Welcome to Random Roles, wherein we talk to actors about the characters who defined their careers. The catch: They don’t know beforehand what roles we’ll ask them to talk about.
The actor: Mary Woronov first came to prominence in the New York artistic community through her work with Andy Warhol and the Theater Of The Ridiculous, but it was her work with famed producer Roger Corman that brought her to the masses, most notably as the evil Miss Togar in Rock ’N’ Roll High School. Although Woronov now spends most of her time as an artist and writer, she recently reunited with Corman for a role in the EPIX film Attack Of The 50 Foot Cheerleader and is in the process of working on Confessions Of A Cult Queen, a documentary about her life and career by filmmakers Francesca Di Amico and Claudia Unger.
Attack Of The 50 Foot Cheerleader (2012)—“House Mother”
Mary Woronov: Oh, right, that one. [Laughs.] Well, first of all, I did it because I’ve done so many films for [Roger] Corman, and when he asked me to do this, I thought it would be nice of me. So it’s sort of a gift for Corman, because I don’t really act anymore. But it was fun. The thing that happened in this movie was that… usually when you go into the makeup room, all these girls are talking and it’s a lot of fun, where everybody’s saying what they think and everything. But this was a very weird time. This makeup room I went into was silent. Every girl there—and there were a lot of them—was on her cell phone. It was like doing a movie without people. Absolute silence everywhere. Very strange.
The A.V. Club: How substantial a role do you have in the film?
MW: The House Mother is a woman who obviously has an anger problem. It’s a small role, but… she acts very, very nice, but when the girl doesn’t do what she wants or something like that, she calls her a bitch and throws her in her room. So obviously it’s my kind of role. [Laughs.] It’s pretty campy, you know? I mean, I use “campy” because it’s the only way I can describe it. In other words, it’s not really someone who has any humanity to her or is real at all. She’s a caricature.
Death Race 2000 (1975)—“Calamity Jane”
AVC: Speaking of Roger Corman, you recently appeared in the documentary Corman’s World: Exploits Of A Hollywood Rebel.
MW: I did, although I haven’t seen it. He has a whole bunch of other people out there who really feel that he’s The Corman School Of Acting. He got so many people started, so we’re really, really grateful to him.
AVC: How did you fall into his camp? Was it through Paul Bartel?
MW: Actually, I was in New York, and I knew Paul because he was a friend of my husband’s, and he called me up and said he could get Corman to hire me for Death Race 2000. Now, Paul is somebody who knows the Theater Of The Ridiculous in New York, has seen me in the Theater Of The Ridiculous, knows the kind of acting I do, and, of course, he’s seen me in my Warhol movies. And he has a certain sense of humor, because I saw his first movie, which is amazing. It’s called “The Secret Cinema.” And he has a sense of humor that is definitely bizarre; I understand it, and we work very well together. We were friends. So he suddenly just called me up from California. It was the second movie he did for Corman—the other one [1972’s Private Parts] was for Corman’s brother [Gene Corman]—and he said, “I can get you in on this movie, and I need you.” I said, “Fine, I’d love to drop everything I’m doing in New York.” I’d just finished a play, In The Boom Boom Room, and I was doing a soap opera, of all things, to make money. So I said, “Yeah, I’ll go out.” And then he said, “I’ll just introduce you to Corman—he’ll look at your legs, so wear something that shows your legs off—and he’ll hire you.” Of course, he never looked at my legs. He had a fight with somebody at the movie theater we went to, so he never even looked at me. But he did hire me. And that was that.
AVC: So how was your first experience working on a Roger Corman film?
MW: It was great. First of all, there’s a subversive sense of humor in the film. And Paul always fought with Corman. Corman wanted more blood; Paul said, “No, no, no, it’s about humor.” So that was an ongoing thing. But for me, it was great. Corman has always let me ad lib. Paul was the one who started this. Paul and I actually became sort of this set item because… you know, we had a patter—we were from New York and from the Theater Of The Ridiculous—and we actually started getting hired by other people just to do our Paul and Mary act. But it was a lot of fun because it was the first time in my life I got a real costume. But I couldn’t drive. I had to be towed. So that was humiliating. But it was my first real Hollywood set, and everybody was so pleasant to me. But it wasn’t your normal Hollywood set. Everybody was just doing anything for this movie. Nobody was being paid, it was like team spirit, a group thing, and I had a lot of fun. That’s why I did so many Corman films.
