LISA PELIKAN

THE RETROCRUSH INTERVIEW

The talented Lisa Pelikan has appeared in a variety of different stage, film, and TV roles. Her first feature film, Julia, was nominated for 11 Oscars. Sheís also co-starred with Jean-Claude Van Damme in Lionheart, battled Ghoulies, and made snakes kill people in the cult classic Jennifer. We caught up with Lisa and she had a lot of great stories to tell.

While growing up you lived in Italy and Japan.

As a child I always knew that Rome was my home. In all the places I traveled with my family as I grew up, I still kept waiting to go back "home." I dearly miss Italy. I have extremely fond memories of living there.

Do you speak Italian?

I did, but I left when I was 7. I know the Italian of a 7 year old. I know nursery rhymes in Italian. Then we went to Japan and I went to a bilingual school there. I had to speak, write, and read Japanese and English. Then I came to the United States for my high school years.

It must be fascinating to speak and write Japanese.

I can no longer. I came to the United States and there wasnít anyone to converse with. I started taking French in High School. Iím probably the most fluent in French because thatís the language I learned most recently. I have a very good ear for languages and for dialects, which is one of the reasons Iíve been able to do so many different dialects in acting. I learned how to be a Chameleon very early.

What inspired you to become an actress? You were an athlete?

I was a dancer. What made you think I was an athlete? I was a rock climber. I was wondering where you got "athlete" from? I was on the swim team. Iíve never thought of myself as an "athlete." Mainly, the things I love to do are rock climbing and dancing which are very independent physical activities as opposed to competitions. Iíve always had a good, strong body.

You had an injury.

I had a bone tumor in the marrow of my left Tibia. For people who donít know what the Tibia is, itís the shinbone. It was major surgery. It basically put me in bed for my entire senior year of high school. It was tough and it put an end to my professional dancing career.

Is that what caused you to pursue a career in acting?

I had never been interested in acting before. Basically, I was going to audition for the Juilliard School of Dance. Once I had the surgery and was laid up I could not do that. Someone dared me to audition for Juilliardís acting program. I had never acted before. I had never been in a high school play before. After my audition I was accepted to The Juilliard School of Drama with a full artistic scholarship.

Thatís something to be proud of.

It was a complete shock to my parents and everyone. It was not something I had been planning or gearing for, or something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. When I auditioned I thought for sure there was no way I was ever going to get in. I was just following through on this dare. Itís a four-year school. When you graduate you get a BFA. I left before I graduated because I started working so much.

One of your first big roles was in the movie Julia.

That was my feature film debut. Fred Zinnemann is just a brilliant director and a wonderful man. Heís deceased now. He taught me a lot about directing and he use to call me his "little assistant director." He took me everywhere with him on the set.

Everyday they were filming he put this one scene, "Scene 249: Running through the Woods" on the call sheet. I was called everyday and Iíd be there with him. He had me by his side. Weíd walk around together and heíd ask me, "Iím going to do this shot this way, and what do you think of it?" Weíd actually discuss it.

What a wonderful person.

Itís a long story how it all came about, but he generally was known to be a very removed person. He and I just hit it off. We didnít shoot "Scene 249: Running through the Woods" till the very last day of filming.

What about Jane Fonda or Vanessa Redgrave?

Jane Fonda was very sweet. I donít want to say motherly, but more big sisterly to me and the little girl Susan who played Young Lilly. She took an interest in us, she spent time talking to us. She was friendly and warm.

Vanessa at the time was very involved in politics. We shared the same driver and he told me that after shooting he would take her to these places where she was up all night. She was giving speeches at rallies and then heíd pick her up the next morning at the same place. She was more unavailable personally, but I learned a lot from watching her work. Zinnemann made me watch her work in scenes. I watched them from rehearsal to filming. I learned a lot about film acting from watching Vanessa work. (And, of course I was also watching her very closely so I could incorporate "her" Julia into "my" Julia as we were playing the same character.)

I was amazed at how many Oscars the movie won.

It was up for best picture. I think it received best supporting actress & actor for Vanessa Redgrave & Jason Robards. I think it received best director. Iím not sure. It was nominated for everything. It won for best screenplay, too. It was quite an experience and I treasure that.

