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Interview: Amanda Wyss

02.01.2008by: JimmyO
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Do you remember the first time you saw A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET? I happened to catch it on cable one night, and like the little girls rhyme, “Never sleep again…“ that was a pretty accurate statement for a long time afterwards. I remember the impact it had on me like it was yesterday. And one of the most important elements in regards to it’s power is the unbelievably strong cast. From Heather Langenkamp to Mr. Johnny Depp, these were incredibly likeable teens in terror. And of course, there was Amanda Wyss. I had seen her before in THIS HOUSE POSSESSED, but it was her wonderful performance as Tina that made me a life long fan.

After that film, I happened to discover her in a few other flicks you might have heard of. There was BETTER OFF DEAD, SILVERADO and she even appeared in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH. Since then she has continued to work, especially in television. And she is utterly radiant every time I see her. So, yeah, the fact that I had a chance to talk with her about her career was an absolute high. In my opinion, she makes a perfect addition to the term, Horror Legend. While the other horror films she has appeared in didn’t necessarily stand out like Nightmare, she still represents what I love about these kinds of movies. And to say that she is charming and incredibly sweet is a grave understatement. In fact, she made the interview experience as terrific as it could possibly be. Sorry… I’m giddy just thinking about it.

Now just to explain a little about what we are doing here, one of the reasons we thought about starting this column was being at Comic Con in 2007, and talking to all the folks that helped make the genre great (back in the Seventies and Eighties), back when horror was a little more adventurous. And I have to say that every crush I had was on a horror scream queen.

[Laughing] I love it! I love it. Well you know, I think that… I mean I haven’t seen a million horror films or anything, but the thing about something like A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET was, it’s a good movie. It defied the genre, so I think that that’s what were missing. We’re missing just a good movie. Don’t you think?

I agree. I mean, don’t get me wrong, there’s a few really fantastic filmmakers out there making some really good movies right now. But with the ability to make films so cheap, were finding even more… well, crap.

Yeah, and that said, there have always been crappy movies in any genre. You know, ‘hey look my Grandma gave me a camera, let’s go make a movie…’

Basically yeah.

Because I know I’ve seen some pretty bad action movies like that. Where they’re like, ‘hey, look at me.’ But hey, hat’s off to anybody that can get a movie made, good or bad. Because I know that that’s not easy. So many of my friends are artists in whatever genre, whether they’re a writer of a cinematographer, you know, or actors, directors and whatever. And everybody has these great ideas and there’s tons of really good scripts floating around. But just getting anything made is hard. Just getting something out for people to see. It really is a miracle.

It’s a very difficult business to be in, as an actor or anything else.

It is, and I think too that the way the industry is now, it’s very hard. Like when I first started, a journeyman actor who just did episodics and a couple of little films a year, you could actually make your living. And now, the average actor -- I was just reading these statistics -- can’t even make their health insurance. And once you start a family, I think that that becomes an issue. I think it becomes a financial issue. Where when I started out, most actors, you could make your living acting, to various degrees or whatever. So that even sort of in a fiscal way, it gets harder and harder to maintain that, once you want to have a more stable life.

Is it more difficult for you to live outside of Los Angeles and continue working?

Well, you know what, it was interesting. I was born and raised in Los Angeles in Manhattan Beach. And as an adult, I moved up closer to Hollywood and the Valley. And over the last year, I just thought, I don’t want to live here, I’d never lived anywhere else. You know, I’ve been to New York for three months, I’ve been to Vancouver for six months, you know, from work. I’ve traveled around and lived places for half a year maybe. And it was like, you know, everybody else moved here [Los Angeles], I just want to go somewhere. I want to have an adventure. And both my sisters over the last fifteen years have moved to New Mexico and so I’ve spent a lot of time here over the years. Always for the holidays and for summer, and I’ve filmed here, I kept coming here to film, so you know what… it’s a sign… [Laughing] And I ended up getting a movie out here which is called TO LIVE AND DIE. I did that and I have just been enjoying it and exploring. And I just found out that, I’m not supposed to say the name of it, but somebody has attached my name to sort of a horror/thriller movie that they’re trying to get financed. So if that happens, that would be great. And I think I’ve been kind of slowing down, does that make sense?

Yeah. It does.

It’s so beautiful here and I was thinking, you know, my boyfriend is here and it’s kind of nice to not be going crazy in LA.

I can see that. It’s a pretty crazy town.

It can be, and I think our business exacerbates that in a way that when the highs are high, it’s fantastic. And when the lows are low, it’s devastating. And I just think that LA is beautiful and artistic yet a manic energy. High highs and low lows. Everybody trying to get something going. Or getting things going, and it’s great. But the difference here is that people work to enjoy where they live as opposed to they live where they live to try to enjoy their work. Does that make sense?

Yeah, it totally makes sense. And if you need to get out here, it’s not all that far away. It’s easy, you can hop on a plane and you’re here.

Oh, easy. And it’s interesting, I think actors… you just find other actors and I don’t even know how. Two girls I’ve met here are both actors that go back and fourth to LA, and we just met by a freak happenstance. So a lot of people here do that and I’ve since found out that there are so many actors that live here. Whether they’re a little bit older and retired, who are involved in the industry. Or actors that can go back and fourth and have an apartment in LA and a place here. It’s interesting, there’s a huge community of people that you would recognize that live here. And I didn’t really know that, it was literally, I packed up my car and left.

Well, going back to A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. I have to tell you that you are all just the nicest, funniest and sweetest people [Look for Heather Langenkamp and Lisa Wilcox coming soon within this column]. What’s up with that?

Oh, well you know, I can’t speak for myself… but thank you. But Wes [Craven] really put together a neat group of people. And whenever we do bump into each other, or find ourselves in the same place, everyone really gets excited and we really, really like each other.

Whatever happened to that Johnny Depp guy?

Uh… Isn’t he amazing?

It’s unbelievable.

I don’t know. The poor guy… it’s too bad his career never took off. He was so good-looking and talented.

Yeah, he didn’t really go anywhere did he? [Laughing]

He just didn’t go anywhere and nobody can figure out why. [Laughing]

That was one of the things that worked with NIGHTMARE, the cast was just really good. All of you were so good and so believable in your roles.

You know, I think again, that’s Wes though. Wes went for a look, he had a really specific look, but he went for the best actor. And I think sometimes, in my opinion, they will get enamored by someone, and think that they can fix it on the set, if they’re not delivering. You know what I mean? It’s not going to fix itself on the set, it gets exacerbated and people get nervous and uptight. And if it’s not there, it’s going to be worse on the set. And he went with people, that he was like, ‘now that’s what I’m looking for, that’s what I want’. Well, actually I can’t speak for Wes, I don’t know how he did it but he really did put together a fun group and a talented group.

Now did he ever see you, when casting, in that movie THIS HOUSE POSSESSED? Because that movie scared the crap out of me when I was a kid. And of course, you were in that.

Oh my God! I was in that. That was one of the first things I ever did. You know, you are the only ever human on the planet that has ever even heard of that.

Oh, Lisa Eilbacher was another crush I had back when I was a kid. So I had to watch it.

She is such a great person. She’s so smart. You know, she has the most interesting life. Her parents were diplomats, she speaks several languages. Really interesting, really phenomenal. Good crush for you to have, good taste!

Well did Wes see you in that? How did you end up playing Tina?

I don’t know if he had ever seen anything before. I just went in and auditioned for it.

Did you know anything about the film beforehand?

No… wait… I’m trying to remember. We might of just had sides. But everybody read for Nancy. And then he decided who would get the other part. And I loved that he decided to go with… he didn’t go with the dark haired girl had to die. He thought that… if I remember correctly, what he said, again I don’t want to put words in his mouth. He said that I reminded him of Janet Leigh, and that you would think I was going to be the heroine. He wanted it to be set up that you would think I was going to be the girl and yet I die in the first half hour or whatever. I just thought that was really interesting. And then he sort of replicated that in SCREAM. And Drew Barrymore had that little wig on that kind of looked like my hair. I always thought that it was a nice little homage to me from NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET so I was very flattered.

Now with your career, you continue to work. You’ve done television including “ER”, “Law and Order” and “Dexter”, how does it compare to your earlier work? Do you still get recognized as “Tina”?

You know what’s interesting is there’s a grouping of films from the same era. There’s NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, BETTER OFF DEAD, FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH and SILVERADO. It’s interesting because they run concurrently with the different genre fan, does that make sense?

