talented Lisa Pelikan has appeared in a variety of
different stage, film, and TV roles. Her first feature
film, Julia, was nominated for 11 Oscars. She’s
also co-starred with Jean-Claude Van Damme in Lionheart,
battled Ghoulies, and made snakes kill people in
the cult classic Jennifer. We caught up with Lisa
and she had a lot of great stories to tell.
growing up you lived in Italy and Japan.
a child I always knew that Rome was my home. In all the
places I traveled with my family as I grew up, I still
kept waiting to go back "home." I dearly miss
Italy. I have extremely fond memories of living there.
Do you speak
did, but I left when I was 7. I know the Italian of a 7
year old. I know nursery rhymes in Italian. Then we went
to Japan and I went to a bilingual school there. I had to
speak, write, and read Japanese and English. Then I came
to the United States for my high school years.
It must be
fascinating to speak and write Japanese.
can no longer. I came to the United States and there
wasn’t anyone to converse with. I started taking French
in High School. I’m probably the most fluent in French
because that’s the language I learned most recently. I
have a very good ear for languages and for dialects, which
is one of the reasons I’ve been able to do so many
different dialects in acting. I learned how to be a
Chameleon very early.
What inspired you to
become an actress? You were an athlete?
was a dancer. What made you think I was an athlete? I was
a rock climber. I was wondering where you got
"athlete" from? I was on the swim team. I’ve
never thought of myself as an "athlete." Mainly,
the things I love to do are rock climbing and dancing
which are very independent physical activities as opposed
to competitions. I’ve always had a good, strong body.
You had an injury.
had a bone tumor in the marrow of my left Tibia. For
people who don’t know what the Tibia is, it’s the
shinbone. It was major surgery. It basically put me in bed
for my entire senior year of high school. It was tough and
it put an end to my professional dancing career.
Is that what caused
you to pursue a career in acting?
had never been interested in acting before. Basically, I
was going to audition for the Juilliard School of Dance.
Once I had the surgery and was laid up I could not do
that. Someone dared me to audition for Juilliard’s
acting program. I had never acted before. I had never been
in a high school play before. After my audition I was
accepted to The Juilliard School of Drama with a full
something to be proud of.
was a complete shock to my parents and everyone. It was
not something I had been planning or gearing for, or
something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. When I
auditioned I thought for sure there was no way I was ever
going to get in. I was just following through on this
dare. It’s a four-year school. When you graduate you get
a BFA. I left before I graduated because I started working
of your first big roles was in the movie Julia.
was my feature film debut. Fred Zinnemann is just a
brilliant director and a wonderful man. He’s deceased
now. He taught me a lot about directing and he use to call
me his "little assistant director." He took me
everywhere with him on the set.
they were filming he put this one scene, "Scene 249:
Running through the Woods" on the call sheet. I was
called everyday and I’d be there with him. He had me by
his side. We’d walk around together and he’d ask me,
"I’m going to do this shot this way, and what do
you think of it?" We’d actually discuss it.
What a wonderful
a long story how it all came about, but he generally was
known to be a very removed person. He and I just hit it
off. We didn’t shoot "Scene 249: Running through
the Woods" till the very last day of filming.
about Jane Fonda or Vanessa Redgrave?
Fonda was very sweet. I don’t want to say motherly, but
more big sisterly to me and the little girl Susan who
played Young Lilly. She took an interest in us, she spent
time talking to us. She was friendly and warm.
at the time was very involved in politics. We shared the
same driver and he told me that after shooting he would
take her to these places where she was up all night. She
was giving speeches at rallies and then he’d pick her up
the next morning at the same place. She was more
unavailable personally, but I learned a lot from watching
her work. Zinnemann made me watch her work in scenes. I
watched them from rehearsal to filming. I learned a lot
about film acting from watching Vanessa work. (And, of
course I was also watching her very closely so I could
incorporate "her" Julia into "my"
Julia as we were playing the same character.)
I was amazed at how
many Oscars the movie won.
was up for best picture. I think it received best
supporting actress & actor for Vanessa Redgrave &
Jason Robards. I think it received best director. I’m
not sure. It was nominated for everything. It won for best
screenplay, too. It was quite an experience and I treasure
You did a
well-remembered TV movie called The Best Little Girl in
the World about Anorexia.
was suppose to star Jodie Foster. She’d gone off to
college and we were to film it over her winter break.
She’d gained a lot of weight. They couldn’t hire her
so they did this mad search and they found this unknown,
Jennifer Jason Leigh.
another TV movie you did with Mariel Hemingway called I
Want to Keep My Baby.
actually is the first film I ever did. It was a TV film,
but I shot it right before I flew off to London to film Julia.
It was the first film I had ever been cast in. I have to
clarify that. I had done other television, but it was
Hallmark Hall of Fame productions we rehearsed as a play
and then shot on tape. I want to Keep My Baby was
my first piece of film and Julia was my second
piece of film, but my first feature film.