You did a well-remembered TV movie called The Best Little Girl in the World about Anorexia.

It was suppose to star Jodie Foster. Sheíd gone off to college and we were to film it over her winter break. Sheíd gained a lot of weight. They couldnít hire her so they did this mad search and they found this unknown, Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Thereís another TV movie you did with Mariel Hemingway called I Want to Keep My Baby.

That actually is the first film I ever did. It was a TV film, but I shot it right before I flew off to London to film Julia. It was the first film I had ever been cast in. I have to clarify that. I had done other television, but it was taped television.

The Hallmark Hall of Fame productions we rehearsed as a play and then shot on tape. I want to Keep My Baby was my first piece of film and Julia was my second piece of film, but my first feature film.

You have a funny story about a mix-up on IMDB.com.

I did a PBS film called The Blue Hotel a bazillion years ago. On the IMDB website under my name in "Titles for Sale" they have PBSís "The Blue Hotel," but then they also have me listed with a porn film called "Blue Hotel Ė Caught in the Act" with a photo of a naked blond woman on the cover.

That is crazy.

The Internet doesnít necessarily distinguish. I sent IMDB a note telling them I had never done a porn film. I certainly donít want fans buying that film and going, "Whereís Lisa?"

The Blue Hotel had some heavy hitters in it.

It had David Warner, James Keach. JŠn KadŠr directed it. He got an academy award for doing The Shop on Main Street. He hired me for that movie while I was still at Juilliard. The first thing I ever did was The Country Girl, which was the Hallmark Hall of Fame production with Jason Robards, Shirley Knight, and George Grizzard during the summer between my first & second years of Juilliard.

You had some great roles early on.

I was very lucky. In my second year at Juilliard I met JŠn KadŠr and he said, "Iíve always wanted to make a film of I Never Promised You a Rose Garden and you are my girl. Letís do The Blue Hotel together because I want to have you around and get to know you. Then weíll get the rights back for I Never Promised You a Rose Garden and make it together." I said, "Fine, but you have to get me out of school. If you can get me out of school Iíll be happy to work with you." (Knowing full well the school would say, "Absolutely not!!!")

I was in school one day and John Houseman called me into his office. He said, "Lisa, I want you to do this film with JŠn KadŠr. The entire faculty is completely against my decision, but you need to be working. I want you to go and work."

When I came back to school after filming the faculty was horrific to me. There was a lot of anger & jealousy towards me.

Because they thought you had special treatment?

I did have special treatment and Iíd just been on TV with The Country Girl. Then I was let off to do this other film. They were angry. Jan Kadar never was able to get the rights back for "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden." He was severely disappointed and persisted for years.

Is there jealously among professors?

I can say that there were teachers like John Housemen who were my champion. Then there were other people who were just horrid.

Is it amazing to see yourself on TV or the big screen?

I hated seeing myself. I always thought I looked awful, ugly, and too much. I hated it.

Weíre our own worst critics.

I remember the first time I saw myself in The Country Girl. I was invited to a screening. Even though it was a movie for TV I saw it on a big screen. I just sat there in horror & tears. I thought "Oh my god. I guess Iím not going to be a film actress". It was hard. What I remember was that I was talking way too fast and overacting. I havenít seen it since then, which was many years ago.

Tell us about the horror movie Jennifer.

Jennifer was my second film. After Julia I did some stage work in New York. When I came back out to LA I did Jennifer.

It has quite a cult following.

Itís so interesting. I still get a lot of fan mail from Jennifer from all over the world. I guess it was a big hit not just in the United States, but also in a lot of other countries. Spain was big, Germany was big. Itís just fascinating what sticks in peopleís minds.

Was it filmed in LA?

It was filmed in LA. It was very low budget. It was quite a shock after Julia where I had handmade period underwear that I was wearing. Not that anyone would ever have seen it or known about it. Not all productions have been that classy.

Itís like going from feast to famine.

I had a great time making Jennifer. It was a lot of fun until I had to do a lot of scenes in water with a towel wrapped around me with wet hair. They decided to do them all within a couple of days for location purposes. When they did it nobody thought about the fact that I might need dry towels or I might need to keep warm, or dry, between takes.

