P.J. Soles

The actor: For a good stretch in the mid-to-late ’70s and early ’80s, cult favorite P.J. Soles seemed to have a monopoly on roles calling for a sexy, funny, energetic young woman with attitude. In a remarkable five-year span, Soles appeared in a slew of iconic hits: Carrie and The Boy In The Plastic Bubble (both 1976), Halloween (1978), Breaking Away (1979), Private Benjamin (1980), and Stripes (1981). But Soles is best known for playing the world’s most enthusiastic Ramones fan in the raucous 1979 comedy Rock ’N’ Roll High School, which has just been released in features-packed DVD and Blu-ray editions as part of Shout! Factory’s ongoing excavation of Roger Corman’s back catalog. Since then, Soles has continued to pop up in projects like Shake, Rattle And Rock! (a 1994 TV movie that reunited her with Rock ’N’ Roll High School director Allan Arkush and co-star Dey Young), Jawbreaker (1999), and The Devil’s Rejects (2005), a shocker by noted Soles super-fan Rob Zombie. 

Rock ’N’ Roll High School (1979)—“Riff Randell”

P.J. Soles: It was a really great time for me. I was young. It was a lead role. It was exciting. I did not initially take to the music of the Ramones, because I had never really heard of them before. Allan Arkush had given me a cassette of the Ramones and said, “You’re their No. 1 fan, so I want you to know all of their songs and fall in love with these guys.” I put the cassette on and I remember running around the house going, “Oh my God. That’s music?”

The A.V. Club: In a good way or a bad way?

PS: Well, I had been listening to Jackson Browne, The Eagles, and Linda Ronstadt. It was not my kind of music. Now, I’m a huge fan and I get it. Before, I guess I was a little slow on the uptake. I wasn’t initially a punk-rock fan. Now, I can appreciate what they stood for and who they were. But in any event, I was an actress, so I just acted like I was their No. 1 fan, and it was easy and fun to do. 

They were a great bunch of guys. They were very quiet, very shy. They were a little in awe of the filmmaking process, probably because we started at 7 a.m. Although I don’t think they usually came before 10 or 11. But what I do remember is the very first day of shooting, I met them and did the scene in the bedroom where Joey sings to me, and they were all scattered around my bedroom in my little fantasy scene. That was the first scene we shot of the movie. That scene is kind of a strange way to start a movie. “Okay, get undressed, and these weird guys in leather jackets and ripped jeans are going to sing to you.”

AVC: Is it Johnny Ramone who’s playing guitar in the shower behind you?

PS: Johnny Ramone is sitting in the armchair. Joey is leaning over me like a praying mantis, singing as I am looking at him lovingly. And it was Dee Dee who ended up in the shower. He was playing bass in the shower when I pull back the shower curtain. And Marky was in the back yard playing the drums. But for the end of that scene, all of them were crowded into this tiny little bathroom, because I was, you know, fantasizing going into the bathroom as if I was going to take a shower, and my fantasy continued along with me. So that was really funny and fun, and sort of broke the ice right away. I was in my underwear with tape over my nipples. [Laughs.] In case the towel fell.

AVC: Part of the film’s lore is that Dee Dee only had one line: “Hey, I want some pizza,” but it took 80 takes to get it right.

PS: Probably not 80, because we had to turn in the movie in just 21 days. So we were lucky if we got two takes out of a scene. But the Ramones did get a lot of material cut out. We probably did spend the longest time trying to get their takes down. A lot of times, they did accept some of the flubs. I think Marky calls Mr. McGree “Mr. McGlube.” But that was sort of endearing and charming, and made you just love the Ramones even more. Sometimes those flubs work in favor of the filmmakers. They just couldn’t get out more than one sentence in a row. It was just kind of weird. I think they were just nervous.

AVC: You talked about not being a fan of punk rock at the time.

PS: Well, I didn’t even know about it really.

AVC: Now, you’re probably the most famous punk-rock fan in movie history. You’re a big part of the Ramones legacy. You sang on the soundtrack as well.

PS: I know. Weird. Ed Stasium, who was the producer of the Ramones songs—not the soundtrack, but obviously they have a lot of great songs on that soundtrack, which you could not do today. You couldn’t get Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out.” You couldn’t get all the songs that are on that soundtrack. It really made the movie. But the Ramones couldn’t play in my key. They couldn’t switch keys, so Ed Stasium literally had to play all the instruments for my version of “Rock ’N’ Roll High School,” and I always thought that was so weird, because it’s not the Ramones playing. It’s the producer, who happened to just be a musician and could play everything.

AVC: So do you get royalties?

PS: It’s so funny. Four times a year, Warner Bros. Records send out their little statements, and they’re like eight pages with all the countries from all over the world, and I end up getting a check for $48. But I think, obviously, the Ramones make some good money, because they must get a writer’s share. Sometimes it’s negative-something, because unless it’s over 40 or 50 bucks, they save it until the next check, and then you get $83.05. What’s interesting is, I get to look at all the papers, and they actually list all the countries and how many DVDs and CDs are sold. It’s really amazing to me that Brazil, Germany, and I think Sweden are the countries with huge numbers of Ramones fans. They’re the ones that have bought the most of all merch.

AVC: They were big in Japan as well.

PS: Japan has really great fans for all kinds of music. I think they’re keeping metal alive. They’re really great supporters, and they really love music. I think it’s a total outlet for them. I think they work really hard, and when they have a chance to listen to music, they just go crazy. And the Ramones would be a natural fit for Japan, because Japan invented the cartoon, and the Ramones, especially in Rock ’N’ Roll High School, are very cartoonish. So it’d be a perfect group for them.

AVC: There’s something all-American about both the Ramones and the movie. It’s this caricature idea of American youth culture.

