“I think of P.J. Soles. And wonder where you are. I'll never see you anymore…”, that is the opening line to a terrific song on one of my all time favorite CD’s. Local H and “Whatever Happened To P.J. Soles” is a fantastic record that offers up a very good question. Thankfully, we don’t need to look too far to get an answer. P.J. Soles never really left us. The girl from HALLOWEEN, CARRIE, ROCK AND ROLL HIGH SCHOOL, STRIPES, BREAKING AWAY and so damn many others is still working. You may have noticed her in THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, and if you didn’t… shame on you. She is not only a horror legend, she is probably one of the best actors around. She is charming and made every dude answer a resounding yes when she uttered the lines, “See anything you like?” But P.J. was much more than the hottie flavor of the month. She was funny, serious, beautiful and if you haven’t noticed… I’m a bit of a fan.
So what happens when I get to talk with one of the coolest chicks ever… I was surprisingly subdued. It really was one of the most amazing things ever for me to hear her voice on the other end of the phone. There are very few actors and actresses that really make me geek out… but she is definitely one of them. And guess what? She is easily just as terrific as I could have hoped. We talked all about her career including a couple of my favorite films that weren’t in the genre, SWEET DREAMS and PRIVATE BENJAMIN. But we also talked Ramones and of course… ROCK AND ROLL HIGH SCHOOL. If you haven’t seen that movie, I suggest you do so at this very moment (well maybe read the interview first). And yes, HALLOWEEN and CARRIE came up… she even gives her thoughts on Rob Zombie’s take. I can honestly say that I was a fan before, but now, I have an even greater respect. This is one ‘totally’ talented actress and someone needs to get her back into the mainstream. But until then, she is still working like crazy in the indie world in films like DEATH BY ENGAGEMENT, ALONE IN THE DARK 2 and PRANK. I hope you all think of P.J. Soles as Local H and I have done.
First of all, I’m a huge fan of yours. The kind that would see a movie because you were in it. In fact, you made SWEET DREAMS even better for me.
Ah, how nice. That was a fun part.
That was a great role for you too, even though it was a small part, but it was an Academy Award nominated film…
Actually, I had a bit more but they cut it out because the movie was about her [Patsy Cline played by Jessica Lange], not me [Laughing].
Well still, you should have been in it more… [Laughing].
I had a wonderful time doing it. Karel Reisz, the director was amazing and we had a dialogue coach. It was really like a true, first class project, you know. We had a lot of help and one of my biggest memories is sitting on Ed Harris’ lap and I wanted to run my fingers through his hair, and he grabbed me by the wrist and said, ‘Don’t touch the hair.’ And I didn’t realize he had a toupee on [Laughing].
Your career has spanned a lot of genres. From drama to comedy to horror, and even musical… one of my favorite films ever is ROCK AND ROLL HIGH SCHOOL.
What a wonderful experience you must have had doing that.
Yeah, it was really great plus, I think, as time goes by, people appreciate it more and more. And more and more people know about it and hear about it. I just wish it was more available, I mean, they have a new version of it now on DVD but a lot of people are like, ‘I’ve heard about that movie but I’ve never seen it.’ and then there are people that are like, ‘Oh my God, that’s my favorite movie! I watched it when I was five!’ or whatever, but that was four weeks of heaven.
Now do you find yourself getting recognized for that character [Riff Randell] or is it the HALLOWEEN connection?
Well, you know when I go to the conventions and they are obviously horror conventions, where they are there to meet celebrities that have done SAW or ROB ZOMBIE’S HALLOWEEN, they’ll see me sitting there and more times than not, they say I loved you in HALLOWEEN but I love STRIPES and ROCK AND ROLL HIGH SCHOOL. Those sort of movies… and CARRIE.
It’s horror, but still they throw in STRIPES and ROCK AND ROLL HIGH SCHOOL. I’ve had a few, which, if you can believe it… more than two [Laughing]… introduce me to their daughter named Riff [Laughing]. I feel like I’ve done my job. But yes, I’ve definitely crossed the line and I’m not just in one genre, and these are movies that - obviously not just because of me - but because of the quality of work of the whole movie, they just have survived and you can still watch them today. And they compare with the quality today and they are great fun to watch. I mean I just saw JUNO and I thought, if that isn’t a remake of ROCK AND ROLL HIGH SCHOOL [Laughing]… so it’s so great, I loved her character and there were just so many elements of her character that reminded me of Riff Randell.