That would be a good thing to think about.

This being my second film, I did not realize Iíd have to ask questions to make sure something like that was taken care of. I was stuck down in Manhattan Beach or somewhere. I had nothing. I had wet towels. I didnít have dry towels. I was shivering. I was sitting there in my dressing room freezing cold. I got really sick. I got Bronchitis and near Pneumonia.

It was the role that nearly killed you.

I had a 104-degree temperature. I could hardly talk. Steve Krantz, who was the producer, was flipping out. For tax reasons he had to finish filming by the end of the year.

He wasnít concerned about your health as much as the financial part of the movie.

He was not concerned at all. He did something really awful. I can say this becauseÖ

Heís now passed on?

I donít know if heís passed on. His kids are still in the business. After this incident I still tried to make friends with him. I knew we were both in the business and would run into each other over the years. But, he was still so horrible to me afterwards I have no need to protect him.

When I got sick from filming those days in the water with no heat, the producer took me to his doctor who told me he just had to give me this B12 shot and Iíd be fine. The doctor gave me a shot of speed but I did not know this till the next day when I crashed.

I went back to the set to film that same day of seeing this doctor and I was like FINE! I was filming everything with great energy and it was all great. Then, the next day I could not move. I was so sick. The Producer was even more awful. He was screaming at me on the phone and saying he was going to sue me. I ended up finishing the film for him by the end of the year, but with the guarantee he would let me loop my lines because I couldnít talk. If you look at the film closely you can hear the places where I am really sick and can hardly speak. The producer never let me loop those lines.

Are you serious?

In addition, thereís a scene where my cat has died. I still had a voice for that. It was shot before I got sick. I was sobbing & sobbing my heart out. Apparently the sound for the scene didnít record. Instead of asking me to come in and loop my own crying, the producer had someone else come in and sob for me. Itís such fake crying. You see me on the screen sobbing and then you hear this fake voice. I have never forgiven him for that.

The movie did relatively well.

I was just so disappointed. At that time, I had hoped that people had higher artistic desires & goals. The producer was only interested in getting this film done and making money on it. I was supposed to receive a percentage of the profits. To this day the filmís still out there and they still say they never made a dime on it. I never received anything financially for it.

What about Celebrity Tattle-Tales host Bert Convy?

He was fun. He was sweet. Here we are making this low budget movie and he shows up with his own Maxi trailer. One of those huge trailers he carted around with him. All of the rest of us sat around in tiny little dressing rooms.

He knew how to take care of himself. He was a complete pro. Most of the scenes I had with him I was so sick I wasnít functioning. The same with Nina Foch, too. Iíd show up, do my scene, and then just lay back down in the trailer. I was really sick.

Did they use real snakes in that movie?

Whenever Iím acting I go into a different world that has nothing to do with Lisa. After I had been cast they invited me to the office to talk and meet everybody. I went in and they had a little tiny garter snake. They handed it to me and I started shrieking. I thought, "Oh my God, what am I going to do when they have real snakes?"

During filming I had the real snakes crawling through my hair and everything. It was so easy. I just get into another world and it wasnít any problem. I believed them when they said there was nothing that could harm me or that was poisonous.

Did they use any special effects?

As far as the effects in Jennifer there was actually a huge monster snake. I donít remember how many pounds. It was as long as I donít even know. I donít want to say a hundred feet. Its girth was at least 4 feet. They have it wrapped around a car in the movie. When you see Jennifer it looks like a toy car with a toy snake. They did not shoot it well. In reality it was this enormous snake we all had to clear out for. It definitely was capable of killing people, along with animals.

When you read it you must have seen the artistic merit to it?

The only reason why I did it was because my agent told me that now that I had done a film like Julia I needed to do a film that would reach different audiences.

What about Ghoulies?

It was another fun one. Mariska Hargitay whoís in Law & Order SVU has a small part in that. Sheís Jane Mansfieldís daughter. Sheís a big star right now. It was just a lark to make.

Was Luca a good director?

I donít know about a good director. He was fun to work with. The whole process was sort of a lark.