PS: Right. And my strategy, which I think worked after talking about it for so many years, is that I had only a few things. I wanted to buy my own wardrobe, which of course they said “Yes” to, because their clothing budget was $200, and I ended up spending my whole salary—which I think was about $2,100—on my clothes. I went to a store from New York that only lasted a few years in Beverly Hills. And then I bought my red jacket with the musical notes in the opening scene from Fred Segal. I think it really made the character. And also, any time I was onscreen, I wanted to have as much energy as I possibly could. I think it just really worked for the character. I wanted to be in fast motion, and Dey Young, who played Kate, she was going to be in regular motion, but she looked like she’s in slow motion standing next to me.

AVC: Your character had the rhythm of the Ramones.

PS: Well, when they play, that’s for sure. [Laughs.] I wanted to really stress that I was a songwriter, which is why that fantasy sequence was weird, because it kind of looked like I was in love with the Ramones. And, yes, I was in love with the Ramones as a character for their music, and wanting to get my songs to them, but I asked the director, “Why are we doing this?” And he said, “Ah, you smoked a joint. You’re just having this little fantasy.” And I went, “Oh, okay.”

AVC: Who could resist the raw animal charisma of a young Joey Ramone?

PS: I was supposed to be in high school, so it’s kind of funny. That’s the one thing that my kids, when they watched it for the first time—they were like, “[Gasps.] Mom! What are you doing? What’s in that?” And I went, “It’s just rosemary.” And it really was. It was some horrible combination of herbs they put in there, none of them resembling marijuana. But it definitely made me feel sick and woozy, so it kind of worked for the scene. [Laughs.]

AVC: Did you hold onto your clothes from the movie?

PS: I have two pairs of pants, my tight black pants and my grey pants from the opening, and also that red satin jacket with the musical notes. That, I held onto probably because it was very expensive, like $300. It was the only thing I bought at Fred Segal. I actually had kind of a mental tug-of-war with Rod Stewart, because I had seen it two weeks before I purchased it. Because it was so much money, I had to wait and see what else I was buying. I asked, “Could you put this on hold for me?” And then two weeks later, I went in to buy it. I was like, “I need this jacket. This is Riff Randell’s jacket.” And Rod Stewart was standing there, and he saw the guy bring it to me, and he suddenly went, “Oh, I want that jacket. You have another one?” And they said, “No, this is the only one.” And he said, “Well, I want that jacket.” And I said, “But I’ve had it on hold for two weeks, and it’s for a character I’m playing in this movie, Rock ’N’ Roll High School.” And he was like, “But I want that jacket.” [Laughs.] And I said, “Rod, I will give you the jacket after I wear it in the movie, but I need to buy this jacket. Please, let me buy this jacket.” And it had like a pink silk lining inside, and it was really cool. I don’t think it would fit him. But he was very upset, and he didn’t give me his address to send it to him afterward. We just laughed. He went off a little bit in a huff. So, Rod, if you’re out there, and you still fit in the jacket and you still want it, you can have it.

AVC: Sounds like he isn’t shy about pulling the “I’m Rod Stewart” card.

PS: Well, no. Obviously, you’re walking around the store and everyone knows you. At Fred Segal, he could buy anything he wants. So why did he have to have my jacket?

AVC: He was wearing a lot of androgynous clothes at that point.

PS: I was going to say, it was a very girly jacket. But maybe he was just having fun with me.

AVC: He was rocking the leopard-skin tights in the “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” video. 

PS: That’s true. That’s a funny story. I always wonder if he ever saw the movie and went, “Oh my God! That’s the jacket I wanted!”

New York commercial work and Love Is A Many Splendored Thing (1973)—Unknown

PS: I actually did commercials before that. My first audition ever was for a Crisco oil commercial, and I got it. This was the summer before going back to college and living with my roommate. My boyfriend at the time brought me over to his sister’s agent, and he said, “Lemme see how you do in commercials.” And I got the first commercial I auditioned for, and the next two after that, so it was very hard to go back to college after that, which I did do for a couple months. But then my boyfriend kept saying, “Why are you going to college when you made all this money this summer, and you obviously are good at this?” My parents were living in Istanbul at the time, and there weren’t the communication options that are available today, so they didn’t know until January that I had left college.

AVC: Where did you go to school?

PS: I went to Briar Cliff College initially, and then I transferred to Georgetown University, because I was a Russian major, and I was one of two girls accepted that year. This was September 1969—well, that would have been 1970—into the School Of Languages And Linguistics in Georgetown. So I felt bad having to leave the place, although they didn’t offer me on-campus accommodations. I did have to rent a room or actually do an exchange thing where I was babysitting for some diplomat’s kids, and I had an attic bedroom. It was an iffy situation, because I was a young, attractive girl, and the guy was married with three kids, and he kept making little innuendos. I also had my boyfriend, who wanted me to come back to New York, and I had started this career with this agent. So about two months later, I got on the train and went back to New York and said, “Okay. I have to do this.” I started modeling and doing more commercials and little movies here and there. Movies that photographers who wanted to become DPs—they would do these 15-minute shorts. I did this film out on Block Island called Zebra. It was exciting.

AVC: Were there any commercials that stand out in your mind?

PS: It was always fun auditioning for commercials, because that was the beginning of my career, and me figuring out how I was going to portray myself as an actress vs. a model, because models were very different back then in the early ’70s. They didn’t usually hire models for acting. But I acted first in commercials and then I did modeling, so it was a little different. I started doing a lot of commercials where I found that I could be a character like in the commercial I did for Binaca Breath Spray. My hair, when it dries without a hair dryer, is really curly and wild and crazy. And I’m like, “You know what? I’m going to stand out.” Because they were seeing everybody in town—black, white, any age. And I went in there with this wild hair and I made crazy faces and did the spray, and I got hired.

For Coca-Cola, they wanted a hippie-looking girl to walk around the city with a bucket of chicken sitting in Central Park, sitting on Central Park South, walking along all these different areas of New York that people are familiar with, and just eating this bucket of chicken. I got that commercial too. I think it was just part of my personality that was different from just a regular, nice-looking girl that was more of a model-y type. I injected a little more energy into everything I did.

Carrie (1976)—“Norma Watson”

PS: After the first boyfriend, I got married to a musician, Steven Soles, and we had a nice time together. It seemed that I really wanted to move to L.A., because the soap opera [Love Is A Many Splendored Thing] is fine, but it wasn’t something I wanted to stay with. I wasn’t especially a Broadway type. I liked film acting better. I didn’t want to stay up late. I wasn’t a smoker, a drinker, or a drug-taker. So that kind of Broadway life—not that that’s what they do. But they do stay up late and hang out at Joe Allen’s until 2 in the morning, and that just wasn’t for me.

So I left there and came to L.A. by myself, one suitcase, checked into the Magic Hotel right there on Franklin, right behind Grauman’s Chinese Theater. The first audition—this is the story of my life—when I first auditioned through my modeling agency, Nina Blanchard, they said, “Everyone in town is going to see Brian De Palma and George Lucas. They just want to see all the teenagers, so go up.” And I walked into the office after waiting two hours sitting on the floor in the hallway with everybody else, and we’re all young, so we’re happy and having a good time, you know, laughing. George Lucas and Brian De Palma are sitting in two chairs behind one desk, and they both just looked me up and down and Brian says, “I’ll put her on my list.” George just nodded. Then as I turned to go he said, “Next audition, bring your hat.” I was wearing the red baseball hat, which was something I really loved and wore, and it was me. And I had on a pair of overalls and a striped shirt, pretty much the outfit I wore in Carrie

I got to go to the second audition, which was at Brian’s house. Pretty much everybody that ended up in the cast, he had chosen right away. We had three more auditions at his house before we actually did the screen tests. He just wanted to see which person fit which characters best. We took turns reading different parts and scenes in the script for a couple hours, then finally did the screen tests. I do remember that Jack Fiske was already the set designer, and he kept begging Brian to see his wife, Sissy Spacek, and Brian kept saying no, because he really thought Amy Irving was going to be Carrie. Finally, the day of the screen tests came, and Sissy had not been in any of the auditions, but she came in, and apparently when they watched the screen tests, she blew everybody away, and there was no question that she was going to be Carrie, which left Amy Irving with the other part.

AVC: Which is not a bad part.

PS: Well it’s obviously not a bad part, but Carrie was the lead, and that’s what Amy—with her training at the Royal Academy Of Dramatic Arts in London—that’s what she was looking for. [Laughs.] But it’s okay. She ended up with Steven Spielberg, who used to come to the set all the time, because Brian said, “There’s a lot of cute girls down here. Come down to the set.” And he’d hang out and he’d ask us all out and none of us said yes, except for Amy. So she ended up marrying him. [Laughs.]

AVC: So Steven Spielberg asked you out?

PS: Yes, and I just kind of giggled and went “Well, I’ll think about it. Hee-hee-hee.” [Laughs.] And Nancy Allen had her eyes set on Brian De Palma, who she eventually married. So right from the beginning—even though he had a girlfriend at the time—she liked Brian, and I was not particularly enamored. I did my screen test with John Travolta, and I went over to his place a couple times, but he and I were just really good friends. He was a really nice guy.

AVC: The actual filming process seemed pretty dramatic, like the part when you get knocked unconscious with the hose.

PS: Well yeah, I wasn’t really knocked unconscious, but the fire hose they wanted to use to bat my head around, the fire chief said he wasn’t going to do it, that it was too dangerous, ’cause the force of the water would be too strong. And so Dick Ziker, the stunt coordinator, said, “Well, I’ll just man the hose. It’s okay, and we’ll just put less water pressure on.” But I guess he lost control of it, and it just burst out and flipped my head to the side, and the full force of the fire hose went into my ear and broke my eardrum. And when you break your eardrum, you lose your sense of equilibrium, so I kind of slid down to the floor. The grips came running over, picked me up, and brought me to my dressing room. So it wasn’t a concussion. I wasn’t knocked out, but I did have a ruptured eardrum, and for six months I had a loss of hearing, but my hearing is really good now. There is a little scar there, but it healed fine. Kind of bizarre.

AVC: Did you have insurance?

PS: Well, you get workman’s comp and the insurance from SAG. You’re covered during the shoot of the movie, and I was covered anyway. I went to the doctor once a week. He gave me some kind of shots and pills and all kinds of stuff, but the pain was unbelievable, and you can see it on my face, they kept that in. When I have that one grimace and then supposedly die—[Laughs.] That’s me just kind of going, “Aahh!” Then my head goes back and as I start to slide out of frame, they cut. So that was kind of interesting, but most of the filming and everything was pretty good. And we had a great time, and we shot that prom sequence for like, two weeks. We were at the MGM Culver City studios, and they had little houses, dressing rooms all around the outside set, inside the soundstage, so we could be there all the time. You had to always get there around 6 a.m., because Brian never knew when you’d be in the background or when he would pull one of the actors and say, “Okay, you’re sitting here.” So everybody always had to be on set all the time.