The House Of The Devil (2009)—“Mrs. Ulman”
MW: Now that’s not a Corman film. I understood what they wanted: They wanted somebody who was very scary. And I’ve gotten a lot of these roles. What I liked about it was that it was by a very young director, and he had a team of kids working with him. And I love working outside of the system, so I said yes to him. The part itself… The first part, where I sort of play somebody who is almost interested in consuming this woman, or perhaps biting her, that was fun. But the last part of the movie, where I talk to the Devil, somehow something went wrong. There was too much blood. And I didn’t enjoy it. But the first part I did enjoy.
AVC: You and Tom Noonan seemed to work well as an onscreen couple, anyway.
MW: I can work well with anyone.
The Living End (1992)—“Daisy”
MW: I loved that part. I was allowed to say anything I wanted, and, boy, did I mouth off. I was working with a performance artist who I knew, Johanna Went, and she was perfect. That whole speech and everything just came to me, and I just didn’t let up. I just loved it. I would work with [Gregg Araki] anytime. I would do that part again and again and again.
AVC: Did Araki reach out to you personally to ask you to do the role?
MW: I really don’t remember. All I remember is somebody said, “They want you to do this role as a lesbian, and they consider killing this kid,” and I said, “Yeah, that sounds good. I’ll do that.” But you have to really… he didn’t hold me back. Once he understood what I was doing, once I mouthed off, he said, “Yes.” That was it. I think it was done in one take.
Night Of The Comet (1984)—“Audrey”
MW: That was kind of a sad movie, because the director [Thom Eberhardt] was a very nice guy, but he had a really hard time with the cinematographer [Arthur Albert], and he was hampered by him. But he was very nice to me. Also, there is a scene in there that I do love. It’s with Robert Beltran, and it’s where I go, “Merry Christmas,” shoot up, and drop dead. And Eberhardt let me write all of my dialogue. I love a director who’ll let me do that. Because I might become myself, not some mechanism that stands for “lesbian” or “terrible woman.” I’ve done a lot where it never works, but if they let me do what I want, I understand what they want and I can do it. And in this one, it was really wonderful. And Robert’s a dream to work with. We’d worked together before in Eating Raoul. I was very happy with that scene. The rest of it was just running around and doing stuff. I didn’t really have a great role. But I love that scene.
AVC: It has a very different tone from most of the movie. A lot of the movie is pretty light, but that scene is surprisingly moving.
MW: I can perform the life of the snail and be moving. But I have to be let go, you know?
Eating Raoul (1982)—“Mary Bland”
MW: That’s my favorite movie. Every part of that movie, I was allowed to do whatever I wanted. At one point in the movie, Paul goes to bed with a bottle of wine. I said to the crew, “Guys, what am I, chopped liver? I want toys!” And we were filming in a house that was somebody else’s, but they ran around the house to look for toys and got me all those toys to sleep with. [Laughs.] The crew was working for nothing, practically. In fact, they were working for nothing. The script was okay. You know, it was bizarre. But everybody just did everything because they loved the turn that the movie was taking. It was funny, but it was really, really scary. But it was also comical and funny. And I love the combination of that. You know, he shot 21 days of film, but it took him a year to do it. He’d call me up and go, “Mary, I want to shoot this next scene,” and it’d be the first time I’d heard from him in two months. But you’d just walk onto the set, and there it was. It was like a living thing. Also, I got along wonderfully with Paul. I act very, very well with him, because he understands the Theater Of The Ridiculous. But after the film, we’d do interview after interview, and he’d tell everybody that I was really married to him. And it disturbed me, because it wasn’t true. And finally I said to him, “I’m not going interview with you anymore, because you keep on saying that.” And he goes, “Oh, Mary, there’s an interview in New York, it’s a magazine, you’ve got to do it.” I said, “No!” And then he said, “Okay, I promise I won’t say we’re married.” So we sit down at the table with this woman, and the first thing she does is smile at me and then look at him and go, “So you’re married, aren’t you?” I look at Paul, and he says, “No, we’re divorced.” I didn’t speak to him for a year.
