September 23, 2016 Interview – Lisa Wilcox
Back in 1984, a new type of Horror was unleashed on audiences with the Supernatural dream-stalking film A Nightmare on Elm Street. An instant commercial success, the film soon transformed into the quintessence Horror franchise of the decade spawning seven sequels, and a reboot. While each film in the saga had its own endearing quality, 1988’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master remains one of highest-grossing films in the franchise history. Unique to the other films, it featured a colorful cast that included budding actress Lisa Wilcox as main lead, Alice Johnson. A character which carried through into 1989’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, Wilcox is forever etched in A Nightmare on Elm Street history as one of the beloved strong female characters to take on Freddy Krueger. Recently we caught up with Wilcox to reflect on her early experiences in acting, working on the A Nightmare on Elm Street series, future projects, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – You have been involved in acting in film and television for over three decades now. First, tell us, what inspired you to get involved in acting?
Lisa Wilcox – What inspired me was a very interesting event that happened in my life. I’m originally from Missouri and I was doing a play in high school. It was a play called M*A*S*H, and the role was Miss Randazzle, it was basically 2 scenes, kind of a comic relief. It was done in the presidium, as you could imagine, this role as Miss Randazzle, I am wearing the pencil skirt, high heels, the red lipstick, and all that. Yes, M*A*S*H was actually a play as well, I am sure everyone all know the TV series. Anywhere, there was about 400 people in the audience and I am sauntering with my pencil skirt, high heels, and my little notepad. It’s a scene with the guy who is my boss and I am supposed to proceed and sit on his desk, flirt , cross my legs, and all this. So I am watching across the stage, and if you are familiar with theater, there are footlights that are built into the stage. They can be up with the lights on or they can be down and locked and it creates a floor basically. I am walking and one of the footlights was not locked, I’m walking, it opens, my foot proceeds to go down, and get trapped in the footlight. My strappy high heels are dangling off my ankle and I am literally center stage while my pencil and my little clipboard goes flying. The actor who played my boss starts to improv with me asking, “had a little too much to drink there Miss Randazzle,” that sort of thing. Behind the curtain they realized that something is going on, the guy who plays Hawkeye stick his head out in the middle of the curtain and proceeds to release my foot and sandal from the footlight. I gathered myself and proceed with the scene.
As you can imagine, the response of the audience, it was something. The next day at school, everyone kind of knew who I was, saying, “Oh my god, you are the girl.” It was pretty funny. That kind of gave me a little bit of the bug. My father was offered a great job in California, so we all moved out there. Although, I still had intentions of going out into the medical field. A friend of mine asked me to go to an audition at Buddy Ebsen’s playhouse in Newport Beach. I said, “Oh yeah, sure I’ll go along, I’m not auditioning, I’m not planning to.” I am sitting there and people are auditioning and the producer comes up to me and says, “You are auditioning for the role of the girl, right? This is a play called The Hot l Baltimore by Lanford Wilson.” The girl is the lead role, I didn’t know that at the time and I go, “No, no, no, no no, I am just here with my friend.” She asked me about 3 times, I finally go up and audition, and I get the lead in this play. I proceeded to get a Drama Logue award and this and that. At that point, I was finally bitten by the acting bug. I never looked back since.
CrypticRock.com – That is quite interesting. It seems like the incident happened when you were in school, that sort of push for you to audition were unplanned circumstances. Sometimes, what you do not expect happens, and look what comes of it.
Lisa Wilcox – It completely was not a planned event. Doing that role was amazing, the director of that play at the Buddy Ebsen theater is actually Kelly Mcgillis’s mother, Joan Mcgillis. Of course, we know Kelly Mcgillis from 1986’s Top Gun and whatnot. It was a fantastic experience and she was a wonderful director.
CrypticRock.com – Excellent. You had gone on to film after that, your first role in a feature film came in the 1984 Comedy Gimme an F.
Lisa Wilcox – Yes, it was. At the time, when I did it, it was called The Big Cheer. Later on they changed it to Gimme an F. It’s actually a really fun, little movie, T&A. Typical ’80s kind of thing. It’s kind of funny because it was about cheerleaders. We were 4 groups of cheerleaders that were competing against each other, one group is called the Ducks. The cheerleader group that I was associated with we were called the Demons. Perhaps foreshadowing my future into A Nightmare on Elm Street.
