This is an interview conducted with actress PJ Soles in June of 2005.
The cult of personality. Some folks naturally draw others to them. Hollywood was built on the cult of personality. Ever since the days of old, the storytellers have held a special place in society. In modern society, the stories are told on celluloid. A select few have held the attention of the masses. Some have been mega-stars ALA Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe. Others have not had as widespread appeal, but instead have a smaller but very devoted and rabid fan base. Cheryl "Rainbeaux" Smith was one such person. There are others. Ask film fans from the 1970s who they had a cinematic crush on and you are likely to get the answer P.J. Soles. While Rosanna Arquette may have had a song named after her, P.J. Soles had an album named after her. The band "Local H" titled one of their albums "Whatever Happened to P.J. Soles?" One answer to that question is "Nothing, she has been living a full, real life raising her children." Another answer is P.J. Soles is back!
Born Pamela Jayne Hardon, PJ Soles has led a charmed and adventurous life. She was born overseas and lived abroad until coming to the US to attend college. PJ Soles fell into acting and quickly became one of the most popular actresses during the late 1970s. The combination of impish personality and girl-next-door good looks helped PJ Soles land roles a numerous films including four that remain cult-classics to this day. As Norma, the evil second banana to Nancy Allen in "Carrie" to Riff Randell in Roger Corman’s subversive "Rock and Roll High School" to the ‘totally’ sexy cool Lynda in John Carpenter’s "Halloween" and to the M.P. I’d love to be strip searched by in "Stripes." PJ Soles proved again and again that she was every guy’s fantasy girl. The surprise is that Ms. Soles was not playing herself. While her effervescent personality is certainly on display in her characters, Ms. Soles is actually much deeper in real life.
PJ Soles has appeared in 40 films and numerous TV shows during her career. She has been married three times to musician Steven Soles, actor Dennis Quaid and pilot Skip Holm. She stepped down her career to raise her two children with Mr. Holm. Now that the kids are grown, Ms. Soles is putting her career back on the front burner. PJ Soles' other credits include "Breaking Away," "Private Benjamin," "Sweet Dreams" and Jawbreaker."
I had the pleasure of interviewing Ms. Soles in conjunction with the release of the "Stripes: Extended Cut" DVD. Regular readers know that in some ways, I’m still a 14-year-old boy. In my review of the DVD I made mention of a deleted scene containing a very topless P.J Soles. Turns out that Ms Soles read my review before talking to me. Damn! She was very gracious when she brought up my review. My first thought was "I’m so busted!" As the interview progressed I realized that Ms Soles was just having fun. I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing quite a few people in the movie industry. PJ Soles is what I would call a ‘real person.’ She is both grounded and able to live life to the fullest. Here’s hoping that she returns to the big-screen in a big way!
RUSTY WHITE: One of my hats at Einsiders is writing the Hollywood Obituaries column. The past couple of years I’ve had the unfortunate task of paying tribute to most of The Ramones. I believe that all but one of them have died. Can you share your memories of working with them on Rock and Roll High School"?
PJ SOLES: It was really fun and they were very shy, which is very unusual for a punk band. At the time, of course, nobody realized what effect and influence they were going to have on the music business. Because at that point, that 1978…that was still pretty early on. I mean the people who had discovered them; obviously, they were hard core punk fans. But, when you look back on it in hindsight, things always look differently. They really were the ones who started the American punk rock scene. And probably, when we were filming the movie, we didn’t realize who they really were, what an incredible band they were. Except for the time we were filming at The Roxy, we hadn’t even seen them perform. At least I didn’t. I wasn’t even familiar with their music because I was a Jackson Brown fan and an Eagles fan. It was not my type of music.
They on the other hand were just as excited and nervous to be in a movie because they adored Roger Corman films, and liked me from "Halloween" and "Carrie." I didn’t realize that was going to make them kind of quiet on the set and feel they weren’t equal contributors to our film. They were always in the background, shuffling around, and when it was lunchtime they would get in the back of the line. We’d say "Come on, you’re in the next scene! Eat first." They would say, "That’s OK. You eat." And we’d say, "No, no, no, you come up here." It was sort of endearing in a way, when you look back on it, that they didn’t feel they were part of the whole group.
