Leslie Easterbrook [Interview]

Leslie EasterbrookSo, we have reached quite the milestone here at Trainwreck’d Society!  Today’s interview marks our 100th official interview!  It has been an amazing run bringing so many wonderful and talented folks to the site!  We have been fortunate enough to be able showcase some pretty amazing folks from the worlds of literature, film, music, art, and more.  And here is to 100 more!

We have been especially prone to asking some questions for some amazing actors and actresses.  So, it seemed only fitting that our 100th interview that we speak with yet another brilliant actress!  And we definitely found one for you fine readers!  The great Leslie Easterbrook is here!  You may remember her best from her hilarious and brilliant portrayal as Callahan in the Policy Academy series, as well as starring as the delightfully charismatic, yet ditzy, Rhonda Lee on Leverne and Shirley.  More recently, Leslie has been making quite the splash in the world of horror, working with the likes of Rob Zombie in The Devil’s Rejects.  She is a brilliant actress who has had a body of work that is absolutely stellar.

And we could not be any happier that Leslie has agreed to share a few words with us on this wonderful occasion.  I can think of no better person to celebrate with on this glorious occasion.  So dear readers, thank you so much for joining us over last couple of years, and off we shall go towards our next 100 interviews!  Enjoy!

You’ve been doing a bunch of work in the horror field in the last twenty years or so.  What is it about this genre that intrigues you?  And besides the obvious, what are some similarities and differences between doing a comedic performance versus a role in some films that are scary as hell?
I must be the luckiest actress in the universe.  I owe my “bunch of work in the horror field” to casting director, Monika Mikkelsen.  She brought me in to read for another character in The Devil’s Rejects.  When I read the material, I was wildly impressed with the writing.  So, when she sent the ‘sides’ for Mother Firefly to NYC a few days later, my temperature went through the roof.  It was the interrogation scene, if you’ve seen the movie, and offered a big juicy chance to chew scenery.  Never had I read such a scene for a woman.

I flew back to LA to audition again on a wing and a prayer — hoping I would get to play HER. Rob writes extremely well for actors, by challenging us and asking us to go deep — THAT job in THAT movie triggered an entire career change for me, and one I am certainly happy about.

The horror genre intrigues me in many ways, but I am always amazed by the stressful nature of the entertainment.  Much of it is grizzly and grinding, but when I meet the fans, they are the most cheerful and delightful people in the world.  I meet their children, and their parents. They are good, law-abiding, regular, delightful people.  My favorite theory is that they have found a venue to exorcise their demons — and are probably the healthiest folks around.

MV5BMjg2MDU5NjU3MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTgyMzUzMw@@._V1_SX640_SY720_I love the question about the differences and the similarities between acting in a comedy and a horror flick.  Truthfully, it’s all the same for me.  If I read the character, she comes alive inside of me — as a fanciful reality.  Both comedy and horror take a total commitment to the material, the character, and the environment.  If you are lucky, and I certainly have been, this is all described and set up well in the script.

Both genres will push you to extremes — you just have to be willing to go there.  And allow yourself to push the envelope of safety.  It’s kinda funny, though, taking a hit or being stabbed is easier for me to pull off than not stepping on my own jokes in a comedy.

As an actor who specializes in character work, I constantly have to remind myself that my job is total commitment, not subtlety!  If I accidentally pull off a quietly poignant moment, it’s a fortunate mistake that had nothing to do with planning!

Your portrayal as Rhonda Lee towards the end of the run for Leverne and Shirley is an extremely memorable and hilarious role that always sticks out in my mind when I think about sitcoms in the 80’s.  What was it like working on this show, essentially jumping in on an already fairly established cast of characters?

First of all, thank you for the kind words about my Rhonda.  When I was asked to audition for the role I told my agent to tell them I was busy!  I wasn’t.

She was everything I wasn’t, even physically.  Just way out of character for me — I’m fairly fearless, but the thought of playing a sexy starlet had me quaking in my boots!

Yes, the show was a big hit already, and I was a complete TV newcomer.  I was very intimidated.  My manager insisted on driving me to that first meeting for fear I’d chicken out and blame it on car trouble.

But, I committed to that audition and the 5 more I had to barrel through to get the role.  Up until the last episode of the final season I was convinced they would fire me — as an imposter.

It was a troubled show in many ways.  Unhappiness was all over the process, but I loved working on it.  I loved the cast, the writers, the producers and the crew… and I always will.  It was the opportunity of a lifetime. I will never stop being grateful!

Leslie Easterbrook2This may be a bit of a stretch, but we talked with 90’s television star Karyn Parsons about her role as a self-absorbed young woman, but who you knew meant well enough.  Your character of Rhonda was similar, although in a different setting.  Tell us if you would, was it estranged to you to be playing a character with such self gratifying ways and means? 

Ha!  Yes it was.  But I committed!!  There’s that word again., eh?

The worst part about playing her snotty-self-absorbed ways was that Rhonda and I never got sympathy from the audience.  We all want to feel people are pulling for us, right?  Oh, that was so hard.  But, here’s the secret sauce — if you play conceited, it helps you ward off your own insecurities.  Mind over matter!

Before each entrance I would be shaking behind the set thinking ‘Leslie’ things like, “my thighs look bigger than Kentucky in these stupid pants,” but the minute I hit the lights, I felt like Miss America flaunting her perfect thighs for all to see!   If you commit to the material, and truly trust in a character, it can help you through anything, even snotty know it all moments…committing is believing, for the moment.

