My first exposure to my next interview subject came via HBO Comedy in the 00s. I had read a review of the 1980 comedy Serial in a 1987 book of movie reviews from People Magazine. Intrigued by the review, I saw Serial on HBO Comedy and loved the tale of hippies transforming into yuppies on the cusp of a new decade. One of the movie’s many memorable performances came from Stacey Nelkin, who played a cashier named Marlene. As the years progressed, I would come to enjoy Ms. Nelkin’s work in projects like Get Crazy and Yellowbeard. Eventually, I became friends with her on Facebook, and after reaching out to her press representative through her website The Daily Affair, where she writes about parenting and other topics, she agreed to an interview. We spoke on March 6th, and I hope you enjoy getting to know Ms. Nelkin, who is not only an actress, but a writer and a parenting expert as well.
Say hello to Stacey Nelkin!
Johnny: Hi, Stacey.
Stacey: Hey, Johnny. How are you?
Johnny: I’m okay. I just wanted to thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to speak to me.
Stacey: Of course.
Johnny: I have my questions ready to go, and I always start off my interviews with these two questions. First, what were your pop-cultural likes growing up, like favorite movies and music?
Stacey: Ha ha, okay. I used to be obsessed with the movies of the late 30s, 40s and 50s. In my day, they had all those great movies on TV. I watched all of them. I was in love with Natalie Wood and Audrey Hepburn, although that’s now more early 60s, but I loved Joan Crawford films. Really old stuff, and I really try to turn my kids onto it, but it’s hard. Gone With The Wind, I would have to say, was my favorite film. How boring and cliche is that, but it really was. I’ve seen it in its’ entirety probably 15 times. That was my favorite, and then I have more obscure favorites. There’s a film by Paul Verhoeven called Keetje Tippel, starring Monique Van De Ven and Rutger Hauer, before he became an American star. It was in Dutch, and it was kind of like a Cinderella story, but very sexy and kind of raunchy. It’s an interesting story about a prostitute in 1600s Amsterdam. It was graphic, and that’s how Verhoeven did his Dutch films. Music? I loved all kinds of music, like classical jazz. I like Stevie Wonder, he’s an all-time favorite, and Prince, as well as the group Chicago. I like all kinds of music, except country (laughing) and, this is going to disturb some fans, I’m sure, heavy metal. My husband likes some heavy metal, though.
Johnny: Okay. The next question I always ask is: What were your high school days like?
Stacey: Mine? Wow. Well, I was already acting. I had an agent. I was at Stuyvesant High School, so I already was in the professional realm of acting and auditioning after school every day. I was at a top elite public high school, and did really well. I didn’t work as hard as I maybe needed to or should have, but I graduated with As and honors. It kind of came naturally to me, and then I met Woody Allen, so my high school day as a senior certainly were changed. We were dating at that point in time, and everybody was going out with other seniors or juniors, while I was dating a man 25 years older. It was different that way.
Johnny: My first exposure to your work came when I saw Serial, where you played Marlene, on HBO Comedy one evening in the mid-00s. What was your favorite memory of working on that movie?
Stacey: Oh my God, I had such a crush on Martin Mull. I had a huge crush on him. I had the greatest time just working with him. That kind of kept me going on a daily basis, working with him on set. Bill Persky, the director, was just amazing. He was just great, forward and funny. I was so grateful that he cast me, because I had such fun doing that movie. Sally Kellerman, Bill Macy, and all these established talents were in it, Tuesday Weld, Christopher Lee…I had just come out to L.A not even a year before and was getting to work with these real professionals. I was already a professional, but these people were really good. It was really, really fun. I’m an old hippie at heart, so I loved the film, and I loved my character.
Johnny: That actually leads me into my next question about the topic of Serial. Although you’re a Baby Boomer, you’re closer in age to Generation X than to the hippies, so do you think a movie like Serial could be made about Generation Xers maturing, or is it too realistic to be played for laughs?
