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Leslie Easterbrook - Days of the Dead [Interview]

...Okay as a person I enjoy meeting new people and as a fan I enjoy meeting people who are famous... here is a special case where I just love this woman [respectfully]. Leslie Easterbrook is a talented woman who has been so real, down to earth and open to me... I could listen to her for hours.  She is kind, pleasant and so very interesting I have been holding off on sharing this interview [keeping her all to myself]... it has just been a pleasure. Not talking above me, but to me... that is a wonderful thing.
-Jeremy [Retro-Z]

-With such an amazing career as you have had from a beautiful face to screen icon... what do you find to be your powerful, favorite and memorable roles?

Leslie Easterbrook: Your question is interesting, and flattering.  I’ve never thought of myself as a beautiful face.  Somehow your question has inspired me to look at my career in a new light. 

Young actresses are always trying to look beautiful, when as older Divas, we realize that most of the industry’s female ‘stars’ are far from conventional beauties.  It’s just wasted energy to wish for beauty, and miss the whole picture.  In life we rarely see ourselves as others see us, anyway, so this is just another example.

My first and most memorable to me because it was first, role in the ‘media,’ after I’d worked for several years in live theater productions, both on and off Broadway, was that of Rhonda Lee on “Laverne and Shirley.”

I spent 3 seasons trying madly to be beautiful, when, in reality, I knew I had been hired simply because I possessed the nerve to make a fool of myself.  I would cringe when I watched myself, hating how I looked. And then I’d breathe a sigh of relief when the camera caught me at a flattering angle for a few seconds here and there.  Oh so vain, eh?  

Well, Rhonda was an outrageous character, and I loved her.  It was pure joy to run around on stage in skimpy costumes, and utter inane pieces of vapid, conceited dialogue. 

I’ve always been happiest when I get to ‘create’ a character that doesn’t feel like me, but has aspects of me that I can relate to.  Thus, I am a character actress through and through – and I’ve been a very lucky one.

My most powerful character has to be ‘Callahan’ in the Police Academy movies – she trains and toughens new recruits.  Alas, in spite of being good at her job, she often can’t resist sampling a student or two along the way.  A weakness, decidedly, even potentially illegal – but understandable, considering her need to ‘relax’ after a tough day at the gym!  

She’s a good cop, always on the side of safety and justice. She always gets her guy -- or some guy, depending on her occasional dubious motivations.  But, if you look on the bright side, that makes her a double winner!

-Were you happy with the outcome of the "Days of the Dead" convention, is there anyone you were happy to see/meet of a celebrity nature?

Leslie Easterbrook: I’ve never had a better time at a convention than I did at “Days of the Dead,” and I always enjoy attending gatherings of like-minded movie buffs.  The fans, and our conversations together, were not only interesting, they were inspiring.  I learned from everyone I spoke to, and only regret we didn’t have more time together.  Many of them were moviemakers themselves, and I left with the feeling that they will continue to improve and deepen the scope and breadth of our industry.

There really wasn’t much time to socialize with celebrities.  When the show was over each day, I had to run off and recharge.  It was overwhelming on the floor, and I didn’t want to miss a thing.  What struck me was the number of celebrities there that I had worked with.  It was startling, really.  I was surrounded by love.  When you work together on a movie, and you’re lucky, you create a family.  When a shoot is over, you miss everyone like you would miss a sister or a brother.  The fact that I was surrounded by so many former cast members, from different projects, was overwhelming.  I just kept feeling so proud of everyone.  It was as if I was in that ‘safe place’ again.

I really enjoyed participating in the Q and A with my “The Devil’s Rejects” cast members.  It was extremely well attended, and I felt like I was in the audience listening to my fellow cast member’s stories and anecdotes.  At one point, Bill Mosely passed the mic to me, and I was startled.  I forgot I was on the panel – that’s how engaged I was in what they were saying. It felt like old home week with Sid Haig, Bill Moseley and Michael Berryman.  Rob Zombie had a lot to do with creating our family of actors, within the movie family, on that shoot.  He threw backyard parties, believe it or not. He gave us all a chance to bond – and we did.

On the convention floor, to my right were Derek Mears and Todd Farmer.  They are both a part of “Compound Fracture,” a new film written and produced by Tyler Mane and his wife Renae Gerlings.  I’m in it, too, and we’ve all become family – open house at the Mains’ provided the glue.  It was so nice to have those ‘brothers’ so close for the weekend.  There wasn’t much time to talk, but warmth and love flowed between the tables.

Another wonderful surprise was seeing Keith David.  He directed a beautiful play, “The Shadow Box,” in Santa Monica last year.  I was in the cast, but when the opening date got pushed, I had to drop out of the production because of a prior film commitment.  It broke my heart, and I wasn’t sure if Keith would ever forgive me.  Well, his warm greeting and kind words at the convention let me know that we’re still family.  I think the world of him – and his considerable talent.

-Working with Rob Zombie in recent years, do you find he is also very respectful to your contributions to film/television work and what was the process to getting the roles?

Leslie Easterbrook: Yes, Rob is very respectful of the TV and film work all of us had done before he cast us in “The Devil’s Rejects.”  I think he was very aware of it, and it’s possibly why he was open to casting us – certainly in my case.  It was almost like he saw something in our prior work that made him believe there were deeper, and more extreme, sides to our creative personalities.  If it had just been me that made the leap to the dark side, I would say it was a blip, but if you examine the cast, you could almost say it was a syndrome.  He went for experience in front of the camera, and reached way down into our souls, to extract what he wanted and needed in his movie.  I am convinced that if I’d never played Callahan, or even Rhonda, Rob would never have considered me for Mother Firefly – my most favorite role of all time.  I don’t understand his process, really, but I am surely thankful for it.