Well I think there is also an element… well, first of all you have an album named after you from a terrific band, Local H, which is actually one of my favorite records. And you were in one of The Donnas music videos, playing Riff Randell, and of course The Ramones connection, my God… you’ve spanned generations of music…
And even The Ramones, really are more popular today then they ever were when the three of them were alive, you know. You know, they’re being used for commercials, even younger people are discovering them and going, ‘Wow.’ They are really great… it’s too bad you can’t go see them live, you know.
Yeah, and they just released a DVD which has like 118 songs or something like that… and it’s live. So people finally get to see what they were all about and they reason for the hype.
Right, and I know for many, many years, Johnny… he didn’t talk too highly about ROCK AND ROLL HIGH SCHOOL, but because I had done THE DEVIL’S REJECTS with Rob Zombie and got invited to a couple of parties at his house, which I got to see Johnny alone again before he passed away. I said, ‘Hey, what’s with all the bad press about Rock and Roll High School? We’re gonna live forever in this movie, it’s your guys A HARD DAYS NIGHT. Why don’t you like it?’ [Laughing], he said, ‘Well, it made us look silly.’ and I said, ‘No it didn’t. You guys are great in it, you know, it’s who you are and who you were. You know, we’re forever going to be on the planet now because of that movie. It just shows you in another light and yet your concert footage at the Roxy looks just like when you perform live anywhere else, so be very proud of that.‘
I think he should’ve been, you know, there are certain movies that with rock stars that do sort of come across as silly, but not that one. The Ramones are and will always be cool.
You just can’t get away from that.
And even their flubs, which is, we had to cut out maybe twenty pages of scenes that we had with the Ramones because they had… they couldn’t say lines, but even when they say them and goof them up, that was so endearing about them and that’s what gets the laughs. They’re not laughing at them, they are laughing ‘cause they assume, okay, that’s their character. They don’t even think that that is really them, they think, oh they’re just playing their character [Laughing].
It is a classic and I think for me personally, you stuck out as much, if not more for that film than even HALLOWEEN or CARRIE. Each of those performances…
That’s because I always wear red James.
I guess so [Laughing].
That’s my secret [Laughing].
Do you still have the baseball cap from CARRIE?
I don’t have the red hat, it disintegrated after many washings.
But in Little Rock when I had done a convention, they had gone to Walmart or something and bought two red baseball caps and they had me sign them. I thought that was cute [Laughing].
You seem to really like doing the conventions, you really celebrate your past and not hide from it.
Well I love to meet the fans and I’m not that good with… I get a lot of fan mail and its hard for me to sit down and write back, put pictures in and whatever. I should be better at it but when I get to go out there and people come by… they’re shaking, they just want to hug me, they want to tell me about their experiences when they first saw HALLOWEEN and ROCK AND ROLL HIGH SCHOOL. And I just love that, what other job could you have where that is a benefit. I just like to embrace that and say thank you. It’s not that I’m doing it because they’re buying tickets to see the movie that is making the producers rich. I mean, its because these people really, really want to meet the people that were in the movie that inspired them. So if that is a little bit that I can do to make them happy, I enjoy it since I always get to see a new city, I get to meet people from all over the country. And all they’re doing is saying, ‘Gosh, we love you!’
Well, you know in the past couple of months, I’ve watched three different versions of HALLOWEEN.
Oh really? Of the original HALLOWEEN?
Yes. Of the original… I’ve watched the original, I’ve watched Rob Zombie’s version and I also watched a fan made film…
Yes. It’s called HALLOWEEN 2000 [Directed by Brad Ellis].
And the thing is, there is a reason that there is that kind of love for the original and one of those reasons is the three of you [with Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Loomis] are great.
There was such a great connection there.
