May 18, 2017 Interview – Diane Franklin
Sometimes you need someone to tell you that you cannot do something to prove that you very well can. The daughter of German immigrants, Diane Franklin always had a flare for the dramatic, so much so that she pursued a career in film. Defying the odds, the curly haired Franklin became a leading lady on various films including her debut feature, 1982’s The Last American Virgin. Going on to star in a list of memorable films such as 1982’s Amityville II: The Possession, 1985’s Better Off Dead, among many others, Franklin is perhaps one of the most recognizable faces in ’80s cinema. Bowing from the spotlight, Franklin is now a loving mother of two creative children, aspiring Filmmaker Olivia Delaurentis and talented Musician Nicholas Delaurentis. Recently releasing follow-up book, Diane Franklin: The Excellent Curls of the Last American, French-Exchange Babe of the 80s, Franklin is returning to the forefront of fans’ minds as she makes public appearances and looks to take on new film roles. Recently we caught up with the upbeat and charming actress to talk her career in film, her love for creating, the roles she played, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – You have been acting professionally in film and television for nearly four decades now. In that time, you have starred in a list of memorable films in a broad range of genres. First, tell us, what inspired you to get involved in acting?
Diane Franklin – You know, it’s funny you asked that because how does it and where does it start? What’s that first spark that sends you in the direction of this career? I would have to say I felt it; I just knew at the age of four that I wanted to be an actress and perform. I think that’s kind of interesting, because I really wasn’t usually a show-off kid. My parents were very loving to me and I think that I wanted to please them and make them happy, and it wasn’t that they wanted me to be an actress – it was just that I was a very happy kid, so when I was very young I used to sing and dance. They just paid a lot of attention to me, so I think that it grew into a confidence that I enjoyed. Perhaps I liked the feedback, I don’t know. It started when I was four and at that time when I went to an agent, my parents who are German immigrants didn’t know what to do. We went to an agent and at four years old, I wasn’t what they would consider the typical kid to get in the business. I’m looking at it now wondering if maybe I was too energetic. They told me my hair was too short and curly, and that it wasn’t right for the business.
At four years old, I didn’t really take it personally because I didn’t know any different. I just kept singing and dancing and then doing my acting, and at ten years, I just kept the interest. I think that’s an important piece of information is that if your child keeps that interest, then the parent should listen. My parents luckily did listen and they were able to help me find a manager, an agent, and then I went forward.
I think it’s interesting that…I kind of believe this, that everybody has a dream or a goal when they’re very young. Depending upon your situation, whether your parents listen to you or whether they have time or the energy or the focus, is your chance to go in that direction. If your parents don’t, then you have to deal with it. You have to figure, “Okay, am I going to still believe in my dream? When I get old enough to handle my own life, go after it?” Or do I just say, “Oh well, I guess that’s not coming easy to me so I’m going to move on to something that is.” I would say that I’m an example of someone who was listened to, was given an opportunity, and I had the personal drive. People do acting, they do every job for different reasons, but that’s kind of where I came from.
CrypticRock.com – That is very interesting. A good support system from a family is vital for a child to follow their dreams. Of course, as you said, you have to have the drive and the passion, but a support system really brings that all together. If you do not have that support, it can be deflating; it could really deter you from wanting to do something.
Diane Franklin – Well, I will tell you one thing that’s super interesting because I work with a lot of kids. A kid that has the drive will make it, no matter what obstacles there are; but a family that’s very supportive to a kid that has no drive will not end well (laugh). People burn out, you know what I’m saying? It has to stem from the kid.
It’s so interesting, I’ve actually became friends with Brett Ratner recently and I found out about his desire to be a filmmaker. He has the same drive and I think that’s one of the things that drew me or draws me to him as a person. We have the same inner-core that you go after what you want. Maybe in certain cases it might come out of ego for some people, insecurity for other people, or maybe it comes out of lack of something, but when you have the drive it’s an energy and if you have it you go after it. Throughout my life, I kind of grew up thinking everybody had that. If somebody tells you you can’t do it, you can’t listen to them. If you have a drive to want to do something, why are we giving somebody else the power over us, over our lives? Why do you give someone else the power over your life? That doesn’t even make any sense.
CrypticRock.com – Agreed 100%. Unfortunately, some people do let that happen.
Diane Franklin – It happens a lot. That’s why, for instance, I wrote a book about my life and how I became an actress, just to show people you just keep going after what you want. It’s not going to happen all at once and there may be times where it won’t happen at all, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen in the future. My feeling is if you believe in yourself then others can, but if you don’t believe in yourself then no one can bring you up; you have to help yourself.
