There is one person that was probably the easiest to approach when it came to this column. And it was sort of ironic because even though I met her one year at the Fangoria Convention, I wasn’t sure that she’d be willing to do it. I don’t know why, but I just had a feeling she’d have better things to do. But I was happy to see that she was so open about talking shop (or chop). And this beautiful, smart, funny and talented lady, namely Kelli Maroney, is one of those actresses that really held a special place in my genre loving heart. I can honestly say if NIGHT OF THE COMET is on, I will watch it. I remember seeing that, along with some of her other films, including FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH and CHOPPING MALL, and loving every minute of her on screen.
When I talked with her over the phone, I told her flat out that I thought she was incredibly smart. After reading her blogs on her own site www.kellimaroney.com, she impressed me with her grounded sense of the business of movies. This is a woman who has grown with her career and she has been able to continue as a working actress. And she is incredibly respectful of her fans which is always a major plus. But it is such a pleasure to talk to Kelli, who happens to be intelligent, funny and oftentimes brutally honest. She was one of the reasons why I loved horror movies in the first place, and she continues to be a force in independent cinema… now can somebody please offer her a kick ass role in a major motion picture or a network television show? You know, that really great character that we all know she could play! Please enjoy my time out with… Kelli Maroney.
Now let’s start at the beginning of your career. You were a very popular character on “Ryan’s Hope”. How did you get started on that and how old were you?
I left home… I graduated early and left home to go to conservatory school. And I was going to the National Shakespeare Company Conservatory in Upstate New York and I did that for the summer. I was about sixteen. I had been an apprentice at the Guthrie Theatre. They have fall programs so I decided to do that and I had no idea what moving to Manhattan would entail from Minnesota. I had about five-hundred dollars to my name. But I was optimistic [Laughing]. I was like that little old ant that had high hopes. And fortunately for me, I was looking for a place to live and I was too young to rent an apartment or anything else, you know and people were starting to give me funny looks.
And this woman who was in charge of renting apartments and stuff - well there was very little she could do for me - but she said that her friend was a casting person, and they were casting a “Lolita” for the soaps and I should go check it out. And two people I knew in Manhattan said, ‘Oh my God, don’t go…’ and I thought, no, I’m gonna go, so I put my picture under the door and I got called in and I got the part. They’d been looking for this character from the mid-west, that was an illegitimate child to come in and cause a whole bunch of trouble… Lolita. And I was so nervous when I auditioned but this guy… you know, this guy that was going to play the guy that gets into all this trouble with this girl, he looked so tired and I reached up and touched his face, and that overcame whatever nervousness I had going on and they went, ‘there’s this thing about her…’, so they cast me. And it was like two weeks after I had gotten into town. I had no place to live…
Yeah, and I was calling my mom up… and at first I was calling her up in tears going, ‘I think that I’m going to have to come home, I have no business being her all by myself.’ [Laughing] But she really wanted me to stick it out, she was very much behind me, she didn’t… she said, what’s there for you to do in Minnesota, what are you gonna do here, get pregnant and get married? Forget it, stay out there. My mom actually… we had a house and after I left she sold the house and moved into an apartment, which I thought was kinda cold on her part. But she really wanted me to get on with my life and she knew that somehow or another that the younger I started out the better. And I called her up and said, mom I’m on T.V. It was one of those crazy things where you don’t expect anyone to believe you because it can’t possibly be true. But it really happened.
Well two things… most parents are like, ‘No you don’t want to be an actor.’, yet your mom is like, no, no, go, go!
Well my mom had me when she was in her forties and she had already raised a family. And her perspective on life had changed. You know, she was like, ‘you know what, do what you wanna do so you don’t have any regrets.’ But she had always wished she had grown up in a time when women could be more independent, and have choices and get out and find out what’s going on in the rest of the world. So I got lucky.
Yes you did. And then, the fact that you slipped your picture under a door!
Yeah, slipped it under a door and got called in [Laughing].
I think nowadays if you tried that you’d be arrested on sight… [Laughing].
Probably. Well New York is a little different then California. You probably couldn’t get a way with that in California. I don’t know, it’s been so long since I tried to get a part in New York, but…
Okay, what’s the difference for being known for a soap opera like “Ryan’s Hope” as opposed to being known for the girl from NIGHT OF THE COMET or CHOPPING MALL?
Well I was a bad character [in “Ryan’s Hope]. I was evil. I was always the girl you love to hate on the soaps. So when I got out here, you know, the characters I’d play in the B-movies were much more sympathetic. So that was fine when I was a kid to be a character that people hated. You know, people used to come up to me on the street and say, ‘…you’re so bad, you’d better stop that right now.’ [Laughing] And to this day on those message boards… I mean most of them realize… they want you to drop by, you know, on the message boards. The things that they have to say about you are so unflattering that you don’t feel like going.
And you are such a nice person too.