Somebody said, I think it was my boyfriend or a friend of mine, they said, the three girls in the original HALLOWEEN each had very distinct personalities yet we were really good friends. The Rob Zombie HALLOWEEN, they all seemed to have the same personality. I mean, I don’t know if that is a proper criticism or not but that’s what they observed and I thought, ‘well, maybe that’s right…’ because we were so different in the original, yet we were the best of friends. It kind of made it interesting because Laurie, especially in the car with Annie, and they were smoking the joint and they see Annie’s dad… it was like, ‘Oh my God!’, it was just so cute, you know. And obviously I was the one with the boyfriend that was willing to go upstairs in the bedroom… so… real teenagers at that time. The Rob Zombie one, they all have the same way of speaking, they all have attitude, there is just nothing distinct about them. But they were all cute.
Yeah, I felt that. But don’t get me wrong, I really liked his version and I think there is a place in movie history for both films.
And I do love Rob Zombie’s work.
It wasn’t the original HALLOWEEN… but…
Yeah, it wasn’t the original.
But it wasn’t expected to be, so…
I take it that you liked the film?
I liked the Rob Zombie film. Yeah. I was hesitant to see it, I didn’t see it for a very long time, but after Little Rock when I sat next to Kristina Klebe, and she was so excited to meet me... and she hadn’t actually seen the original Halloween until after she filmed the Rob Zombie one. And I said, ‘Did Rob tell you not to see it?’, ‘Oh no, but I was so disappointed that his only direction to me was, just be as ditzy as you can be.’, and she said, ‘I imagined that that was who your character was. And afterwards, when I saw the original Halloween I went, Oh my God, you put so many layers into it and you weren’t just ditzy. You were cute, you were endearing, you were funny. And here I just played one note because I figured Rob Zombie was directing it the way the original was. But I really, really should of done my homework and watched it before I played the character.’
Well, it’s a tough call because you don’t want to copy a performance, especially something that has lived on, as much as your performance has.
Right. But she was saying ‘totally’ so… [Laughing] There just seems to be a bit more humor, I think, in Rob’s film. So I thought after that, okay, let me see this because I love Rob and I love his wife [Sheri Moon] and I was very surprised. And I really enjoyed it and I thought definitely it was a work of art in the style of Rob Zombie. And is seems with each movie, he seems to do a little bit less violence and a little bit more of the chill up the spine without blood and the obvious visual. So, you know, that’s come a long way from HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES.
Speaking of Rob, when you were working on THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, how skilled did you feel he was because obviously you’ve worked with numerous directors? Were you impressed with him? Were you kind of surprised that he was as skilled as he was?
No I wasn’t surprised. I mean, he’s a true artist. Anybody who can get up on stage and tour with a rock and roll band has gotta have it together. So he knows how to do that, and he’s an artist, and he was in great command of his crew, he was in charge and that’s really the job of the director. I only really worked one day and he seemed to really have a handle on the scene. And it was fun as well. Rob brought the CD of Local H, and every time on breaks, he’d put on “Whatever Happened to P.J. Soles?”. He blasted it so it was kind of funny. And then at lunch, he came to the table after I finished eating and he was just armed with posters and pictures and he propped them all down and said, ‘Could you sign these for me?’ [Laughing] And I’m like, okay. But in terms of working with him, he reminded me of John Carpenter.
He had a very laid back attitude. You could tell he was more of an artistic type of a director, writer versus… I don’t know, there are some writers/directors in Hollywood that are just all business and they seem like they need to relax. And the ones that are relaxed are the ones that are confident with their vision and allow the rest of the cast and the crew to contribute even more because there is a relaxed atmosphere on the set. Rob has that same vibe, so I thought that was cool.
Now we’ve talked about horror and we’ve talked about ROCK AND ROLL HIGH SCHOOL… there was a period where you were doing films like SWEET DREAMS and you also had a scene stealing role in PRIVATE BENJAMIN…
Yeah… love that.
