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A "Totally" Cool Chat with PJ Soles
You know her voice instantly, especially when she says "Totally!" PJ Soles made her mark in two of the best horror films of the late 1970s, Brian de Palma's Carrie and John Carpenter's Halloween. She took some time out of her busy schedule to chat with our very own Jenn Dlugos about those films and her experience with Rob Zombie while filming a part in The Devil's Rejects.
Classic-Horror: Hi PJ, let’s get started with Halloween. How did you get cast in that?
PJ Soles: Well I heard later that John Carpenter saw me in Carrie and wanted me in Halloween. But I didn’t know that at the time of the audition. And when I went to my casting call, it was the only time I ever got cast in something on the spot. And then they asked me to stick around and help pick out my boyfriend.
C-H: So it was like a slaughter-house reality show then?
PJ: Kind of, actually! And we tried to get Dennis Quaid, because he was my husband at the time, but he was working on a television movie, so it didn’t work out. Later I was told I got cast for the role because I was the only one who said “Totally!” correctly. I was like, “How ELSE can you say it?”
C-H: What is John Carpenter like?
PJ: John is great. He’s a genius in many ways, but completely down to earth and unassuming. And he’s very relaxed. I’m the opposite. Usually on the set, I’m pretty relaxed, but before that I get, not nervous, but a little anxious on how things are going to turn out. John always seems like he’s in a good mood, no matter what happens. And he is brilliant.
C-H: When you were making Halloween, did you have any idea it was going to be as big as it was? Did it feel special?
PJ: Well, it was only the second or so movie I worked on, so maybe I was just naïve. When I saw the final product, yes. But when we were reading the script? We thought it was just a nice, little movie.
C-H: What is your favorite memory from Halloween?
PJ: I’m not sure this counts as a favorite memory, but while we were doing the bedroom scene, John told me to just improv and change the lines if I felt I needed to, just to emphasize the frustration my character was feeling when her who-she-thought-was-her-boyfriend was just standing there with a sheet on his head. And that just was so wonderful of John to put his faith in us... especially as we’re so young at the time.
C-H: And it probably made you come across more natural.
PJ: More natural, and really….who knows better how a teenage girl speaks than a teenage girl? It was a great move on his part.
C-H: Now let’s move on to Carrie. How did you get cast in that?
PJ: Well, you may have heard this but George Lucas and Brian De Palma (director of Carrie) were doing a cattle call casting for Star Wars and Carrie. Which is a weird combination, I know. And literally, it was just the two of them at the desk... and remember, no one knew who George Lucas was then, either. They wanted to see all the high school kids in the area. So I did my audition, and Brian said, “I’ll put her in my pile.” and George said, “Well, good!”
C-H: (laughs) And I also heard you got injured in Carrie, didn’t you?
PJ: Yes, it was at the end when my character gets killed by the fire hose. And I guess the firemen were warning the staff that the pressure for the hose was too high and it could cause ear damage. And they were kind of like, “eh”, and, again, naiveté on my part, I was just like, “well, OK.” So when my scene came up, I got killed by the fire house and I twisted my neck to make it look like the hose snapped my neck, and I got sprayed right in the ear with the hose and it shattered my ear drum. And I collapsed to the floor and ended up passing out because it was so painful. So I didn’t have to do a whole lot of acting dead for that scene.
C-H: Why do you think Carrie has withstood the test of time?
PJ: Well, I’ve been fortunate in that I was in films that have become cult icons, such as Stripes and Rock N Roll High School. I think back then people just wrote really great and fresh stories. But for Carrie, I would have to say Sissy Spacek. She was just so incredible in that role... in fact, everyone was cast perfectly. And it’s a story everyone can relate to because everyone went to high school, and girls can be really nasty to each other in high school. And really, who wouldn’t want telekinetic powers to seek revenge? It is the ultimate revenge film.
C-H: You have worked in some great cult comedies and cult horror films. Is there a different vibe on the set between the two?
PJ: Not for me, as I don’t really prefer one or the other. If anything, it’s more serious during a comedy film. You laugh a lot on a horror film. Because you get strangled, and someone yells “cut” and everyone starts laughing on the set. But comedy, it’s different because everyone is trying to figure out what is going to get the most laughs so when someone yells cut there’s a lot of “well, maybe this would be funnier” or “the stunt guys didn’t laugh that hard that time, so let’s try something else.” It’s very different.
C-H: Now, I understand there’s a new Stripes DVD coming out soon? What can we expect on it?
PJ: Well, you can watch the remastered version of the theatrical release, or there is going to be an extended version with 18 minutes of additional footage. And it isn’t that the footage was cut out because it was bad, it’s just that comedies were expected to be shorter back then. If anything there is more character development, and I really think you’re going to enjoy it. And a bunch of the cast members got together to do some interviews. It’s not really an anniversary DVD, so to speak... just an extended version.
C-H: Didn’t Stripes come out in 1981? So we’re celebrating it’s... 24th anniversary?
PJ: (laughs) Yep, the big 24!
C-H: Well, we’ll just round up. Close enough. What was Harold Ramis and John Candy like to work with?
PJ: Harold Ramis is just brilliant. He’s again, just very calm and collected, always in a good mood. I just got such a good feeling meeting him, and that was before I knew about what he has written, and of course he went on to be a great writer. And he is always dealing lines that are absolutely hilarious. He is so, so funny. It was truly a pleasure being around him. And John Candy is just like a big teddy bear type. While we were filming, he would call me up late in the evening and invite me over because he just cooked a big pot of spaghetti, and I was like, “No, I gotta get to bed, and I have a casting call early!” and he’s like, “Oh… come on!” So I would get in my bathrobe and go over there. And his wife was there, and I believe he had a daughter. He was always holding her. Just a loveable guy he was.
C-H: OK, last question. Do you have any new projects coming up?
PJ: Well you guys probably want to hear about the sequel to House of 1000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects. Rob Zombie put out a casting call for 70-80’s actors who were recognizable. So I came in, and he wasn’t there of course, so I brought in a picture of me with the red baseball cap from Carrie and I autographed it for him with the note, “Dear Rob. I’ll scream one more time for you.” And I didn’t get the part I was auditioning for, but I got a different part as a mother. And Rob Zombie is another one of those guys like Harold Ramis and John Carpenter. He’s always in a good mood, very caring, and very fun to be around. He had his 40th birthday party and for his present I gave him my original script from Halloween. And he said that it was the best present he ever received. And Nick Cage was at the party and gave him a real shrunken head, so of course I had to say, “Really? Even better than the shrunken head?” And he said, “Oh... WAY better than the shrunken head.”
C-H: You know, I’m not sure I could ask for a Classic-Horror interview to end better than on the words “shrunken head.“
PJ: (laughs) It kind of came full circle didn’t it?
C-H: Thank you so much for talking to us, PJ!
PJ: Thank you! And really, I think you’ll enjoy the new Stripes DVD, so pick it up. And I think for all the male Stripes fans out there, they will particularly enjoy MY extended footage….
C-H: Why do I suddenly feel the readers abandoned us?
Classic-Horror would like to PJ Soles for taking time out of her busy schedule to speak with us. She is a pure delight to talk to and we wish her the best on all future projects and any further altercations with fire hoses.