MAKING 'CARRIE' "SPOILED ME; I THOUGHT EVERY MOVIE WAS GOING TO BE THAT FUN"
EMPIRE's Nick de Semlyen spoke with Nancy Allen by phone recently, as the remake of RoboCop made its way into theaters. Here are some excerpts regarding the films she made with Brian De Palma:
Nick: Your Carrie co-star Piper Laurie released her autobiography, Learning To Live Out Loud, in 2011. Are you going to write a memoir yourself?
Nancy: I don't know that my story is that interesting. I'm a pretty average gal, although I've been very fortunate and had an incredible career. Piper was in the studio system and has had a really interesting life. And she's one of the best actresses in a generation. So I'm thinking, "What's my story? What would keep people reading?" (Laughs) I grew up, made commercials, studied acting, moved to Hollywood, made movies, married a director, got divorced... Piper's 20 years older than I am, so maybe I'll get another perspective. We live our lives forwards, but understand it backwards, you know?
FROM JACK NICHOLSON TO 'CARRIE'
Nick: Your first movie job was The Last Detail in 1975. What was it like?
Nancy: I was with Jack Nicholson in a practical location, playing his girlfriend. And I was completely intimidated. Frozen in fear. I was originally offered the role of the hooker, which Carol Kane ultimately played so brilliantly. I called [casting director] Lynn Stalmaster and said, "You know, I don't think I can act and be naked at the same time!" I don't have any regrets about that, I must say. I think things unfold as they're meant to. But go figure, I was naked a few years later in Carrie!
Nick: How did you get that job?
Nancy: I came out to Hollywood in September of '75. In November I thought, "Well, this isn't working out" and planned to go home. But a casting director I knew from New York brought me in for the last day of casting on Carrie and said, "You won't get the part, but at least you'll meet a good director." So I went in as the last person on the last day, and got the part.
Nick: Was Carrie more fun to make?
Nancy: Absolutely. It was a magical moment in time. I couldn't believe it: a real movie and I had a real part. And Brian [De Palma] was about to break out, so that was his big moment. I don't remember being afraid on that set. The funny thing is that when I auditioned for it, it felt like do-or-die so I threw caution to the wind. John [Travolta] and I had a fabulous time working together and Brian is a great director, so I really had a great time on the movie. It spoiled me, because I thought that every movie was going to be that fun and that fabulous and that creative and that successful. I was very, very naive, because that's certainly not the case. You don't always have the right chemistry. You may make a great picture but it doesn't get the success it deserves. But Carrie was a special thing. I mean, look at the cast - everybody broke out from that movie. It was, I guess, a good thing that Brian spent so long casting the movie, because he got the right mix.
"LISTENING TO THEM DISCUSS MOVIES, IT WAS LIKE BEING IN FILM SCHOOL"
Nick: You then went on to work with Robert Zemeckis, Steven Spielberg and Brian De Palma another three times...
Nancy: I had a remarkable journey, working with incredible people. At the time, in the '70s, everyone was so young. Steven was like a boy, living in a little cabin in Laurel Canyon. He'd made Jaws, and he was just about to start Close Encounters, but he was a kid. Everyone was so young and excited. I mean, to be in that group of people on a regular basis socially, listening to them discuss movies, it was like being in film school. So I feel I was lucky. I do believe in destiny, so I think it was the path I was destined to take. I reflect back to being a teenager and I had three experiences where people tried to put me in movies and I didn't go forward with it. So I guess sooner or later it was going to happen!
Nick: 1941 was famously an out-of-control shoot. What was your experience of it?
Nancy: Oh, those were the crazy times. We had a great time for six months. It was one big party. We all loved the Zemeckis and Gale script, but once we started shooting people were walking around scratching their heads, going, "It's funny, right?" We weren't really quite sure what was going on! Tim [Matheson] and I were really lucky: our storyline was so simple and did not change or veer off course. We fared pretty well in the long run. We had a great time.
Nick: What are your bad memories?
Nancy: The underwater car stunt in Blow Out was tough. If you're claustrophobic it's a tough stunt, and I'm absolutely claustrophobic. The other time that really was a problem for me was during I Want To Hold Your Hand. I had to go under the bed in The Beatles' suite and sometimes the crew forgot I was there when they were fixing the lighting. I was not happy under there at all! Give me a gun any day, just don't put me under a bed...
Nick: Blow Out's one of my favourite films of yours...
Nancy: I loved working on Blow Out. That was just an incredible experience. It's really hard to say which is my favourite, but there are a handful I love. Carrie is special because it was my first film that I had a significant role in. RoboCop because it was so unique and original and I got to do something that there was no reason to give to me given the roles I'd done previously. And Blow Out, that was a great challenge, because I didn't particularly like the character when we started out. I wasn't supposed to do it originally, so to fall in love with that character, and to work with John [Travolta] and Dennis Franz... my God, talk about a dream come true.