Stacey: (Laughing) That’s a great question. You know, it’s kind of changed so much. Everything’s so about money today. The beautiful part about Serial, and that whole time and place, was that it was about much more freedom. Freedom of sex and love and all of those things…It wasn’t just about money. It was about feeling good, exploring who you are and exploring who other people are. It was a much more spiritual time and place. Now, obviously it was idealized because it was a film (laughing), based on Cyra McFadden’s book, but we’re not even close to that anymore. I think we’ve come as far away from that time period as possible, which makes me very sad, especially for my kids growing up in this era. It’s a very, very, very different time.
Johnny: Also in 1980, you played Candy in Up The Academy. That movie caused so much upset that MAD Magazine took their name off the movie, as did Ron Leibman. Do you think the movie was that bad, or do you think that people were blowing it out of proportion?
Stacey: Oh, no. I think that people were totally blowing it out of proportion. You know, I’ve seen Ron subsequently because his wife, Jessica Walter, many times was my “Movie Mom”. We became very close. They’ve been married for many years. I bumped into Ron in Central Park and we walked our dogs. It wasn’t until many years later that I found out that he took his name off, and I never understood that. I know that, at the time, there were a lot of drugs on set, no names mentioned. There was a lot of stuff going on, but it was fun. Nothing serious. Nobody got hurt. Nobody OD’d. There was nothing like that. It was just kind of the time period. I don’t know what it was about the film that Ron found so disturbing and distasteful that he had to take his name off it. I don’t understand, but MAD Magazine? I think that was a whole other deal. I’m not sure what that was about. I know that, for some people, it was something of a little cult film.
Johnny: Yeah. I know that MAD Magazine disliked having their name on the movie so much that they did a parody of it in the magazine called MAD Magazine Resents: Throw Up The Academy.
Stacey: (Laughing) Okay. They put their name on it. After we finished shooting, we got a call saying we need to do a little ending to the movie now, and that was after MAD Magazine put their name on it, which they had originally not had their name connected to it. It was after the shooting, and after the original ending of the film, that they did this trailer and they had this huge Alfred E. Neuman. We changed it. That was an afterthought, and so obviously they thought it was a mistake of an afterthought, but that’s how that all happened.
Johnny: I didn’t know that about the movie. We now come to Halloween III: Season Of The Witch, where you played Ellie Grimbridge. That movie turns 35 this year, and even though it was not that successful in its’ initial run, the movie has gained admiration over the past several decades. What do you think has made Halloween III continue to stand out after all these years?
Stacey: You know, that is such a great question, Johnny. I honestly have no idea, and it’s kind of taken all of us by surprise. I think there’s something about early films, whether they’re the Halloween films or the Friday The 13th films, that had something later films don’t have. The later ones all kind of blend into each other. They all seem to be versions of the same theme. I think the reason Halloween III is getting its’ cult following is because it’s actually more of a sci-fi film. It’s more like Invasion Of The Body Snatchers in a certain way, and I think because the film was made, there was something much more real about it. It’s not like The Blair Witch Project, where they did a whole bunch of those. There was something unique and original about that Halloween. 1 and 2 were great, and 3 was such a departure. After that, I think they started belaboring the point, but Halloween III? All of us are kind of stumped why it’s gained its’ cult following, but there’s something about the way it was shot, John. There was more thought put into it, and it wasn’t just a cliche of a cliche of a cliche (laughing) of a horror film. I think the last 20 or 30 years of horror films are not like the original. They’re not like The Exorcist or things like that at all, which is why they’ve been able to do all of these spoofs of horror films, like Scary Movie. They’re all the same kind of thing. That’s why it’s so easy to do a spoof of them. I think ours’ was a little more original.
Johnny: Another question about that movie: As a parent, when Halloween rolls around, do you sing the Silver Shamrock jingle to your kids?
Stacey: (Laughing) No. All of a sudden, my kids are of an age that they can watch it. I have an 18-year-old, a 16-year-old and a 12-year-old, but for so many years, when they were actually interested in seeing my films and not self-absorbed teenagers, as they are now (laughing), I didn’t want them to see it as they were too young. They’d get freaked out. Personally, I was traumatized by watching The Exorcist. I remember going to see it, and I couldn’t sleep for a month. I had some serious nightmares. It really, really rocked my world, and I didn’t want that for my kids with a film I had done. I don’t sing the jingle and I don’t let them see it. They may have seen little parts of it when it’s played on TV, but it would obviously be a little weird for my 16-year-old son to see it because I have a semi-nude scene. It’s a little awkward at this point, you know?