When you look back on all of those years portraying the wonderful Callahan in the Police Academy series, what are you most proud of?  And is there anything with that character you would have liked to have been able to add or omit?

Such great memories!!  Such a great group of people to work and play with!  We did the first PA movie over 30 years ago, and just today I spoke with Marion Ramsey (Hooks) for an hour on the phone, and talked her into doing a new musical presentation with me.  Then I emailed David Graf’s (Tackleberry) widow, Katy Graf, to set up our dinner date for tomorrow night — we ‘re going to dine and listen to singers at the M Bar…In some respects, Police Academy is still the best part of my life!!

Just a note about Kathy:  After David died she began to write.  Her first play was about David.  Then others followed.  She is now an award-winning playwright!  I hope your readers will have a chance to see some of her plays.  They are awesome.

She and screen writing partner have just finished their first screenplay.  It’s horror, and it’s brilliant.  I read it last week and haven’t had a decent night’s sleep since.  I’d tell you to look for it, but they are changing the title.

I am most proud of the fact that all of us in those movies have been applauded and accepted by real police officers all around the country. We were all afraid they we would be ‘open season,’ when we shot the first movie. I was asked to help raise the funds to build the Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington DC!  They allowed me to be a real part of the process…and I have visited the memorial. It was a long time in coming and is a national treasure.

I would change one thing that was thrust upon Callahan in PA 5.  I absolutely detest the outfit ‘wardrobe’ made me wear to Miami.  It was Callahan’s first outing, and she absolutely would have worn sensible shoes, and a conservative plaid suit — a tight blouse, of course, but not the sexy outfit they insisted I wear.  Irritates me to this day.  I would have omitted that outfit!
Leslie Easterbrook3What do you believe it is about the The Police Academy film series that has kept the films a relevant and cult classic series after all of these years?

Truthfully?  I have no idea!  It astounds me to this day.  The only thing it might be is that we were all misfits that won the day … Truly, that’s the only thing I can think of.  Except I just had a thought.  Now, it makes no sense that this is what caused the continued success, but as a group, we bonded.  The respect and the love we developed for each other started on day one of the first movie, and that script was truly magical.  Perhaps it was a charmed moment in time that broke free and reached out to include the world…none if us will ever know…

What is most impressive about your career  is just how well-rounded your body of work has been.  You’ve managed to defy stereotypes, break down walls, and perfect your craft in so many different genres and fields.  You are truly an inspiration for up and coming actors and actresses these days.  So how do you do it?  And if you were to give any advice to up and coming artists out there, what would you tell them?

Again, thank you for your nice and generous comments.

Well, first I would tell them to test their passion for the work.  Without enormous passion, you won’t be able to weather the disappointments — which will far outnumber the victories.

Now is a great time to follow that passion.  Cheaper (and very good) video cameras and sound equipment have rearranged the industry.  Production is everywhere.  Learn the craft in a good acting class, and then start to work.  Make yourself available — be willing to play anything.  Consider being an intern or a PA on a set.  Watch everyone.  Figure out what they all do.  Don’t be a diva, be a sponge.  Get an idea of what everyone on the crew is doing.  This knowledge will be invaluable when you act — if you feel comfortable on a set, your acting and commitment will deepen.

Come to LA with some experience under your belt.

My “body of work” only exists because of a decision I made 40 years ago. I was a budding opera singer, who loved to do musicals, which led to plays and then became movies and TV — I navigated my career like an improv exercise.  I just said “YES!”  In an improv if you hesitate, or say “NO,” the exercise is over and everyone goes home.  Just say yes…it’s so easy, but it takes guts.  Be nervy and open.  The only things that should stop your ‘yes’ are things that morally disturb you, or are too physically dangerous…
I noticed that you have a ton of projects in production and coming soon, and also heard you are had been working on a musical.  Is there anything you can share with us as far as what you have going on in the near future?

Some of those projects are already shot and getting distribution. They are all small movies, limited by budget restrictions, and some were produced and directed by first time filmmakers. This has been my secret pleasure lately. Helping when and where others think I may make a difference.

If you check my IMDB page you will see the list. If you search the titles, you may find them available ON DEMAND or on Netflix.

I finished Daddy last month, and will begin shooting Give Till it Hurts next week. In July I will shoot Sugar Skull Girls and, I hope, Penance Lane.

I am working on two musical presentations:  Bluebeard’s 8 Wives,  where I play all 8 wives, and Dear Little Euphoria.  Both musicals were written by dear old (87 years old and 96 years old) friends, and they are labors of love.

What would you consider your greatest non-artistic achievement?

Yikes, do I have any?  Oh, I do. In the early 90’s I learned to shoot a shotgun.  I was injured on a Police Academy video shoot.  Was asked to fire a starting pistol.  The camera operator directed me to hold the pistol next to my face so he could get a good camera shot of it going off to start a foot race.  When I fired the gun, the sharp sound shattered my eardrum.
I had been given no earplugs — I didn’t even know I needed them.

Leslie Easterbrook4At that moment I decided if I was going to carry a gun in another movie, I had to learn everything I could about them.  I called my friend Lee Purcell, who is a shooter, and said “help!!”  She got me started, and the rest is history.

Despite my lopsided vision, I decided to go for broke and really learn to shoot a shotgun.  It was hard work, time-consuming and expensive. I worked my tail off anyway, and two years later I won first place in D Class at the California State Trap Shoot.  Okay it was D class, but considering how bad I was initially, it felt really good to beat 400 men who’d been shooting all their lives!

What was the last thing that made you smile?

Your questions!

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About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

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