AVC: Were you disappointed that the sequel to the film [Bland Ambition] never got off the ground?
MW: No, I wasn’t, because the sequel dropped me like a hot potato. I was his wife, but I’m totally in the background. The sequel’s all about another girl. And I didn’t even want it to get off the ground. What I was disappointed about was that, because of Eating Raoul, Paul got two other movies together, got financed for them and everything, and didn’t hire me. When I easily could’ve played both roles. One was a Girl Friday. But he just dropped me. And I said, “Why?” And he said, “You know, these movies, these are real movies, and I’m working with real actors.” I hated him for that. You know, Paul was a little misconceived. But I do love him, anyway.
Chopping Mall (1986)—“Mary Bland”
AVC: How did you come to reprise the role of Mary Bland for Chopping Mall?
MW: You know, I don’t know. I don’t even remember doing it. I remember Paul saying, “We have to do this for Roger, we have to do this for Roger,” but I don’t remember. I don’t even think I say anything, do I?
AVC: It’s been ages since I’ve seen it, but at the very least, you’re in the trailer.
MW: I don’t think I do say anything.
[Per Tasha Robinson, our resident Chopping Mall expert, Woronov does have lines, but “for what it’s worth, in the commentary track, the filmmakers say the scene was largely shot at 4 a.m. and people were falling asleep; no wonder it’s a blur to her.” —Ed.]
Cover Girl Models (1975)—“Diane”
Hollywood Boulevard (1976)—“Mary McQueen”
MW: Hollywood Boulevard is another film that I love. It was done by Allan Arkush and Joe Dante, and there’s a scene where I have two dogs—it was filmed in Canoga Park—and I’m looking at the camera and everything else, and they told me, “Okay, now pretend there are two dogs there, little chihuahuas.” So I’m going, “Coochi, coochi, coochi…” Then when I see the movie, they have these giant fucking Rin Tin Tin dogs. Everything was like that. They used other movies from Corman to fill in. They shot a movie in a week… I mean, I would shoot a gun, and then there’d be a scene of all these agents falling out of the palm trees, dead.
AVC: William Forsythe has a story about how he was forced to wear a particular hat in the film Smokey Bites The Dust because he was told that Corman had all this footage of a guy wearing that kind of hat driving—and eventually wrecking—a truck. He said the assistant director said, “That footage is probably the only reason we’re making this movie, so shut up and put on the hat.”
MW: [Laughs.] That was exactly what this was. And then I did another one called Cover Girl Models where Roger called me up and said, “Mary, I’ve done a film in the Philippines, but I need two scenes. Would you mind doing them?” So I did the two scenes, and he stuck them in the movie.
The other thing I really liked about Hollywood Boulevard, though, was that it was a spoof on Corman. It was a spoof on doing a Corman movie. That was another thing I really loved. It was so funny. And to do that, to have everybody understand that joke and just rip through it… we didn’t do any rehearsal, we didn’t do anything. All we did was shoot the movie. “Go, go, go, go! Shoot it, shoot it, shoot it, shoot it!” [Laughs.] It has its flaws, but I especially liked every time I acted with Bartel. He played the director. It was great. I just think it’s really funny and really good.
AVC: How were Allan Arkush and Joe Dante as directors, given that they were just getting their feet wet behind the camera?
MW: They were so busy, I almost didn’t see them. They were so busy doing stuff and putting it together. They were wonderful, though. And they did other movies that were really great. I mean, Rock ’N’ Roll High School! [Laughs.] But on this one, they were running around like chickens without heads. They had to do everything!
Suicidal Tendencies’ “Institutionalized” video (1983)
MW: I got a prize for that. Well, the video did.
AVC: What was the prize?
