My interview with actress, Jill Schoelen (“The Stepfather,” “Cutting Class,” “Popcorn,” and “The Phantom of the Opera”).
Cameron: First things first, you were on an episode of “Little House.” How cool is that. What was that experience like? It was actually one of your first TV/movie appearances so I can imagine you being pretty awe inspired by everything show business.
Jill Schoelen: Strangely, I never went through that Hollywood AWE thing. I was young when I was in “Little House.” I think just 19 years old, and it just felt completely natural, like this is what I’m suppose to be doing. I never gave it a thought! Going back to my first audition, it was for “Blue Lagoon,” and I’ve forgotten how many times I met with the director and producers for that movie, but it was a lot–maybe more than any movie I ever auditioned for throughout my career. I was just 15 or 16 then. So my first experience kind of threw me smack into the experience of it all.
Cameron: And then appearing in “D.C. Cab.” I have to ask. What was Mr. T like? Also, it was one of Joel Schumacher’s first films so how was he as a director for you, especially coming off of television? Even though the film was low budget by Universal standards, could you tell you were in a real Hollywood film? Tell us a little about that.
Jill Schoelen: I was pretty green when I did D.C Cab, which was right around the time I did “Little House.” Mr. T was a lovely man. I remember him being very kind and professional. Joel (Schumacher) even on this movie, showed all the signs of having the goods of a fine, great director. I mean the material was fun, and lacked a certain depth, but it was entertaining, and he had a command of the material. That was a wild cast, so that was a pretty hard ship to be command of, but he was!!! The key word for “DC Cab” is Fun!!!!
“DC Cab” was my first feature film so I had nothing at the time to judge it by, but in retrospect, it was very much a Hollywood studio film.
Cameron: You got to work with Emilio Estevez and Craig Sheffer on one of the 1980′s most underrated films, “That Was Then, This is Now.” Since Estevez had written the script and was establishing himself as an up and coming filmmaker, how did you approach the role with him? Did you read the book first? What did you take away from that shoot overall? Clearly the film has a real personal edge to it.
Jill Schoelen: They were casting “That was Then…” down the hall from my agent, and she was friends with the casting director. They were having trouble finding someone to play “Angela,” and my agent had talked the casting director into seeing me, so in I went to read for the casting director, Emilio and the director, Chris Cain. Within an hour or two at most, I was offered the job. It was exciting that a young actor had written the screenplay, and since we all were reading SE Hinton in school, as kids are now, that element was definitely memorable and special. I have two boys, and both of them have been assigned to read the book in school and have had to watch the film in their classes–so that’s cool.
Cameron: Let’s talk about the original and best, “Stepfather.” In the scene where Terry O’ Quinn goes downstairs and starts beating on his work table, the camera cuts to you watching his behavior. Since movies are shot out of order, I have to ask what you were you looking at to give that now classic response?
Jill Schoelen: I was looking at Terry. Yes, movies are usually shot out of sequence, and “Stepfather” followed suit, but we still shot the scenes completely in tact, so I was watching him. He was great!!!!! I mean, you don’t have to act watching him, just watch him for real doing that part, and it’s hard not to feel a raw organic response. That’s what’s on film.
Cameron:Your relationship with Shelley Hack (playing your mom) was very convincing. Was that just good acting or did you really become close on that shoot?
Jill Schoelen: Shelley is a lovely woman. I always was concerned because she’s tall and blonde, and I’m shorter and dark, but I think the internal relationship of mother and daughter was there and that’s what came across on film and worked!
Cameron: How did you prepare to play Stephanie? Did you read books about abused children or study the actual case?
Jill Schoelen: My preparation is to understand the material and have it memorized. I believe in the spontaneous, real life interaction that happens when you are there filming or on stage or behind a microphone. You make it real because you believe it is – you live it for that period of time, and when you live it, that IS the preparation! Sometimes, for technical things, yes, you do need a different definition of being prepared.
Cameron: What did you think when you first saw the film? How do you feel about it today? Especially since there have been sequels and a remake.
Jill Schoelen: When I first saw it, I thought Joe Ruben was a genius, and i didn’t think far from that while we were shooting. He is a meticulous director. It was daring and perfect to cast Terry. I thought the movie was a little gem of sorts, and I think it stands up today and will continue too.
Cameron: “Cutting Class,” was another underrated 1980′s film you starred in. What was it like to do a low budget horror film at that time? Did you get the script late in the game or did you have time to work on your role, rehearse with the cast, etc. I feel the film predates “Scream” in a variety of ways and is fairly inventive when most of the horror films being produced then were just mindless sequels.
Jill Schoelen: The day I got the offer to do and accepted doing “Cutting Class,” I had to go in for wardrobe fittings to start shooting within days. I saw “Scream” for the first time about a year ago, and I could get in real trouble for saying this, but I can’t help it, it just seems like the truth… “Scream” has “Cutting Class” ALL over it. And I thought perhaps some of the other films I’ve been in too, but far and away, “Cutting Class.” I can’t remember. Didn’t Wes Craven do “Scream?’ I love him. He’s a lovely man. I did one of my first films with him, “Chiller,” a made for television movie, and I really like him. I did think that “Scream,” came right out of “Cutting Class” though.
Cameron: You also have the distinct honor of being one of the few actresses to tackle the role of Christine Day in “The Phantom of the Opera.” What was that like, working in another country with Robert Englund? He’s very well known for his fascinating, but long winded stories about Hollywood. I have to say that it appears that you put yourself through a lot in that film. What pressure did you put on yourself?