Well you know, it was a valuable lesson, you can’t play somebody… people don’t walk around thinking that they’re evil. They have really good reasons for it. Everyone’s a hero in their own life. You can’t go in there and play a dastardly character, there’s no such thing. You have to understand where that person’s coming from and why they think it’s okay that they’re doing what they do. And soap operas… they’re a morality play. There is right and wrong, good people and bad people…
Now let’s talk a little bit about FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH. I’m sure you are asked about it all the time, but what was the experience like for you being on that set with so many people about to really take off.
I was actually one of the most well known actors on that set because of the soap. Jennifer Jason Leigh had done “Best Little Girl In The World” but I don’t know if it was out yet or not. And Phoebe Cates had gotten a couple of things. Brian Backer had won a Tony for “The Floating Light Bulb”. So a lot of people had done a lot of things but nobody had really… you know, it was a breakthrough movie.
I had the experience of… it was my first time out on a big movie set, I couldn’t drive, the teamsters had to come and pick me up everyday and take me to work. And the director [Amy Heckerling] hadn’t graduated from NYU that long ago. And Cameron [Crowe], I could relate to him because he was already a reporter for Rolling Stone. He already had a career when he was a kid and he was still able to go back and pretend he was in high school. I can relate to that. But I had a real sense that something special was happening. But I don’t know, maybe I can say that looking back, but it could have been like, wow I’m in Los Angeles shooting my first big movie…
And it’s a big Universal Picture…
Yeah. I mean, it was my movie star dream coming true. But I have a good sense about these things so I really did feel that there was something special going on there.
And with that, you had a background in soaps and then something like FAST TIMES… then came NIGHT OF THE COMET. And honestly, that is one of those movies that every time it is on I have to sit and watch it…
What is it about that movie that? Why is it in the Eighties, they really knew how to make scary movies that were also very funny and charming like that? And today…
Well today is very genre based. We are making a “horror” film. We are doing this, we are doing that. They couldn’t decide if they wanted to put comedy in there. They would actually shoot two different versions. You had one producer saying, ‘This isn’t funny. Why aren’t they scared? You shouldn’t be making this a light scene, this is a scary scene.’ So we appeased him by putting in one that was more scary so they had a choice, it could be cut so that it was scary or actually just make fun of it. So they really had, you know… not that we had a lot of footage because we didn’t. But we’d do a take like that and a take like that, okay that one was really funny, now let’s do one that’s more serious. Okay, moving on. We only did really two or three takes. But they could decide what they wanted to do. And with anything that is comedy the actor isn’t going, ‘I am in a comedy.’ Comedy, if anything, is just heightened drama. Heightened to the point where the people that are watching it think that it is funny. I mean Leslie Nielsen once said, they ask him what’s the difference for you when you go in and do a serious movie, or you go in and do AIRPLANE!… he said, ‘Nothing.’ [Laughing]
That is definitely true of NIGHT OF THE COMET, you are serious but the humor is there.
Well the thing is, it’s a situation where if that really happened, you are so screwed. That sometimes you just have to laugh so you don’t cry. [Laughing] I think people relate to that.
Now it has been released on DVD?
That happened last March .
They should release a Criterion version [Laughing].
Who knows, they might. I was really pushing to see if… I had a letter from Thom [Eberheart] saying that I had his blessing because he was just all done with hearing about Night of the Comet and what happened to it. And I was ready. and I had an attorney and I was just going to see what it would cost me to buy this thing and release it on DVD. Because I was getting letters from fans. They thought it was our fault. You know, why aren’t you on this… there is no DVD and my VHS is falling apart. And so I found it, it was at MGM, they had just acquired all the rights. So I called up the head of legal affairs and said I’d like to buy it. And for awhile, like maybe for a day, I was really feeling like hey, this could happen. And then she called me and said, we’re actually not going to sell it and so it was out of my hands.
And that was like in November of 2006. And here in March 2007, here comes the DVD. No extras, no nothing. They just threw it out there. Studios are pretty hip now to that one, especially actors who were in something that was kind of a career maker for them. That person starts nosing around, like where is that if there is money to be made there. They’re not so quick to just sell it out from under. So I don’t know what happened after that, but everyone was kind of upset that there were no extras or anything like that. But you know, we didn’t have extra footage. There were no deleted scenes. We didn’t have time to shoot stuff that we didn’t feel like putting in the movie afterwards. What you see is everything we shot.
You’ve also done a lot of television since aside from “Ryan’s Hope”…
Yeah, most of it was guest starring. That was just me needing to pay my rent. Most of my career’s been me needing to pay my rent and being thankful I got a job as an actress and not having to do a job as a waitress. There was no premeditated… I mean, nothing makes me laugh harder than actors or actresses who forget and they put on heirs about they’ve made career decisions. Because it doesn’t happen like that. Most actors take what they’re offered and are grateful to get it. It’s more of a journeyman kind of profession for people. I’m sure if you are Jodie Foster you get to develop projects yourself. But most of us just try to make a living not digging ditches.
One of the things that I like about you and your career is - I was also reading your blogs on your website - you’re a smart lady.