What about the Ghoulies puppets?

To me they look so silly, but I donít know.

I remember being surprised because they made everyone come back to life at the end.

Thereís one scene in there were Iím dead on the stairs. The lead, Peter Liapis, has to walk down the stairs and find me. In the shot he literally stepped on my hand and I had to stay dead. I did.

You did the movie Perfect Gentlemen.

It was a CBS movie. It was me, Sandy Dennis, Lauren Bacall, and Ruth Gordon had more of a cameo role. Jackie Cooper directed it and Nora Ephron wrote the screenplay. This was the most fun I ever had making a movie.

I think Ruth Gordon would have been the coolest person to meet.

All Iím going to say about that is NO COMMENT.

She looked like so much fun with Harold and Maude, and Every Which Way but Loose.

Iím serious. Iím serious. As a person. No comment.

She was a little tough to get along with?

I didnít have much to do with her. She caused a lot of problems for the set and the producer. Lauren Bacall was unbelievably gracious & loving. Sandy Dennis took me into her arms. They were dreams to work with. All my stuff was with them.

You were also with Lee Remick and Patty Duke in "The Womenís Room".

I was a lesbian. I leave my husband for Tovah Feldshuh. I remember being a drunk, too. It was nice because I was working with a lot of people I had worked with before. Colleen Dewhurst - I had worked with in Last Convertible, and also Mare Winningham.

You were in the movie Swing Shift?

I loved Jonathan Demme.

I read Goldie Hawn had the final cut and ended up ruining the movie.

I only know what Iíve heard. I know that Jonathan Demme did not like the final cut. He had a different film in mind and was forced to go back and re-shoot scenes differently than he had wanted.

The movie ended up not doing so well.

Itís too bad. Originally it was an ensemble movie about women in the 1940ís. What came out was more like a Goldie Hawn starring vehicle. She and Christine Lahti were really good in it. Everyone was good. Itís just that the story of the film changed.

I think that if it had been more of a film about the 1940ís, as originally intended, it had the potential of being an Oscar winner.

Have you ever seen the directorís cut of the movie?

Jonathan sent it to me and Iíve been scared to look at it. I have it, but I donít want to cry.

Some of your scenes got cut?

I know in the film that was made a lot of my scenes got cut. It became a much smaller role than I had filmed. But, it was a wonderful film to work on. Jonathan is a great director. All the women including Goldie Hawn, Christine Lahti, and Holly Hunter were just the best. It took a whole spring to film. I had a great time. Every day coming to work was like being with a wonderful family.

It was a good period piece.

I loved it. They did such great detail work. Some of the scenes that were re-shot are not as accurate in their period detail.

When I watched the film it says "directed by Jonathan Demme".

Yes, I heard that it was supposed to say, "A Jonathan Demme Film" above the title and that he had asked for that to be removed. If that is really true, itís a shame. Jonathan is a true artist.

Lionheart must have been a fun movie?

It was a very difficult film. I was called on days when I wasnít supposed to be filming. Theyíd say, "Help! Quick! We have to film something because Van Claude isnít showing up today." It was kind of crazy like that.

It still did very well.

Walking around at a gas station or anyplace where I run into just sort of regular working people, they know me from Lionheart. If thereís any guy who sayís, "Where have I seen you from?" I know its Lionheart. Itís a biggie in terms of my public. Mostly men.

Van Damme was at the top of his game at one time.

I know this was his first film that had any artistic merit in terms of a real plot. Prior to this he had been doing pure action things. This was the first film where they tried to bump him up.

The next film he did was even more of a step up. He started jumping up and being thought of as an actor instead of an action figure. It was good for him and for me.

You also worked on "Shadow of Doubt".

Randal Kleiser is my sonís godfather. He directed that. Actually that was a great deal of fun. I was nursing at the time. What I think of most is running to the trailer between shots. I had HUGE BREASTS.

Some women love that when theyíre lactating.

You get mammoth breasts.

Iíve heard it can be painful.

If youíre about to have a baby Iíd love to talk to you about it. Nursing is important to speak about. It can be very painful and it can be heaven. It was a wonderful experience for me to be able to nurse my son. My whole life just revolved around him.

