In a career that has stretched over four decades, Dee Wallace has starred in some of horror’s most beloved films including Cujo, Critters, The Hills Have Eyes and The Howling, to say nothing of her performance as the mother from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
Whether the topic is acting, writing or emotional well-being, Dee Wallace is all about passion. Beyond the scope of her formidable filmography, Wallace hosts the Conscious Creation Radio Show every Sunday to promote “fun, truth and instantaneous shift into empowerment” that encourages people to be the creators of their own happiness, and is also involved with projects which focus on the implementation of self-esteem for children during critical years of brain development.
Earlier this week, Wallace spoke with iHorror over the telephone to discuss why Death House was one of the best scripts she’d ever read, her impressions of Rob Zombie as a filmmaker, why horror performers don’t get their just due and a fascinating little creation called BuppaLaPaloo that anyone with children in their life should be aware of.
iHorror proudly presents its conversation with Dee Wallace.
I spoke with writer / director Harrison Smith shortly after Thanksgiving and he mentioned that you had told him that Death House was “one of the best scripts (you’d) ever read.” After telling Forbes that you don’t think that we have true horror films anymore, that they lack character and development, I’m sure it went beyond the fact that Death House possessed those attributes. Can you elaborate on what made its script so strong?
It’s a very different horror film. Now, I have to go on record and say that I have not seen the final cut here. I think they have just locked it in so I don’t know (chuckles) what got from the script to the screen. But in the script I found it extremely interesting that Harrison tackled a lot of social issues in the scope of a very frightening film and really went into making you think about good and evil, and perhaps we had been looking at good and evil from the wrong perspective or limited perspective most of our lives. So it really appealed to both sides of who Dee Wallace is. I love to do horror films and I’m also a healer that talks about and teaches self-responsibility and the balance of things and how to create your own life, so it kind of brought everything that Dee was interested in together.
You play Dr. Eileen Fletcher in Death House as an homage to Louise Fletcher, who masterfully played Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Now, we all know that name will most certainly be indicative of your role, but can you shed a bit more light on Dr. Fletcher?
She’s literally a female Hitler (laughs). She feels like she’s doing the right thing by doing the ultimate wrong thing (chuckles), kind of prevalent in our faces right now in this world. It was one of the most challenging acting jobs I’ve ever had because I always do parts where I play characters with their heart open. Even if they’re running from monsters, they are connected into their fear and their loss of love, they’re connected. This character had to be totally disconnected from everything and it was difficult for me and I thought it was going to be so much fun but I didn’t find her very fun. I found her to be challenging, but who she was was not nice, and when she got into me, that didn’t feel so good (laughs). It was an interesting experience for me.
Following Meryl Streep’s speech at the Golden Globes a few weeks back, Donald Trump (along with many of his supporters) took to Twitter to say that Hollywood celebrities should stay out of politics. What are your thoughts when you hear statements like Hollywood is out of touch with every day Americans and that your opinions and perceptions should not be shared?
My thoughts are Hollywood celebrities are American citizens and our country runs on freedom of speech. And when you can and have the right to get up and say whatever you want, which (Trump) does on his flippin’ tweets every day, then everybody in America has the right to speak their truth.
Your Death House co-star, Barbara Crampton recently penned a piece for Birth Movies Death where she outlined that the term scream queen was “an antiquated, titillating title that does little to make lucid the many nuances that an actor goes through in modern horror films.” As someone whose name has been attached to that moniker from time-to-time, how do you feel about that description?
I love being a scream queen (laughs). I love it, I’m proud of it. I’m aware that it gives you a definition, but I am not aware that it puts you in any kind of cubbyhole that I didn’t choose nor do I want to be in. I do everything and scream queen is one of them. I didn’t go looking for horror films, but I love to scream and I love to cry and I love all the emotional work. I love it. I love to play art, and if I had a career of playing light little comedies I think I would slit my throat of boredom. For me, they just suit me, they fit me, they fit who I am, they fit what I like to do. So I guess I have kind of a different take, but Barbara and I had a great time together on the set by the way, these two blonde icons here coming together and I just really, really liked working with Barbara. She’s got a great sense of humor and a great balance about her.
Beyond Crampton’s thoughts and stance on “scream queens,” I wanted to pick your brain on the idea of performers who have done a fair amount of horror being pigeonholed to an extent. The genre we all know and love doesn’t always get taken seriously in the industry, and certainly not by the Academy, but an actor like Bill Moseley in The Devil’s Rejects and your performance in Cujo are award-worthy portrayals, yet they don’t get taken seriously or receive the recognition that they deserve.
Absolutely. I totally agree with that. I think that’s from the old Universal days where, only B-players. Sorry, Vincent (Price). Horror films, they knocked ’em out, and then the real films were Gone with the Wind, and back then I think there was probably a good point about that. But I think today, you have some quite phenomenal performances and you’re seeing more and more the horror performances recognized in TV. Horror, supernatural, suspense in the performances of the actors, but bottom line, I look for a part that’s going to stretch me and allow me to play full out as honestly as I can. I just went in to audition for a pilot that I think is some of the best stuff I’ve ever read in my forty-year career. Incredible part, I would so love to do this part but I don’t think they’re going to let me out of my series for Amazon to go do it.
I think in film and TV, you’ve always got your big, blockbuster, bubblegum movies. It used to be sci-fi, and right now it’s the masked characters, Superman, Batman and whatever other kind of man they can find in the Marvel comics. You’ve always had those movies, and then you’ve always had the critics’ movies, right? Where the critics love it and you walk out and go ‘Yeah, it was nice but I wouldn’t say you’ve got to see this film (laughs).’ And then you have the films like E.T. that come together that the critics love and the audiences love and it’s a life-changing movie, and then you’ve got the crap where you just go on Saturday night to have a good ride. We’ve always had those, that’s defined our industry forever.
Having just alluded to The Devil’s Rejects, Rob Zombie, a director whom you’ve worked with on the Halloween re-imagining and The Lords of Salem, gets a lot of flack from fans of horror, not only with his Halloween films but on Lords and most recently with 31. Having worked with directors like Steven Spielberg, Wes Craven and Joe Dante — how do you feel about Zombie’s vision as a filmmaker?
I believe every filmmaker gets the right to have his own vision, that’s why you became a filmmaker, that’s why Rob plays the kind of music that he does, that’s an expression of who he is. So, back to the discussion of Mr. Trump and Meryl Streep, we all have the right to be who we are and speak our voice either creatively or publicly or in our writing or in our life — however we choose. Rob has some pretty weird perspectives of the world. I love working with Rob as an actor because I feel very respected and he just urges us, gives us permission to bring our creativity in and bring our ideas in and collaborate.
And man, directors in TV and especially in smaller films now, they really need to learn that art again. All the big directors that I’ve worked with — Spielberg, Blake Edwards and Peter Jackson and Dante and Lewis Teague — all of them, they hired the right person for the part and then they let you come in, they gave you the direction and then they let you bring in your magic, too. And then they expanded on that magic. Now, especially in TV, for some reason the writer / producers feel like that’s not the way it should be. This is how we wrote it, this is how we want it and we don’t want your input. I’m not saying everywhere, but I’m saying a lot of places, and I think that’s BS. I think you lose the magic when the editor doesn’t have the creative play to edit something in a new way, the actor can’t find a moment that even the writer didn’t know was there and the director doesn’t see that and expand on it.
Every single big film I’ve done that’s happened. Something’s happened to me as a character and the director saw it and expanded on it and then we expanded on something else, which made in some ways a small but very distinct new statement in that film. That’s where the magic of making film work is. Once you’ve set a play, it’s kind of set, but in film you have the right, because you have the leisure to do it over again and save it if your idea or your instinct didn’t work, it’s the only medium and I think we’re at risk of having a little Nazi filmmaking here sometimes.
From a serious topic to one that’s a bit more playful…
Okay wait, I have to get playful then. (High pitched voice) Okay! (chuckles)
Be it at a convention, a chance encounter on the street or even fan mail, what is the strangest request you’ve ever received from a horror fan?
Could I send them a pair of my underwear that I’ve already worn. (Pause) I know. It’s like really? And what’s going on in your life? (Laughs)
You had that one locked and loaded so that one either made a great impression or it’s happened more than once.
It’s happened twice actually and it’s like, geez really? Is this a stalker? So I save the letters just in case I hear from them again but I never do.
On that note, let’s move into your writing a little bit. On top of your upcoming role in Death House and other productions, you have also been busy with your writing. Tell us a bit about On Dandelion Seed, a children’s book you authored along with Keith Malinsky about the true meaning of happiness.
I do a lot of healing work on the channel, and I’m very clear audience, so Keith actually started working with me as one of my clients and he’s also very involved with working with children and I at the same time had just created BuppaLaPaloo which is to teach children to love themselves. So Keith wrote me and he’s just such a good guy, he just is looking for anywhere he can help children in this world. So he said he was going to write out the scope of this book, will you direct me, I want to make sure that I get the principles of creation correct, so we started working on this together.
So it was primarily Keith’s idea and then we went back-and-forth and back-and-forth and I gave him my ideas and he wanted to create the grandma in caricature form around me. And she does look very much like me (chuckles), it’s very cute, but basically the message of the book is look where you are and look what you have and look how you can be happy there. We have all these fabulous and wonderful little animals that frolic through and try to be more and want more and try to be somebody else, and they find out that when they get there that they really kind of liked where they were, they kind of liked who they were.
I think from helping so many adults try to retrieve their happiness and their purpose, loving yourself and accepting yourself as early as you can makes all the difference in your life. So that’s why I came aboard to write this with Keith and I thought it matched what I was doing with BuppaLaPaloo. And now I have the first book for BuppaLaPaloo and a song, so it’s a whole different focus in my life, but I just kind of go with if I love it then I’m going to do it and if I get a divine inspiration I’m going to go with it. If it hits, great, if it doesn’t, I’ll have another one (laughs). I mean, inspiration, there’s not a market on it, that’s for sure.
Can you talk about BuppaLaPaloo a little bit more. That was something that was very intriguing to me with pre-recorded and customizable messages for children, it seems like it’s Teddy Ruxpin on self-esteem steroids.
I think that’s a good way to put it. I got into a lot of brain study and I’m an educated mother, but I had no idea that a child’s brain around how they feel about themselves and their value in the world and how they think they’re seen from the world is pretty much locked in place by four or five years old. That’s why in California you see so many ads from First 5 California — talk to your child, sing to your child, read to your child — the first five years are so important to the child’s brain. Well, before First 5 ever came out with that, I was working on BuppaLaPaloo, it’s a darling little bear and it’s a perfect gift by the way for Valentine’s Day coming up or anytime, but it has empowering messages that your child can play and say back to the bear.
One of them is ‘I love my body.’ I just got an email from a mother who said ‘Dee, my little boy just walked up to me, he’s two years old, and said Mommy, I love my body.’ And I thought, thank you Buppa, ya know? Because he plays with BuppaLaPaloo all the time. I love my body, I’m going to be great, I am so loved. At the very early ages, before they speak, they’re listening to these words and then they grow into repeating them back to the bear, which literally develops synapses in their brain for self-love and self-esteem.
The other little paw the parent can put in their own recording or the child. I had one little boy, his dad wrote me, he has autism and he was challenged with making friends, so he recorded that ‘I make a lot of friends at school.’ His dad said he plays that over and over every night and now he’s started to become open to a play date and talking a little bit more to his friends, so I have total belief in this little bear. It’s a very simple concept, but isn’t it the concept that when we get to be adults and we see our lives not working we do affirmations. right? We do vision boards, we do all that stuff to retrain our brain instead of if we had had this at three, four and five when we had challenges in our life, we would have a core to go back to that was our own take.