A very good friend of this website, Matthew Hansen, very kindly put me in touch with Valli Kemp, former model, former actress and current artist. As most of you will remember, Valli played the role of the ethereal, mysterious Vulnavia in Vincent Price's 1972 film Dr. Phibes Rises Again. Her beauty, fluid grace and malevolent innocence makes her an unforgettable character in one of Price's best-known films. The actress very graciously agreed to be interviewed so that we could catch up with her and her exciting artistic endeavors. Also, be sure to take a look at her fantastic new Phibes-inspired art, and learn how you might own a one-of-a-kind Valli Kemp masterpiece!
VPE: Can you tell us a little about your upbringing? For example, were you a 'country girl' or a 'city girl'?
VK: I was a tomboy born in Kenya running wild with my African mates in the so-called jungles of a place called Molo, ''land of the trees,Ē which we climbed like monkeys. I also lived in Nairobi, till the Mau Mau uprising where my father lost everything. Then my family went to London when I was 7. We were happy there. We later moved to Australia, when I was 12.
VPE: What performers did you admire while you were growing up? Did any of them influence your career decisions?
VK: Danny Kaye, a genius and great dancer, Walt Disney and his masterpieces especially Fantasia, with its wonderful music and images. They both influenced me.
VPE: Did you consider an acting career before your beauty contest days?
VK: I was acting and modeling since the age of 14 in Australia, in highly successful TV series like You Can't See Around Corners and Riptide with Ty Hardin, and promotional videos, including one with the Beach Boys for one of their records. I also used to be the Big W girl in Sydney (chain of department stores) with the Bee Gee's, before they went to America, and dozens of commercials. I was discovered by Sir Robert Helpmann, the famous ballet dancer and actor, director who was my mentor before Vincent Price . Funny thing was that they were a little similar Ė both wonderful and talented men.
VPE: When you were involved in the Miss Australia contest, before you were a semi-finalist for 'Miss World,' you and the other contestants were featured in a rather tasteful pictorial by Playboy magazine. How did you feel about all this international attention?
VK: The attention was overwhelming for me at that time. I am writing a book soon about it all. It was not that pleasant.
VPE: According to the Internet Movie Database, your first acting role was in the 1969 television series Riptide. If this is true, what was it like to find yourself in front of the cameras for the first time?
VK: My first movie was with Ryan OíNeal, The Games, directed by Michael Winner in Sydney. Plus numerous TV roles, etc. As you can see, I never stood still from a very young age.
VPE: How did you land the role of Vulnavia in Dr. Phibes Rises Again?
VK: The most important question of all. I heard about it through the grapevine. I had joined an unknown agent called Beryl Seaton and I informed her I was going to the casting. I had 10 pounds left in my pocket as London and the rents were so expensive. I had no idea how I was going to get home from Elstree Studio with no money, but I went with the feeling the part was perfect for me. I sat there for two hours while hundreds of girls went in. I was the last one. The director, Bob Fuest, said nothing to me, he just stared. Then Bob said 'dance to this ethereal music,' which I did. They still said nothing, and told me to go to the rest area, downstairs, and wait for a minute. I was very scared, as I had no idea what was going on. Then a waiter came over and gave me the phone. It was my agent saying I had a 10-year contract with Phibes! The producer and director were watching me from around the corner smiling. I had a great lunch with them and I went home in a limo. Then straight to dress designers for the film.
VPE: Had you seen the first Phibes film prior to making the sequel? If so, how did Virginia North's performance as Vulnavia in the first film influence your own concept of the role?
VK: This may surprise you but I have never seen the first film.
VPE: What was it like working with director Robert Fuest? What was his 'vision' of Vulnavia?
VK: Robert Fuest was and is an artistic genius. Way before his time and a very very nice man.
VPE: There was talk of a third Phibes film, which was never made. In at least one of the proposed story ideas, Vulnavia was ultimately revealed to be a Greek Goddess. Were you ever aware of any attempts to do a sequel? Would you have been up to doing another turn as Vulnavia?