MW: I don’t know. [Laughs.] But it definitely got a prize. I loved doing that. That was great. I loved the guys. In fact, Suicidal Tendencies are a favorite band of mine. They called me up and said, “Would you do this?” I said, “Who are you?” And they went, “Suicidal Tendencies!” I said, “Yeah, sure!” I was into punk rock at that time, so I knew who they were. I felt honored. Also, the scene was great. And I did another one with them, too [“Possessed To Skate”].
Chelsea Girls (1966)—“Hanoi Hannah”
AVC: How did you first cross paths with Andy Warhol?
MW: This guy Gerard [Malanga] saw me at Cornell, because he came up there to do some poetry readings, and he just said hi, so I knew him. And then the school sent me and a lot of other students on a field trip to some other artists’ studios. We came to Warhol’s studio, and Warhol wasn’t there, but instead of the walls being white, they were black, and strange people were walking around. This was the first time I’d ever seen anything like this. Then Gerard came out and said, “Oh, Mary!” I said, “Yes?” He said, “Warhol’s going to do a screen test. Do you want to do it?” I said, “Yeah, sure.” So I watched my class move out, and then Warhol came out of the staircase where he’d been hiding. [Laughs.] And they put me on a stool, and then they turned the camera on and they all walked away. And I thought, “Oh, great. This is some kind of joke.” I got completely paranoid. And I thought, “They just want to see how long I’m going to sit in front of this camera as it’s swirling around.” And then I thought, “Well, maybe it’s not a joke, so maybe it’s better if I just sit here and wait them out.” So I did. And that was my first screen test.
AVC: The dates are a little sketchy from source to source. Do you remember the very first film you did with Warhol? Was it Superboy?
MW: No, the first film… I think it was called Milk, and it was with Mario Montez. But then the second film I did was Hedy, and that’s a big role. That’s where I play the arrested cop to Mario Montez’s Hedy Lemarr when she shoplifts, and I come on to her. I kiss her. I knew exactly what to do. Because when you have a drag queen—by this time, I was well into the Warhol crowd—you don’t try and out-feminize them. You don’t act girly. It’s not going to work. So I used to butch it. I was like a guy. I’d pull the chair out for him, I’d light the cigarettes. And I knew I was very beautiful and sexy, so I didn’t have any problem doing that. I thought it was funny. And Warhol saw that, and that’s what he wanted. Because he was into gender slippage, and he was into a thing where sexuality is not male and female. It’s very strange. I mean, when you see his movies, the boys, the young boys of the night, are sexy. The girls often come off like shrews. Especially Viva. And I didn’t want that. Also, I had this image… the one thing I was lacking as I fumbled through Cornell was power, and I realized that my life was going to be like that just because I was a girl. And the structure with Warhol was that he gave me power, which is what happened with Hanoi Hannah. But with Mario Montez, I was also very sexy by being male. It was interesting for me. And I caught on very quickly. I had a really good time with him. He never directed anybody, but I realize I could easily hold my own. And I didn’t want to be one of those screaming ugly girls who thought they were going to be a superstar. Also, the other thing is that, the entire scene was gay, and these men, they didn’t want to screw me. They told me I was really beautiful, they told me I was really talented. I liked them. I liked every one of them. Of course, they were all nuts. [Laughs.] But I didn’t care.
AVC: When you look back on your work with Warhol, is there a definitive film for you?
MW: Yes. Chelsea Girls. Warhol himself even went over the top. There’s a scene in Chelsea Girls where he wanted me in bed, and he wanted me to be whipped, and I just refused to do it. I thought he was going the wrong way. My whole thing was not about S&M. But the thing about Hanoi Hannah is that a brilliant man called Ronald Tavel, who wrote all these plays for the Theater Of The Ridiculous, which I became a big part of, he wrote the dialogue. And I walked on the scene, and there are these two jumpy chicks and… I’m an actress, I knew my words. They didn’t fucking know their words. And so I had this strange power over them, because I knew what had to happen, and I just lorded it over them. Because I was also angry. I mean, there was a scene there, I understood the scene and wanted to do it, but the dialogue was insane! GI Joe and Hanoi Hannah, talking about his home life that he’ll never see? I thought it was great. That was the time of Vietnam, so I just really liked it. But it’s completely screwed. And then I realized what was happening in the scene, and what was happening was that I was just kind of pushing them around. And it was kind of sexy and cute. So I did that.
