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PJ SOLES: My 'totally' awesome night with a legend

by Collin Souter

(CHICAGO FLASHBACK WEEKEND COVERAGE) I’ll try and spare you the “fanboy” stuff. Seriously, I know how annoying that can get and I’d hate to sound like one of those hard-up derelicts spinning tall tales for the sake of adoration from his/her phantom fan base. After all, I don’t write for Aint It Cool News. No, here, I will try to maintain journalistic integrity. After all, I’m sure the folks who run Flashback Weekend, a horror/sci-fi convention that takes place on a yearly basis here in Chicago, has more than its share of fanboys gawking at celebrities. The fanboys (and girls, lest I forget) get to hobnob with the best of them as they tour the dealer tables, attend the forums and, of course, screen the best of the best in horror/sci-fi. Tonight’s offering: A brand-spanking new print of John Carpenter’s classic “Halloween,” introduced by none other than P.J. “Totally” Soles.

(Okay, so, like, I’m sitting near the front row of the Pickwick Theater, where they’re about to show “Halloween,” and suddenly, a mere fifteen feet away stands P.J. Soles!...)

Ahem! Sorry about that. P.J. Soles, 49, will always be famous for four movies in particular: “Carrie,” “Halloween,” “Stripes,” and my personal favorite “Rock and Roll High School.” She doesn’t seem to mind that all the questions from this Q&A revolve around those four movies. In fact, her favorite experience of shooting “Halloween” would probably be considered to be the most uncomfortable for most actresses:

“Even though it was ‘the boob scene,’” she says. “It was a very intimate setting because it was only me, (Dean) Cundey, the cinematographer, and John Carpenter in the room, who was very concerned. He said, ‘Uuuh, you know I want to show a little something because, you know, I want this to be a really interesting movie and if you’re uncomfortable, you know, don’t do it, but whatever you could do’…and it was kind of fun because that whole scene was off the top of my head and improvised, just like the spatula scene in the kitchen (from ‘Stripes’).”

(Okay, so like, P.J. Soles co-starred in “Stripes,” the first R-rated movie I ever saw. And she’s in a movie I watched earlier this evening and one that I remember watching a LOT when I was a kid, “Rock and Roll High School.” And she plays a die-hard fan of The Ramones, which I can relate to like you wouldn’t believe (about U2, not The Ramones). So, her being here just kicks ass for me as a movie fan and a rock fan…)

Hey, stop that. Okay, back to the article. Soles hasn’t lost the spirit of Riff Randell. She still has that fun-loving free-spiritedness about her. She showed up dressed Annie Hall-style, with Red pants, white buttoned shirt and a plaid tie. She never once took off her smile. Film critic Nick Digilio moderated the Soles Q&A, in which I asked her about working with the strong comedic talent on “Stripes”:

(Dude, I asked her a question and…)

Yeah, we know. “They had to pry (Bill Murray) out of the dressing room,” she says. “Get him to the set, you know, ‘Come on, be funny.’ Because they relied on him. It was quite a burden for him, because I think Ivan Reitman and Harold Ramis relied on him to come up with anything other than what was in the script. I remember I used to call Sean Young, Sean very Young. That was my nickname for her. It was her first movie and she was only 20.”

Digilio pipes in: “Is she nuts?”

Soles’ reply: “We would do a couple of scenes and the first time she did a scene with me and Bill, she pulled him aside, grabbed his arm and said, ‘you know that was good, but I think the line reading of that line should be different.’ Bill Murray looked like he was going to kill her. I said, ‘alright, Sean very Young, I don’t think you want to tell Bill Murray how to act.’ That was the beginning of her illness, I think.”

(Awesome. Okay, so, “Halloween” starts and about 10 minutes in, my buddy Nick comes up to me and says, “Hey, I’m sitting in the back if you want to join me back there.” Sure, why not? Dude behind me is chewing too loud anyway. I follow Nick to the back and he’s sitting with P.J. Soles and her teenage daughter. He formally introduces me to both of them. This is way, way too cool!!!)

(Sigh!) Nowadays, Soles embraces her past roles in movies that have endured the test of time without resting on her laurels. “I took a lot of time off to raise my two kids,” she says. “But all that time I was working, writing scripts. I’m co-producing a movie for Paramount that has to do with aviation and women, so I’m very happy doing that and it’s a project from my heart that I really want to do. I’ve also done a few small parts, I was the mom in ‘Jawbreaker,’ if anyone saw that movie.”

During that time, it seems as though Soles also managed to avoid the 10 or so sequels to “Halloween.”
“I only saw ‘H2O,’ because Jamie-Lee Curtis invited me to the premier. I came around the corner and there were all these media people and she sees me across the room, and goes, ‘FUCK!’ I don’t know if anyone ever recorded that, but I thought it was pretty weird. I said to her, ‘Jamie, come on, you could have had me in (the movie) as a flashback or an opening credit, something like that,’ but I thought it was okay… I did see ‘Rock and Roll High School Forever.’ I wish I could forever forget it.”

(So, we’re watching “Halloween” and it occurs to me that this is the second time I have sat in a movie theater with someone associated with “Rock and Roll High School.” The other was Joe Dante in 2000. Damn, I’m one lucky bastard!)

Shush, now. Speaking of “Rock and Roll High School,” Soles gave us a tidbit of information I found particularly disturbing: “I heard that Howard Stern is doing a remake of ‘Rock and Roll High School’ and they asked me to do a cameo in it, but I think we should have a ‘Rock and Roll High School’ reunion movie. It would be hard to do a remake nowadays and really blow up a high school. You would never find a band like The Ramones. You know, I know there are some wonderful new bands out there, but I don’t know if you could re-create what ‘Rock and Roll High School’ really was.”

Does this mean she has always been and remains a loyal fan of the group? “I listened to Jackson Browne and The Eagles at that point, so when (director) Alan Arkush had given me a cassette of The Ramones and I was supposed to be the #1 fan, I put it on and I remember running around the house going, ‘Aaaaaahh, I’m supposed to be the #1 fan, how am I going to do this?’ But, it slowly, slowly got into my brain and heart and just working with them and getting to know them, but it was a wonderful experience. Actually, now I appreciate them even more than ever because I realize what their place in punk rock history is, and it was an honor to be Riff Randell.”

(Okay, awkward moment, here. The boob scene, right? It occurs to me…P.J. Soles is sitting in a big, beautiful theater. She has two male hormonal film critics sitting on one side of her and her teenage daughter on the other. Her sex scene and boob shot blaze across the big screen in this pristine, flawless print. What could be going through her mind at this point? I decide that if I have a chance to ask her this probing question, I will…)

At the beginning of the Q&A, Digilio assured the audience that they can ask P.J. Soles anything (he had her on his radio show a week ago). The audience did not hold back:
“Did you have sex with any of The Ramones?”
“No,” she says, laughing. “Definitely not. You know, they were so nervous about being in a movie, because they were big fans of Roger Corman films and they had seen me in ‘Carrie’ and ‘Halloween.’ But, definitely not. Johnny’s pretty cute.”
“So, who is under the sheet in ‘Halloween’?”
“That was Nick Castle,” she says. “You didn’t know that from all the tributes? He and John Carpenter were really best friends.”
“Has any other guy ever given you the Aunt Jamima treatment?”
“(Laughing) No, no, no, I’ve made many pancakes, but no one has ever given me that, just Bill Murray. You’ve got to have the stove really hot.”

(Dude, Nick just got up and left. I’m sitting here with P.J. Soles. What the hell do I say? Anything? I got a lot of people sitting around me. Shit, I didn’t expect this. Do I say, ‘Dude, you’re really cool.’ No, stupid! ‘How does it feel seeing your boobs?’ No. God, I’m an idiot. Well, heck, it’s not like I make a habit out of striking up a conversation in the middle of a movie, unless it’s the Cremaster series…)

The movie played to a half-filled theater, which sounds like a medium-sized success, but considering the mammoth size of the Pickwick Theater, it says quite a bit. The original “Halloween” remains a classic. Totally. When asked if the movie has left her with any deep-seeded fears, Soles replied: “No, no. I’ve been asked that question many times, whether or not it’s scary making a horror film, but absolutely not at all. In fact, Nick Castle was the one who was strangling me and I kept laughing because the cord was tickling my throat.”

(So, the credits were about to roll. Nick got up and went to the lobby. I followed. P.J., her daughter and what seemed to be an entourage (a couple guys with tags on) soon exited the theater. P.J. comes right up to me and says, “Wow that was fun.” No way! “Yeah,” I say like a total doofus. “Thanks for coming out here.” I’m sitting here totally talking to P.J. Soles one on one and it rules. Only I sound like an idiot. “I absolutely love ‘Rock and Roll High School,’ you have no idea. Thanks for making it, being in it.” “Wow, cool, thanks,” she says with this cool smile. Then her entourage ushered her out of the theater before John Malkovich could snipe her.)

While watching her own performance in “Halloween,” Soles giggled with delight along with the audience every time her valley girl character said the word “Totally.” She seems to be as much of a fan of her work as the rest of us. Yeah, okay, so I can’t help but be a geeky fanboy every once in a while. Can you blame me? It’s Riff Randell! All guys dream of being with a girl like Riff!

For more information on Flashback Weekend in Chicago, go to www.flashbackweekend.com


link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=750
originally posted: 06/14/03 18:06:31
last updated: 09/23/05 14:33:37
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