VK: As I said, we thought we were making 10 more movies, but unfortunately no other Phibes films were made. Would have been lovely.
VPE: You shared much screen time with star Vincent Price. Obviously, as this interview is to appear on The Vincent Price Exhibit website, we are eager to hear your recollections about the man. How was he to work with?
VK: He was my mentor and friend from day one. He was like a father to me and he would send me food by cab to make sure I was eating... very thoughtful. He was always making me laugh, but he had a serious side too. He cared about people. One day, he heard I was a painter and asked to see my paintings. He was also an art critic. He loved them and arranged for an exhibition for me where we sold 30 paintings in two hours. All because he cared. He was not at all ego, was so kind and I miss him dearly. Especially when I painted him. I felt his presence.
VPE: There have been rumors (disputed by some) that Price and costar Robert Quarry really didn't get along, due to plans by American-International Pictures to replace Price with Quarry as its resident 'star.' As you were there, with both men, what is your take on these stories?
VK: There might have been an argument once about his limousine not being as good as Vincentís, etc, but Robert was a pleasant man. We didnít interact very much during filming.
VPE: That said, what was it like working with Robert Quarry?
VK: He had a bit of an ego and was very quiet.
VPE: Peter Cushing had a brief cameo appearance in the film. Did you have the opportunity to meet him?
VK: Yes, I met him and was wonderful. Nice and professional.
VPE: Did Price reveal much of his personal life to you? Or was he a private man?
VK: He was very open.
VPE: Were you aware of Price's reputation as an art expert prior to meeting him?
VK: No, I had no idea he was an art critic.
VPE: The only other film listed for you in Internet Movie Database is The Great Muppet Caper, but you have mentioned additional films. What are they?
VK: The Games, Rollerball, The Great Muppet Caper, and numerous TV roles. I lost a big part in Mel Brooks' History of the World Part 1, as I was in LA working. I also lost a James Bond part due to a management dispute.
VPE: Do you consider yourself 'retired' from acting, or do you ever consider returning to the screen?
VK: Iím retired now, but you never know.
VPE: Your paintings came as quite a revelation! What medium do you mainly use?
VK: Paper-mache, my invention with a scientist, also acrylic paint, and some are 3-D with mirrors.
VPE: You describe on your website how your technique 'came' to you. Can you describe how this happened?
VK: Things have always come to me in a semi-conscious dream since I was a child and this is one of them, like I am in a school of learning, and getting rewarded for beingÖ I suppose, good to others. The 3-D technique cannot be copied either as only I know how to do it, and my art changes according to my mood and environment. I suppose I am a little like Vulnavia. Thatís why I got the part.
VPE: What are your favorite subjects?
VK: UFOs and music.
VPE: From what do you draw your inspiration?
VK: People I am in touch with.
VPE: Please describe your recent works celebrating Dr. Phibes Rises Again.
VK: It will be 5-6 paintings and it is to celebrate all the fans who love the movie, and let them enjoy a bit of history with me, as I get fan mail from all over the world. They can have a piece, as well.
VPE: You seem to be living a happy life, filled with varied experiences. Can you tell us a bit about what it's like to be Valli Kemp?
VK: Valli Kemp is very shy and retiring. It has been lonely at times. I teach art to children and it has given me wonderful karma. My life is just beginning, and a wonderful new era is coming up soon with my art. I am growing up, ha.
VPE: Do fans of your acting find you via your fine art career? Conversely, are your patrons and art students surprised to learn of your acting career?
VK: Fans mostly find me through my art webpage, on the internet. And my students all know of my acting career and me being a Miss Australia, as it is a small resort town and they are all used to me, ha-ha.
VPE: What are your hopes and dreams?
VK: To keep going, and meet some wonderful new people as the internet has opened up my world. Just as I have met you now in this interview. We will see what my dreams bring to me next.
All content copyright Valli Kemp and Richard D. Squires. A big 'thank-you,' also to Ms. Kemp's agent, Art Bourasseau, for so kindly making this possible!
Created October 31, 2009, Richard D Squires.