The Boy In The Plastic Bubble (1976)—“Deborah”

PS: Yeah, that’s because [Travolta] was in that movie—and it’s just great. Brian De Palma was one of the rare directors who wanted us all to go to dailies. It was like a party. After shooting, we’d all walk over together, at like 5 or 6 o’clock, to the little theater. And we’d sit down and watch the dailies from like, the day before. And John Travolta, whenever I came onscreen, he was just laughing hysterically. He just thought I was a riot. I got to ad-lib a lot of stuff. I was really loose, because I really only had one line in the opening of the script when we’re doing the volleyball scene, and I say, “Thanks a lot, Carrie.” 

That was my one line. I was originally hired for two weeks, but after those dailies, Brian kept me on. He called my agent and he said, “We’re keeping her on for the rest of the shoot,” and then he just stuck me in whenever Nancy Allen was in, or needed something. I was collecting ballots, or, you know, “They’re all gonna laugh at you,” and then the blood goes on her head and I push my elbow into whoever—Betty Buckley—and then, “Ha ha ha!” They start laughing, and that’s all improvised. It was all just added stuff. Obviously there was much more of that, and a lot of dialogue between Nancy Allen and I, and we were really funny. So John Travolta just loved that. And like I said, we had done our screen test together, so I’d gotten to know him, and he was a really nice guy. So when he had the opportunity to do The Boy In The Plastic Bubble, he brought me and a couple other people from the movie to just be the students and have some parts, because he wanted to help us out. I thought that was really sweet.

AVC: You were a fellow student?

PS: Yeah, I was one of the students in the class. I think I’m wearing a plaid dress. I have a couple lines in it. I haven’t seen it in so long. I just don’t remember, but people always bring that up, and I think it’s funny, because it wasn’t like it was a significant part. I would’ve loved to have had the lead in Urban Cowboy, but. [Laughs.] Debra Winger got that. 

AVC: Did you go out for that role?

PS: I actually did, but I think they really were looking for dark-haired girls for both those parts. The girls have black hair. I just don’t think they were looking for blondes, you know?

Halloween (1978)—“Lynda Van Der Klok”

PS: I heard, of course, through all the interviews that have been done over the years—I didn’t know at the time, but John Carpenter said he had seen me in Carrie, and that’s why they asked me to come audition, even though he felt from the beginning that he would hire me. But the audition, I guess, cinched it. He did tell me at the audition, after I read one scene, he went, “Wow. You’re the only one that read the word ‘Totally’ the right way.” And I went, “Well, how else would you say it?” And he goes, “Well that’s why you got the part.” And I went, “Oh, I got the part?” He goes, “You got the part. Can you stay and pick out your boyfriend?” And I went, “Sure.” That’s very rare, for an actress or an actor to go up and have a director actually give you the part at the audition. Usually, you have to wait, like for the doctor to call and say whether you’re going to live or not. [Laughs.] So it was kind of nice.

Carrie was a pretty big-budget movie at a real studio, with a director that had already done a bunch of things and had some notoriety, and Stephen King was the writer. He was banned from the set, but that was kind of an A-plus production, with a serious DP and blah, blah, blah and all that. So that was my first experience. But then with Halloween, the director was this genius wonder boy who was the writer, director, producer, along with his girlfriend. They were this team, and they were making this small movie, and it was just completely different, but it was really inspiring and a lot of fun, and also allowed me to do a lot of improvisation, because they just depended on the girls to expand their parts to bring some real life, being girls ourselves, to the characters. So it was a really collaborative spirit. We just felt like we were part of this small team, making this movie. Never a thought to, “Oh my God, it’s going to be a big hit and a huge franchise and it’s going to go on forever and fans are gonna love it.” It was simply, “Let’s try and make a good movie. And gosh, I hope I do a really good job with this part. So I can get another job.” You know? [Laughs.]

AVC: It sounds like you had a lot of faith in John Carpenter.

PS: Yes, because he was very gentle. He was very tender. He really liked talking to actors. He really wanted you to be comfortable. He waited until you were ready to do the scene, and he has a lot of confidence. As with Rock ’N’ Roll High School, we usually only did one or two takes, because both films had a 21-day shooting schedule. You would have had to pick people that were gonna be part of the team, and be able to get the job done, and contribute more than what was on the page. So both of those experiences were similar in that way. Unlike Carrie, which, even though there was a lot of improv and everybody was really great, it was really more of a structured environment for Brian’s vision. I remember the first time we went to his house for one of those three auditions—his entire dining room, all the walls, were covered with the storyboards. It was like the entire movie of Carrie was drawn out on pencil and paper and taped up on his dining-room walls, and I was like, “What?” [Laughs.] “That’s how you make movies?”

AVC: Is there much of a separation between him as an artist and him as a person?

PS: Well, I don’t know. As a person, I don’t know. He had a little bit of a sarcastic sense of humor. He wouldn’t say much after he’d shoot a scene, but if he smiled and said, “Okay, let’s move on,” then you’d know, “All right, they’re taking that take.” Otherwise, he’d go, “All right, let’s try it again,” but he’d never tell anybody how to do it again—maybe it was a technical reason, I don’t know, whatever. He wasn’t really a collaborative director with an actor, in terms of what you’re doing or how to change it, and maybe it was also because my part was not that big, and everybody, especially Sissy, who was the lead, knew exactly what she wanted to do. So he trusted that. In terms of the visual and what the scene was gonna look like and what equipment he was gonna use—like the spinning scene is Sissy Spacek and William Katt dancing—he knew what he was gonna do. He was more into technical aspects, the look of the picture. That was cool, because that made it a very successful movie, I think. It really was just a teen drama, yet he took it to another level, obviously with the telekinetic powers and just the look of the movie was pretty new for that time, 1976.