We’re in a society where, look, when you’re a child you’re somewhat protected because you’re protected in the sense that people want to teach you things and they want you to grow, essentially. Even in the school system, they are going to give you information for free and learn. They want you to become somebody who can stand on their own two feet and think on your own. When you get into the world, that’s when it gets tricky, where you perhaps realize that information was your chance to move forward; but maybe we took it for granted or thought we had to learn that information.
I think maybe perhaps the reason I have this perspective is because my parents were German immigrants, so I saw that they lived a life where if you don’t have something you work harder, you find a way to make it happen. How we are raised is so important, but everybody is valuable. What I’ve learned is that everybody is valuable and everybody has a gift, you just have to find what your gift is. That’s why I wrote my books: I have another book that came out on my birthday, February 11th. It gives you a different perspective on life, how to see life differently.
CrypticRock.com – That is a wonderful perspective and very uplifting. As mentioned, you have acted in a broad range of films. One of your first major roles came in 1982 for the teenager Comedy The Last American Virgin. Now set to celebrate its 35th anniversary, The Last American Virgin is perhaps one of the most overlooked films of the decade. What was your experience like working on the film?
Diane Franklin – That movie is a gem. I only say that in retrospect, because when I was doing it, I never thought anybody would even see this film. At the time, it was coming out with such major films around it, and I thought this is just going to be swept under the carpet. What’s really amazing about that film – it was like a teen sex comedy. So what’s so interesting about it is that most people would think guys are going to see this film, it’s not going to be a lot of people – it’s going to be guys. So it’s going to actually be sex education for guys, to me in retrospect. I didn’t realize at the time, but it really is sex education for guys. There’s not that many films that are that specific. It could be sex education for women, I think a woman could look at it and learn a guy’s perspective to a certain extent. But it taught guys about love and sex. It drew guys in for the sex. If there was a movie about love, you would never see it. At least not in the ’80s, that wouldn’t be happening (laughs). At that time, if you said “Hey, there’s sex in it,” guys were gonna go see it and then they would also learn about love.
I don’t even know if the director knew that – he made this film because it was based on his true life – and it did really, really well. It’s based off a film called Lemon Popsicle (1978) in Israel. Perhaps the sex brought some people in to see it, but the love aspect of it, the serious part of it is what has kept it alive for this long, and is what I think the word-of-mouth is on this film. When you say it’s a sex comedy, that’s what I think is kind of hard about it – defining it. You’ll get the audience in about the love, but then they’ll go, “What is up with this ending?” That’s the first aspect of it. That is part of it.
My new book is very focused on The Last American Virgin, because in that film I played the dream girl. I was the first actress to have curly hair and be the dream girl, be the girl who people fall in love with. That had never happened before. Amy Irving was in Carrie (1977), but she wasn’t posed as the beauty; she was the friend, she wasn’t the main girl, but that was a Horror film. Last American Virgin specifically was a film where when you fell in love with a girl, she was going to be…with curly hair. I go into this even deeper for other things that came from it, but I found out…I think in retrospect people are going to go, “This is a film we did not expect to find out so much information about history and life and ourselves.” It’s fascinating.
Again, at the time when I did it, I felt my gosh I’m doing this film and, as an actress, is the nudity going to affect my career? I didn’t personally have a lot of problems doing it, for myself, but I was nervous. I was nineteen and I had never done something like that before. At the same time, because I had started in the business so young, I was prepared emotionally, I knew that it was an opportunity for me. I had worked so hard on other films, Soap Operas, theater, commercials, that when the opportunity came up I said, “Well if this is the film I’m doing as my first film, I’m going to put my heart into it. I’m going to make this cool film, from my perspective.”
It is varied, abortion in it and cocaine. It’s such a free time. Now, even in retrospect looking at what we have today, that film is such a jewel, it really is. It encapsulates the look. It’s realistic but also cartoony at the same time. There’s aspects of it that aren’t that real. You have to see it and people have to make up their mind themselves.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, it is one of those films that there is a reality to it: teenage pregnancy, STDs, heartbreak. These are all things that are reality-based and what is very compelling about the film is that there is a level of innocence in this film. There is a level of innocence that you have when you are that age, when you do not know any better. As you said, you are learning. It really is a great film.
Diane Franklin – I have to agree, I have a soft spot for it. When people say to me what’s my favorite film, it’s hard. My first idea is Better Off Dead, I love Better Off Dead; but this film, I have a soft spot. I can understand why people remember it and I’m very proud of it.
CrypticRock.com – You should be proud of it, it is a really great film. After The Last American Virgin, you starred in 1982’s Amityville Horror II: The Possession. Being your first Horror film, what was it like working on this film?