Charlie’s Angels (1976)—“Maxine”
MW: The other thing that happened to me because of that scene in Chelsea Girls was that I got a label, which I never really asked for, and Corman never really gave to me. But it was a time when you couldn’t really write about a lesbian, and if they did want a lesbian tone in the movie… [With mock enthusiasm.] They would hire me! And they’d look at me and say, “Okay, Mary, do it!” “Do what?” “Do it! You know. Do it!”
AVC: “You know. The thing.”
MW: Yeah! [Laughs.] The best example of that was when I did… oh, what was that thing with the girls? Angels…
AVC: Angel Of H.E.A.T.?
MW: No, no, no. It was a TV series. Charlie’s Angels! I did an episode of Charlie’s Angels where I was the matron in the jail who was obviously a lesbian that they couldn’t talk about. That’s what they used me for a lot. It gets kind of boring. Because that wasn’t what Warhol was about. But that’s the big example, when you see that. You know, I make them take a shower, I tell them to take their clothes off. It’s a really ridiculous scene, actually. And yet it’s probably the most-played scene of all of their episodes.
Somerset (1974) —“Stephanie Dillard”
Logan’s Run (1977)—“Irene Borden”
MW: Logan’s Run… [Long pause.] What was that about? I mean, I know that was a sci-fi thing, and it was one of my first real TV roles, but I can’t remember anything offhand except for my costume. I only remember that because they let me look so pretty.
AVC: You’ll be thrilled to know that it’s on DVD now.
MW: Really? Huh. I remember it was weird doing it, because TV was so different from making movies. And also different from the soap opera I’d been doing. It was strange.
AVC: You mentioned the soap opera earlier. Was that Somerset?
MW: Yeah. They just didn’t know what to do with me. They used to ask me to hide behind the furniture. They did! The only reason they even wanted me was because I got an award for doing the David Rabe play at Lincoln Center [In The Boom Boom Room]. I think they finally killed me or something.
Scenes From The Class Struggle In Beverly Hills (1989)—“Lisabeth Hepburn-Saravian”
MW: [Takes a deep breath.] That was Paul Bartel’s last movie [as a director], and I think he knew it was his last movie, so he insisted on hiring me and Robert [Beltran], so it was like an old reunion. But he wasn’t up to snuff. And he was tired a lot of time. But it was nice. It was like an apology. He put me in beautiful clothes. He cut my role down a lot. [Chuckles.] It was no ad-libbing. I think that’s one of the reasons why it was failed.
AVC: You mentioned you and Robert Beltran, but the reunion extended beyond that: The film also had Susan Saiger and Ed Begley Jr., both of whom were in Eating Raoul.
MW: Yes, it was a reunion across the board. He really wanted to fix the things that he didn’t do right. He was a nice man. A great man. He never really wanted to hurt anyone.
Here Come The Munsters (1995) / The Munsters’ Scary Little Christmas (1996)—“Mrs. Dimwitty”
MW: [Laughs.] That’s so funny. “Mrs. Dimwitty.” I did two of them, but Here Comes The Munsters I actually had fun on it. It was funny. It was cute. The one we did in Australia [The Munsters’ Scary Little Christmas], I was told at a dinner party by a director that he spent months and months trying to change my performance because it was so grotesquely camp. So I don’t want to talk about that.
AVC: Fair enough.
MW: His name is Landis. I don’t want to talk about that, but I’ll tell you his name. [Laughs.] John Landis. Meanwhile, my performance was quite nice. It was over-the-top and quite funny. In a boring movie.
TerrorVision (1986)—“Raquel Putterman”
MW: That’s another movie that I like very much. That film was great, with the young punk-rockers who find the alien monster and try to make friends with him. Anyway, it was, at least for me, very funny. They gave me a naugahyde blue dress and just let me go. [Laughs.] And the guy that I was with, Gerrit Graham, this man is hysterical. And I’m sorry he doesn’t work anymore. His first big role, as that rock-star singer [in Phantom Of The Paradise], is just great.