CrypticRock.com – Actually, four years later you were cast as Alice Johnson in A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. How did the role as Alice come about for you?
Lisa Wilcox – It was an uphill battle because at the time I was a full-on makeup, blonde hair gal. You look at my headshot, it looks nothing like what you would imagine Alice to look like. I had a manager, as well as an agent, they submitted me, and the casting office wouldn’t see me. About a month goes by and I get a call and I am now getting the opportunity to audition. Annette Benson, the casting director, tells me the story that she literally went through like hundreds of actresses and they couldn’t find their Alice. So they went through their throwaway pile, which I proudly was in, and I got my opportunity. I went with no makeup and dirty hair, I wore my worst color, which is pale yellow, I did my thing, and I got the role.
CrypticRock.com – Again, another unexpected opportunity, that is pretty crazy. Much like the previous A Nightmare on Elm Street films, Alice was a strong leading female who was able to outsmart Freddy Krueger. What was it like for you to portray the character?
Lisa Wilcox – It was quite an experience because there is such a dramatic character difference that Alice undergoes in the film. From a very shy daydreamer, wallflower kind of gal, to slowly develop and found the strength within her as her friends are dying. She takes on their personalities, she’s growing and getting strength. It was pretty amazing to play that role. The challenge was trying to be as consistent as possible because we don’t film in sequence of course. I had notes in my script that literally, for each scene, I wrote who had died by then. Therefore, what characteristics was I inhabiting in that particular scene, to keep track of it, and try to be as consistent as possible.
CrypticRock.com – That has to be a challenge. Also, Alice’s character actually carries over into 1989’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child. In previous films, besides 1987’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors, in the series, they usually went different directions with each sequel. Were you informed they would be continuing the story in this fashion?
Lisa Wilcox – I was asked after Part 4. Interesting that you brought up the characters going on to the next. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors, we have Joey and Kincaid going into 4 and then Christian’s character not played by Patricia Arquette, but replaced with Tuesday Knight. No, I had no idea. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master had a phenomenal box office success, so they decided to go for it and have me in the next one.
CrypticRock.com – Well that worked out exceptionally well. You mentioned A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master did phenomenal at the box office. It is in fact one of the highest grossing Nightmare films at the box office. A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child did pretty well as well, but The Dream Master did amazingly. What do you attribute these two films success to, and do you feel they extended the longevity of the franchise?
Lisa Wilcox – When I look at Nightmare 4, it’s incredibly witty, the music is phenomenal. It was a date movie, it wasn’t so grotesque that you couldn’t take your girlfriend to go see it. You knew you’d be laughing, she would be laughing, and then of course she would be gripping your arm on the scary parts. Then Part 5 went a whole different direction. It was much darker, dealing with very touchy subjects, especially for 1989, such as abortion, teen pregnancy. Those were things that we just didn’t talk about like we do now. It was a very brave and daring topic I believe that I’ve embraced. Ultimately, I guess the box office shows that 4 was the more ingratiated one. However, I do autograph conventions and I have a fair amount of people who come to see me and say that A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child was their favorite one.
CrypticRock.com – With a franchise like that A Nightmare on Elm Street, as much fanfare as it has, you will have people who enjoy different films in the franchise for sure. Everyone has their favorites.
Lisa Wilcox – Everyone has their own taste, it was very daring to delve into these subject matters. It also had some very extreme special effects and we had to cut a fair amount of things; it was getting a X rating, it was too violent, too visceral. Part 5 had its challenges that way. I certainly really appreciate both films and the scripts independently, but for different reasons.
CrypticRock.com – They both have their strong attributes to them for sure. Besides A Nightmare on Elm Street, as stated, you have starred in films and television series. How would you compare working in film opposed to television?
Lisa Wilcox – The beauty of film, for me, you have more time to really work and develop your character to work on your lines. Also, they do a lot of rewrites. The first rewrites come on pink pages, the next color might be marigold, then you have lime green, then it goes to purple, and then you have red. You will have a lot of rewrites, but it’s great because you are really exploring. Once you start filming and you see how it’s coming together, they take advantage of that to make the story even better and more poignant, or to flush out a character even better by doing those rewrites. There’s that opportunity with a film. Also, you are working together for 2 1/2 months and you really get to know each other, you really become a family.
