LATEST | FEATURES | INTERVIEWS | NEWS | FRIGHTFEST | REVIEWS Brand new interview with Dee Wallace, star of Cujo, The Howling and now Beyond the Sky
By James Whittington, Sunday 12th May 2019
Dee Wallace is one of those people who seems to have be around forever and yet never ages in enthusiasm or her ability to bring to life some of cinema's most memorable characters. With a resume that includes E.T., The Hills Have Eyes, Cujo and now Beyond the Sky, we chatted to Dee about her career to date and how she prepares for each acting project.
HC: What made you want to be an actress?
DW: Oh, you know... I was born! (laughs) Seriously, I think creative people are just born to be creative and they have to find an outlet for that. My mother also was a beautiful actress, locally in my hometown and did all the plays at church so I think I naturally found my way into a family that supported what I was supposed to do anyway and I got my teaching degree in theatre and education and I went off to New York and the rest is kind of history. I started out as a dancer so anytime I'm doing something creative or creating something creative I'm happy.
HC: Do you think you would have had a career as a teacher if you didn't go into acting?
DW: Well, I did teach for one year. I'm actually a really great teacher I had my own dance school. I had the biggest acting studio out here for 18 years, so yes, I love to teach and I'm really good at it and still here for a lot of my students.
HC: Can you remember what it was like when you first walked onto a TV or movie set? How did you feel?
DW: Oh my gosh! I felt like I was home. Excitement and nerves are sisters and they kind of live on the opposite sides of the same penny, so I was very excited and a little nervous, but I just knew that this is where I belonged and it was like home to me. I had never been out of Kansas and moved to New York and I felt "Oh my God, I'm home". In another lifetime I for sure lived in New York City and probably was an actor as I just, and New York should be scary for someone from the Mid-West, but nope, I called my mom and said, "Mom, I'm home!".
HC: They must have been so proud of you?
DW: I'm sure she was scared for me; at the same time, she's wishing that she'd done the same thing but back in her day women just didn't really do things like that. So, she got married and had babies, became a secretary and that was the rest of her life except for her performing and she performed for the Mayor and a lot of big people around Kansas City and we were very poor but she would trade her secretarial skills and stuff so I could have drama lessons and dance lesson and stuff like that. And every kid comes in with their own agenda. I remember saying to my mom that I have to be an actor and she said, "Dee Dee, be an actress, just be an actress in Kansas" (laughs) which is possible if you want to do a lot of stage but I really wanted to do film and TV, I always wanted to do and between those two film more than anything.
HC: I don't want to dwell too much on your past, you had huge success early in your career with E.T., Cujo, The Howling, Critters, The Hills Have Eyes how did this change your life?
DW: You know, I don't think it affected who I was and my principles in life an my integrity which is extremely important to me obviously it changed what I was able buy in my life, my home which I was able to purchase and some of the finer things in life. I was able to meet people I wouldn't have met otherwise. It didn't change my core as to who I am, I was raised too well to allow it to do that.
HC: Are you surprised that some of your early films are still so loved such as when we show The Howling so many people react to it in such a positive way?
DW: Oh, I'm delighted (laughs) that all those films still have a really big following. I'm not surprised because a lot of the films in the 80s are, you know, a true horror film takes time to develop a story and develop characters that you invest your care in. Movies now don't do that too much and I think the best example of that recently is A Quiet Place which is a brilliant horror movie. But it doesn't surprise me we've kind of lost that whole style and feeling of film making and it was life changing for a lot of us back then because it really was a whole new genre from the old Universal films like Frankenstein and all those, these made a huge jump into really dealing with people's fears and hopes and everything. The Howling is really about a battle between good and evil, Cujo is really about how far a mother will go to protect and love her kid and people identified a lot with those human elements that were always in those 80s films.
HC: So, coming bang up to date with Beyond the Sky, how did that project come together for you?
DW: They called and asked me if I would be interested in doing that role and I go out quite a bit and help film makers especially in this genre because I have such a name and a following. I read the script, I liked the script, it was a whole different take on extra-terrestrials and I thought it was very smart and I found out about the director and what he'd done and I looked at the other actors I thought this is worth my time. Am I going to make as much as I'd make on big films? Of course not! But that's not what drives certainly my decision about everything I do, so I go out and help a lot of young film makers and independent films and I said yeah, and I'm really glad I did as the final product is great.
HC: How did the cast and crew treat you as you've such a cinematic legacy?
DW: They treated me like a respected actor from what I could see on set they treated everybody as they should, with the same respect. Everyone is there to do the best job that they can. I'm always treated well on every set. Sometimes you're treated better on a small budget film (laughs).
HC: Do you think people who work with you get nervous when they first meet you?
DW: Sometimes. I think it's just because you never know what kind of personality a big actor who has been in a lot has. They can be full of themselves; they can look at you, I don't every come from that perspective. I'm just there to do my best and to raise the project as much as I can.
HC: How did you prepare for the character of Lucille in the film?
DW: Well that's an interesting question because I have a very specific technique that I use but in the common terms of preparing I don't. It's a whole technique that was taught to me by Charles Conrad who was my mentor and he taught us how to get your energy really, really high and throw our energy toward the other person and what happens is you can really kind become a channel for the character and the character takes over and that's what's exciting to me is I don't like to come from my head and make decisions I like to be in the moment on the set and see what happens. The scene with Ryan (Ryan Carnes who plays Chris Norton in the movie) that I have in the Lab, what happened when we started rehearsing the scene we had all this chemistry between us and so my character kind of became this woman who defiantly had an agenda and had information but also became a very sexual creature toward this guy. In my wildest dreams I would not have perceived the scene that way, when I saw it, it was absolutely perfect, I think.
HC: Do you believe that there are aliens "out there"?
DW: Oh absolutely. But I also know that they are here more as a supporting guidance. I think Steven Spielberg got it really right when he did E.T., I am a huge follower of Dolores Cannon's work and she talks a lot about the fact that extra-terrestrials are really out to support and guide us but can't interfere in our decision making. So that's my belief but I have no doubt. Its silly to think we're the only race in the universe.
HC: What advice would you give to young actors who want a career in this profession.
DW: Well first I would tell them to be themselves, as everybody will tell you have to be something else; you have to lose weight, you have to get your nose done, you have to dye your hair blah blah blah! What they are really looking for are authentic, genuine people who own who they are. And the second thing I would say is as long as you're loving it and it gives your great joy then do it. When it becomes a burden or negative in your life you want to walk away because that will be the very thing that creates you not succeeding.
HC: Dee Wallace, thank you very much.
Beyond the Sky is available to buy on DVD now.
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(Photo credit Dawson James Photography)
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