You have a funny
story about a mix-up on IMDB.com.
did a PBS film called The Blue Hotel a bazillion
years ago. On the IMDB website under my name in
"Titles for Sale" they have PBS’s "The
Blue Hotel," but then they also have me listed
with a porn film called "Blue Hotel – Caught in
the Act" with a photo of a naked blond woman on
That is crazy.
Internet doesn’t necessarily distinguish. I sent IMDB a
note telling them I had never done a porn film. I
certainly don’t want fans buying that film and going,
Blue Hotel had some heavy hitters in it.
had David Warner, James Keach. Ján Kadár directed it. He
got an academy award for doing The Shop on Main Street.
He hired me for that movie while I was still at
Juilliard. The first thing I ever did was The Country
Girl, which was the Hallmark Hall of Fame production
with Jason Robards, Shirley Knight, and George Grizzard
during the summer between my first & second years of
You had some great
roles early on.
was very lucky. In my second year at Juilliard I met Ján
Kadár and he said, "I’ve always wanted to make a
film of I Never Promised You a Rose Garden and you
are my girl. Let’s do The Blue Hotel together
because I want to have you around and get to know you.
Then we’ll get the rights back for I Never Promised
You a Rose Garden and make it together." I said,
"Fine, but you have to get me out of school. If you
can get me out of school I’ll be happy to work with
you." (Knowing full well the school would say,
was in school one day and John Houseman called me into his
office. He said, "Lisa, I want you to do this film
with Ján Kadár. The entire faculty is completely against
my decision, but you need to be working. I want you to go
I came back to school after filming the faculty was
horrific to me. There was a lot of anger & jealousy
Because they thought
you had special treatment?
did have special treatment and I’d just been on TV with The
Country Girl. Then I was let off to do this
other film. They were angry. Jan Kadar never was able to
get the rights back for "I Never Promised You a
Rose Garden." He was severely disappointed and
persisted for years.
Is there jealously
can say that there were teachers like John Housemen who
were my champion. Then there were other people who were
Is it amazing to see
yourself on TV or the big screen?
hated seeing myself. I always thought I looked awful,
ugly, and too much. I hated it.
We’re our own
remember the first time I saw myself in The Country
Girl. I was invited to a screening. Even though it was
a movie for TV I saw it on a big screen. I just sat there
in horror & tears. I thought "Oh my god. I guess
I’m not going to be a film actress". It was hard.
What I remember was that I was talking way too fast and
overacting. I haven’t seen it since then, which was many
Tell us about the
horror movie Jennifer.
was my second film. After Julia I did some stage
work in New York. When I came back out to LA I did Jennifer.
It has quite a cult
so interesting. I still get a lot of fan mail from Jennifer
from all over the world. I guess it was a big hit not just
in the United States, but also in a lot of other
countries. Spain was big, Germany was big. It’s just
fascinating what sticks in people’s minds.
Was it filmed in LA?
was filmed in LA. It was very low budget. It was quite a
shock after Julia where I had handmade period
underwear that I was wearing. Not that anyone would ever
have seen it or known about it. Not all productions have
been that classy.
like going from feast to famine.
had a great time making Jennifer. It was a lot of fun
until I had to do a lot of scenes in water with a towel
wrapped around me with wet hair. They decided to do them
all within a couple of days for location purposes. When
they did it nobody thought about the fact that I might
need dry towels or I might need to keep warm, or dry,
That would be a good
thing to think about.
being my second film, I did not realize I’d have to ask
questions to make sure something like that was taken care
of. I was stuck down in Manhattan Beach or somewhere. I
had nothing. I had wet towels. I didn’t have dry towels.
I was shivering. I was sitting there in my dressing room
freezing cold. I got really sick. I got Bronchitis and
It was the role that
nearly killed you.
had a 104-degree temperature. I could hardly talk. The
producer was flipping out. For tax
reasons he had to finish filming by the end of the year.
concerned about your health as much as the financial part
of the movie.
was not concerned at all. He did something really awful. I
can say this because…
He’s now passed
don’t know if he’s passed on. His kids are still in
the business. After this incident I still tried to make
friends with him. I knew we were both in the business and
would run into each other over the years. But, he was
still so horrible to me afterwards I have no need to
I got sick from filming those days in the water with no
heat, the producer took me to his doctor who told me he
just had to give me this B12 shot and I’d be fine. The
doctor gave me a shot of speed but I did not know this
till the next day when I crashed.
went back to the set to film that same day of seeing this
doctor and I was like FINE! I was filming everything with
great energy and it was all great. Then, the next day I
could not move. I was so sick. The Producer was even more
awful. He was screaming at me on the phone and saying he
was going to sue me. I ended up finishing the film for him
by the end of the year, but with the guarantee he would
let me loop my lines because I couldn’t talk. If you
look at the film closely you can hear the places where I
am really sick and can hardly speak. The producer never
let me loop those lines.