I was thankful… I recently did a movie with Rob Zombie called "The Devil’s Rejects" and he turned out to be a very close friend with Johnny Ramone. A couple of months before Johnny passed away, Rob had a party and he invited me. I went with my friends and family and Johnny was there. I didn’t realize that, that was Rob’s way of getting me together Johnny before he was going to pass on. I hadn’t been really aware of what was going on with him health wise. I was able to talk with him, give him a hug and say, "Hey, we’re going to live on forever in our movie." He was never a big fan of the movie. I think he thinks it made them not so hardcore punk or something. When you look at it now, everyone is grateful that there is "Rock and Roll High School" because it was like The Ramones' "A Hard Days Night."
There’s a new documentary on The Ramones and it shows a clip from the movie. And I think "Thank goodness for the movie because you got a chance to see The Ramones in a different light than just performing. Which is all the footage there really is except for their interviews.
RW: As far as acting styles, you had Brando the Method Actor and Gary Cooper who just played himself. When you look at your characters in "Carrie," "Stripes," "Rock and Roll High School" and "Halloween" they are the free-spirited girls. I was a longhaired stoner in high school. When I saw "Carrie" and "Rock and Roll High School" my though was, "I want her at my school!" What can I say, I was a fan. So, the question is, are you the Gary Cooper type of actor? Were you just playing yourself in those films?
PJ: (laughs) No. Not at all. It’s very ironic because I didn’t get to live in America until I was much older. I was born in Germany. My mother was from New Jersey and my father was from Holland. They met in Germany after the war. I lived in Germany for five years and then moved to Morocco: Casablanca, then Venezuela: Maracaibo. My dad, with all his abilities to speak different languages, he started all these branch offices for this insurance company called AIU, which started in Germany and has become AIG, but started as AIU. They were insurance companies mostly for American service men overseas and American oil companies. Anything having to do with Americans. I went to high school in Brussels, then came to New York to college and ended up in New York City acting. So, my experience with America started when I was 18. I always admired American teenagers. I did have a brief stay in Oakland, I think in 9th grade. So I got to see what American teenagers were like, but it was only from the movies. So, my characterizations are from watching films and dreaming what it would be like to be an American. My dad was so pro-American. Wherever we went, my mom would get a job with an American Colonel in the Army or Air Force, so we could get commissary privileges at the PX. We wouldn’t feel so stranded in these countries.
RW: How did you get into acting? Did you study it in college?
PJ: In college I studied French. My roommate was from Manhattan, so on weekends we would go and stay at her place. One day I happened to walk by the Actor’s Studio and they needed someone to run the lights for their summer productions. I applied. Got the job. All along, starting in 6th grade I was always interested in the plays and had been in different productions. I never thought of it as something you would do as a career. Languages always seemed to be where I was headed since I grew up in all these countries and I spoke French and Spanish. I had taken my senior trip in Brussels to Russia and I thought, "Oh, I’d love to learn Russian." Anyway, I got this job in the summer in exchange for auditing the classes. I though, "I could do this." Then I met a guy who introduced me to his sister’s agent. So by the end of that summer I had done three commercials and I got a modeling agency. So it was really hard to think about going back to college. My parents had moved to Turkey, to Istanbul. It’s not like communication is today; it was more like letter writing. You didn’t dare pick up the phone because it was a $400.00 call. So, they didn’t know what was going on with me until they came back in March of the next year! (laughs) I hadn’t gone back to school! I though "This is great. I can earn a living and do something I really like." So, I just sort of fell into it.
RW: When you were cast in "Carrie," did you go to the joint "Star Wars"/"Carrie" auditions?
PJ: Yes. Right.
RW: Did you read for both movies?
PJ: They weren’t really reading anybody. I had only been in town a short while. That’s when I moved to LA from New York when I realized I didn’t have the personality to be a Broadway performer. I didn’t drink or smoke and I didn’t stay up late. I always fell asleep like 10:30 or 11:00 o’clock. I’m not like you. The insomniac, so they say.
RW: Yeah. It’s a curse.
PJ: I had to fall asleep, and I like getting up early, So it wasn’t my thing, hanging out at "Joe Allen’s." So, I had been out in LA for two weeks when I heard they were seeing every teenager in LA. So I went down. You walk into a door and there is a huge hallway filled with kids. When you went into the office Brian DePalma and George Lucas were sitting behind the same desk. When I walked in Brian said "I want her on my list" and George just said, "OK." The next week we all went back and just met with Brian DePalma. That was just the initial thing where they just looked at you. You didn’t have to read or anything. I wore my red baseball hat to the initial audition and Brian said, "Keep the hat."
