P.J. Soles has been in a great number of films, some that are iconic in their own way, each epitomizing a genre. For horror fans she’s known as the bullying “Norma” in Brian De Palma’s “Carrie” or as “Lynda”, the promiscuous “totally girl” in John Carpenter’s “Halloween”. And in the realm of comedy she’s beloved as the gorgeous MP who befriends Bill Murray in “Stripes”, or in her leading role as “Riff Randall” in the classic Ramones vehicle “Rock N’ Roll High School”.
I did a Podcast interview with P.J. on my show Cult/Film/Freak/Radio and transcribed excerps from that conversation which is over ninety minutes in length, and well worth the listen.
How did you get the part as “Norma” in Brian De Palma’s “Carrie”?
So how did your famous red hat come about?
And then for the next three auditions every time I would leave he would say, “And bring the hat.” And when we did the screen testing and pretty much everyone that was screen tested… I tested for the Nancy Allen part… Amy Irving tested for the “Carrie” role… But Brian basically said, “Everybody’s gonna get a part.” And I was disappointed that I got a smaller part but it turned out to be good, but when I was leaving the screen test he said, “Next time you come to the set, bring the hat.” And I was thinking, “What’s with the hat?”
But then I realized, as I was spending all these weekends with these pretty girls, and all these girls were trying to out-pretty each other, I thought, I better take the tomboy tactic to stand out. Everybody wore black shorts and I showed up in the red satin shorts and Brian let me do it. He thought that was hilarious. He would never say anything. He would just laugh. Kinda get this impish, devilish grin on his face so you knew that he liked it if that was his response.
Then you worked on another iconic horror classic, “Halloween”, directed by John Carpenter, who I heard was very into improvising and said on a commentary that he never used storyboards… How does Carpenter’s directing style differ from Brian De Palma’s?
One scene comes to mind when he pulled me in… When Amy Irving is hanging a star in the gym, getting ready for the prom and Nancy and I are standing there, and whispering, and she’s telling me she has a secret, and I’m telling her, “Come on, tell me, I’m your best friend.” He gave us five minutes to do that scene. He said, “We’re gonna break for lunch, but if you can think of something to show that you guys are best friends, and she knows something you don’t, then go for it.” And we shot that, and got it in one take. I never thought he was going to keep that in because it went so fast. It went “Whoosh” and yet, you know, he really didn’t need to do that but he let us do it and it was fine.
John [Carpenter] on the other hand was very collaborative. He would talk about your character. And “What did you want to do here?” And “We’re thinking of this” and “Whatever you want to add.” And, like in the beginning, walking out of the schoolyard, there was no dialog there; it was just directions in the script when they were walking out of the school. But he wanted to put something. And when he got it, he would say, “That was great” or, you know… He was very enthusiastic. But Brian would kind of grin and smile and move on.
For Brian it was the bigger element of how the scene was gonna look. The cinematography of it and the effect of the scene, but not so much the tiny, tiny little details even though he invited those. But for John I think it was the little tiny details that made the thing the bigger picture. So he really enjoyed the collaboration we were giving to him. And we all felt like part of the team. At the end of the shot we all had to go out and pick up all the leaves because… there were no leaves… And they’re on the ground and we had two big garbage bags full. We all picked up the leaves.
And it’s not like we could comment on other people’s scenes but you were responsible for, in your own scenes, whatever you wanted to contribute. John was very gracious and excepting more times than not. And he’d go “That was great.” But you never got a “That was great” from Brian. You just got a smile. And an, “Okay, let’s move on.”
How did you get the leading role of “Riff Randall” in “Rock N’ Roll High School”?
I was so excited to have a lead part and a character that, again, was not me in any way because I went to high school in Brussels. I was raised around the world. My father was Dutch, my mother was from New Jersey, I’d never lived in the State but I knew a lot of Americans from where I lived in the different countries I was raised in. And I based my character on that, and American TV, so it was a challenge for me.
My one thing there was to give her as much energy as possible. I wanted to be in fast motion. And I wanted everyone else around me to be in slow motion. So that’s kind of what I gave that character.
Were you a Ramones fan prior to the film?
And then the first scene that we shot was of me in bed – of Joey singing over me. “These are the Ramones… Take your clothes off and Joey’s gonna now sing to you.” I was like, “Who are these guys?”
What did you think of The Ramones when you first met them?
Did you and Bill Murray adlib any scenes in “Stripes”?
So Bill… we were talking in the kitchen… And Bill opens the refrigerator and takes out a carrot. And I just looked at him and said, “What are you gonna do with that?” And Ivan just said, “Bring the camera in here. Let’s roll it.” And we shot that in literally twenty minutes. With coverage and everything. And I love that. It’s one of my favorite all-time scenes and because of the fact it just happened so automatically. That’s my favorite kind of acting, when something’s real and the responses are real and, you know, Bill led the way and I followed.
Original Interview and Transcription by James M. Tate
PJ SOLES OFFICIAL WEBSITE
TOTALLY PJ SOLES (a cool fan group, not mine)
BATES HIGH SCHOOL REUNION (my “Carrie” group)
And for the complete 95 minute P.J. Soles Podcast Interview go to: