For people of a certain age, there was no experience giddier than the unsupervised viewing of an R-rated movie. For many of us, these viewings mainly depended on our parents going to bed so we could sneak into the living room at one in the morning and fire up HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, what have you.
Many of the movies available on cable in the early 1980s were the horror movies of the late 1970s, so many of us got to see such chestnuts as Carrie and Halloween while we were still 11 years old and not sure if the behavior in these movies was normal. If we were permanently scarred by them, it was a small price to pay to see great cinema, and to be able to brag to one’s classmates that you had tasted this forbidden fruit.
Both of these movies featured performances by PJ Soles, who we got to see strangled by a telephone wire or drowned by a firehose. But that’s not all! We also got to see her in Rock ‘n’ Roll High School alongside the Ramones, making Soles the rare performer who has not just one but three signature roles. And that’s not even counting her work in Stripes, Private Benjamin, Breaking Away and The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, as well as countless others.
Soles was kind enough to grant The Z Review an interview, and she was even cooperative enough to make the first Z Review playlist in human history to be curated by someone not on our staff. We greatly appreciate her taking the time to do this, and when you’re done reading her comments, please listen to her “Gone Too Soon” playlist, which can be enjoyed in its entirety by clicking the thingy in the bottom place. Huzzah!
TZR: You’re probably best-known for your work in Carrie, Halloween and Rock and Roll High School. What are your favorite movies that you’ve starred in, and which ones do you think represent your best work?
PJS: Those are all my favorite movies, including Stripes, but those are my most iconic roles and best-known films. But, I love Soggy Bottom, USA, starring a plethora of notable actors, including my main costar Don Johnson. It is a hoot of a film and we all had such a great time making the movie in Marshall, Texas in 1980 where we lived for three months. I believe it had a minimal theatrical release restricted only to southern states, but it is a really fun movie. I also love my smaller parts in Sweet Dreams and Private Benjamin.
TZR: How much time do you spend at conventions, and are fans disappointed when they meet you and you’re a human being as opposed to a movie character?
PJS: I have been attending conventions for a number of years now, mostly one every couple of months. It is such an amazing honor to listen to fans of all ages, literally five years old up to 80, tell me stories of watching these films and what I have meant to them and their families. It’s crazy.
I try to always be positive and upbeat with each meet and greet. This is their moment and I want them to know I appreciate them and their enthusiasm. It means a lot to me when I take selfies with everyone and they are shaking and on the verge of tears. I get a lot of lovely comments, like, “OMG, you haven’t changed!” So, LOL on not disappointing my fans.
TZR: Can you say anything about what it was like auditioning for the role of Princess Leia? Before Star Wars came out the conventional wisdom was that it was complete nonsense and no one would see it — was that your take at the time, and were you surprised that it became a huge hit?
PJS: I didn’t actually know that I was auditioning for Star Wars. The original casting session was a group call for any teen in town. I had just moved from New York to Los Angeles two weeks prior and I was only represented by my modeling agency, Nina Blanchard. She suggested I go, and I hung out for a couple of hours in the hallway with tons of actors waiting for my name to be called.
When I went in there were two guys behind one desk. George Lucas and Brian De Palma looked me over and Brian turned to George and said, “I’ll put her on my list.” George nodded. They said thanks and as I turned to go, Brian said, “Next audition, wear your hat.” I tugged at my red baseball cap and said okay. That was it. So, I never knew I was auditioning for Star Wars. I was so excited to be a part of Carrie!
TZR: You’ve been referenced a lot in Generation X popular culture, predominantly for your portrayal of Riff Randell from Rock and Roll High School. Do you enjoy being perceived in this way or do you feel like it’s made it difficult for you to get other roles and do different things in the public eye?
PJS: Well, thank you, but actually I believe most people would dub me as a “Scream Queen” or a horror icon, due to John Carpenter’s Halloween and Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects, and although I don’t see myself predominantly in that category, I get it. But I don’t believe that label ever made it difficult for my agents to submit me for other types of roles. I was a guest star on many TV shows in the ’70s and ”80s, and if anything, the increasing popularity of all the “cult” films I have done coupled with the major studio movies has made me feel fortunate to have had a variety of roles.
TZR: A lot of people don’t know that you lived all over the world and once aspired to be the first female ambassador to the Soviet Union. Do you still aspire to do more globe-hopping and go into the field of international diplomacy, or are you happy with the path your life took?
PJS: Yes, I had a very happy childhood in Germany, Morocco, Venezuela and Belgium. I loved learning languages like French and Spanish, and was inspired to study Russian after a high school trip to Russia in the ’60’s. But I don’t regret the unexpected path my life took.
With all my experiences growing up in foreign countries and becoming friends with a lot of American kids in those countries, I believe those friendships and memories enabled me to fully embellish all the iconic characters I have portrayed, so I am very proud of that. I sometimes do wonder what it would have been like to actually have graduated from Georgetown University. But after my son, who is an officer in the Coast Guard and my daughter, who teaches yoga received their college degrees, I felt so proud that it vicariously fulfilled my own academic needs! Anyway, Riff Randell graduating college? Well, maybe there’s a good idea for a sequel, Rock ‘n’ Roll University!