Diane Franklin – It was fantastic, it was so much fun. I knew I wanted to do a Horror film, because it’s sort of a rite of passage for actors and actresses. You’ve gotta do a Horror film, you have to have that experience. You get to die, you get to do running and screaming. It’s a fun genre to do, so I knew that I wanted to do it. What I found really amazing about Amityville II is, like you said, people remember me. Obviously, I know, it has incest and that’s something that was really shocking and striking in the film, and the nudity involved. It’s very kind of real, there’s a reality to it. In a way, I kind of wish the film would have stayed on the family more and not gone to the possession aspect of the film. Because of the rights of the film, they had to split the film up so part of it is about the possession. You suddenly find in the middle of the film that you’re watching another movie, I think it had to do with the rights.
It was very real and I think the acting was really good. I think Jack, Rutanya, Burt, and James Olsen did an amazing job. It was very gritty and took you off guard, but I was always surprised that people remembered the film out of the three. That even people would bring it up, because it was just the middle film. So rarely is the middle film remembered. I’m always surprised when people like this film. In fact, on February 1st it was played at Quentin Tarantino’s movie theater, New Beverly Cinema. It was played in between The Changeling (1980) and The Evil (1978), and it’s playing right in the middle, which is apropos of that film (laughs). It’s not even with the other Amityville films. So I think it’s interesting that people still remember it and call it out.
CrypticRock.com – It has become one of those films that has a cult-following. That is what happens with a lot of the older films from the ’70s and ’80s. You did in fact go on to star in a variety of other Horror films including 1986’s TerrorVision.
Diane Franklin – I love TerrorVision. I loved all the films I did, I would never have taken them if I didn’t. The thing about TerrorVision that I think is so interesting is when people first saw it, they didn’t understand it was a parody of the ’80s. They just went, “What is this?” and they didn’t get it. Today, people get it. They think, “They are making fun of the sleazy guys and the work-out women, and the Punk Rock and the Heavy Metal.” Not making fun of it, but it’s like an endearing callback to that time. We all knew that when we shot it. The film, because it’s a parody, it’s a stylized film. There’s times where some people go, “That’s terribly acted.” To me, they’re not seeing that it’s stylized; this is a style of acting and a style that, of course, it’s over-the-top. The style of the film is actually…more a live-action cartoon.
Actually, more and more films have come out with that kind of understanding. Now we look back and it’s kind of like a Saturday Night Live-esque look; we can associate it with something. At that time, people didn’t understand the kind of humor. I will say this: now that we have computers and the internet, people are able to see all kinds of entertainment all over the world. I think we’re hopefully getting to a place where we’ll all understand, be able to be open to understanding different cultures and their kind of films.
What we’ve had up until the internet came out, obviously I’m saying this because I came from the ’80s, when we had no computers or personal computers or cellphones or anything. At that time, The Horror genre could be watched all around the world. You know, someone gets shot, you get scared; somebody dies, you get horrified. Humor and comedy is regional. If you are from China, Japan, or England, you’re going to have a different sense of humor of what’s funny. Russian people laugh at something different than Italians. The only part of humor that everybody laughs at is when somebody falls down. So because of that, now that there’s the internet, perhaps were going to be a little bit more tolerant of other people’s sense of humor, of what makes other people laugh. We’re going look a little closer and think, “Why does that make somebody laugh?” What it is in their culture that makes them think that’s funny?
I’m hoping these films will be examined more and perhaps watched more, we’re going to learn a lot more about each other, and the culture that was going on at that time.
CrypticRock.com – That is a very valid point you bring up about different cultures and what they find amusing. There are different dialects, there are different personalities, there are different cultures. As you said, sometimes people find something offensive, persay, but they do not understand that in different cultures this is not really something that is considered offensive.
Diane Franklin – Exactly. I mean sexism could be funny in one country but not in another, right? A comment that we could consider racist or not cool, maybe another culture would say that’s okay in our culture. It just brings up valid points. What makes us laugh? What’s okay and what isn’t? It’s certainly worth a discussion about, to look into everything. It does open up the discussion, I think that’s the thing that is most important. That’s what films do more than television. Films make you question things and think.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely. Now you already mentioned working on Better Off Dead in 1985, that was a very popular Comedy in which you acted alongside John Cusack. This film was during a time when there were a lot of other teenage Comedies around, but it really stood out. It was unique to the other films around at that time. What do you think helped Better Off Dead stand out?
Diane Franklin – We all thought it was hilarious when we got the script. People volunteered…they wanted to just be in the film. Oscar-winning people. Vincent Schiavelli said, “I want to be in this film.” Savage Steve Holland was going to people who he really wanted and they just said yes, because it was just so funny. That was the first wonderful thing, that people found a common sense of humor. They all got it, enjoyed it, and loved it.
Talk about innocence…the beginning of the ’80s was a little bit rougher, a little grittier. Once you got into the middle of the ’80s, it actually affirmed that people did like to watch something that was a little bit more innocent. There’s an innocence to that film…and sweeter. I think it was great for filmmaking to understand that, yeah, we can have gritty films, but we can also have films that make us feel good, and we can leave the audience feeling good.
Better Off Dead gave people who were different, it affirmed that it’s okay to be different. Beth was supposed to be the popular girl, but even she wasn’t the typical popular girl. It was a film that I think if you felt you stood out in school or you were different, that film made you endearing. John was incredibly endearing. It had a great message and it was hilarious, and I’m so grateful that people still pass it on today and show their kids. Those lines are so funny, even to this day I laugh. I remember my French exchange student dialogue. It was really fun.
CrypticRock.com – It was a fun film, it really was, and it has stood the test of time. Now, you worked in television as well, and you worked throughout the ’80s into the early ’90s but it appears you stepped away from film for a span of time. Then you returned. What inspired your return to acting?
Diane Franklin – Very, very good question. When I got married and I decided to have kids, I thought basically I was an ’80s actress, I did my acting. I worked so much then. I thought people would not be interested in seeing me as an adult, they’re just going to want to remember me from the ’80s, so that was fine. I was raising my kids and I really wanted to be there for my kids. What happened was, as my kids got older, my daughter was very interested in filming. It was just the time where you were able to make your own films, when the computers came out, she was maybe 10 years old. Actually, when she was 4 years old, I said do you want to make a little film? I asked her some questions and she made her first film at 4 years old. Her brother was in it and I was in it, and it’s hilarious. After that, she just showed an interest in it.
When you know that your mom is an actress, you know that child is going to want to try acting or be an actor. I felt like, with my kids, I wanted them to see what the business is like. Just because it was my dream, it’s not necessarily going to be their dream. I certainly wanted them to go after what they wanted. So when they were little, I told them this is what acting life is, you wait for auditions, you sit in the car, you read your script, you bring your homework, etc. My daughter loved the acting, but she also loved the filmmaking aspect. My son, he thought, “I think I’m going to go and do music.” (laughs) You have to give your child those opportunities because if you don’t they will say, “How come you never got me into it?”
What wound up happening was I started doing it, because I wanted to help my daughter. Anytime she needed a role of some character, she said, “Mom, can you play this?” I wound up helping her make her films, and she wrote, directed, acted, and edited by herself at 10 years old. She did it by herself. I still to this day do not know how to edit or write, for that matter. I did ask questions: I would say I don’t understand this. What makes this funny? Where does it take place? I would read something and if something was not clear, I would give her feedback.
She did some professional acting so she understood. She worked actually with Julie Andrews, which is crazy, on this little film called The Cat That Looked At a King (2004) which actually went on YouTube when she was seven. Strangely, she worked with David Ogden Stiers from Better Off Dead, I don’t think he ever knew it because he was in another scene, so he did the voice-over and he never saw it. I don’t know if he knew that that was my daughter. Just brilliant. A great thing for me.
I just started doing the roles for my daughter and I was not even thinking I was going to be in the business again. After a while, I thought maybe I should put some stuff out there because a lot of people did recognize me and they were so happy to meet me. I thought this is something maybe I should move forward. Then when my daughter was 13, she had a big crush on Jemaine Clement who was in Flight of the Conchords. We wound up going to some event and he was there, he met her and was so nice to her. We took a picture and she put it on her wall, and it meant so much to her to meet him. At that moment I said to myself, “If that’s something that affects my daughter so much, then I want to give that back to people.” So I thought, okay, I’ll go do conventions and I’ll do signings.
From there I thought, okay, maybe I should go on auditions. I started to do some auditions, but I was still involved with my family so much. I did put out there that I was interesting in acting and I’d really love to do Sci-Fi. I would love to do Star Trek or something of that nature because I haven’t done that genre, really. I said I wanted to do Horror too, I love Horror. I got approached by two people who had a Horror/Thriller film and another person who did a Thriller. I did these films last year, so they’ll be coming out this year. It’s kind of a crazy year and I’ll have two films come out. I think one is a film festival circuit, and the other one will theater or DVD/Blu-Ray. There’s a lot coming out this year, it’s going to be an interesting year.
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like you have a lot of great things coming up. It’s also really cool to hear how your family, especially your daughter, inspired you to get back involved with acting. It will be very exciting to see these new projects that you have coming out this year.
