May 22, 2015 Interview – P.J. Soles
Sometimes life’s best laid plans take us for a u-turn when we least expect it. For American actress P.J. Soles her experience traveling the world with her family act a young age led her to become a well-cultured individual set to follow a career in academia. Always interested in the arts, with a knack for music and theater, Soles developed a strong passion for acting, thus resulting in new aspirations in her twenties to move to LA and pursue a movie roles. Cast for memorable roles in iconic films such as 1976’s Carrie and 1978’s Halloween, Soles became a legend in the world of Horror cinema. Not to be typecast, Soles expanded her resume extensively through the years in Comedy standouts Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979), Private Benjamin (1980), and Stripes (1981). Now over four decades since fans introduction Soles on the big screen, she continues to explore creative outlets. Recently we sat down with the accomplished actress for a look into her career in film, her experience on the set of the Horror classics, her present projects, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – You began your acting career over four decades ago when you first began in television. In that time, you have starred in a list of successful films including Carrie (1976), Halloween (1978), Stripes (1981), and Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979). Tell us, what inspired you to become involved in acting?
P.J. Soles – I actually grew up around the world. I went to foreign schools in Venezuela, Morocco, and International School of Brussels. I was always in Drama Club and in productions of plays, but I never thought it would be something I would do professionally. It did not occur to me since I was a language track; I spoke French and Spanish. I was always intending to be a translator or working at the UN or something of that nature. Once I got to college in New York State, my roommate was from Manhattan, so I spent the Summer with her while my parents moved to Istanbul, Turkey. I happened to go by the actor’s studio and they had a position for running the spotlight in exchange for classes, and I got it. That Summer, I spent running the spotlight on Joanna Myles and Scott Glenn in the production of The Seagull. I met a guy and he said, “If you are interested in acting, my sister has an agent and I can introduce you to Lester Lewis.” He introduced me and he sent me out for a commercial and I got it. He sent me out and I got five commercials in between my Freshman and Sophomore years of college. I was also transferring to Georgetown University, which had a School of Language and Linguistics. It had been opened that year to women because it had previously been all male. Me and another girl got the job. I went down to Georgetown for only two months, but I was missing what I had done the Summer prior. I thought maybe this is something I could do as a career. I came back up to New York City and I kept getting parts until someone said, “You should go out to Los Angeles if you want to do film acting.” It was very unexpected and unplanned.
CrypticRock.com – That is very interesting. It seems you had your plans laid out and you were thrown for a u-turn into acting.
P.J. Soles – Absolutely, I was really on the road to a more academic life. Something where I could continue traveling around and seeing the world, because that was my childhood and something that was comfortable for me.
CrypticRock.com – Seeing as you have been in a series of classic Horror films, was Horror a genre you had an affection for and wanted to become involved in?
P.J. Soles – It was something that just happened because Carrie was my first part. When I got to LA in 1975, I was only there for two weeks when they had the big casting call with George Lucas and Brian De Palma. I only had a modeling agent at the time, and they told me maybe you want to go audition. I walked in and Brian said he would put me on his list. I went to three auditions with my red baseball hat, and that is how I got the part for Carrie. I think John Carpenter had seen me in Carrie so then he hired me for Halloween. I was in a couple of television movies such as The Possessed (1977) with Harrison Ford. Maybe young girls make good victims. That was what was around for casting at the time.
CrypticRock.com – Of the aforementioned films, Carrie, which was released in 1976, and Halloween, which was released in 1978, were really two defining films in your career. What was it like working on the set of both these films?
P.J. Soles – Carrie was my first film, so that was new to me because before that, as I said, I had worked as a model. I also had been on a Soap Opera called Love is Many Splendored Thing (1967-1973). That was really my own experience. I was not interested in the Broadway world because I did not smoke or drink, and I could not stay up late. That is why I came out to LA. It was a studio picture with Brian De Palma. When we went three times to his apartment for the subsequent auditions to see which parts we were going to fit for, I remember in his dining room, every single space was covered in drawings, which were storyboards. I had no idea people thought of a movie that intently that they were drawing out every scene. I was very impressed with that. Yet, he was a director of the more old fashion time as compared to say John Carpenter. You never really felt close to him, he did not really talk about your character, he did not really engage except for when we were on the set together. He would get everyone together to setup the shot then. He was very interested in the camera position and what everything was going to look like. He was more a technical kind of director opposed to a personable kind of a director. That was an interesting experience for me, and I learned a lot. All of us on the set became really close and good friends. It was really fun.
With John Carpenter, everyone felt more as equals because you felt like John was the same as you, even though he was the director. You could talk to him, there was not a little bit of coldness. You felt like it was a collaboration and that was a little bit more relaxed. After that, I felt I liked independent films better. Carrie was fun and it was a learning experience. After working with John Carpenter and Debra Hill, they really made you feel like you were part of this family and we were all making a film together. I really liked that atmosphere. It might have had something to do with the karma and chemistry of Halloween. I think it really shows the love for film Halloween displays. Even my scene in the bedroom, John said, “Come up with something. If you want to come up with a little bit of nudity, that would be great because we can use it in the film, but whatever you want and are comfortable with.” That is when I came up with that “see anything you like.” It was just a flash, but it was enough. In my mind, I was thinking, “This girl is in High School and she is in someone’s parents bed (laughs).” I did not want to do it too much. John loved it, he made you feel like you were really valued for your contribution.
CrypticRock.com – Very interesting. You had two polar opposite experiences in a respective way for your first two feature films.
P.J. Soles – Yes, it actually led to when I did Rock ‘n’ Roll High School. I knew it was Allan Arkush’s first film. It was my first lead and what I was hoping to be my last teenage role. By that time, I was 28 years old, but I still looked young. I just knew, after had worked with John Carpenter, knowing Allan had come from cutting trailers, and Roger Corman was giving him a break with $200,000 with twenty-one days to get this movie done, whatever I could contribute. I did contribute with a lot of the dialogue, but primarily with my wardrobe. They had a $100 budget for Riff Randell’s wardrobe, and I said “oh no.” I ended up spending my entire salary, which was $2,100 (700 dollars for 3 weeks) on all those clothes to make Riff Randell to be the character you see on the screen. I felt her she had to really be flashy and shine on the screen. Because of the experience with Brian De Palma and John Carpenter, I knew if I could get my input in, it would not only help me, but help the film.
CrypticRock.com – That is really commendable that you were so passionate about contributing to the film that much. Speaking of Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, which you began working on in 1978, how did that part come about for you and what was the experience like working with the Punk Rock icons The Ramones?
P.J. Soles – Back then, the LA music scene was not so much into Punk yet. Alan knew about The Ramones because he was from New York. In LA, maybe it was just catching on. He had given me a cassette of The Ramones and said, “You are their number one fan, go home and learn all these songs, you have to love these guys.” I remember first putting it on thinking, “Oh my god, I do not relate to this music,” because I was listening to Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, and the Eagles. I did not relate to it, but once I met them, day one of shooting, which was the scene when they are in my bedroom and Joey Ramone sings to me; that was a pretty shocking first day, but by the end of that, I felt they were so nice. I liked them right away because they were authentic. You never know who people are going to be. If that is just their costume or they want to be something, but they were them. I found them very endearing. Johnny was very easy to talk to, Joey was really shy, Marky and Dee always sort of looked down when I approached them. There was not a lot of time to hang out, but I remember spending a lot of energy trying to get them to come to lunch at the catering wagon. They would always say, “That is OK, everyone else should eat, we really did not do much today, we will just get pizza.” I really liked them.
CrypticRock.com – That sounds like a very touching experience. Joey has always been described as very shy and very insecure.
P.J. Soles – Yes, and could you imagine he had to crawl on me on a bed and sing to me. Many years later, when Micky Leigh, his brother, was writing his book, I Slept with Joey Ramone, he interviewed me and told me that was really hard for his brother. When Joey saw it on screen, he was really excited because, finally, he got the “cool chick,” even if it was in the movies. I did not think of it from that perspective, but when you think of what that day was like for Joey, he was probably terrified (laughs).
CrypticRock.com – That is too funny and unbelievable. You look years later at someone such as a Joey Ramone, who is an iconic music figure, most would think these people can have whatever they want in life. The fact is, they are human and have the same insecurities as all of us.
P.J. Soles – Absolutely, they were scared to death of what was going on. Johnny loved Roger Coreman movies, so he was coming at it from that mindset. They were a little stiff, we had to pull out a lot of scenes, and we did not have a lot of dialogue for them. We learned early on that it really took more than three or four takes to get it right. Even though, some of the stuff in there with them, they are slubs, but it works. It worked for who they are. We did pull out a lot of pages just because of time. The concert scenes were awesome. It was when we finally got to film those, when I had a chance to hear them opposed to a little cassette, that is when I said, “Wow, they really have something special.”
CrypticRock.com – The film has stood the test of time. Besides Horror, you have starred in a number of Comedy genre films. When approached to do a film like Stripes in 1981, were you excited for the chance to work on a comedic style film?
P.J. Soles – All along, when I was doing these films, I was doing guest spots on a lot of television shows. A lot of them had a little comedic flair. I was in Private Benjamin (1980) before I was in Stripes. In fact, I wore my same army uniform, same boots, they just changed the name tag. I guess I am not really a fan of the Horror genre. I like Comedies and Romantic Comedies, so I was happy to be in them. I learned when I was in Private Benjamin, it was an introduction to a lot of actors like Goldie Hawn. You watch them and realize they were really great.
CrypticRock.com – It is great you had that chance to diversify like that. In the form of music, you have had quite an impact from your own involvement in the music scene to even inspiring a Local H song and album title. Where did your passion for music derive from?
P.J. Soles – I love that song, “P.J. Soles?” (laughs). It is funny, because like acting, it was something I always did as a kid too. When I was in Venezuela, I took the cuatro, which is a four string guitar. I know all the Venezuela and Spanish songs; I could sing all those. My parents used to wake me up at 2 AM in the morning and tell me to sing to everyone. I always liked writing songs and I was learning to play guitar. When we moved to Brussels, I gave that up a little and became editor of the school paper instead of pursuing a musical career. It was fun, but again, never something I really thought of being a career. In Soggy Bottom, USA (1981), I play a songwriter in the 1920’s, play guitar, and actually have a song in there that I wrote. It is a cute little movie with Don Johnson and a great cast. That is one of my favorite movies that no one knows about. In Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, the song the Ramones wrote, I sang. I was married to Steven Soles, he was a songwriter and had a band called the Tidbits, so we wrote a couple of songs together. His manager was trying to get me in the studio and we recorded a couple of demos. Again, you really had to have passion for that. It was something I liked to do for fun, it was not something I was serious about. It came in handy for other movies. Now I am a lyricist in my boyfriend’s band, the singer is my son-in-law. The band is called Cheap Rodeo. I have always been a poet, writer, and lyricist, so I sat down with them when they were trying to come up with some new songs and wrote together. Now, more than ever, I am really part of that life. A song can get out there and inspire a lot of people. Especially in Country music; the message of the song is so important. It expands poetry, because in a song you can get it out there to millions of people.
CrypticRock.com – That sounds like a great creative outlet. It certainly seems a lot has changed in the music and film industry now a days. The scenes both seem extremely fragmented and while the internet can be a wonderful thing, it can also hamper someone’s ability to get noticed because of the over-saturation. What advice would you have for someone looking to peruse a career in film or music?
P.J. Soles – Someone that is in their twenties would say get a Twitter account and get out there on social media. For me, if you are a unique singer-songwriter, just go somewhere and play. Play in a club, coffee shop, the street, just get out there and play. There is nothing like the experience of being in front of people, getting them to watch you play live, and receiving feedback. All that is so important. Recording yourself in a bedroom and putting it on YouTube is just not going to get you a record deal. Although, there is always that story where it does because they have three million views. Then you have to back it up with your talent, and you have to have the experience.
CrypticRock.com – That is a good piece of advice. My last question for you is pertaining to movies. CrypticRock.com covers music and Horror films. You did say you are not a big fan of Horror, but what are some of your favorite Horror films?
P.J. Soles – Obviously Psycho (1960) is a great film. There is also the Roman Polanski film Repulsion (1965). I really like the remake of Funny Games (2007). I love that film, it was one of the scariest films I ever watched. Those were very sick boys, scarier than a mask. He did not look scary, and that is scary.