Yes.

And you know, I think it’s really… I feel really flattered that I was in seminal films that mattered to anyone [Laughing]. And that people get excited… and the other thing that people love, which always cracks me up is I did the first season of the “Highlander” TV series. And I played the kind of ditzy reporter that kind of follows after the Highlander. I think they fall into certain genres and people that love westerns are like, ‘Oh my God, you’re in my favorite western!’… I feel really blessed that I have a legacy that I was able to be in those and then going further with television. That I had this opportunity to play these great roles [in television] that you may not get to play in films. Because there’s a lot less roles in films. You know, and people loved NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, and I just feel really flattered and thrilled that… especially the older I get and I look back, just that I have a career that I can look back on, you know. It’s like, you know what, I have a legacy and that’s really cool, you know. No matter what happens from this point forward I feel really proud of it. I think the most people get freaked out is when Heather [Langenkamp] and I are hanging out together. Especially like a really big fan. They’re just like, ‘no way, you guys know each other?’ We’re like, ‘Yeah!‘, That’s kind of funny. We had a funny, well, two funny stories. One, Heather’s husband, he’s an Academy Award winning special effects make-up artist, and he was working on CINDERELLA MAN in Toronto and I went to visit them. And we were walking around Toronto and everywhere we went, people were freaking out and we just didn’t expect it all these years later. And then a couple times in L.A. we used to like to go to Dodger games, so we’d get a group together to go and we’d go buy the three dollar tickets, you know, and every time we’ve done that, people are like, ‘No way! You guys are really friends… and you’re here!’ Especially after people have had a couple of beers you know, but we always thought that that was kind of fun. It makes us feel good, it’s nice when someone acknowledges your work, in any way, it‘s makes it all nice. It makes you feel good because that’s why we do it, that’s why we lay it down, that’s why we put it out there. I mean that’s not why, we do it for ourselves because it’s our calling. We don’t do it to be in a vacuum and when someone acknowledges it, it’s great.

5 QUESTIONS FOR AMANDA WYSS

What is your favorite novel, horror or otherwise?

My favorite book of all time is “A Prayer for Owen Meany”.

Who is the author?

John Irving.

Okay, I’ve never read that one. Although one of my favorite books is “The World According to Garp”.

OH MY GOD! You HAVE to read “A Prayer for Owen Meany”! It’s the greatest book ever written!

Okay, I will.

Promise me you’ll read it.

I will, I promise.

It’s the best book ever.

Now the next question, you’re stranded on an island and you can only bring three movies, what would they be?

Okay. [A moment] Okay, I would bring, first, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. I would bring NOTTING HILL. [Laughing] I love that movie. And I’d bring CASABLANCA. I just think it’s so romantic and IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, I love it so much. I love romantic comedies, NOTTING HILL, I know it doesn’t make me sound very smart but it always makes me happy. Like, if it’s a gloomy day, I put that movie in.

If you could play any historical character, factual or fictional, who would it be?

Okay, the first one that pops into my head is Joan of Arc.

Good one. Actually, you’d be perfect for that.

That would just be so amazing, and it would be a privilege.

It’s always kind of strange to think of horror icons sitting around watching T.V, but if you do, what are your favorite shows?

I watch “Grey’s Anatomy”. The two series that I watch, that my boyfriend and I TiVo are “The Unit” and “Grey’s Anatomy”. But honestly, I am an avid reader. I tend to, at night, I like to read. But I do not read during “Grey’s Anatomy” and “The Unit”. But if I’m going to rent a T.V. show on DVD, I get “Six Feet Under”, the best show ever put on T.V.

And for the final question, which of the young and/or upcoming filmmakers of today would you like to work with?

I would love to be directed by Sean Penn.

I think he’s a wonderful director.

I do too. Yeah, I think it would be dreamy to be directed by Sean Penn.

Let me know what you think. Send questions and comments to jimmyo@joblo.com.

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11:55AM on 02/01/2008
Really good interview Jimmy (as always)! I like the vibe of this column--stripped down, laid back--I look forward to reading more.
Really good interview Jimmy (as always)! I like the vibe of this column--stripped down, laid back--I look forward to reading more.
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