How did that come about and how was that experience for you? Because that is a tough role, I mean, she’s basically a little bitch. [Laughing]
[Laughing] Wanda Winters. Well, that was really fun. And it was interesting because there was another director before Howard Zieff, I forget his name… but he had hired me. We all had auditioned. Goldie [Hawn] was the producer but she had never been in on any of the casting sessions when the first director was on board, so a bunch of us were hired. And then about two weeks later, we heard that the director was being replaced by Howard Zieff and Goldie had deemed that none of the girls that the first director chose were going to be doing the movie. So I got very upset because I love that part and I kept telling my agent, ‘Please, please, please push for me to keep the part!’ and then I was told, ‘… well, they’re holding casting sessions for two of the characters, one of which is Wanda Winters…’ and I said, ‘Are you kidding?’ and he also said that Goldie had said no blondes, she’s the only blonde in the movie and the only reason you can’t do the part is because you have blonde hair. So I got a very short black wig, I got an army uniform and I stormed into the casting session. And I had my little glasses on and I said that I’m here to read Wanda Winter. And they said, ‘What’s your name?’ and I said, ‘P.J. Soles.’ and a sort of an acquaintance of mine stood up and said, ‘You’re not P.J. Soles. Why are you saying your P.J. Soles?’, and I said to them, ‘Hey, I’m trying to get this part, it’s okay…’ [Laughing] So I just kept insisting and they said, ‘You’re not on the list… you’re not on the list.’ and finally, she called into the office and said, ‘There’s an actress here, she really wants to be seen and I think you should see her because she’s really acting like a bitch.’ [Laughing] because that’s what my part was. I walked in and it was Howard Zieff and Goldie wasn’t in on that, and I read the scene, and he said, ‘Boy, you’re really good, blah, blah, blah…’ and I said, I had this part before and now I’m trying to get it again and then I pulled off my wig and showed my blonde hair [Laughing]. So he gave me the part on the spot, he just said be sure to bring your wig, don’t let Goldie ever see your hair [Laughing]. So it was a fight to get that part, and it was funny because… it was Western Costume, and they had labeled my uniform from STRIPES, don’t forget, I did STRIPES first… but I wore the same uniform for both. But it was fun working with all the girls.
It really was a great little film…
Goldie was so cute.
Oh yeah. I think that is still her best role. Okay, so you have PRIVATE BENJAMIN, and you have STRIPES. You’ve got the same uniform and you get to work with another comic great in Bill Murray.
How did you get cast for that?
I was doing SOGGY BOTTOM U.S.A. and that was a really great cast. I mean we had Jack Elam, Don Johnson, Ben Johnson, Dub Taylor, Lois Nettleton, Ann Wedgeworth, I mean the list goes on and on. It was an incredible cast. A little Southern town in the Thirties, and it was just the cutest movie. I think it should have done much better than it did. But I was down there and my agent called and we were wrapping up, and as soon as I came home I had to fly to Louisville, Kentucky. They already had the Sean Young part but they didn’t have the other girl. So I flew in and I read with Harold Ramis on-camera, with Ivan Reitman, and we just had instant chemistry. After that I went back home and as soon as I landed I got a call, and my agent said pack your bags, your going back… you got the job. That’s how I got that. And that was fun, except for half the day that… Bill is incredible, he brings so much to a role the minute your filming. But an unhappy camper to be around when you’re not shooting [Laughing].
Yeah, I’ve kinda heard that [Laughing]. Now we’ve touched on many of your classic films, but you are still working, doing a lot of independent films as of late.
Yeah, SAG changed all the rules and made it possible for filmmakers to make these really low-budget films. And you know, it’s hard as you get older to get anything that you can really sink your teeth into. You know, a day here, a day there. But now, I get to meet a lot of up and coming filmmakers with these fresh ideas, and it’s fun. I mean, Ivan can talk about STRIPES and Ivan Reitman and his son Jason who directed JUNO and THANK YOU FOR SMOKING. And I can picture it in my mind, him standing there at Fort Knox with his mom, he was about three or four, standing there with his little coat on. I have that memory of him, and I’m like, okay hire one of your dad’s actors [Laughing].
Do you ever feel that your history within these cult films has ever hurt your career?
I don’t think it’s hurt it, but I think that my fans appreciate me more than the business. And I don’t know why Hollywood…. They don’t seem to pay attention or say, ‘hey, let’s put her in a Warner Brothers movie or a Paramount movie.’ It’s been a real struggle. I’ve been on auditions where there are fifty people in the hallway. It’s really the lottery to get that part. And also, during my time as an actress, from the Seventies until now, all the rules have changed. In the Seventies, you couldn’t be married, you couldn’t have kids, you know, if you did movies you couldn’t do TV. If you did TV, there was no way ever you were going to get a job in a movie. Now it’s all mixed, and now, they get Meryl Streep to do a scene in “The West Wing” or whatever. Everything has changed.