[pagebreak]

Old Boyfriends (1979)—“Sandy”

PS: I think that was before I did Halloween. It might have come out later, but I think I did it before I shot Halloween. And that was just, somebody said, “Go to this audition,” and Joan Tewkesbury liked me. It was really just a small part. I guess I was a nice girl with a nice figure, because I just had to wear a bathing suit and dive in the pool. [Laughs.] I was kind of candy, eye candy. It could have been anybody. I don’t know why they picked me. I didn’t know anybody especially.

AVC: The film was written by Leonard and Paul Schrader.

PS: Right. That might have been the connection, because Paul Schrader was friends with Brian De Palma. So he probably saw Carrie, he might have come to the set once or twice, I don’t remember.

AVC: It was also probably the only serious role John Belushi ever played.

PS: Yeah and later, I was supposed to do The Joy Of Sex with John Belushi, but the week before we were gonna start filming, he died. So that was really tragic. They had to put me on hold for like three months. They were paying me to not do any other movie, to wait until they could get him, and then that was very sad. That put the whole project on the shelf. Then they finally ended up doing it, but they didn’t use me, but by then I had two kids or something. I don’t know. [Laughs.]

AVC: Some have claimed The Joy Of Sex has the worst screenplay ever written.

PS: It was, but that wasn’t really the original script. The original script was pretty funny, and I really liked it and liked the people that were involved. Tim Matheson and I did a screen test together, and I really thought they were going to use him. I thought he was great. I don’t know what happened, but maybe he wasn’t available. I don’t know, but I thought we did a great screen test, and I thought it was going to be really cool.

Our Winning Season (1978)—“Cindy Hawkins”

PS: I did that movie that Joe Roth produced, and Joe Ruben, who did Sleeping With The Enemy. He’s a really cool director. That’s where I met [ex-husband] Dennis Quaid. Dennis and I met on location in Georgia, and I always thought that was a really great movie. I wish, in terms of—people are always saying, “Well, you’re a cult actress, a cult star.” That movie should be included, because it’s a really terrific. It’s a trite saying, but it’s a real, great coming-of-age piece, and all the actors are wonderful. The story’s wonderful. It was filmed beautifully in Newnan, Georgia. Joe Ruben was so talented, and Joe Roth, who ended up becoming president of 20th Century Fox, he was the producer. This was one of his first movies. It’s just a really great, great little film, a lot of good people in it. I don’t know whatever happened to that movie, and why it didn’t get the success it deserves.

Breaking Away (1979)—“Suzy”

PS: Breaking Away. That’s right, because Dennis and I met and we’d gotten married, and he got called to do Breaking Away and I went with him, because it was on location in Bloomington, Indiana, a great spot. I wanted to be the French girl at the end, but instead, they let me be one of Rod’s girls. [Laughs.] Hart Bochner’s fan, because he was the rich kid in town, and he didn’t have a lot of support, so that was fun. We got to swim in the quarries and—we had a great time filming that movie. Bloomington was a really, really fun town, and that was a good time in my life.

Private Benjamin (1980)—“Pvt. Wanda Winter”

PS: Well it’s funny, because with Breaking Away, when I tried out for the French girl, I bought a short black wig, because when you’re on the set with your husband and you’re both actors and you’ve just gotten married—I didn’t want to leave. I just wanted to relax and enjoy myself, but I thought, “Well, let me pick up a role. It’d be fun to just get this small part”—and I speak fluent French, because I went to high school in Brussels and I also grew up in Morocco, so that wasn’t an issue. So I brought this little black wig, and while they were shooting—they hadn’t cast the girl yet, because it was the end of the movie, and it was a very small part, but [director] Peter Yates and the DP, they were all filming this one little scene, and they took a break, and then I came walking up. I had this cute little skirt on and boots and a short, cropped wig, and I went, [French accent.] “I am a student here in Bloomington, and I hear you’re looking for the part of a French girl, and I would like to try out for the French girl.” And Peter Yates was completely mesmerized and thought I was adorable, and all of the sudden the DP goes, “God, look at her eyes. They look like P.J.” [Laughs.] And then he’s like, “Are you P.J.?” So he blew my whole cover, and I took off the wig and I said, “Yes, but I still would really like to try out for the French girl,” and then Peter said they had just cast someone in L.A. that morning, and he was sorry, and blah, blah, blah. 

But anyway, that same wig, I kept. And when I went out for the part of Wanda Winter initially, I got it, and it was with a different director. [Arthur Hiller. —ed.] Howard Zieff took over for a previous director who had cast me, and Goldie was producer on it, and she wanted to throw out all the choices of the first director. I felt that was really unfair, because I felt we should at least be given a chance with Howard to show why the first director had chosen us, but they said “No.” And my agent said, “No, you can’t go.” And I said, “But I got the part,” and it was very hard for me to let go. It’s very difficult to get a part in a movie, you know? It takes a lot. I said, “Well, can you at least tell me when they’re re-casting Wanda Winter? I’ll just go up and crash the meeting.” And my agent was like, “You shouldn’t do that. Blah, blah, blah.” So I said, “Just tell me!” So she told me it’s at 11 o’clock, blah, blah, blah. I put on this black wig, because she also said, “They decided Goldie is the only blonde. She doesn’t want any other blondes in the movie, and that’s also a reason why they don’t want you. They want everybody to have dark hair except for Goldie.” 

And so I went, “I’ll take out this black wig,” and I went in and I had glasses and I just persisted and persisted with the receptionist until she finally—everyone had been seen—she picked up the phone. She said, “There’s one girl left here. She’s just insisting to go in, and she’s being such a bitch. She’d probably be perfect for the part,” because the part was a little bitchy. So Howard Zieff welcomed me to the office, and he didn’t know who I was. I didn’t give him my name. I said, “Look, I want a chance to—” and he said, “Just read the scene.” He was like, “Let’s see it and get over it.” He loved it. Loved, loved, loved it and I said, “Well, I’m P.J. Soles. I originally had the part of Wanda Winter, and I want my part back, and I have a black wig.” And I took off my wig and he said, “You know what? Keep the wig. Bring it to the set. You got the part.” So there was another time when I got the part during my audition. So sometimes, you have to fight hard for your parts. [Laughs.] 