Diane Franklin – She is presently doing a short web-series, she’s working with another girl and they are writing, directing, acting, and editing. They’re doing their own producing. Just to get the waters wet and see how people see them and what they do. Eventually they would like to have their own show, certainly my daughter wants to have her own show. The series is called Sugar Babies and I’m also in the episode. It’s just a small thing but it’s very smart, very funny. It’s a Comedy and it’s just super, super funny. If you go to BarelyLegalComedy.com and you check out Sugar Babies. You can also ogo n YouTube to Olivia D’Laurentis, that’s my daughter, and you’ll be able to see her show and me with her. It’s hilarious.
CrypticRock.com – It sounds fun and something to check out. My last question for you is pertaining to movies. CrypticRock.com covers music and Horror/Sci-Fi films. If you are a fan of the genres, what are some of your all-time favorites?
Diane Franklin – Oh wow, there’s so many. Obviously, with Sci-Fi, Star Wars (1977) is iconic. Star Wars is so American, it’s almost like part of our language. I think the reason why I really like Sci-Fi is because the archetypes are so specific; and there’s a good guy, a bad guy, a sidekick, and the old, wise one. There’s the ingenue or the somewhat helpless character – which could be male or female, it doesn’t have to be a woman. I love that.
I also think that one of the reasons I like Horror too is that there’s the good and the bad, there’s that clarity. When you watch it as an audience member, you root for one and are against the other. As an American audience, from an early age, we were taught there’s a good guy and a bad guy. Is this true in real life? There’s always good things about bad people and bad things about good people. We don’t often like to acknowledge that, but that’s true. I think that’s more of an Eastern Philosophy: we’re all one. I have to say that I think both are true. From an acting standpoint, I think it’s fun to act those characters; it’s fun to act like the bad guy.
This is where television series actually have an advantage over film, in that, television series actually can explore the good side of a bad guy or the bad side of a good guy, because we have time to get to know them. Television shows like Dexter, you’re getting to know the other side of that person. There are a lot of shows now that we can explore human nature. I like that aspect of it.
Music, by the way, Lalo Schifrin did the music for Amityville II and what I love about the music in that film, specifically, is that when I did the film we would watch the dailies. Dailies, during my time they were called “dailies,” where you did a scene then you get to watch it the next day before it’s…without it being cut into anything. I’d watch the Dailies and there’d be no music. So you’d see a clock ticking or someone walking up the stairs. It wasn’t scary! It was just almost boring, why are we doing a closeup on a tablecloth or a mirror or something? Then I went to see the film in the theater and they added the music and it’s over. Once the music is added, now we’re talking about a scary film. Now we’re talking about how the experience of being afraid comes with sound. So I think sound is so important.
My son, he’s a musician. He plays the upright bass and he plays Classical and he also plays Jazz, but he loves Classical. I think one of the things I really learned through him is how we underestimate the power of music in film and how it creates imagery. When you play music from a film, whether you’re watching it or not, if you’ve watched the film and you hear the music, you’re going to recreate that in your head because it is so powerful.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely, this what makes a film effective in a lot of ways, especially in a Horror film. You look at a lot of the best Horror films ever, 1973’s The Exorcist, the soundtrack is what terrifies you most, that music. John Carpenter’s Halloween from 1978, its soundtrack is what really made it that much more terrifying.
Diane Franklin – Oh, absolutely. Then, also, The Shining (1980) and the lack of music in that at times. The quiet, that can create horror. The lack of or when you pull that music away; when it’s there and when it’s not, very important.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, it is a very delicate balance. There are different techniques and different ways of making things work, but it really is an art form to put it all together.
Diane Franklin – Thank goodness filmmakers have brought that kind of thinking into television, because there’s a lot of beautiful filmmaking going on in television and now more people can see it. If you’re a filmmaker, it’s that you have that vision. That I think, it’s not just directing, but that is vision. I think that’s what draws people who want to be filmmakers into doing it, because they see it – they see and they hear the story and how it unfolds.
It’s wonderful to be able to collaborate with all different kinds. I’m so lucky to collaborate in all different genres. Hopefully my career continues. I’ve just, in my life, decided that I’m just going to share my life with people, put out positive thoughts, put out creative energy, and help the next generation, that’s my goal. Whether it’s my kids or the kids I teach. I teach thousands of kids; I actually teach acting to thousands of kids each week.
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Diane Franklin will be at the 80’s In The Sand down in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic with various other film stars and musicians November 11th through 18th of 2017. For more info visit: 80sinthesand.com | Facebook | Twitter