Johnny: Yeah. In 1983, you played Triola in Yellowbeard. What was it like to be working with such a stacked list of comedic talent?
Stacey: That was the highlight of my career, honestly. It really, really, truly was. The talent on that film was unparalleled, and it’s so sad that the film did so badly and kind of sunk. They had such high expectations for it at Orion Pictures that they had the film crew from Making Raiders Of The Lost Ark follow us. They were with us for the entire shoot because Orion had such high hopes that this was going to be a huge, huge success, and we all know what happened, but the talent on that film was incredible. It was really quite something. Between the writers, the actors and the directors, it was really something. David Bowie came to the set and visited us, as did Harry Nillson. Obviously, if the film had done better, my career would’ve been in a better position, but that didn’t happen. I’m sorry THAT film hasn’t taken off with a cult following, because I think there were some really great performances in it.
Johnny: When it comes to Yellowbeard, did you and the other cast members do any improvising on set, or did you all stick to the script?
Stacey: There was some, but not a lot. Behind the scenes, in between takes, we would all hang out, have fun, have a drink and other things (laughing). We’d improvise comedic stuff, but on set, no. The writers were on set the whole time, Peter Cook, Graham Chapman and Bernard McKenna. I think they were very happy with their lines. They were okay if we wanted to change it, but it was so well-written that there was no need.
Johnny: Also in 1983, you played Susie Allen in Get Crazy. What was it about the script that appealed to you?
Stacey: What was it about that one? Let me think how I got it. I just liked the whole rock-n-roll thing, and Susie was fun. Several people had already been cast, and it was something I wanted to be a part of. At the time, I was not a big Lou Reed fan, so I had no idea how blessed I was to be able to work with him, and have a whole scene with him at the end singing to me. It was quite something, which I only realized in retrospect (laughing). Getting to work with Malcolm McDowell and Daniel Stern? They were really great people, and then Allan Arkush asked me afterward to do the Bette Midler/Mick Jagger video as he was directing that. Somebody who was supposed to do it had dropped out, and we already had this relationship from him casting me as Susie.
Johnny: I loved that music video. That definitely was a blast. The thing is that I actually heard Bette Midler’s version of “Beast Of Burden” before I heard the Stones’ version (Stacey laughing). I performed “Beast Of Burden” at karaoke one evening, but because I hadn’t heard the Stones’ version, I was channeling Midler’s vocals. Obviously, the Stones’ version was different, so it was kind of awkward.
Stacey: That’s funny. I like hers’ just as much, I have to say.
Johnny: When it comes to Get Crazy, this may be more of a question for Allan Arkush, but I haven’t contacted him yet, so I’ll ask you: Is there any chance we’ll see a studio like Shout! Select or Kino Lorber Studio Classics do a release of Get Crazy on Blu-Ray and/or DVD, or is that not in the cards?
Stacey: That’s a great question that probably Allan could answer, and it should happen. There was a screening of it at a film society in New York about four or five years ago, and I bought my daughter. Miles Chapin was there, as well as Allan and a few others. I don’t know what the plan for it is, but it could certainly find some sort of following today, obviously with all the Lou Reed fans, but all those performers were amazing. People like Lee Ving kind of scared me at the time, because they were hardcore punk and that was certainly not part of my world. I hadn’t been going to those kinds of clubs, and I hadn’t been exposed to those kinds of people, but they were the greatest people, wonderful to work with. It was eye-opening, and culturally, I was learning about different people. It was really quite an experience and a lot of fun.
Johnny: It definitely was.
Stacey: …And the Wiltern Theatre is still there.