With TV, it’s typically a week if you are doing a sitcom, maybe 8 days if you are doing episodic, and it’s quick, you never see those people again. With film, I would have to say Nightmare 4, for sure, I’ve been friends with Tuesday Knight, Brook, Toy, Andras, and Danny for almost 30 years. We still hang out. Soap Operas, which were some of my earlier gigs, wow, what a great training ground that is because boy does it move fast. You’ve got a whole bunch of lines and you have to memorize them that night, you are on the set, you get one take, and move on. It really is a pressure cooker, but it was a great training venue, absolutely.
CrypticRock.com – Those are insightful looks into the differences between television and feature film work . Maybe nowadays it is a little bit different with these longer running series that are on for awhile and they have almost 45 min to an hour per episode, like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead.
Lisa Wilcox – They are like mini movies. Episodic is similar in a sense that it’s very long hours. You are not just going to the studio, you are on location. You are driving to Valencia, you are driving in Downtown LA, you are all over the place, very exhausting. Anyone who is a regular on an episodic, oh my god, bless you. I didn’t even get to talk about sitcoms, oh my gosh. I know sitcoms are not like they used to be, there are not as many of them like there used to be, and that used to be all there was. What a pleasure that is. You go to the set, your not on location, it’s pretty much 9 AM to 5 PM and then you get to perform live on that Friday for taping day, so it’s like doing a little mini play. The most fun and easiest are definitely sitcoms.
CrypticRock.com – Perhaps all the different formats have endearing qualities and you learn something new from each of them. As you said, often while working on set, actors build relationships with their co-workers. As stated, you did develop a good relationship with Tuesday Knight, as well as other cast members. Besides the ones mentioned, what could you say about your time working with Robert Englund, Robert Shaye, along with the rest of A Nightmare on Elm Street family?
Lisa Wilcox – Robert Englund, and if you’ve ever seen him at a convention or anything, he is quite the storyteller, quite the raconteur. He is a brilliant storyteller. He’s incredibly sharp, incredibly intelligent, and the man has a memory like a computer, I’m telling you. He’s very well read, well-versed in all films and actors’ careers. He’s like a walking Wikipedia, seriously. In fact, every time I see him, I see him a few times a year, I always ask him, “Ok Robert, what movies do I need to go see? What have you seen recently that stands out?” Then I put it in my iPhone in my movie list, cause he’s always dead-on. He’s fun, interesting, and lovely.
CrypticRock.com – Excellent, that is nice to hear. He has always come across as quite a nice person and down to earth.
Lisa Wilcox – He’s very down to earth. Anyone who meets him has said, “Gosh, he’s so down to earth,” and I’m like, “Yeah!” You might have to wait a long time in his line to see him, but it’s worth it because he will talk to you.
CrypticRock.com – That is right. Robert certainly appreciations his fans. What about Robert Shaye? He really was around for the entire series. He is also a pioneer, founding New Line Cinemas. What was he like?
Lisa Wilcox – He was great. I love that he has a cameo as the teacher in Nightmare 4. He’s talking about the Dream Master and the Dream Gate, and Alice. He’s yawning and I start to take a nap on my desk. He was good, and brilliant that he developed New Line Cinema. I didn’t have a ton of interaction with him. I certainly had more interaction with the other actors, and of course Renny Harlin, the director. Looking back, it was a very poignant and exciting time in the development of New Line Cinema.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely, you look at the history of the company of what it was, what it became, and what it is now. It is amazing. What projects do you have on the horizon?
Lisa Wilcox – I have about 5 projects on the calendar. I don’t know if you are aware, but I did leave acting for quite awhile, a few years raising my children. Then I was in corporate world for 5 years or so, and I wasn’t happy with that. I was like, “Call me loco, but I am going to reintroduce myself back into acting and do it full time,” which began this year. What instigated that was that, last year, I got some great offers on some projects and I’m like, “You know what Lis, it’s time to go back to what I love to do.” So, I am happy to say yeah, I have 5 projects. I can’t talk about all of them, but I can talk about one called Red Hollow, and that will be in Canada.