And that was the story of that. And we were all great friends on the set. We had a great time. I can’t say Goldie was a part of that camaraderie of Mary Kay Place and the rest of the group, because we were all giggly and laughing, and she was the star, so she had to be a little more serious. But we had a lot of fun, and I have a Polaroid of all the girls, all of us together, and Goldie holding Kate Hudson at the age of three months, and her little face is exactly as it looks today. It was adorable. When I got the audition and won the part in Stripes, I went to Western Cross, and they’re like, “Oh, you already have your name on an army uniform. Let’s try it on.” It was still my uniform, and it fit, and the boots fit and they just put the MT banner armband on—so I wear the same uniform and boots in both movies.

Soggy Bottom, U.S.A. (1980)—Sharlene / Stripes (1981)—“Stella”

PS: Another movie that should be on the cult list, Soggy Bottom, U.S.A., which was a really fun movie. I mean, Dub Taylor was in it, Ben Johnson, Don Johnson, Lois Nettleton, Annie Wedgeworth. I mean, really great actors—Jack Elam—just, if you’ve never seen that movie, go rent it. It’s so much fun. It’s the 1920s, I play a songwriter, and I have my guitar, and I play a couple songs, but Annie Wedgeworth is a real country singer, and she buys my songs, for like [Southern accent.] $20. We’re so excited. It’s just a really cute, cute movie, but I had just wrapped that. Instead of going back to L.A., I went to Louisville Kentucky, where my agent said “They want to meet you for this movie.” Apparently they had looked through 300 girls and they couldn’t find one, and they’d already started shooting. They already had Sean Young. So I met with Harold Ramis and Ivan Reitman, and we did a quick little scene on camera, and the guy brought me back to the airport and he went, “I have a feeling I’ll be picking you up tomorrow.” And I went, “Okay, I hope so.” And when I landed, I got home and my agent goes, “Pack your bags. You’re leaving tomorrow. You’re going back. You got the part.”

This was a really great time in my life. We had a great time filming that movie. We’re in Fort Knox, and Bill [Murray] and I tried for about three days, we’d planned to do it for two weeks, we did three days where we’re going to do the getting up at 5 in the morning and jogging with the troops thing. I lasted a little longer than he did. I think he fell back one day, but it was kind of exciting. We were trying to get into the spirit of it all. That was really fun, although I’ll say, Bill is kind of a depressed guy, except when the camera’s rolling. Then he puts it all out there and tries to be funny and witty and a genius, but otherwise, he’s not that funny.

AVC: They say most comic geniuses deep down are melancholy people.

PS: I guess. I have heard that, and it has been my experience with a few of them, although I think Harold Ramis is a genius beyond genius, and he’s the nicest guy, funniest guy, sweetest guy ever. So I don’t know if it applies to everybody, but maybe it has to do with your childhood.

AVC: There was a great New Yorker profile on Ramis a while back on the evolution of his career and his relationship with Bill Murray.

PS: He’s just really so funny. He was very reluctant. I mean, they also searched through everybody. They even auditioned Dennis [Quaid] to play the role that Harold ended up playing, and finally Bill said, “Look, I don’t want to work with anybody else. You’re doing the part. Otherwise, I’m not doing the movie.” So that’s why he ended up being in the movie. He didn’t want to at all. He was the writer, and that’s not what he wanted to do. [Laughs.] He was at Second City. In Stripes he’s so great. He’s a goofy-looking guy, but he was great.

The Awakening Of Cassie (1982)—“Cassie”

PS: Oh yeah. [Laughs.] That was—I don’t think that turned out that well. That was kind of a boring show. It was fun to make. Let’s see, what lady was in that, that was in—what was her name? She played the little girl in The Bad Seed.

AVC: Patty McCormack.

PS: She was so nice. She was the loveliest lady of all. She was just great, and I kept looking at her, thinking of that little girl in that movie, The Bad Seed. That was fun, but I didn’t think it turned out very well.

AVC: That was a leading role, right?

PS: It was a leading role. It was fun to do, but I don’t know. The sets were bad. The lighting was bad. It just didn’t have any spark.

AVC: Especially coming off of all these studio hits.

PS: Also, back in those days, people that did movies didn’t do TV. So it was kind of a thing, where it was like, “Okay, we’ll go up for this, but because it’s a lead.” Even back then, Dennis was offered—I think he was in that Bill TV movie with Mickey Rooney. He only did it because Mickey Rooney was in it. Other than that, he wasn’t going to do TV. So that was not something you mix up in those days. Otherwise, once you start up in TV, they’re not going to let you back into movies, if you kind of went down that road. Like Brian Grazer, he was always trying to get Dennis—he was always trying to get a TV series for us to do together, and Dennis was always very resistant, and I was like, “Oh, it’d be an opportunity to work together. Let’s see what he comes up with.” And then, after Stripes, he’d seen the dailies of Bill Murray and I on the stove together, and he gave me the script. He was in the parking lot of Burbank Studios and he gave me the script of Splash and he said, “Can you read this? I really want you and Bill to be in it. It’d be so great and blah, blah, blah.” And I read it and I loved it and I just happened to be having lunch with Bill the next day at the Hamburger Hamlet in Burbank, so I brought the script with me. 

I was reading, I take it out, and I say, “You know, this guy is always everywhere. He’s in my face all the time. Brian Grazer. I know he’s going to be famous someday, because he’s got so much energy. He’s so positive all the time, and he’s always everywhere and he wants us to be in this movie.” And Bill just said, “Well, is it a comedy?” And I said, “Well, yes, of course it’s a comedy. He saw our scene together, and you do comedies.” And he took the script like he was going to read it, and just flung it across the room at the Hamburger Hamlet. I was just mortified, because I thought he was going to decapitate somebody or hurt somebody or break somebody’s nose, but luckily, it just landed on the floor way across the room. I ran over to pick it up and apologize to all the people, and I was like, “What’s with you?” And he goes, “I’m not doing any more comedies.” And then the next movie he did was Razor’s Edge. I appealed to Brian and I said, “Please. Let me try and do it with somebody else.” And then they went for Daryl Hannah and Tom Hanks, but that’s okay. That was an almost, and it was because of Bill. He wouldn’t even read it. [Laughs.] 

I think if he had read it, he would’ve really liked it, but he didn’t even give it a chance. But that’s okay. And it was good for Brian Grazer. They tried to get [Dennis Quaid and me] for The Dukes Of Hazzard. In fact, Dennis was offered John Schneider’s part in the Dukes Of Hazzard, and he was just, “Turn it down! Turn it down!” They came back three times with outrageous sums of money and he kept turning it down. Finally, by the third offer, I was like, “Dennis, this is a lot of money. Let’s think about this.” And then my agent was pushing for me to go out for Daisy, and then finally they agreed, “Okay.” My agent was kind of kicking the angle of “Dennis might do it if you consider P.J. as Daisy.”

It came down to just me and Catherine Bach, and we went in for the final big network, all the big guys sitting around the table, staring, not saying a word, looking grim, and I had the cutest little dress and my hair in braids and cowboy boots, and of course Catherine Bach shows up with her breasts spilling out, with the shortest shorts you can imagine. [Laughs.] Before the days of thongs. And she’s walking in and my thought was, “There’s no way that slut is getting the part.” Little did I know—they didn’t pick the cute little girl in a dress and cowboy boots who’s married to the guy they wanted for the lead. No, they picked the slut and the country dude, who ended up being a nice guy, I guess. [Laughs.]

AVC: Dennis Quaid’s career would have turned out a lot differently had he accepted the role.

PS: Instead, he did The Right Stuff. That’s where I met my third husband, after Dennis and I got divorced. The guy that was his pilot, that was the pilot that flew everybody around in jets that made it look like they were really flying. Skip Holm was a test pilot for Lockheed, and on the set, he said to me, “What are you married to this guy for?” And later, he told me there were certain things that were going on behind my back that I didn’t know about until after we got divorced, that my third husband told me. But, anyway. He ended up being the father of my children, but I’m divorced again. [Laughs.] My kids are grown, but that’s a whole different life now. I’ve had a boyfriend for 13 years who’s a musician. I actually write lyrics with him. We’re trying to get country songs out there, and my daughter’s going to graduate from UC Irvine. She’s an English major, but also a musician, a singer-songwriter. She’s got a band and my son’s a captain of a Coast Guard cutter in Key West, and he’s doing really great. And we have this new DVD of Rock ’N’ Roll High School.

Sweet Dreams (1985)—“Wanda”

PS: That was awesome, because I just had my son and I was breast-feeding, yet I had to leave town for three days. In those days, there wasn’t a lot of information about breast-feeding, and I didn’t know you couldn’t just leave your kid for three days. So my breasts turned hard as stone. [Laughs.] It really worked for the part, though, because they’re huge, and I was supposed to be this sexy girl. Anyway, it was funny, because I had known Ed Harris from when he worked with Dennis on The Right Stuff, and I didn’t know he had a hairpiece, so I sat on his lap and I started to stroke his hair sexily, and he just grabbed my wrist and said, “Don’t touch the hair.” And I was like, “Oh, okay.” I didn’t realize that that was a piece, but anyways, that’s a little side note. [Laughs.] That would work well for your website.

AVC: Now he’s known as the sexiest bald man in the world.

PS: Jessica Lange—I thought she did a fantastic job with that movie. It was such a great film. I don’t know. Maybe it is rated higher, but people don’t usually bring that movie up. I think I had two other scenes, but they cut those out. I guess that was really a true part, that [Patsy Cline’s husband Charlie Dick] went back to his first girlfriend while his wife was delivering their baby, which isn’t a nice thing to do, but—[Laughs.] fun to play in the movies.

AVC: Have you always been a fan of country music?

PS: No, really just in the past maybe 10 years. I always liked the sound of Dolly Parton belting out a song, or all the old—Hank Williams, Hank Williams Jr., Willie Nelson—I liked the sound of it, but I never really liked the lyrics or the sameness of the music. It always seemed to have the same rhythm or whatever. But when it turned a little more rock, I kind of liked it. I like what Kid Rock did to country. I like all the modern, new stuff that’s coming out, and it just so happens that my boyfriend is not a country player, but he was a rock musician. He just decided to get into this country vein, and I’ve always written poetry and lyrics. My first husband, who was a musician, we wrote a bunch of songs together. Don Johnson—I actually wrote a song for the movie Soggy Bottom U.S.A. They didn’t end up using it, but we did film me and my song. Alas, the producer’s son got his song in instead, so we shot the two songs, but they ended up picking the producer’s son’s song. I’ve always written songs, so it seems like the only thing you can really sell today… in a band and you’re selling stuff on your website or on iTunes, you’re not going to get very far. I’m just dabbling in it. I’m interested in it, and I’ve got to make a living somehow. 