AVC: So at that stage of your career, were you still going on auditions, or were people asking for you specifically?
MW: With most of the movies, they asked for me specifically. A lot of the movie auditions I did, I never got. But the TV stuff I would get, because they needed certain types and I just started filling a niche. Strong and domineering, or lesbian, whatever. [Laughs.] But TV then was nothing like TV now, which is just incredibly subtle and very well-written and just amazing. TV was really deadly boring back then. Now you do movies to get your TV series. Oh, actually, I made a mistake: As far as TV goes, I did audition for the Star Trek series that Robert Beltran was in. Voyager. For the part of the captain.
AVC: Wow. Now that would’ve been a series.
MW: Right? [Laughs.] I would’ve been great. But I told them I didn’t want to do it because I wanted to focus on movies. I made a mistake. Because Beltran and I are really sexy together. And [Kate Mulgrew]wasn’t.
The Devil’s Rejects (2005)—“Abbie”
MW: Oh, well, I didn’t really even have a part in that. I just got killed in the beginning. But Rob Zombie was very nice. They tried to gyp me out of overtime—as I lay in the dirt, getting stabbed in the back—but he paid me out of his own pocket.
Nomads (1986)—“Dancing Mary”
MW: I loved that. That was weird. The director [John McTiernan] is a big director now, but it was his first movie. He was a strange guy. It was bizarre. It wasn’t a good movie—it didn’t come out well—but it was just a sci-fi, kind of weird Blade Runner kind of thing. And Adam Ant was in it. He was great. It didn’t come together as a movie, but on the set, we were hot.
Rock ’N’ Roll High School (1979)—“Evelyn Hogar”
Rock ’N’ Roll High School Forever (1991)—“Doctor Vadar”
Shake, Rattle And Rock! (1994)—“E. Joyce Togar”
MW: They just let me go. [Laughs.] Totally unstructured. I told Allan [Arkush], “Thank you for this role, because what I need is just a nice TV series, and I’m gonna do it like I’m Eve Arden.” And he said, “That’s fine, Mary.” And then they dressed me up and they gave me makeup, I showed up on set with all these punk-rockers, and… I just turned into Miss Togar. I didn’t even think about it. That was it. She was a scream for me.
AVC: You said you’d been into punk at the time. Were you already familiar with the Ramones, then?
MW: I knew about them. But they were in New York, and the whole punk scene in New York was violently different from the punk scene in Los Angeles. The bands in Los Angeles were incredible, and I liked them, but they never got anywhere. Even the big band. Exene [Cervenka’s] band, X. I thought they were so L.A. I thought they were brilliant, I really did. I mean, not as eclectic as the Mau Maus or Fear or something like that, but why didn’t they go somewhere?
AVC: Well, they had a certain degree of success in the ’80s. But they’d really toned down their sound by then.
MW: Yeah. When they were raw, they were good.
AVC: Do you have a particular favorite Miss Hogar line?
MW: No, but everybody else does. There’s the “little worm” thing. [“Lick my boot, you little worm!”] I like her because, one, she’s about power. She’s really a portrait of a tyrant. She’s crazy about power, she’s absolutely sexually deranged. [Laughs.] Really, she’s quite nuts. And I think it was a good portrait of some kind of tyrant like that.
AVC: Now, as far as the sequel…
MW: Oh, the sequel was so incredible. Suddenly I had the entire Hollywood block behind me. I mean, I could snap my fingers and flames would come out of my hands. I would fall down and they would come up and say, “Now, Mary, you’re just gonna do this,” so I’d trip or something, but you look at it and it looks like I’ve had an absolutely bone-breaking fall. I mean, when Hollywood is behind you, it’s really great. They can do anything. The problem was that they didn’t have a script. And they also didn’t have the Ramones. And they overdid me! I mean, why did I look like Darth Vader?
AVC: For the same reason your character was an amputee with three prosthetic hands, presumably.
