March 24, 2023 Interview – Joanna Cassidy
There are certain mysteries in life that simply have no explanation. Factors that can leave some feeling uneasy, for others, the unknown is part of the symptom of being human. Naturally curious, Joanna Cassidy would find herself pursuing an acting career some fifty years ago. Uncertain exactly what she was looking for, all she knew was she wanted more, and that is exactly what she found. Call it fate, Cassidy would compile an impressive resume in film and television which includes highlights such as winning a Golden Globe Award, nomination for three Emmy Awards, and nominations for a Saturn Award as well as Screen Actors Guild Awards.
The owner of a contagious smile, Cassidy’s diversity as an actress has found her as a memorable character in a list of films; ranging from her role in the 1983 Thriller Under Fire, to the replicant Zhora Salome in 1982’s Sci-fi classic Blade Runner, to Dolores in 1988’s Comedy Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and beyond. A thoughtful, sensitive person, the seasoned actress recently took some time to reflect on her career, enriching experiences, the stranger than fiction world we live in, plus a whole lot more.
Cryptic Rock – You have been involved in acting professionally for over five decades now. Attaining a great deal of success, you have diversified within feature films and television. Briefly tell us, how would you describe your journey as an actress?
Joanna Cassidy – Well, you do not briefly describe a journey like mine. (Laughs) It’s been many decades, so there is nothing brief about it. I can give you a few adjectives; it has been tumultuous, fabulous, positive, negative, horrible, wonderful, time-consuming, soul-reducing, and confidence building. It really has been all kinds of things.
Cryptic Rock – One could imagine the extensiveness and longevity of your career. You grew up around the arts, so at what point did you decide you wanted to pursue an acting career?
Joanna Cassidy – I did not decide it, it decided for me. I married a very poor medical student. We really lived on scraps while he was in his training. I was very young and I think it was not quite enough for me to just be a wife. I had been studying fine art in school at Syracuse, but I wanted to get out and do things. I wanted to see the world; I had not really seen it at all.
We were in Columbia, South Carolina when my then-husband was in the army. I just wanted to do something, so I went down to a local TV station, told them I was a big model (I lied about it), and they hired me to do their weather, it was fun! I must really dig down on this, because it is not on the surface. I never dreamt of being an actor or performer. Maybe I was a star already in my own mind… I do not know.
Cryptic Rock – Well, it blossomed into a very long, successful career. As the decades went by, you did more. You have done various genres – Sci-Fi, Comedy, Drama, Horror. Do you enjoy the ability to work in different genres?
Joanna Cassidy – Sure, who won’t? It is all a challenge. Comedy is very hard to do, it’s all about timing and rhythm; it’s not easy. I like it all. It also depends on who you are working with. I am currently working on a play August: Osage County; which on film was done with Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep. I performed some of it recently for a class and it got so many laughs, I was really shocked. When I watched the movie years ago when it first came out in 2013, it was a very serious, dysfunctional family, and it was kind of upsetting. I was really surprised at the reaction. I guess the thing is, you can even get laughs with Drama. One of the things you must remember with Comedy is you have to play it very seriously. The laughs will come naturally, you can’t make that happen.
Cryptic Rock – Right. With a live theater production, you have an instant reaction. Working on a film you do not get a reaction, so it is difficult to know if the Comedy or Drama is playing out successfully. That must be difficult.
Joanna Cassidy – Yes, with film you don’t get a reaction. Everything has a point to be made when something is filmed. Music lends itself, it has tonality, and they edit it. What you might think is fun, may end up being funny if it is edited correctly. There are a lot of pieces to it.
You just must ride it on, get hired for something and know your lines. They pretty much already believe that you’re funny.
Cryptic Rock – It seems to be a good deal of pressure.
Joanna Cassidy – It is a lot of pressure!
Cryptic Rock – It sounds like it. Since you have done a good balance of television and film. They are two different dynamics, so do you have a preference which to work in?
Joanna Cassidy – I don’t have a preference. Unless you are doing big films now, it is kind of all one deal. Now, television is kind of it; it is great, there are wonderful writers, and it gets done quickly. There is very little luxury anymore, unless you are doing one of the big Sci-fi movies… maybe there isn’t even then.
Cryptic Rock – Interesting. It seems like in many ways television has surpassed feature films. You mentioned Sci-fi, Horror, Thrillers, Drama, etc. Clearly you enjoy the diversity as mentioned. Do you have a favorite genre to work in though?
Joanna Cassidy – No, I just like to work. I’m a working actor. That’s what I like to do.
Cryptic Rock – And the lengthy resume you bring speaks for itself. Do you have any fond memories of any of the projects you have worked on?
Joanna Cassidy – No, the only fond memories I have are slices of mostly the people I’ve worked with. I’ve gotten to work with the greats. People think filming is very easy, it’s not. I’ve been able to work with Gene Hackman, Nick Nolte, Peter O’toole, James Franco was one of my kids, Robert Downey Jr. was one of my kids. I’ve worked with the best of the best. There are just moments I have recollections of the process of working with such wonderful creative people. That is what has been so phenomenal.
Cryptic Rock – So, it’s the people that create the memories.
Joanna Cassidy – The work is the work. You get up at 5 AM, go in there, work for fourteen hours, and then come home.
Cryptic Rock – That is a very long day. You remain active with various projects. Are there any new projects you can tell us about?
Joanna Cassidy – Not at the moment. I’m going to be working on a German boxing film in April of 2023. That will be interesting. I’m playing the physiotherapist, in the ring with the boxer. I also have another project which is being edited right now, but I can’t really talk about that.
Cryptic Rock – That will be something to look forward to. So, let’s look back on Blade Runner. Originally released in 1982, it is one of the best Sci-fi films of all time, and has stood the test of film. It is kind of frightening, because it seems as if Sci-fi such as Blade Runner has become reality in a lot of ways. It seems a lot of Sci-fi writers are clairvoyant in a way.
Joanna Cassidy – Yes, I agree with that, they foresee the future. Jules Verne wrote about how in his mind he saw submarines in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1872). Then submarines were created way after he saw them! It’s almost like a parallel world that we are living in. We don’t really quite know where or who we are. There is a lot to be seen and a lot to be said that hasn’t been discovered quite yet.
They saw it! You will always think, did they live here before? Did it already happen? Have they seen it and done it? It’s all very mystical.
Cryptic Rock – Yes. We are living in very interesting times and it seems like many like to make everything black and white. That is not the case, there are a lot of grey areas in life. That is where creativity comes from. The writers, creators, and music makers… that is what life is about.
Joanna Cassidy – Yes. You were saying people are still talking about Blade Runner. I had an interview recently with a woman who is writing a book about diagnosing murder with Dick Van Dyke. I was blown away by what she was saying and how many people still talk about my character in Blade Runner. Telling me that it is discussed, online, and I just couldn’t believe it! I am one of those actors who don’t go out there and look to see what people are saying about me. (Laughs) That is not my deal, I have children and other interests. Maybe that is my bad.
Cryptic Rock – Not at all. It is probably a positive thing because too many times in the modern world we get sucked into what others are saying about us and the abyss of addiction to social media. This can get into your psyche; it is not healthy.
Joanna Cassidy – I have no argument with that. I was just at an art show recently near down LA and I was talking to an artist who lives in Maine. We were talking about all this stuff, and how people end up doing art. He said, from the time he was young he and his family made things. They made everything. They didn’t go to a tablet or a phone to look at something that was made, they did it themselves. It is sad we are getting away from that. Because you forget you are just using your thumb or middle finger to scroll. It’s not tactile anymore. People not just touch each other through an instrument, but actually having physical contact with nature, and people, I think it’s essential.
Cryptic Rock – Absolutely, it is all interconnected. It is affecting people of all ages, especially younger people. The ease of life because of technology has literally made many of us regress.
Joanna Cassidy – I’ve always thought we are amping up so fast with technology… that we are going backwards. I see it everywhere. I see the way people are responding and talking to you. No one calls you one the phone anymore; it’s maybe an email or text now. That is also the issue of irresponsibility and over population. People are having children like rabbits and a lot of thoughtlessness going on. This is a big subject.
Cryptic Rock – And this all ties into Science Fiction. Many stories touch on all these topics. Blade Runner is a perfect example of such; it does not seem too far-fetched anymore.
Joanna Cassidy – No, it doesn’t. Mass humanity living in when there is very little left that can make you feel like you’re a person who can enjoy life and all the aspects of it. You are just living to survive.
Cryptic Rock – It is true, dystopian, but true. To lighten the mood, what are some of your personal favorite films?
Joanna Cassidy – That’s a really good question. I really should have a list, because when I’m asked that question my mind goes blank. I really love films from the ‘40s; that is when people were sharp, snappy, they had great personalities, and the clothes were great. When they talked fast, they had something to say. They weren’t just talking about stuff just to get all the words into a sentence. Every word meant something. I love the rapport, the amount of real communication… it was not just about being weird. I see so much that is done now just to be different, just to be out there. I know that is a lot of people’s interest, and that’s fine, but it’s not mine.
I was just watching a BBC program called Happy Valley about a detective, and it is very heartful and has many relationships. I also love the television series The Empress. As far as The Crown… I don’t think their lives should be dug into. I think what Prince Harry has done is just dreadful. But other people don’t feel that way. I come from a time when you didn’t talk about secrets, your business was private and it wasn’t for everyone else’s ears.
Cryptic Rock – Very valid point. Many will share their thoughts with strangers over their family, partners, or friends. It is extremely odd.
Joanna Cassidy – Yes. I talk about it a lot with everyone I meet. I talk about what the world is going to be like. I talk about over population, being responsible with your life, with what you eat, and how you live. Those things are key to me. I’ve lived long enough to know the difference.