It was a cruddy movie, but you bonded with your son.

I donít know if it was a cruddy movie. I wouldnít say that. I donít know if Iíve ever seen it. I may still have been in hormone heaven.

In Return to Blue Lagoon you play a mom.

I filmed that before I became a mom. At the time I thought, "Iím never going to become a mom after that experience!" Obviously, that was a temporary thought.

What about that movie?

Return to the Blue Lagoon was a hard, hard shoot. Probably the hardest shoot Iíve ever had to do. The people were great, but the location was a nightmare. They filmed it on a deserted island with nothing. There were no local drugstores. Everything had to be shipped in or flown in. It took days to get more Kleenex, or anything.

Are you more of a city woman?

Yes; however, I am also a graduate of the National Outdoor Leadership School and I also taught there in the Grand Tetons. I love the outdoors.

In Blue Lagoon all my scenes were with children. I shot for three months on this deserted island. Iím in the first half of the film. Iím first with a 1 year-old and a 2 year-old. Then they grow into 9 and 10 year-olds. Then I die, and my "children" become the teenagers.

Every single one of my scenes was either a solo scene, or one with me and the babies or me with the children. They did not have doubles or triples for the children. It was just 1 one-year-old, 1 two-year-old. And I remember them crying a lot!!!

I was the first person on the set everyday and the last person off the set. We worked long hours. I got very little sleep between shooting days and I shot every day except Sunday. We worked long hours with lots of overtime and many, many people on the set got sick or hurt on the island.

Itís the curse of the Return of the Blue Lagoon.

There were whole crews that were out. Iíd do my own makeup or wardrobe. Iíd do the clapperboards for the camera. At one point the whole camera crew was out. The second unit camera crew came in to film for us. There were a lot of difficult illnesses, problems, and people injuring themselves terribly, badly. I was extremely lucky. I never got sick and I never got injured.

I did all my own stunts. The stuntman at the time said, "Anytime you want a card into the stunt union Iíll give it to you because youíre amazing." I do have a strong body. I am physical in that sense. It just required a lot of energy and endurance to keep everybody together. There were so many people sick and injured.

Who would think that film had such a difficult shoot?

A coconut fell from a tree and broke a guyís shoulder. A stingray stung a crewmember who had to be flown off the island for medical treatment. The girl who played my 9-year-old daughter slipped on a rock and broke her front tooth. The cinematographer got an infection of the leg and couldnít walk. His leg blew up 3 times the size of a normal leg. It went on and on and on.

I guess thatís part of location shooting.

Itís supposed to take place on this beautiful deserted island. The island we filmed on is Taveuni, Fiji. On one end of the island it is beautiful and sunny all the time. On the other side of the island itís called Lavena, which means "gray clouds." Lavena is where all the sets were built and we filmed the movie. It rained there every single day!!!

We were filming in the rain trying to make it look like it was sunshine. I didnít have a dressing room. I had a little tent. If it started pouring Iíd run into my tent. As soon as it started drizzling (and the film would not pick up on the rain) weíd run out and film! Most of the film was shot in drizzle.

The producers thought about moving location before we started filming, and I highly encouraged it once we found out that they had built all these sets in a place where it was going to rain the entire time. I said, "Youíve got to move." They decided for financial reasons or whatever to stay where we were and continue on.

Youíd think from a technical standpoint it would be tough.

They had plastic over everything. The second half of the film where they had the teenagers they actually built a studio on the Island. They built shelters to film out of the rain. They did inserts and stuff like that.

The girl Milla Jovovich is beautiful in it.

Yes, sheís a top model. She was then too. She was a great beauty and the boy was gorgeous too. Everybody was sweet. It was just the location. I have a gazillion stories. Itís unbelievable how difficult it was.

You could do a whole book. Youíre not old enough for your memoirs yet?

A few people have to die first for me to write my memoirs.

You have to wait before you say the horrible things about people.

Letís not say horrible things. The Truth. Iím not good at not telling the truth.

Letís talk about some of your TV stuff. James at 15?

I have fond memories of that show.

How was working with Lance Kerwin?