MW: [Laughs.] Hollywood: Sometimes they’re so good, and sometimes they make the crassest mistakes.
AVC: Well, at least you got to kind of got to spiritually reprise the role of Miss Togar in Allan Arkush’s Shake, Rattle And Rock!
MW: Oh, yeah. But that was short. And that wasn’t really Miss Togar. Miss Togar was brilliant.
Jackson County Jail (1976)—“Pearl”
MW: Another Corman movie… and oh my God, that movie was out of hand. Not only were we paid in drugs, but everybody was stoned. Including me. [Laughs.] I couldn’t believe it. But there was a point where… I don’t know if you know what California snow is, but it’s when black cinders fall from the sky, and most people in California know that there’s a forest fire nearby when you see that, and you should leave. Not our director. No, no, no. We continued shooting, because we were mad as hatters. I didn’t even see the movie. I don’t even know what it looks like.
AVC: That’s another one that’s on DVD.
MW: Oh, really? [Laughs.] I can’t imagine what that looks like. Tommy Lee Jones was in that, though.
AVC: What was he like to work with at that stage of his career?
MW: He was great. I mean, certain men aren’t interested in anything other than coming in, being polite, and doing their work. That’s what he was like. I don’t know if he’s like that now, because he was probably like that then because he wasn’t famous yet. It’s like on Death Race 2000, when I worked with Sylvester Stallone. He was so nice, a complete gentleman. Not bizarre at all. He told us how he was sort of writing this script and was staying at this guy’s house. He wasn’t really staying at his house. He was staying in his closet! It was a closet with sliding doors, and they’d put a little mattress and a little light in there, and that’s where he was staying. And we’d be like, “So Sly, what’s the movie about?” “Oh, it’s about a fighter.” He was writing Rocky! He was a great guy. And David Carradine was great, too, but a completely different kind of guy. So nice. I don’t know if he was nice to me and not nice to other people, but he was out of his brain. He was really flippy. The first thing he did was put his costume on and then tear it up. Stalking around like a big cat or something.
Prison-A-Go-Go! (2003)—“Dyanne She-Bitch Slutface”
AVC: Best. Character name. Ever.
MW: [Laughs.] I did that because it was, once again, a young director [Barak Epstein], and I know young directors will never tell me what to do. They tend to just let me do whatever I want to do. He was with a bunch of guys who were from Texas, I think. And they would all do each other’s movies. And I thought it was just brilliant. It was a way of working that was a lot like Corman, and I like that kind of work. So that’s why I did that.
Heartbeeps (1981)—“Party House Owner”
Dick Tracy (1990)—“Welfare Person”
AVC: Presumably the reason you were in Heartbeeps was because it was directed by Allan Arkush.
MW: That is correct. That’s the only reason I’m in that.
AVC: Did you have any interaction with Andy Kaufman?
MW: None. But I have had interaction with Warren Beatty. [Laughs.] He hired me for Dick Tracy, I had one line and I did it, and then he asked me to do it again. And he corrected me. And maybe I did it another time and he corrected me some more. And that was the end. And then I got a call from him, and he said, “Mary, I want to do your line over. “ And I said, “Oh?” And he said, “Yes, you were correct the first time, so I’d like you to repeat that.” I thought that was funny. I got it right the first time!
Kemek (1970)—“Mary Wonderly”
Sugar Cookies (1973)—“Camila Stone”
Silent Night, Bloody Night (1974)—“Diane Adams”
MW: I can’t even think of what Silent Night, Bloody Night was about now. Oh, wait, that was a New York film. That was by my ex-husband [Theodore Gershuny]. But… what happened in that?
AVC: Well, the tagline on the poster was “The Mansion. The Madness. The Maniac. No escape.”