Another one, called Mystery Spot, which will be a Thriller. I am going to be filming in NY in October for something called The Watcher of Park Avenue. I am going to be doing another called The Possessed. It will be filmed in Louisiana. The Possessed is a Horror film, but they are reworking the script and it has some really cool historical foundations. I am very excited, great roles. I am playing everything from newscasters, lead roles, to a doctor, to a DA. I’m now playing more mature women, which is fantastic. My website, Lisaewilcox.com, I keep it updated with the conventions I’m doing, the projects that are going to be coming out, any information, interviews, write-ups, or news articles that come up on these projects that I’m going to be working on. I have another project that’s going to be the beginning of next year that I can’t talk about, it’s really exciting. It’s an HBO related project.
CrypticRock.com – Well that exciting to hear, it seems like you have yourself pretty busy.
Lisa Wilcox – You never know until you just go for it, but so far, knock on wood, the calendar is definitely filled up. I am just so happy to be back.
CrypticRock.com – Congratulations, that is phenomenal to hear and there seems to be some exciting projects to look forward to. It sounds like a diverse mix of things, including Horror of course. Do you have an affection for the Horror genre, or is it kind of something you just fell into?
Lisa Wilcox – Oh my goodness. I love that question because I have always loved Horror since I was a little kid. Seriously, the first book or novel I ever read was Dracula. I was in 4th grade, and it was not on the reading list, mind you. Back then, and I don’t know if they do this now, you could order books. Dracula, I read this, seriously, under my covers with my electric blanket and light till 4 in the morning. It’s a very long book. I’ve always been fascinated with Vampires and Ghost stories. Out of the library, I would check out Ghost story books, and I was a fan of Nightmare on Elm street in college. I had seen the first one, I had seen the 3rd one, and loved them. Not just Nightmare on Elm Street, but all kinds of Horror films. It’s always been something that I’ve been attracted to.
CrypticRock.com – That is nice to hear, sometimes you come to find some actors or actresses really do not enjoy the genre. They respect it, but they do not really enjoy it on a personal level.
Lisa Wilcox – Oh yeah. No, I am totally into it. Absolutely, I still am into Horror movies now.
CrypticRock.com – Very cool. Actually, that leads to my very last question. What are some of your favorite Horror films?
Lisa Wilcox – Well, you know, I have to go somewhat old school, but I will say I really have enjoyed the Saw film series; the first one was just brilliant. The Exorcist (1973), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), The Omen (1976), and I read all those books as well, and saw the films. Those are some of my favorites. Even going back to Bela Lugosi days. In college, let’s put it this way (laughs), my first year at UCLA, I am in the dorm, and you have a roommate. She has a Bruce Springsteen poster on her side of the wall. My side of the wall, I have a giant poster of Bela Lugosi. Let the Right One In (2008), love that movie. Everyone reading, go see it, find it, it’s a beautiful story.
CrypticRock.com – Duly noted! There is also the American edition from 2010 called Let Me In.
Lisa Wilcox – I haven’t seen the American version, I have only seen the foreign one.
CrypticRock.com – The American edition is good in its own way. It has that dark quality to it. Have you seen 2014’s It Follows?
Lisa Wilcox – No, I haven’t seen that. I will put that on my list. Also, I like The Amityville Horror (1979), and The Conjuring (2013) for more current films. I still like The Omen. The way it’s shot, the acting, the feeling, it’s so creepy; grainy, creepy, and fabulous.
CrypticRock.com – That is the things that make those types of films so effective. You look at The Omen, The Exorcist, that grainy quality, the atmosphere, the music, the ability to let the dialogue breathe. Nowadays it feels like full-speed-ahead with a lot of movies. Letting that dialogue breathe really gives that eeriness a Horror movie needs.
Lisa Wilcox – Yes, and I know what you are saying, because when I watch a more current film verses an older one, I have to get in my mind set and go, “Lisa, there is going to be some pauses happening here. Let the story ride, enjoy it, absorb it.” Definitely, films, for the most part, are much speedier.