. When I got out of my car and walked to the front of the Egyptian it took me almost forty-five minutes to get there because of all the people who wanted my autograph. Jamie wouldn't do else walked in I didn't know that wouldn't do it; nobody else walked in that way. I didn't know that would happen. It was amazing and really sweet.
Lee Sobel: I've seen Halloween on television and there were scenes that were not in the theatrically released movie. Were those scenes shot specifically for television or were they cut from the movie?
PJ Soles: They were shot tor the TV version a year after we completed the movie. It took two days to shoot them. It was kind at a mini reunion a year later.
Lee Sobel: What was it like seeing the movie with a real audience?
PJ Soles: (laughs) I saw the movie down in Hollywood when it first came out. We just wanted to sneak in and watch it and when my nude scene came on where I said "See anything you like?" some huge guy sitting right behind me said, "You bet your sweet ass I do!" I just slunk down in my chair and stayed there until the movie was over and everyone else had left the theatre.
Lee Sobel: I've seen the movie with audiences that were absolutely screaming with terror. Ever see anything like that?
PJ Soles: About six years ago they had a thing down in Orange County on Halloween night they pIayed it and they asked me to come and answer questions from the audience, so I did. After that we sat down to to watch the movie and while they were showing it they had some guy in a Michael Myers mask walking around, sitting behind people and touching their shoulders. That was terrifying. I was sitting with my son and he was pretty creeped out by it and so was I. You could see him walking around and just crouch behind someone and touch them and people would scream. Even though it was a guy in a mask it was creepy.
Lee Sobel: In '79 you starred in Rock and Roll High School. You must have been excited to be in your first starring role.
PJ Soles: That's why I wanted to do it, and also I thought the script was great and zany and crazy. When Alan Arkush gave me the tape of the Ramones I said I didn't know it I could play their number one fan. At the time I was into Jackson Brown, the Eagles and Linda Ronstadt so that was really hard for me. I kept playing their tape and saying, "Oh my God, what is this?!"
Lee Sobel: So what were the Ramones like when you met them?
PJ Soles: They were really really shy and sweet. They did not feel comfortable being on a movie set. They were big fans of Corman movies. They were just awed by it. They had a big trailer but they would just lie on the floor instead of the couch. I'd try to get them to come out and have lunch at the catering truck and they were like (does a perfect Joey Ramone impression), "Uh, that's okay. we're iust gonna go and get some pizza." They had a very hard time with their dialogue. They had a lot more lines that were cut. They couldn't speak their lines properly and it iust sounded really stilted. Even in that one scene they kept in the movie shot at the Roxy where they're eating pizza and they have a few lines, it's just so stilted. It's so them though so that was okay. But too much of that probably would not have been very good.
Lee Sobel: Did you ever come to like their music?
PJ Soles: Now I do. Probably now more than ever. When I see the movie I say, "Wow, that's really cool." I can really see what their value was back then. They used two or three chords, they always dressed the same and they played exactly the way they sounded on the record.
Lee Sobel: What was Roger Corman like to work for?
PJ Soles: He never came to the set. He was at the final audition and the only thing he said was, "She needs to have her hair more blonde." He was very nice but I know he was really pushing Alan Arkush who only had two hundred thousand dollars and twenty-eight days to shoot it. I think it was enormous pressure for Alan who was only 26 or 27 at the time. He knew this was his big shot and he was just so nervous everyday. I didn't really like Roger Corman for putting this guy through all that because he was doing such a great job. We would watch the dailies and everything would just look so bright and sparkly. I remember that if you could get it in the first take that was good enough, which was freaky because it's always nice to have a back-up take. Alan Arkush went on to direct "The Wonder Years."
Lee Sobel: What were the shooting conditions like?
PJ Soles: We shot at Van Nuys high school, a nice house in Griffith Park that was my bedroom. The shooting conditions were great. Mike Finnell (later Joe Dante's partner and producer of movies like Gremlins, Innerspace, etc.) did a great job producing it. I had great clothes in the movie that I picked out myself and paid for myself too. There went most of my salary.
Lee Sobel: I heard you appeared on stage with the Ramones in L.A. What was that like?
PJ Soles: I think it was the Roxy. They were playing there one time, after the movie had come out. They invited me to the show and I got up and sang "Rock n Roll High School" with them.
Lee Sobel: How did you like making "Stripes" with Bill Murray?
PJ Soles: Great. I wore the same exact uniform that I wore in Private Benjamin.
Lee Sobel: Is it true you got injured on the set on a couple of your movies?
PJ Soles: I had my eardrum broken by the hose that batted me around and broke my character's neck in Carrie. I just fell right to the floor because it knocks your equilibrium off. The pain was excruciating. They took me to the hospital and for a few weeks they gave me shots. It worked because my hearing is really good.
Lee Sobel: In the early eighties you disappeared from the Hollywood scene. What happened?
PJ Soles: I married Dennis Quaid and wanted to raise a family. In those days they weren't very supportive of mothers bringing their babies to the set and breastfeeding them. I wasn't up enough in star stature to afford to hire help. When Dennis and I got divorced that was very rough. Every movie I did was for scale or low budget. They all became huge movies but I didn't ever benefit from any at that. I still get fan mail tor movies that are twenty years old and the movies still hold up and with the movies coming out on DVD the studios are benefiting but the actors aren't. It's sad in a way. l‘m sure it had a lot to do with why Nancy Loomis (actress that appeared in Halloween but disappeared from the movies afterwards) was disenchanted. I've optioned a book I‘m trying to produce called "Night Witches" and it‘s an incredible true story about Russian girls who flew planes in combat during World War II.
Lee Sobel: What do your kids think about your movies?
PJ Soles: They mostly think they're funny. The older they get the more they seem able to appreciate them. They were a little shocked by Halloween.Carrie they really liked and Stripes they think is really cute. My daughter was a Rock n Roll High School fanatic from the time she was seven to nine. Every weekend her friends would come over, she'd put my little jacket on that I had in the movie. They'd watch Rock n Roll High School and Grease and they liked to imitate the characters.
Lee Sobel: You were recently in the movie Jawbreaker.
PJ Soles: Darren Stein, the director, was like 26 or 27, and he sought me out. Carrie was his favorite movie so he hired me and William Katt to play the parents. He‘s sort of a lan of mine so that's how that came about. It ended up being only one day's work and it was low budget. (laughs) But that's cool.
Lee Sobel: Rock on, Rill Randall!