With the RoboCop remake freshly out (and her role weirdly recast as Michael K. Williams), we thought it high time for a catch-up with the great Nancy Allen. The star of classics including Carrie, Dressed To Kill and Blow Out, plus non-classics like 1941 and Poltergeist III, Allen is now taking a break from acting to concentrate on fundraising for cancer charities. But she was happy to call from her New York home and discuss her career highs and lows...
|Nancy Allen today (left) and in 1976's Carrie|
Your Carrie co-star Piper Laurie released her autobiography, Learning To Live Out Loud, in 2011. Are you going to write a memoir yourself?
I don't know that my story is that interesting. I'm a pretty average gal, although I've been very fortunate and had an incredible career. Piper was in the studio system and has had a really interesting life. And she's one of the best actresses in a generation. So I'm thinking, "What's my story? What would keep people reading?" (Laughs) I grew up, made commercials, studied acting, moved to Hollywood, made movies, married a director, got divorced... Piper's 20 years older than I am, so maybe I'll get another perspective. We live our lives forwards, but understand it backwards, you know?
How do you spend your time these days?
I'm a little Grinch-like! Even on New Year's Eve, my tradition is to watch a movie and order pizza. I do some writing. I'm not a go-out type person. I'm a homebody. I think it all comes from when I was 22 - my brother and his partner and another friend of ours, we all took acid and went to three different parties. All I could see were people trying desperately to have a good time. I said, "Get me home. I can't look at this!" So maybe I was traumatised early on and it stayed with me.
You are active on Twitter, though. You've been talking a lot recently about Homeland...
|Carrie was a magical moment in time. It spoiled me, because I thought every movie was going to be that fabulous and creative.|
True. I'm really invested in that show, though I didn't like this last season so much. I think they've done for the most part an exceptional job with the scripts and the cast is stellar. But for me it was a big mistake to phase Brody out. And what on Earth are they doing with Rupert Friend? He's been relegated to lurking in parking lots! This is a great actor - what are they doing? What a waste!
Your first movie job was The Last Detail in 1975. What was it like?
I was with Jack Nicholson in a practical location, playing his girlfriend. And I was completely intimidated. Frozen in fear. I was originally offered the role of the hooker, which Carol Kane ultimately played so brilliantly. I called [casting director] Lynn Stalmaster and said, "You know, I don't think I can act and be naked at the same time!" I don't have any regrets about that, I must say. I think things unfold as they're meant to. But go figure, I was naked a few years later in Carrie!
How did you get that job?
I came out to Hollywood in September of '75. In November I thought, "Well, this isn't working out" and planned to go home. But a casting director I knew from New York brought me in for the last day of casting on Carrie and said, "You won't get the part, but at least you'll meet a good director." So I went in as the last person on the last day, and got the part.
Was Carrie more fun to make?
Absolutely. It was a magical moment in time. I couldn't believe it: a real movie and I had a real part. And Brian [De Palma] was about to break out, so that was his big moment. I don't remember being afraid on that set. The funny thing is that when I auditioned for it, it felt like do-or-die so I threw caution to the wind. John [Travolta] and I had a fabulous time working together and Brian is a great director, so I really had a great time on the movie. It spoiled me, because I thought that every movie was going to be that fun and that fabulous and that creative and that successful. I was very, very naive, because that's certainly not the case. You don't always have the right chemistry. You may make a great picture but it doesn't get the success it deserves. But Carrie was a special thing. I mean, look at the cast - everybody broke out from that movie. It was, I guess, a good thing that Brian spent so long casting the movie, because he got the right mix.
|Nancy with John Travolta and Brian De Palma on the set of Blow Out|
You then went on to work with Robert Zemeckis, Steven Spielberg and Brian De Palma another three times...
I had a remarkable journey, working with incredible people. At the time, in the '70s, everyone was so young. Steven was like a boy, living in a little cabin in Laurel Canyon. He'd made Jaws, and he was just about to start Close Encounters, but he was a kid. Everyone was so young and excited. I mean, to be in that group of people on a regular basis socially, listening to them discuss movies, it was like being in film school. So I feel I was lucky. I do believe in destiny, so I think it was the path I was destined to take. I reflect back to being a teenager and I had three experiences where people tried to put me in movies and I didn't go forward with it. So I guess sooner or later it was going to happen!
1941 was famously an out-of-control shoot. What was your experience of it?
|It's a lack of imagination. You think you can throw all these talented actors at it, call it RoboCop and make a great movie?|
Oh, those were the crazy times. We had a great time for six months. It was one big party. We all loved the Zemeckis and Gale script, but once we started shooting people were walking around scratching their heads, going, "It's funny, right?" We weren't really quite sure what was going on! Tim [Matheson] and I were really lucky: our storyline was so simple and did not change or veer off course. We fared pretty well in the long run. We had a great time.
What are your bad memories?
The underwater car stunt in Blow Out was tough. If you're claustrophobic it's a tough stunt, and I'm absolutely claustrophobic. The other time that really was a problem for me was during I Want To Hold Your Hand. I had to go under the bed in The Beatles' suite and sometimes the crew forgot I was there when they were fixing the lighting. I was not happy under there at all! Give me a gun any day, just don't put me under a bed...
Blow Out's one of my favourite films of yours...
I loved working on Blow Out. That was just an incredible experience. It's really hard to say which is my favourite, but there are a handful I love. Carrie is special because it was my first film that I had a significant role in. RoboCop because it was so unique and original and I got to do something that there was no reason to give to me given the roles I'd done previously. And Blow Out, that was a great challenge, because I didn't particularly like the character when we started out. I wasn't supposed to do it originally, so to fall in love with that character, and to work with John [Travolta] and Dennis Franz... my God, talk about a dream come true.
|Starring alongside Peter Weller in 1987's RoboCop|
With Carrie and RoboCop remakes out recently, we're starting to suspect Hollywood executives are going through your filmography, ticking things off. What's your take on it?
It's a lack of imagination. I want to say, "Really? Is this the best you can do?" I love Paul Verhoeven's quote. When we had the 25th anniversary of RoboCop and a big screening at UCLA, the moderator said, "This year Total Recall was remade and now RoboCop is being remade. What do you think of that?" Paul said, "It's very depressing. I should be dead." (Laughs) Knowing Paul, he's so dark and so Dutch, but I get it. His RoboCop was extraordinary: a science-fiction film but with all the depth of character he'd explored in his films in Holland. So I want to say, "Really? You think you can throw all these talented actors at it, call it RoboCop and make a great movie?" I will be stunned if this movie is good.
Have you seen the original recently?
|The underwater car stunt in Blow Out was tough. I'm absolutely claustrophobic.|
I had a screening for a fundraiser last year. A lot of people came, including some of my friends in the industry, and they said, "Oh my God, this movie still plays." And it's only an hour and 45 minutes long. It goes like gangbusters.
Do you consider yourself retired?
I haven't done any acting in ten years. The last thing I did was a Law & Order SVU, which I had a really good experience on. It's a two-fold thing. If I look back at the latter things in my career, I was not happy. When you start out and you're working on great pieces and then all of a sudden you're just working, going to work not because you love it but because you're paying the bills - working on things that I wouldn't necessarily see - I was not happy. Jason Robards said, "Once someone starts paying my bills, I'll be a lot more choosey about what I do." That's kind of how I felt. I was not very fulfilled. I got sidetracked into this world of fundraising and non-profit, with my friend Wendy, helping her out. And it became a new passion. So what I say is, I haven't quit but I'm not going to do anything unless something comes along and I get excited about it. I hope it does. I miss acting. I love acting. I was recently at Universal, doing a fundraiser, and it reminded me of the first time walking onto a soundstage, going, "Oh! This is where I belong."