Also, I know you have criticized the gore in the final film. Did everyone go in with the mind state to make it more classy only to get burdened with notes from the studio (so it could compete with the other horror films of the time)?
Jill Schoelen: Playing “Christine” did require preparation. I wanted to read the book. I saw the opera, “Faust,” which is the opera portrayed in the book, and had to learn the songs and choreography. There was also much more hair and make up preparation, as well as in costuming. I have nothing but the most positive comments about Robert Englund and his fine, impeccable acting. He’s a gentleman and gifted actor, with a lovely wife. We shot in Budapest, Hungary, when it was still communistic and that was a trip. I mean, we were there for some time and I would NEVER change that experience for anything.
I have been critical, as I was then too, about the gratuitous violence. I think the movie lost its audience because for true horror, gore fans, the movie was too beautiful and deep–but for fans of the beauty and depth, it was too violent especially in unnecessary, gory ways. I cannot say with all certainty, but going by what I know and what was shot, I assume the decision to make it gratuitous was the filmmaker’s.
Cameron: “Popcorn” was a film that was promoted from the get go as a cult classic. How did you become a part of that production?
Jill Schoelen: I became part of “Popcorn” when they repaced the leading actress half way through filming.
Cameron: “When a Stranger Calls Back” is surprisingly strong for a sequel. I know the director originally didn’t think you were right for the role. When you are up against the wall like that, how do you keep your mind clear headed to not crazy? Do you talk yourself through situations? Write in a diary? Talk with friends? Find out what kind of food the director likes (Just kidding)?
Jill Schoelen: I was completely unaware of the director’s thoughts, as he was unaware I was coming in to read for him that day. As I remember, from how he told me–when Fred Walton found out I was coming in, he asked the casting director to cancel my appointment. He thought I was all wrong and that it was a waste of time to even see me, but the casting director said they could not cancel me on late notice, so they sat through my reading. But the thing is, Fred later told me, I did such a good job, he completely changed his mind. I was against the type of what he had in mind, but he cast me anyway. “You won the part!” he said.
I suppose if I hadn’t walked away from acting to be a wife and mother, that story would not mean so much to me–but given the life changes I have had, I am very happy and I suppose, proud, about that story.
Cameron: What was the hardest role you’ve ever taken and why?
Jill Schoelen: I think the hardest role I’ve taken was on stage in “HurlyBurly,” which I starred in with Sean Penn, Danny Aiello, Mare Winningham and Michael Lerner with the playwright, David Rabe, directing as well. The language was superior and required a depth not commonly found in acting roles. Having said that, there was an ease that came with with that territory too. On film, the hardest roles are always the badly written ones and the films that have unseasoned (or not deeply talented) directors. It’s very difficult to be remotely good with bad material, poor writing, and directorial suspicion.
Cameron: Without naming names (of course), what is a Hollywood horror story when it comes to the audition process? Ever gotten really close to nabbing a role only to be cheated?
Jill Schoelen: The list of roles I was second in line for is an extraordinary impressive list. Let’s leave it there. No one ever stole anything from me. I would work hard and get to the very, very end of the casting process but then other person got it. I am actually very proud of the work they did to get the role. However, for myself, to get to the very end, time after time, is a reward unto itself–and I am very happy about that!
Cameron: You’ve taken quite a long break from the film business. How are you channeling your creativity these days? Do you miss it at all? I remember seeing Rosanna Arquette’s documentary, “Searching for Debra Winger” where an actress says, “I wish all women would take a break from Hollywood for 10 years then come back. She would then be able to inform her characters with all the new experiences and changes she had gone through.” Is this something you have thought about?
Jill Schoelen: Well, of course, taking time off, allows for tremendous personal growth and life experience, that should a woman go back to work, it would inevitably become greatly enriched. My ex-husband is a film composer, so I sang on film scores, and commercials and did some voice overs here and there–but then I did the MOST creative thing, I became a mother twice. There is nothing more creative and more demanding. It is the greatest role a woman can play, and always her greatest legacy.
Cameron: Since you grew up on camera in the 80′s, how did you go about dating? There was no TMZ then so there was probably a whole lot more privacy. Did you just date actors or were you an actress who concealed your profession to see if the guy really cared about you? What was the best date you went on?
Jill Schoelen: No, I rarely dated. I was too busy working, and even then, all of my (then) boyfriends I met one way or another through work. It’s true, it’s very different now. No one cared when Keanu and I were together, but only a year or two later when I was with Brad, they cared, but oh so little; nothing like now.
Cameron: How have the fans treated you over the years? Any funny stories there?
Jill Schoelen: The fans are great!!!! And I sincerely mean that. For the past 17 years, while being away from Hollywood, I’ve been really busy being a wife, a mother and then a girlfriend. However, two years ago, I met Caroline Williams (from Stepfather II,” “Texas Chainsaw Massacre II,” and “Halloween II”), and she was so infused with LIFE telling me I should come out and meet the fans at the conventions. Well, about a year or so later I did, and Caroline was right. It was absolutely fantastic to meet the fans. I was very moved that anyone even cared. I try always to be nice and kind to everyone, because I think it’s so amazing that people still care. I love my fans!!!
Cameron: Jill, I want to say that you are a very talented actress and I look forward to whatever your next choices are as a human being. Thank you again for your time.