RW: The same hat you wore in the movie?
PJ: Yeah. So we had three more auditions and a screen test after that. I initially screen tested for Nancy Allen’s part. Then she got the part, and there was the smaller part of Norma. There was only one line in the beginning. After the first week on the set, Brian said, "We’re going to extend you. You can be in on the rest of the shoot. Just wear that hat in every scene."
RW: Excellent. So he built you character up based on your one line? What was the line"
PJ: It was at the beginning when we had the volleyball game and Sissy doesn’t hit the ball back and we lose. The I say, "Thanks a lot Carrie!" Then I took my hat off and whacked her over the head. I had some pins in the hat, and they kind of grabbed her hair and got stuck, so I yanked it really hard and Brian thought that was great and said "You’re staying on." So all the other scenes we had, he just king of threw me in there.
RW: I’m glad they filmed you one scene early so he could make that decision.
PJ: (laughs) Me too!
RW: The actor that played your boyfriend…
PJ: Michael Talbott.
RW: The two of you reminded me of a lot of couples I knew in high school. You had great chemistry together. Do you still keep in touch?
PJ: Michael Talbott and I became very good friends. He is a boy from Iowa. He was on "Miami Vice." He was a very cool guy and a real guy. Because he was from a farm in Iowa, a corn farm. So he was a real person. He was like a real person. He got frustrated later on, that’s why he left. He’s always been friends with Brian Dennehy. I think he’s somewhere in New York or Connecticut where he helps out with Dennehy’s big house. He fixes stuff like a farm hand. "The wall’s broken on the south 40, go fix it."
RW: I guess we better talk about "Stripes" since they set this up! How did that come about? Did they seek you out?
PJ: I was making a movie in Texas called "Soggy Bottom USA" with Don Johnson. It’s really a cute movie, but nobody really knows about it, but it’s really a cute movie. They producers of "Stripes" asked me to fly from there to Louisville, Kentucky where they were already shooting, for a screen test. They had already looked at 300 girls. I said "Sure." I got there and Harold Ramis and I read on camera for Ivan Reitman. I couldn’t stop laughing. I never met Bill, but I tested with Harold. We had a very good chemistry. Then I went back to LA. As soon as I got back, my agent called and said, "They want you. So pack your bags. You’re going back tomorrow." It happened that quickly.
RW: Did you have a feeling on the set, that "this is something special"?
PJ: For me, I thought it was because I was so used to low, low budget movies. They called this a low budget movie, but it was an 8 or 10 million-dollar movie, so for me, that was huge. I was used to a $200,000/28 day shoot. This was a little longer and they actually treated us like stars, so that was nice. Sean Young and I shared a trailer. We were the only girls on the film, except I guess for Bill girlfriend in the beginning and the mud wrestlers, but that was back in LA. It was a really nice experience. It was nice to film on a real Army base, where everyone treated us so nice. We had to do a lot of training. We did gun training. Bill and I, for the first week, got up at 5 AM and ran with everybody. I lasted a little longer. Bill didn’t want to do it any more.
RW: I don’t believe you had any scenes with Warren Oates?
PJ: I didn’t really have any scenes with him, but I was friendly with him. Then he did "Tough Enough" with Dennis. (Dennis Quaid, PJ Soles’ second husband). And then we became really friendly. When they were shooting "Tough Enough" with Dennis in either Houston or Dallas, we did a publicity tour for "Stripes," which was about to come out. So, we became friendly after that. Dennis and I went to his ranch in Montana and Dennis ultimately bought his ranch. Warren Oates was great. He was a real guy.
RW: I’m a big Peckinpah fan. I’ve always loved Warren Oates work and have wondered what he was like in real life.
PJ: He was a lot softer than his screen persona in real life. His characters tended to have a hard edge. He talked softer in real life. At that time he was married for his second time and had two small children, Cody and Tori. They were three and two. When he passed away, his kids were four and five. But he had older kids from his previous marriage. But he was soft-spoken and very loving. But very direct. He told you what was on his mind. He was a cowboy too! He always wore cowboy boots, had toothpick in the mouth. He was a real guy. Had a ranch in Montana and liked hanging out in his cabin.
RW: I admire the fact that you put your career on the backburner to raise your kids.