You’re welcome. I think you have a very grounded and very realistic sense of what you do. It’s not jaded but it’s not sugarcoated, it’s just this is the way it is and a lot of the roles you’ve done, as you said, you’re happy to be working.
You’ve gotta have a sense of humor about this because anyone that sits here and tells you they had a master plan and here is how they executed it is full of it. None of us are in complete control of our life and if you think you are, you’re crazy. A lot of how it forms our life is responding to whatever circumstances. I just really think the key to life is how you react to whatever is put in front of you. Or not, you know?
Now being known in the horror world… you’ve done NIGHT OF THE COMET and you’ve done CHOPPING MALL, which I loved by the way…
Well thanks, I’ve been hearing a lot of that this year. People really love CHOPPING MALL.
Well I think it’s one of those that when it first came out I don’t really think people “got it”. I think people are now seeing it as almost a satire with gore and just a fun movie. And I loved your work in it, there is something about you and horror that I want to root for. And a lot of the scream queens today, I just don’t care whether they live or die in the films.
Because they don’t give them enough time. And also, one thing I had going for me is I have a lot of personality. You know, when you’re on a soap, your character has three basic scenes. Here’s the scene where I fight with my mother, here is the scene where I manipulate my boyfriend and here is the scene where… you know, whatever. You do that for a couple of years… what ultimately drives people that are successful is they bring a lot of personality into it. It’s the same thing with a horror movie. You can stand there and get an axe in the head and who cares. A lot of times the actor doesn’t have the time to develop the character or whatever.
And if they haven’t found something to connect with the audience, they get an axe in the head and who cares. But if they had a nanosecond on the screen where the audience went, ‘I like this person.’, then all hell breaks loose and they have to try and survive, the audience is with them. In the Eighties it was all about personality. I think it’s with the… technology has really boomed all through the Nineties and everyday there is something coming out. So the whole business kind of fell in love with the technology and forgot about the human element.
I agree with that completely.
It’s all about how it’s shot and how good the special effects are and how good the CGI is and the look of the piece. And, you know, the techno-nerdiness of it. But the human drama has taken a back seat. And I think that there is a backlash with that now. I think that, you know, we’re all impressed with the technology, but what’s interesting about this. I think it will find its balance again and I’m looking forward to that happening. Because otherwise, it’s not that much fun. It’s not that much fun to be an actor and it’s not that much fun to be an audience member. We had our little fling with technology and hopefully it balances.
5 Questions for Kelli Maroney
What’s your favorite novel, horror or otherwise?
“Gone With The Wind”.
‘Cause I read that like five times when I was a kid growing up. You know, I already most of the dialogue by heart.
Is it one of your favorite movies too?
I always watched it when it was on. To me, it was one of the most faithful, even though they had to cut out so much of the story. But I think it is very faithful to the book.
Okay next up, you’re stranded on an island and you can only bring three movies, which would they be?
[After a moment] Is there one that tells you how to get off an island? [Laughing]
That is the best answer I’ve ever heard to that question. [Laughing]
Um… I don’t know, LIFEBOAT by Alfred Hitchcock. CASTAWAY with Tom Hanks. And CITY LIGHTS by Charlie Chaplin.
[Laughing] I like that list. I think we need to make that movie, HOW TO GET OFF AN ISLAND [Laughing]. Now if you could play any historical figure, fictional or factual, who would you want to play?
Well I used to… funny thing, the twenty minutes when I had some heat on me when I was about Kirsten Dunst’s age, I wanted to play Marie Antoinette. Very rarely does anyone ever ask you what you’d like to do, but I had a couple of meetings where people actually said, ‘What would you like to play?’, I said Marie Antoinette. ‘But that’s a terrible idea because first of all, no one goes to see period pieces and the French will never accept an American Marie Antoinette, blah, blah, blah…’, ‘Okay, Edie Sedgwick.’ And now I’m old enough to play Mrs. Antoinette and Mrs. Sedgwick [Laughing]. Today who it would be… I would say I really wish I had Laura Linney’s career, but I’d settle for Nicolette Sheridan’s comeback… I’m thinking now… historical figure… I’d say Marilyn Monroe… I don’t know who it would be now.
For the next question, although you’ve done a lot of television, it is a strange idea to think of a horror legend sitting around watching T.V., but if you do, what do you watch?
“The Dead Zone”, it’s not on anymore. “Law and Order”… I’d love to be on “Law and Order”. I also watch a lot of cable like Turner Classic Movies. They’ve ruined my schedule because invariably there’ll be something I really want to see, you know, in the middle of the night. I try and stay up and see it [Laughing].
And finally, out of all the young filmmakers in Hollywood, who would you like to work with?
Anyone that’s willing to pay me. [Laughing]
What is your favorite Kelli Maroney flick? My two faves… obviously Fast Times and Night of the Comet. Share with the class the ones that you all dig. Send questions and/or comments to JimmyO@joblo.com.