In my case, being cast in “Devil’s” was a several pronged process.

The amazing Monika Mikkelsen, casting director extraordinaire, is to blame, really.  She first brought me in to ‘read’ for Priscilla Barnes’ part.  I loved the scenes, and did my best to become the character, although I didn’t feel a strong director would cast me in the part – my being so tall, etc..  I was right!  A couple of weeks later, though, when I was in NYC, I got a call from my agent, and a fax from Monika.  The part was Mother Firefly, and the material was both disgusting and fantastic.  I loved it, and I was hooked – I wanted the part so badly I could taste it.  I immediately hit the subway and started to work on the character, by way of the interrogation scene.  You see, the subway was my only hope – you can scream your lungs out on it, and no one notices.  Just another day in New York…eh?

I flew back to LA a couple of days later, picked up my car at the airport, and headed directly to Monika’s office.  The rest is history.  Rob even put my audition scene on his “30 Days from Hell.”  He must have liked it…it certainly changed my life – and I couldn’t be happier.  Best darn day of my life!

If any fledgling filmmakers are reading this, my one word of advice to you is: Hire Monika Mikkelsen.

-If your life was a song title, what would that be and why?

Leslie Easterbrook: What a great question.  Hmmmm…. “Why Can’t I Be You,” by the Cure

This is the perfect song title for an actor.  We only ‘work’ if we play someone else – anyone else.  The closer we come to really becoming that ‘other’ person, is to wear their clothes, think as they do, and act according.  Why can’t it be anyone, really, as long as it doesn’t feel like ME?  So, why can’t it be YOU?

-What can we look forward to in your upcoming projects?

Leslie Easterbrook: My professional life has been really hectic lately, with a few personal emergencies thrown in, too.  Sometime I think I’m too busy, but then I think about the alternative, and I keep forging ahead.

I’ve been practicing a new approach to work lately – I just say “Yes.”  Like in an improv. I find that if I wait for the perfect project, the most money, or the most prestigious director, I miss practicing my craft, practicing my newly discovered passion for editing, and any and/or all opportunities for professional growth. Thus, I’ve been busy working with very interesting new filmmakers, casts, producers and crews.  Big Smile!

But, alas, toiling for very little money.  Who cares?  If we equate our worth with money, we quickly lose any sense of self- respect!

-Is there one question you are surprised no one has ever asked?

Leslie Easterbrook: Yup.  “Why did you become an actor?”  Since most people who know me know I’m long winded, I think they avoid evoking a novel.

But “why” is interesting to me.  It’s a question I like asking other actors.  There is a kernel of sameness in our answers.  The unique differences usually come from our far pasts – but, isolation, or a feeling of being different from others, always plays a part in it.  Insecurity, pain and/or loneliness seem to be recurring themes, too.  Not always, though. 

Now don’t ask me to elaborate…

Thank you, Leslie... you have a friend and a fan!
And of course to Days of the Dead...

Short Bio: Leslie Easterbrook created Callahan, the tough as nails, over zealous drill instructor in the Police Academy movies.  If you missed her in the original movie, you may have seen her in one of the sequels, punching her way up the ranks, from Sergeant to Captain.

Leslie also created long-running characters Devlin Kowalsky on Ryan's Hope (3 years,) and Rhonda Lee (3 seasons) on Laverne and Shirley.  She has guest starred in over 60 other television shows, including such classics as Matlock, Murder She Wrote, The Dukes of Hazard, Brothers, Baywatch, and the animated series’, Batman and Superman.  Her TV movies include The Song of the Lark, for PBS, A Family Lost, for Lifetime, Murder at the Presidio for USA, and The Taking of Flight 847, The Uli Derickson Story, for NBC.

She was born in Los Angeles, grew up in Nebraska and received a BFA degree in music from Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri.  She began her show business career in the opera, but she quickly gravitated toward theatre, where she has starred in a wide variety of plays and musicals on Broadway and in Regional Theatres, Civic Auditoriums, and Performing Art Centers all around the country.

In 2010 Leslie starred in a brand new musical about four sassy seniors called “Broads, the Musical.”  It premiered at the El Portal Theatre in LA, and may yet be picked up for a US tour.

She has wonderful memories of singing the national anthem at Superbowl XVII, which aired on NBC in 1983.  It wasn’t exactly grand opera, but it was certainly a grand honor.  And she remembered every single lyric!

Leslie played two characters named Bunny.  Bunny has been Leslie’s nickname since childhood.  In Murder at the Presidio, now available on DVD, writer/director John Fasano named Leslie’s character Bunny.  Also, in the original Broadway production of California Suite, Neil Simon named her character Bunny, and it remains Bunny in all publications of his very successful play. Both characters were named after her very own nickname.  She was surprised and flattered at the time, and remains forever grateful.

Leslie considers it an amazing blessing that director, screenwriter, musician, composer and performance artist legend Rob Zombie cast her as Mother Firefly in his box office hit The Devil’s Rejects and, again, as Patty Frost in his first, and very successful, Halloween.  His faith in her dark side seems to have opened the door to a delicious array of juicy villains.  Not only has she had the opportunity to create some remarkably chilling characters, she has greatly enjoyed meeting and greeting many horror fans over the past few years.  

Horror films House, (Betty) with Bill Moseley and Michael Madson, and The Dead Calling, (Marge) with Sid Haig, are both available on DVD. She stars with Kane Hodder in the recently released, The Afflicted, and is a writer, with Jason Stoddard, and producer, with Lee Dashiell and David Hilburn, on the film, as well.


DEZMOND said...

I agree with her, I tend to always say "yes" in the professional world too.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I like her view on equating our worth with money.