PJ: I didn’t want to miss a minute. Now my son is going to graduate on June 20th from the US Merchant Marine Academy. I can’t believe it’s gone that fast. He’s 21, born in 83. My daughter’s 17, born in 88. It’s crazy. You know, when I look back on it, I have zero regrets. And now it seems my career is picking up again. So, it’s OK.
RW: You’ve got a built in fan base…
PJ: Yeah! And all these movies keep resurfacing. Can’t push them down! "Carrie," "Rock and Roll High School," "Halloween," "Stripes." With the DVDs they keep reissuing and they keep asking me to do interviews. It’s nice to talk about them and let the fans know how it was to film it. Because they love the extras, with the deleted scenes and interviews. Everyone is all interested in that now.
RW: I review a ton of DVDs. I get 20 or 30 a month. On many of them, I’m thinking "I have to sit through this!?" But the documentary on Stripes" is very enjoyable. The passion shown by everyone involved, it seemed like everyone was having fun, nice career moves for all involved, the stories and interviews…It was very nice. I would watch the bonus features again.
PJ: (Laughs) Thanks.
RW: So, the Rob Zombie film. "The Devil’s Rejects" is the sequel to "The House of 1,000 Corpses."
PJ: (laughs) If you can sit through that. That was hard to watch.
RW: I’m a big horror fan.
PJ: Then you must like that one! (laughs) I like Sheri Moon. She’s so funny. She’s so sweet in the movie and then she kills you.
RW: I didn’t really like it. I sat through it with my daughter.
PJ: (incredulous) Really! How old is your daughter?
RW: She’s 18. She recuperating from an injury and about all you can do with her is watch movies. She kept begging me "You’ve got to watch it dad!" I don’t know. Hell I let her watch "The Exorcist" when she was 8.
PJ: (sarcastically) Oh nice.
RW: I guess there were some parenting issues with me. I wanted to give her a good foundation for horror movies. Now I complain that she’s into the Goth stuff, so I guess I don’t have anyone to blame but myself.
PJ: (laughs) No, I didn’t let my kids watch Halloween" until my son was 13 and my daughter was probably 12. It’s different when your mother gets killed in the movie. Their biggest concern was that I was smoking. And then in "Rock and Roll High School": "What were you smoking when the Ramones were all in your room and you stripped down to your underwear?" It was just Rosemary!
RW: None of the real stuff on the set!
RW: Do you have a big part in "The Devil’s Rejects"?
PJ: It’s just a cameo. He wanted people, other than his wife and Sid Haig; he wanted…the casting call said "notable 70s and 80s actors who would be recognizable when you see them." When I walked in I brought a head shot from "Carrie" with the red baseball cap. I signed it "To Rob Zombie, I’m ready to scream for you again. Love PJ Soles." He couldn’t resist that. I play a mother with a young son who’s coming out of a grocery store and I get carjacked by Sid Haig…
RW: He was the clown.
PJ: Right. So, I get punched out and he leaves with my son. But then he opens the door and pushes my kid out. So, luckily we are the only two who survive. In those movies you can get brutally killed.
RW: Yeah. I just had that experience. There’s a local filmmaker named Jeremy Benson who is in post-production on a horror film called Shutter." I play a sheriff and I get my head cut off with a shovel. It was a lot of fun. In fact when I told him I was interviewing you he said, "Get her agent’s number. Because if I sell this, the next one is going to have names in it."
PJ: Tell him sure. You’ve got my number.
RW: I’m not trying to take advantage during an interview, but you’ve got to make hay when the sun shines.
PJ: Oh, hey, I want to work! All my neighbors and my friends are always trying to get me into movies. Last year I did a bunch of them but it was hard getting $100.00 out of them. It’s so embarrassing to ask your friends for money, but its like "Come on! You’re getting my name. You have to pay me!"
RW: That’s what Jeremy is thinking. He has several companies interested in "Shutter," He said "If they will buy this without a name, think how much more they will pay for a film with a name." So he plans on saving what ever is left over from paying the cast and hiring a name actor for a couple of days.
PJ: It’s definitely worth it. Because my neighbor down the street has that film "Death by Engagement." I don’t know if you saw it on IMDB. She had a couple of people in it, but she said, "Mostly people are interested in me." I play the mother of the crazy killer guy. She said everyone she talks to says "Oh, you’ve got PJ in it! Great!"