MW: Right, my ex-husband did that one. The first movie that I did with him [Kemek], before he was my husband, was in Italy, and I’ll tell you, I never felt as much like a movie star as I did with what they do for you in Italy. It was a beautiful movie. In fact, it was a movie about beauty. Then I thought, “Okay, great, I’ll marry this guy, and we’ll do beautiful movies together.” Well, we came back to New York, and that movie went nowhere because he couldn’t get it bought—don’t ask me why, because it was great—and then came Silent Night, Bloody Night and… well, it was absurd. And it was the end of our relationship. He was just so obsessed about doing a movie. We came to a thing in the film where I was supposed to cry and… I can’t cry. Just put glycerin in my eyes. I don’t mind, it’s fine. But no, no, no, it had to be real tears. Finally he just drove me so crazy and so nuts that I walked on the set, I took my mark, and there was this C-stand with a giant red Bermuda onion hanging from it—the crew did it—and that finally stopped him. And they gave me glycerin. That movie was a nightmare for me. But there’s one part in that movie where I got Ted to use all of the Warhol crazies. Those are the people in the insane asylum. And that was fun. But I wanted to be them. I didn’t want to be… the role was wrong for me. Everything was wrong.
There’s another movie I did for him, too—Sugar Cookies—and, boy, was that wrong. Do you know that movie?
AVC: I do, although what strikes me as most interesting about that particular film is that it was co-written by Lloyd Kaufman and produced by Oliver Stone. Talk about your unlikely bedfellows.
MW: Lloyd Kaufman and Oliver Stone were friends. They grew up together. Obviously, Lloyd Kaufman went a different route than Oliver Stone. [Laughs.] They hadn’t gone those different routes yet, though, so they were on that movie together. But my husband… he finally gets a sexy movie together for me to do, and what am I? A lesbian. And a freak. I mean, I’m sleeping with this guy. What’s going on? It was just bizarre. But, you know, he was having problems, and I wasn’t very sympathetic.
Flying Blind (1993)—“Mona”
AVC: You did four episodes of Tea Leoni’s sitcom in the early ’90s, which is about as close as you’ve come to being a series regular since you were on Somerset.
MW: Well, you know, they hire you for a series, you do what you do, and then you leave.
AVC: You said you made a mistake in not pursuing Star Trek: Voyager. Have you considered trying to find a full-time TV series since then?
MW: No. I’ve never considered that. I’m so stupid. It’s usually at a point where I need money [that I do TV], so I do it.
AVC: Is it something you’d consider now, though? Or are you happy not acting as much these days?
MW: It’s not that I’m happy not acting as much. It’s that I don’t have to act. I mean, if a role comes my way that I’m really interested in, I’ll try it. But I’ve done enough movies, I think. I’ve done a bizarre range of movies. Maybe I haven’t done 2,000 movies, and maybe I haven’t become a star, but at least my movies are different. Plus, to do movies, you have to be young and beautiful. Not that I’m not beautiful, but I certainly wouldn’t say I’m young. Now I’m beautiful and cranky. [Laughs.]
These days I mostly paint. And write. I’ve written five books, and I’m about to have a painting show at Campbell Hall Gallery. That’s in October. The only thing I’m really doing in front of the camera is… there are these two filmmakers [Francesca Di Amico and Claudia Unger] who’ve formed Minx Films, and they’re doing a documentary about my life [Confessions Of A Cult Queen] because they want to cover from New York, with Warhol and the Theater Of The Ridiculous, and show that I brought that to Corman and the stuff I did there. I think they’re doing a good job, but they’re still working on it. These things take a long time. The first time they met with me, they thought they would just have an interview with me, but no, no, no, they got a stage performance in my bedroom that was all over the map. [Laughs.] Which is the way I work. So they decided, “This is good, and this is how the movie will be. It’s just performances.” At one point, I reenact one of [Ronald] Tavel’s plays with another guy who used to understand his work. It’s a different kind of movie. It’s really, really different. It’s not your normal “this is Mary” thing. It’s more “this is the inside of Mary’s head. Hello!” [Laughs.]
Angel Of H.E.A.T. (1983)—“Samantha Vitesse”
AVC: Just to circle back to something I tried to bring up earlier, did you have anything to say about Angel Of H.E.A.T.? It was a late-night staple of cable during the ’80s.
MW: Look, I was really hungry, I fucking did it for money, and that’s the end of it… Jackass. [Laughs.]