(Editors Note: Interviewer and EXPLOITATION ALLEY writer extraordinaire Natty Cox sat down with genre icon P.J. Soles recently to commemorate the 35th Anniversary of John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN! So go grab a beer, and read our exclusive interview with the extremely lively & gracious Ms. Soles! Totally!)
Whether she is “totally” charming us as Lynda, or making us want to get up and dance to the sounds of the Ramones as Riff, we can all agree that we love us some P.J Soles. I was lucky enough to chat with the very talented, and hilarious P.J. about HALLOWEEN, ROCK ‘N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL, horror conventions, and of course, the very famous (and catchy) word: “Totally“!
We are coming up on the 35th anniversary of the release of HALLOWEEN, most horror fans would agree with me when I say it is one of the best films in the horror genre, while filming, did you have any idea how big this was going to be?
You know, a lot of people ask that, and the answer is always the same: absolutely not. It was a small group of people; it was a very simple, scaled down script. It was a very a quick working atmosphere. One or two takes at the most because we only had 21 days, and we were on a tight schedule. You know, if you were to judge something by how great the atmosphere was, I would have to look back and say “Gosh, we should have known.” But, you can’t always go by that. Just because you’re having a good time and everything is going along swimmingly, doesn’t mean it is going to turn out well. Even with watching the dailies and with the excitement of John Carpenter, until it was pieced together along with the music, and until we saw that final version at the cast and crew screening, even then it wasn’t like “Oh my god, the world is going to love this!” We just thought, Wow we made a really cool movie, you know a few, select group of people are going to like this, and they still are a select group but it has grown and grown.And it’s just amazing.
What was your favorite part about filming HALLOWEEN? Did you have more fun being in front of the camera, or was there more fun going on behind the scenes? I mean, it looked like it was a lot of fun to film.
Yeah, it was one of those sets where everyone was really relaxed. The best thing about it was I had done some television shows before and with T.V directors, and people that work in T.V are very quick to say “Stick to the script, and do this.” And “Ok, sit over here, ok don’t look this way.” It’s just very dictated by what you have to do, and sort of tight you know? Working with John Carpenter and Debra Hill, they were just so open and relaxed, and happy if you wanted to contribute anything or do any kind of ad lib. Because a lot of my lines, especially in the bedroom scene with the “see anything you like,” and filing my nails. It was all thought up on the spot; they made a very welcoming and relaxed atmosphere and asked for your contribution. Like, “How can you make the scene better?” So it gave me a lot of ability to be able to improvise, which I really appreciated. And every time you did something that they liked, they just loved it they would laugh, and say “Oh that was great, ok moving on.” So you felt like one of the team players.
That’s awesome! Ok, so I just have to know…was “Totally” part of the script? Or was that also part of the ad lib?
(Laughs) you know what, it was in the script. It wasn’t as much as I said it, but, after having read the script, adjusting it, and thinking about my character on the first day of shooting I asked John “Is it ok if I try to say totally as many times as possible? Maybe every time I speak?” And he said “Go ahead and try it.” I said “Well, you be sure to tell me if it’s too much.” But I just wanted to capitalize on that word, because it came to be so much a part of Lynda’s character. So yes, it was in the script but I probably doubled it. (laughs)
Halloween is definitely considered a classic, and after all these years it still has the ability to scare people, I mean, it still freaks me out, and gives me nightmares.
It still scares me! (laughs)
It does? (laughs) So how do you think HALLOWEEN has stood the test of time, and become an all time favorite for fans of the genre? And why do you think it still has the ability to scare people?
I think it’s just the thought of the boogeyman, and the frightening look of Michael Myers with that William Shatner mask. I don’t know if everybody knows that, but it is. The jumpsuit and you don’t know who he is, or what he’s going to do, even though you have seen the movie a million times. It’s the music, and you can’t really count the minutes till he’s going to strike again and your just not quite sure when it is going to happen. It’s just a very well done movie that just never ceases to scare people. And it’s amazing because I always say, there’s no blood and gore in it. Suspense is scarier than blood and gore, that’s all I can say. The buildup to the next moment when he is going to strike, or appear…and you see these young girls that are freaked out by him, so it’s just really cool.