RW: If I wasn’t a parent, as a fan I’d ask, "Why did she leave?" and be upset. As a parent, I admire the fact you did, but the thing is, you haven’t disappeared. You starred in four films that have never gone out of popularity.
PJ: Plus, I have been working all along. I have written a couple of scripts myself. I know it is easy to write and hard to sell. I’ve also optioned a book. It’s literally 12 years since we first optioned a book. We’ve had it at MGM, we’ve had it Paramount, and now we’re hoping something will happen with it at Mandalay and Dreamworks. The thing is, you’re working all the time, but you’re working for no pay, which is really hard. To do a movie as an actress, sometimes you go away for three months and there is no way I could do that. When I first had my son and was working on the "Cheers" set and some television things, to be away for the entire day was agonizing knowing that somebody else was being paid to take care of my baby. I couldn’t stand it! I couldn’t stand it! (laughs) It’s been so worth it, all the time I’ve invested because my kids are great. They are wonderful children.
RW: I know. I went through college as single parent raising my daughter. It’s your child. I wish more people had that attitude.
PJ: I find that people who have never had kids, they really don’t know what the world is like. They have no understanding of reality! They don’t know what it is like to be selfless. They are so into themselves. What are they going to eat, and what are they going to do. I’m like "Oh my God! You have no idea!" I haven’t thought those thoughts since I was 19.
RW: Exactly. Their dog is their child. "I had to take the dog to the vet!" "Well, I’ve been sitting in Intensive Care with my daughter for the last six months!" OK, let’s compare notes.
PJ: Right, right.
RW: I imagine it would also give you greater depth as an actress.
PJ: Yes. That is what I was able to experience in the four low-budget films I made last year. I was a little nervous the first time I went back on the set, and then I was like "Wow! I feel like a real woman now. It was just a whole other me." Because I do have this deep well, that really, from being a parent and from being a survivor in this business, it just gives you so much more to work with. I feel really good now.
RW: Well good. I personally hope to see more of you on screen. We’re glad you’re back.
PJ: Well thank you. Like you said in your review, you are seeing more of me on screen in "Stripes"! I don’t know why they cut that out in the first place. Are they crazy?
RW: I know.
PJ: How did that end up on the cutting room floor? Are you kidding?
RW: It doesn’t seem that the producers were gun-shy with the mud wrestling and the other stuff in the movie.
RW: Since you brought it up. You showed your fans what a beautiful young girl looks like. Are you going to show your fans what a beautiful mature woman looks like. If the script is right?
PJ: I don’t think so. I think those days are over. I would totally embarrass my kids. I still look good, but as you get older…I don’t believe in plastic surgery or anything false like that. I still have my personality and my whit and my intelligence.
RW: The nudity is not what made you a star. It was just an added treat for the fans.
PJ: No. It was only in "Halloween" and "Stripes." Looking back I’m glad that I cam look at it and say "Wow, I was really hot!" (laughs)
RW: I imagine the first Playboy playmates from the 1950s, who are in their 80s now can show their grandkids the magazine and say "Look, I was hot back then!"
PJ: Yeah. I’m sure my son is glad he’s graduating from the Merchant Marine Academy before this DVD comes out! He’ll be out of there. When he first went there and they had a parent’s weekend, a lot of the cadets recognized me. It was so cute. They all wanted their pictures taken with me. It was like "Your mom is PJ Soles! Are you kidding! I love ‘Stripes’"
RW: How many times have you been asked to sign a spatula?
PJ: Many times. Not a lot of young kids, but older. People who saw it in the theater when it first came out.
RW: With you language skills, you would think that would give you a foot up in foreign films.
PJ: Yeah. So far nothing. But I’ve put it out that I can speak Spanish. That’s my strongest language. I helped my daughter in high school. She’s always two grades ahead in Spanish. I love helping her. We’ll see. Maybe it will help. Especially in California, we’re a bilingual state.
RW: You speak German don’t you?
RW: You need to get in touch with Tarantino. Look what he did for Travolta and Robert Forester. Maybe he has a part for a German house frau in “The Inglorious Bastards."
PJ: What’s that?
RW: It’s a reworking of "The Dirty Dozen."
PJ: I love "The Dirty Dozen." I wish they’d make a female version of "The Dirty Dozen."
Maybe Tarantino will give PJ Soles a call. Even if her doesn’t there are a number of filmmakers lining up to use her talents on film. Good for her and good for us!