The Devil’s Rejects (2005)—“Susan” 

PS: Rob Zombie is a big fan. He brought out all his stuff at lunch on the day that I filmed my scenes with Sid Haig. He just piled on all his posters and DVDs, and I sat there for—during all my lunch—signing all his stuff. So we’ve become great friends, and I gave him my original script for Halloween for his 40th birthday, which he’s forever grateful and thankful to me for. That’s kind of cool, because I kind of started him off on the Halloween re-imagining thing. Well, he said Halloween was responsible for wanting him to be a director, and he invited me to his 40th birthday party, and I know he knows a lot of people. Like, Nicolas Cage was there with a shrunken head he brought as a gift, all these things, and I’m thinking, “What can I give Rob Zombie? This is very weird.” And I just happened to look at my pile of scripts and I went, “My kids don’t need all these. I think I’ll give him my original Halloween script, since he told me that was his favorite movie, and I was his favorite actress from that time period.” I said, “He deserves to have that.” 

So I wrapped it up and left it on the big pile of gifts at this club that he was having his party at, and I went home thinking, “Oh my God, they probably dropped it in a puddle, because it was raining that night. Somebody probably ran over it.” Yet at 7 in the morning, he calls. I just let the machine answer it, because I’m like, “Who’s calling me at 7 in the morning?” It’s Rob leaving this message, going, “That was the best birthday present I ever got in my whole life. I looked at it from cover to cover. No one else will ever get their fingers on this. It’s wrapped in plastic. It’s going in my vault. I love it. Thank you.” [Laughs.]

AVC: He sounds very sincere.

PS: Oh, absolutely. He loved it. And the next two years, he started doing the Halloween remakes, which was cool.

Airwolf—(1984) “Ellie” / Alienator (1990)—“Tara”

PS: Oh God. Well, Fred Olen Ray, he made a movie, and then they needed to spice it up, I guess. Because once he cut it together—at least this is what he said to me—they realized, “Oh my gosh, we’re missing some things here, and we need to spice it up.” And through a friend of a friend, he knew me. So he called me up and said, “Would you want to do one day’s work with Jan-Michael Vincent?” And I said, “Sure.” I worked with him on Airwolf. I played a great couple of scenes with him, flashbacks to Vietnam, because I was his—the brother that his character in Airwolf was looking for. Remember? He was searching for his brother? In the Airwolf series, Jan-Michael Vincent, I mean, he’s patrolling with his helicopter and all that. He’s constantly searching for his brother who was missing in action in Vietnam.

So my scene—I was on the show twice, and I played Ellie, who was his girlfriend and a nurse at the time, in Vietnam with his brother. So he comes to see me. I’m married and have a kid and actually use my real son in the show, but there were flashbacks to Vietnam, and we’re all sitting at a bar in our camouflage, talking and getting drunk. It was just a really cool scene, but anyway, I had worked with Jan-Michael Vincent before. So I said, “Sure, that’d be great,” and he gave us a couple pages of dialogue, and I was just so ridiculous in that ridiculous dress, but it was a lot of fun. What I remember was, Jan-Michael Vincent had the script, and he held it out of frame in his hand. Every time I spoke, when the camera was on me, he would quickly look at his lines. It was just so funny. I’d never worked with an actor that held his script in his hands while he worked, but he’d just been given the script, so I guess he didn’t have time to memorize the lines. [Laughs.]

Jawbreaker (1999)—“Mrs. Purr”

PS: Yeah, well. [Writer-director] Darren Stein was a huge fan of Carrie and Halloween. He was like a kid. He was 26, so he was such a fan. He wanted William Katt and I, from Carrie, to be in the movie as the parents. We had a little bit more that ended up on the cutting-room floor, but that was kind of fun. It was fun to see William Katt again. His kids actually went to the same school as my kids. So I would see him from time to time and say “Hi.” I thought that was a really good movie. I think if the girl hadn’t died, it would have been a little better. I was kind of disturbed by that, because, I guess she had to die, but I don’t know. It just took it to another place. But I love the clothes in the movie, the color of the movie. Amy Vincent, who was the DP, even on the couple of scenes we did, she’d get there in the morning and she’d have these photography books and she’d show the crew, “Okay, this is the look I want for this scene here. This is the lighting, so let’s do this and this and that.” Everybody that worked on that movie was really cool, including the girls, especially the new girl, the blonde, Judy Greer.

Alone In The Dark II (2008)—“Martha”

PS: [Laughs.] That was hilarious. It was supposed to be one day. It ended up being three days. We were having so much fun, and the directors were these Germans—I’m not sure if they were brothers, but they were two German guys who hardly spoke English, and they were hilarious. [Editor’s note: Michael Roesch and Peter Scheerer.] They just loved everything they were doing and—anyway, we had a really great time. I originally only had one line, and the casting agent called my agent the night before because they had somebody else. I think it was Dee Wallace Stone. Then she backed out or she had some other commitment or couldn’t make it, so it was kind of, “Can you get to the set the next day?” And “Blah, blah, blah. You’re this guy’s housekeeper.” Lance Henriksen. For some reason, he and I, maybe because we’re in the same age range, we just hit it off. We were doing all these antics and ended up where he had to have this shotgun and he was going to fire it. So the two German directors are talking in German. Then they wanted me to get next to him and hand him the shotgun and try and load it and make it look funny. We just really had a good time. It really ended up being a fun shoot. I never saw the outcome. I never saw the movie, so I don’t know, but I’m sure—let’s see. What’s his name? Bill Moseley. I think I saw him at a convention, and he had just seen it, and he’s like, “You were really funny,” but I don’t know. I’m sure it certainly got panned in the reviews. I never saw the original one, so I don’t know anything about the franchise. I was just called in as a replacement actress.

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