He was a sweetheart. I had my first screen kiss in that show. I played a character called Paisley Hufton. I just loved her. Lanceís character is in love with me, but Paisley wasnít in love with him. I fell in love with somebody else. We had a whole story.

Lance said it was a revolutionary TV show at the time.

It had a wonderful writer, Dan Wakefield, and heís a novelist too. I got to be friends with him for a while.

I remember 2 big "James" movies.

I think it was one movie of James at 15 then they started the series. The first show aired on the same night as a TV mini series I had done for PBS called The Best of Families. In James at 15 I played this very upper crust girl who lived in a mansion, had servants, oysters, I had my hair absolutely straight and everything "perfect." In "Best of Families" I played this very poor Irish immigrant at the turn of the century that was raped. They were both on TV on the same night!

I thought, "How can I get everyone in the world to watch both shows at the same time?" That was back before VCRs.

What about "Happy Days" and "Kojak"?

On "Happy Days" I played a French girl. I could only speak French and couldnít speak English. She was Fonzieís date to the graduation prom. That was fun to play a character that could only speak French (and, of course could not understand what Fonzie was saying to her!). All the people were wonderful on that show. This was a two-part episode about graduation. Happy Days is taped so you rehearse it like a play and then you film it as if youíre doing it as a play. I love taped television. It was easy for me. "Kojak" was shot in New York. I was doing theater. It was a nice way to make some money.

I saw a picture of you with Linda Purl.

Sheís one of my best friends. She has a son who is a year older than my son. We were in Japan together as children. Our parents knew each other when we lived in Tokyo, Japan. I think she lived most of her childhood in Tokyo. At least she lived many, many more years in Tokyo then I did. We met again in New York when we were both acting in the mini-series, Beacon Hill. And now our sons are best friends!

Are you more into comedy or drama?

I love comedy. I love to make people laugh! In the last couple of years I have performed in the farce, Communicating Doors by Alan Ayckbourn; and Accomplice by Rubert Holmes which is a comedy/thriller. Theyíre just so much fun. Then Iím doing something like The Glass Menagerie. The tragedy of going to those depths is fun in a different kind of way. I guess I could say I love whatever Iím doing now.

You have a great love of the theater.

Iím rehearsing a play Iím very excited about. Iím doing The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams. Iím playing Amanda who is the mother. Usually sheís cast with an actress who would be much older than I am. So, Iím absolutely thrilled to be doing this at a young point in my career in terms of theater. Generally it would be another 20 years before I played this role. The director wanted to cast it this way & Iím just thrilled.

You must have an incredible mind for theater plays.

I love doing theaters and I love long runs of plays. Most actors like 4 or 5 weeks and then they want it over. Not me. I love being able to do it again and again. I love long runs. My favorite experience was a play called Blue Window in an extended run. I did that for about a year. It was written by Craig Lucas and directed by Norman Renť (who also wrote and directed Longtime Companion which is how Bruce Davison, my husband, met them. Iíd done the play first so I already knew them before he met them.)

Bruceís career is doing well too?

Heís played the senator in the X-Men movies and he has a really good film coming out called Breach. Actually, I should say, we are currently separated after 20 years of marriage.

There must be another movie that youíd like to do?

As far as I can tell my film and movie career is completely nonexistent. Maybe youíll bring me to the forefront with your review. Every little bit helps. At this time in my career the parts I can play on the stage are glorious. The parts Iím getting offered in film are not. I canít wait to find a wonderful, juicy role for me on film!

Is there someone you had a retroCRUSH on while growing up?

Hayley Mills. I was in love with Hayley Mills. When I was a little girl I just wanted to grow up and be Hayley Mills.

-Randy Waage
randy@retrocrush.com


If youíre in the LA/Burbank area between February 8 - March 12, 2006 come see Lisa in The Glass Menagerie at the beautiful 300 seat Colony Theatre. Click here for more details.

Make sure to check out Lisaís website at: www.lisapelikan.com
Lisa's first feature film Julia comes out on DVD this February 7th.

Special thanks to:
Vince Cornelius for the use of the Jennifer photos.
Chris Chris Argyropoulos from Fox Home Entertainment for the Julia photo.

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