Johnny: Moving into the 90s, in 1994, you played Rita in Bullets Over Broadway. As an entertainer who grew up in New York City, albeit in the 60s and 70s, how accurately would you say Woody Allen and Douglas McGrath captured the struggles of aspiring entertainers?
Stacey: (Laughing) Oh, wow. Well, you know, “Don’t speak, don’t speak”. It was obviously very exaggerated, and maybe based on some rumors, maybe they were true, I don’t know, about some of those film and theater stars from the early days who were completely self-absorbed and selfish. I wasn’t around in those days, but I imagine, to a certain extent, that exists today with certain film and theater stars, which is unfortunate. I think most of the people I’ve worked with have been terrific, but there’s always those who get certain reputations. Woody was obsessed with the old times when he was a little kid and before, and I love that as I love doing period films. He manages to capture a different time period, like the 20s or 30s or 40s.
Johnny: On a different tack, you’re a writer, and you’ve written several books about topics like romance. What has writing provided you that acting hasn’t?
Stacey: That’s a great question. You probably know this, too, but there’s a certain amount of control that you have as a writer. You can do it when you want to do it. You’re not dependent on other actors, the script, a director, all these things. Putting a film or play together is a huge production. that’s why they call it a production. I mean, it’s a big deal, and there’s something about writing that you can do at any time. You do it on your own schedule, and you don’t have people telling you what to do, unless it’s the editor. It’s that modicum of control, and being able to create when you want to and feel the need to, as opposed to waiting. There’s a lot of passivity as an actor. You’re always waiting to get cast, waiting to get hired, waiting for the other actors to come in. It’s a very passive kind of thing in a certain way.
Johnny: I can see that. As both a parent, and a writer about parenthood, I’m sure you’ve heard people say that kids are behaving worse today than when the parents were kids. Why do you think that’s a common thought?
Stacey: Everybody I know who is a parent says the same thing. We are all plagued by this issue. I do think, and it makes sense to me, that a certain amount of it has to do with the advent of the Internet. I’m of a certain age where I didn’t grow up with any of that stuff. Kids are growing up with it. When they’re five years old, they know how to text and work a computer. What’s happened is people who are adults need to look to their kids to help them figure out certain things, and the power has shifted. It used to be kids would always look to their parents for answers. “How do you do this?”. “Show me how to do that”. Now it’s people of my generation asking younger ones how to do this. “Show me how to do that”. There’s a certain kind of power that’s gone to the kids’ heads, and culturally, I don’t understand it. I go through this every day. My husband and I look at each other and say, “Oh my God. How did this happen? How did our kids become like this?”. It’s kind of scary. I don’t know, but I do think the computer and all of that has changed things for a lot of people, and certainly for us as parents. These kids are born texting and Tweeting and all of these things.
Johnny: Alright. On a lighter note, you’re a regular on the convention circuit, with Chiller Theatre in Parsippany, NJ on your docket for April. What’s the most rewarding part of attending conventions?
Stacey: Oh, I love meeting the fans. I really, truly do. I’m a real people person. I love getting to talk to them. I love that it makes THEM happy to get to meet me and talk about the movies. Honestly, without the fans, I wouldn’t be doing any of those things because Halloween III is really the one film that has bought me to those things. Even though I did a bunch of other films, that’s usually the one that’s recognized. The horror fans are amazing people. They’re really intelligent and they really get into it. It’s really rewarding to get to meet these fans, these people who are keeping the film alive.
Johnny: Regretfully, I won’t be able to make it to the April Chiller.
Stacey: Oh, bummer! You usually go to that one, don’t you?
Johnny: The only one I’m able to attend due to working part time is October of every year.
Stacey: I see. Well, you’ve also seen the horror fans get dressed up. They’re very, very creative. I mean, that’s the other great part of it, looking at the costumes. These people really get into it, so it’s fun for them. They’re bringing out their dark sides, you know?
Johnny: It’s definitely a blast. To my next question: What would you say has been the biggest change in the entertainment industry between 1978, when you started acting according to the IMDB, and 2017?