Yeah, it’s true. And I think the thing that scares me the most about Michael Myers is no matter where you are, or where you go, he is always there. He is walking, and you’re running and he is just there. It always freaks me out.
I know. Like even that scene where Jamie is in the classroom, and she looks out the window and she sees him standing outside the station wagon. It’s just really creepy. I mean, you can just imagine sitting in class, being in high school, and you look out the window and you’re like “Who is that guy?” It’s weird. (laughs)
So either now, or back then, is there any similarities between you and Lynda?
Really not. It’s funny because I went to high school in Brussels, The International school of Brussels it was in an old chateau on top of a hill. Very different from an American high school would have been back then. I knew a lot of Army brats and Embassy brats. But no, definitely not. I was a straight A student, I had all my books. I didn’t forget my books. (laughs) I certainly didn’t smoke cigarettes, I was very responsible, and I was in charge of taking care of my seven year old brother. I made sure to get him on the bus, and when we got home I would help him with his homework and blah blah blah. But yeah, I guess the only similarities were we looked the same. (laughs)
What was the hardest part about playing Lynda? Knowing now that there aren’t any similarities between you two, did you find anything challenging about getting into a character that wasn’t similar to you?
Not really challenging, I was in charge of what my hair was going to look like, and I had the two barrettes on each side because I was a cheerleader. And I just wanted to make sure that I had the high wedge shoes of that time period, and definitely smoking a cigarette was part of it because she was the rebel. You know, just sort of a fun loving girl. But the challenge was how to make her unique, and make her not like me was the challenge. It was easy because those kind of girls are fun to portray. Poor Jamie Lee had to play the straight girl. So, she had a harder role, I think.
(laughs) Oh yeah…
Boring Laurie! (laughs)
You have played some really awesome characters. You played Lynda in HALLOWEEN, Norma in CARRIE, and of course Riff Randell in ROCK AND ROLL HIGH SCHOOL. I just have to know, out of those three, which one was your favorite?
Well, I love Norma with the red baseball hat, and how nasty she was. She wasn’t even in the script, there was just one line in the beginning when we are playing volleyball in the opening scene and Brian kept me on, because of that scene, I whacked her in the head with my hat my hat and those pins caught in her hair and I just ripped it out. He just laughed, and laughed. He called my agent and said “She is on for the rest of the shoot; I’m going to fill her in wherever Nancy Allen is.” So that worked out great. Lynda was fun for obvious reasons. But then Riff Randell has my heart because I said “This is going to be my last teenage role.” I just wanted to put everything into it. I had written songs back in the 70s too, so I just felt like I could do a special, unique job with it. So I went out and spent all my money on my wardrobe, and I just wanted to make a larger than life character. My driving principal was to talk, and have the energy on screen as fast as Johnny Ramone could play his guitar. (laughs)
And you did! I love that movie! You were so great in it.
Thank you. I just adore that movie. It’s just a bright, bright movie, and it cheers me up whenever I watch it. (laugh)
I know! When I watch that movie, I’m like “Whoa…this is Norma?” (laughs)
Ok so I have one more for you, it’s about conventions. I understand you participate in a good amount of horror conventions, which is amazing. What do you love most about being a part of conventions?
It’s really great to just meet firsthand, the fans. Most of them are a little nervous to speak to me, and to any of the people that come there. And you know, once you get talking about their first experiences either watching CARRIE or HALLOWEEN, I just love hearing all the different stories. These people just truly, truly love the genre. It’s just always amazing to me and they can’t get enough answers to all the questions they have, they just really want to know every little detail that you can divulge about it. It’s just really fun for me to meet everybody. I’m just always amazed at the turnout it’s like “Wow, all these people love these movies?” (laughs) And we are talking all ages, from five year olds to eighty year olds; you know some people have even named their daughters Riff. (laughs)
That’s a good idea! If I have a daughter, that will happen.
Thank you so much for talking with me!
You’re welcome. You are so welcome. Good questions!
Thanks! It was such a pleasure, and I’m sure I will be seeing you at a convention some day.
Alright, Hopefully! I’ll remember your name.