Yeah, you look at Glenn Close who did a season on “The Shield”.
Yeah, because everyone is hurting for work. It has become harder and harder obviously, as you get older. So unless someone like Rob Zombie puts out a casting call for “notable Seventies actors for cameo appearance”… so that’s my nitch.
Do you think appearing in a Rob Zombie film has given you a second chance a little bit?
Oh yeah, it’s definitely something to talk about and it definitely puts me on the map and people, even at the conventions, go, ‘I love that scene with you and Sid Haig. It was so funny and so great to see you again.’, and for me, when I watch it, it’s like two seconds long, and it really is, but the fans noticed. And they really appreciated it and they ask, when are we going to see you in a bigger part, you know. And DEATH BY ENGAGEMENT, that I did, I had a pretty good part in that.
Yeah, you got to be on the other side. You get to be all mean and vicious kinda huh?
That’s right [Laughing].
Is that fun for you for a change?
Yeah… to not be the victim.
Five Questions for P.J. Soles
What’s your favorite novel, horror or otherwise?
Well I really, really love, “One Hundred Years of Solitude” [by Gabriel García Márquez], that’s one of my favorite books. And I love “The Prince of Tides” [by Pat Conroy].
I didn’t read the book, but I saw the movie.
The book is so much better because you can’t translate the style of writing which was so beautiful. It was as close to poetry and you could get.
Okay… next up, you’re stranded on an island and you can only bring three movies. What would you bring?
Easy one… c’mon.
No… well… it’s funny because one of my favorite movies is THE DIRTY DOZEN. I just love that movie so much, I love all the characters and I love the effort that they made and I love the story. So that would be one of them. And since I would be alone, it would just be nice to look at all those guys [Laughing]. And… let’s see… I have to pick one that really makes me laugh.
I do realize that this is a hard question [Laughing]… I don’t know if I could answer it.
It is… there are just so many choices and of course nothing is going through my head right now.
Well one of mine would be HALLOWEEN.
Oh yeah, absolutely.
I probably wouldn’t bring that [Laughing]. I don’t want to watch myself on a desert island… [Laughing] Well one of my favorite movies is that one with Bill Nighy, he plays an aging rock star. I love that movie… STILL CRAZY. That movie was the best… I love that. I would definitely take that. DIRTY DOZEN, STILL CRAZY and… alright… THE NOTEBOOK [Laughing]
See that, I just don’t go there [Laughing].
I have to see Ryan Gosling… he was so great. Oh.. I know… my other really favorite movie is THE STUNT MAN.
Okay… I’m happy.
Good choices. Now for the next one, if you could play any historical figure, either fictional or factual, who would it be?
Hmmm. That’s a good question. I don’t know… I think that maybe that movie… OUT OF AFRICA? I really like that writer, Isak Dinesen, who lived there and grew up there. I don’t know, some character kind of like that. But not a queen.
Really? You don’t want to play a queen?
I’m not a queenly kind of person. I’ve got a little bit more funky personality.
You do, which is…
Somebody that has to play a bit more of a raw…
I could see you playing somebody like Amelia Earhart.
There you go. That would be more like me. Hey, you know me better than I know myself [Laughing].
I’m a big fan… can you tell [Laughing]. Okay, next up, a lot of times when you think of horror icons, it seems strange that they would sit around watching television. But if you do, what do you watch?
Well, I used to love BIG LOVE. I used to love SIX FEET UNDER.
Now for the last question… out of all the young filmmakers out there, who would you like to work with?
Well, Jason Reitman, put him at the top of the list. That would be one for sure. I mean, I love working with Darren Stein, I don’t know what he’s working on now but, JAWBREAKER was great.
That’s a great flick.
He hired Bill Katt and I because he loved CARRIE, so he wanted us to be the parents. That was really cool. You know, I wouldn’t have been invited to be a part of that movie if I hadn’t done CARRIE, so… Jason Reitman.
I want to see you in a Judd Apatow film.
That would be good too [Laughing].
Let me know what you think. Send questions and/or comments to JimmyO@joblo.com.