Stacey: Oh my God, Johnny, so much has changed and not for the better. So much has changed. Let’s start with the Godawful reality Tv shows. I feel like we’re living in one right now with Trump as our president. It’s just a fucking nightmare, excuse my French. To me, that was the downfall of television and really changed it all for actors. First of all, there were far fewer parts. All the soap operas went under. Parts for real actors became scarce because ABC and NBC and CBS were all filled with Housewives Of Here, These People Are Lost, all these different kinds of shows. The other thing that’s changed incredibly today is that I spoke to a casting director, and she said you can’t bring in actors today unless they have a certain amount of Twitter followers. You have to have a fan base of, I don’t know, something like 45,000 or some ridiculous amount. You can obviously also pay to get Twitter followers, but the whole notion of all of this is so scary. There’s literally no face-to-face meetings anymore. Nobody gets to go in and meet a casting director or another actor or producer to go in and read. A lot of relationships start by Twitter and texting. There’s no voice to voice, no face to face. This is how a lot of casting happens now. It’s all video or sent from your phone, some brief conversation. There’s no body contact. There’s no real human contact. That’s very scary. It’s all kind of done through the mediums of Tweeting, texting, videoing and that kind of thing. It’s really scary. It’s drastically changed. It was never like that.
Johnny: You’re talking about Twitter followers and how that factors into auditions. You can’t see it, but I have a look on my face like, “Oh my God, it’s like that?”. That’s shocking.
Stacey: Yeah. If you have these followers, you can be someone without any talent or anything. There was always a certain amount of nepotism in the film business, and I ran up against that all the time, but today you could be some celebrity from the Internet and doing a YouTube video, and you’re going to get a part in a film because you have more fans. It’s just crazy. It’s not about the talent anymore when building a career. It’s “everybody’s got their 15 minutes of stardom”. Andy Warhol was beyond brilliant when he said that, because that’s what it’s become now.
Johnny: I can only wonder what Warhol would say about this if he were still alive.
Stacey: Yeah (laughing). It’s frightening. I think he’s turning over in his grave seeing this craziness, you know, although he probably would have loved it.
Johnny: Now I come to my final question, and it’s this. I always end every interview with this one: If you could go back to your youth with the knowledge that you have now, would you do anything differently?
Stacey: (Laughing) Oh, God, so many things. First of all, I wouldn’t have broken up with Woody Allen when I was 19. He wanted to get more serious, and I was in the middle of dating all kinds of younger, different types of people, actors and producers and such. I think things might have turned out differently. I may have been Woody’s next Diane Keaton or Scarlet Johannson. I also see that the girls who really made it, who I used to know, who were so driven, like Sharon Stone… Before she was anything, she was one of the most driven human beings to become a success. I was always afraid to help myself, and to talk about myself, and to put myself really out there. You know, it was all about self-esteem and feeling deserving of success. I think that was part of my downfall. I don’t think I felt it enough. Personal issues held me back, and a lot of timing and luck, but if I could do it again, I think I would’ve been a little more volunteering about who I am and what I have to offer, and I was too nice, which doesn’t help you much in that business, you know?
Johnny: I do.
Stacey: I did it my way, and that was my way, by being a nice, loving person, but the business doesn’t thrive on that. The business likes egos, so I’d maybe pump up my ego a bit more.
Johnny: Alright. That about does it for my questions. Again, I want to thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to speak to me.
Stacey: Of course, Johnny. If you do talk to Allan Arkush, give him my love, as well as any of those people I lost contact with.
Johnny: I will.
Stacey: I’m sorry I won’t be seeing you in April, but maybe the following year.
Johnny: I hope you have a good day, and I’ll speak to you soon.
Stacey: Thank you so much, Johnny. You, too. Be well.
Stacey: Bye bye.
I would like to thank Stacey Nelkin for taking the time out of her schedule to speak to me. For more on Stacey’s writings on parenting and life in general, visit her website, The Daily Affair.
Coming soon to the Flashback Interview: With a new Power Rangers movie coming to theaters very soon, I’ll be speaking to Hilary Shepard, who played Divatox in several incarnations of Power Rangers. You’ll see that there’s a whole tremendous lot more to her than Divatox, though. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading.