If you grew up in the '80's and '90's you've more than likely seen the lovely Shawnee Smith in one thing or another. The actress has been in a ton of old school flicks, from IRON EAGLE, SUMMER SCHOOL, THE BLOB, WHO'S HARRY CRUMB?, The Stand mini series, Becker, and most notably as Amanda in the SAW franchise. In addition to that, she's also been the front of a rock band and a country band (with actress Missi Pyle). In short, Shawnee is everywhere and we're all the better for it.
Shawnee is currently starring in Billy Bob Thornton's JAYNE MANSFIELD'S CAR and is a regular on the Charlie Sheen led sitcom Anger Management on FX. After confessing my childhood crush on her, I talked to Shawnee about getting stood up by Jason Gedrick, her thoughts on the late John Candy, working with Billy Bob Thornton, her scream queen status, the life of a rock star, and shooting automatic weapons off a yacht in Alaska with Charlie Sheen. Yep, you heard me right.
First off, I have to confess that I have a bit of a crush on you as I grew up seeing you in old-school classics like Who’s Harry Crumb?, Summer School, The Blob (Meg Penny), and my personal favorite Iron Eagle. What’s one of your best memories from that era?
Gosh, well, it certainly wasn’t being stood up by the star of that movie at a restaurant at 15.
Wait, you got stood up by Jason Gedrick?
Yes. I was like 15. And of course, what mother drops off her 15 year old at a sushi restaurant for a date with a – oh gosh...
Well, I haven’t heard much from Jason Gedrick these days so I’m gonna rule in your favor on that one.
(laughs) Thank you. You got my back. But, to answer your question it would be working with John Candy. What a dear, dear man he was. I always said if he could’ve been like half as kind to himself as he was to everyone around him he’d still be with us.
He did leave behind a great legacy of movies though...
But, y’know, like Planes, Trains and Automobiles that was really kind of how he truly was. Like, so genuine, like a child almost. It’s kind of similar to Billy Bob, like there’s just a kind of purity and sweetness, all mixed in with all this real twisted stuff.
You’re in Jayne Mansfield’s Car, working with a bunch of huge stars. That’s a pretty big cast of very classic actors.
I was in the audition and Billy says, y’know, the parts not very big, but y’know, you’d be there with us, but I don’t want you to be out there and be y’know, bummed out that you have nothing to do and I was like, Billy, I’ll make the coffee. Y’know? How much do I have to pay you to be in this company for a month in Atlanta. Let me know and I’ll write a check.
Who was most fun to work with out of that bunch?
When you phrase it that way it would be Billy. He’s the best kind of director for an actor like me. He’s very inspiring because he’s so imaginative himself. He’ll kick off a scene with one little piece of behavior that sets off the scene. It’s inventive, so all the other actors get to work off that and boom, we’re off to the races. And I love working like that.
So, when I had little behavior ideas, like putting a hickie on my neck and little things, little behavior things that would come to me and I’d ask him about, but with Billy I’d share these little ideas and he’d be like “Oh great, yeah go to make up!” and “No, no, make it bigger!”
What can you tell me about your character, Vicky Caldwell:
She is a rich character. She’s somewhat repressed and like a lot of characters in this film has been kind of painfully disconnected from human exchange, like real human exchange. They’re all, like, up in everybody’s business all day long but they’re alone, they’re lonely. And the father is going out and looking at dead people in car crashes to feel alive.
You’re often known as a scream queen after roles in The Blob, The Grudge 3, and especially as Amanda in the Saw films. What was it like having your neck in that trap for the first film?
Oh, the jaw trap? Well, the first one, y’know, there was like no money to make that movie so it was very crudely made and very heavy. And, I had to hold in place, with like, a tongue depressor (laughs). Yeah, and the scene is like, y’know, you’re about to die this horrible death and I’m not the type of actress- especially in that situation, y’know, I feel like too foolish if I didn’t just go balls to the wall and really live it out – so, there I am thrashing about for my life and holding this thing in place with a tongue depressor. I was sore for a while (laughs).
You really took ownership of that role [of Amanda] how has that reception been for you? Would you say that’s been the most defining role for your career?
Uh, y’know, I have this, like, silly career that just kinda moves around but in that section, in that genre, of course is very defining and the fans of that genre are very loyal and wonderful. They’re really dedicated. So, it’s really kind of an honor.
So, you’re also in a band with actress Missi Pyle, called Smith and Pyle, and you were also in a rock band called Fye Dollah Ho, which is pretty wild. How did that happen?
Well, Fye Dollah Ho was, uh, y’know, one section of who I am and Smith and Pyle was a section after that section that was a little less twisted, a little more full of heart, but still full of heat. And then, um, I home school my children, and my daughter, when she was 12, I quit the band. I was there, homeschooling my blossoming daughter and we’re doing studies like what makes a virtuous woman and a virtuous life worth living and all of a sudden I felt foolish up there on stage. I still love writing music and I still appreciate it, music is – at least for me – I don’t really do things halfway, so when I do it, I kind of go all in, and going all in to rock n roll is, uh, y’know, you open yourself up to a lot of influences, good and bad (laughs).
You're also in Anger Management with Charlie Sheen. Do you have any Charlie Seen stories you can share?
He is like, uh, gosh, he’s kind of an Alexander the Great of our time. If we were living in those times, I think he would be a great conquerer.
Well, he’s at least a conqueror in terms of cable television...
In terms of many things (laughs). He’s a real force. And as much of a force as the size of his heart matches, he’s something else, he really is. But, let’s see, a good story, well a couple weeks ago we were in Alaska in the Bay of the Dead hunting the Kushtaka shooting automatic weapons off the back of a yacht.
How’s that for a story? (laughs) I was the only woman on this trip. They brought me for bait for Kushtaka. I was very flattered that I was brought for the bait and I was a little offended that we did not lure the animal. They seemed to think that my company was worthwhile nonetheless.
Do you have a celebrity crush?
Do I have a celebrity crush? I don’t have time for crushes. My road is so narrow that I don’t even have time for a crush (laughs).
What’s next for you?
I have two movies coming out right now, from the Saw films to Anger Management to Jayne Mansfields Car and then Grace Unplugged which comes out in the beginning of October, which is a Christian film, which is a really, really, really good film. The script was great, Marc Burg produced it, and that’s how I came to it, I read the script, and I said I want to be in this movie, I don’t care what the part is, big small, I want to be in it, it would be an honor to be a part of it and I hope everybody sees this movie, especially young women. It’s such a good, good movie.
Now, I’m just on Anger Management and just started high school homeschooling my 14-year old and two boys, so that’s a full time job in itself.
Oh Man, you’re gonna be busy if you’re not already.
(laughs) But, y’know what? When I feel discouraged, which is just about everyday, like, I’m not worthy of doing this, I say, at least I’m still in the ring fighting.
There you go. That’s all you can do. Shawnee, it was so great talking to you. Thanks so much!
You too, Paul, thank you!
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