Are you serious?
addition, there’s a scene where my cat has died. I still
had a voice for that. It was shot before I got sick. I was
sobbing & sobbing my heart out. Apparently the sound
for the scene didn’t record. Instead of asking me to
come in and loop my own crying, the producer had someone
else come in and sob for me. It’s such fake crying. You
see me on the screen sobbing and then you hear this fake
voice. I have never forgiven him for that.
movie did relatively well.
was just so disappointed. At that time, I had hoped that
people had higher artistic desires & goals. The
producer was only interested in getting this film done and
making money on it. I was supposed to receive a percentage
of the profits. To this day the film’s still out there
and they still say they never made a dime on it. I never
received anything financially for it.
What about Celebrity
Tattle-Tales host Bert Convy?
was fun. He was sweet. Here we are making this low budget
movie and he shows up with his own Maxi trailer. One of
those huge trailers he carted around with him. All of the
rest of us sat around in tiny little dressing rooms.
knew how to take care of himself. He was a complete pro.
Most of the scenes I had with him I was so sick I wasn’t
functioning. The same with Nina Foch, too. I’d show up,
do my scene, and then just lay back down in the trailer. I
was really sick.
Did they use real
snakes in that movie?
I’m acting I go into a different world that has nothing
to do with Lisa. After I had been cast they invited me to
the office to talk and meet everybody. I went in and they
had a little tiny garter snake. They handed it to me and I
started shrieking. I thought, "Oh my God, what am I
going to do when they have real snakes?"
filming I had the real snakes crawling through my hair and
everything. It was so easy. I just get into another world
and it wasn’t any problem. I believed them when they
said there was nothing that could harm me or that was
they use any special effects?
far as the effects in Jennifer there was actually a
huge monster snake. I don’t remember how many pounds. It
was as long as I don’t even know. I don’t want to say
a hundred feet. Its girth was at least 4 feet. They have
it wrapped around a car in the movie. When you see Jennifer
it looks like a toy car with a toy snake. They did not
shoot it well. In reality it was this enormous snake we
all had to clear out for. It definitely was capable of
killing people, along with animals.
When you read it you
must have seen the artistic merit to it?
only reason why I did it was because my agent told me that
now that I had done a film like Julia I needed to
do a film that would reach different audiences.
What about Ghoulies?
was another fun one. Mariska Hargitay who’s in Law &
Order SVU has a small part in that. She’s Jane
Mansfield’s daughter. She’s a big star right now. It
was just a lark to make.
Was Luca a good
don’t know about a good director. He was fun to work
with. The whole process was sort of a lark.
What about the Ghoulies
me they look so silly, but I don’t know.
I remember being
surprised because they made everyone come back to life at
one scene in there were I’m dead on the stairs. The
lead, Peter Liapis, has to walk down the stairs and find
me. In the shot he literally stepped on my hand and I had
to stay dead. I did.
You did the movie Perfect
was a CBS movie. It was me, Sandy Dennis, Lauren Bacall,
and Ruth Gordon had more of a cameo role. Jackie Cooper
directed it and Nora Ephron wrote the screenplay. This was
the most fun I ever had making a movie.
I think Ruth Gordon
would have been the coolest person to meet.
I’m going to say about that is NO COMMENT.
She looked like so
much fun with Harold and Maude, and Every Which
Way but Loose.
serious. I’m serious. As a person. No comment.
She was a little
tough to get along with?
didn’t have much to do with her. She caused a lot of
problems for the set and the producer. Lauren Bacall was
unbelievably gracious & loving. Sandy Dennis took me
into her arms. They were dreams to work with. All my stuff
was with them.
You were also with
Lee Remick and Patty Duke in "The Women’s
was a lesbian. I leave my husband for Tovah Feldshuh. I
remember being a drunk, too. It was nice because I was
working with a lot of people I had worked with before.
Colleen Dewhurst - I had worked with in Last
Convertible, and also Mare Winningham.
You were in the
movie Swing Shift?
loved Jonathan Demme.
I read Goldie Hawn
had the final cut and ended up ruining the movie.
only know what I’ve heard. I know that Jonathan Demme
did not like the final cut. He had a different film in
mind and was forced to go back and re-shoot scenes
differently than he had wanted.
The movie ended up
not doing so well.
too bad. Originally it was an ensemble movie about women
in the 1940’s. What came out was more like a Goldie Hawn
starring vehicle. She and Christine Lahti were really good
in it. Everyone was good. It’s just that the story of
the film changed.
think that if it had been more of a film about the
1940’s, as originally intended, it had the potential of
being an Oscar winner.
Have you ever seen
the director’s cut of the movie?
sent it to me and I’ve been scared to look at it. I have
it, but I don’t want to cry.
Some of your scenes
know in the film that was made a lot of my scenes got cut.
It became a much smaller role than I had filmed. But, it
was a wonderful film to work on. Jonathan is a great
director. All the women including Goldie Hawn, Christine
Lahti, and Holly Hunter were just the best. It took a
whole spring to film. I had a great time. Every day coming
to work was like being with a wonderful family.
It was a good period
loved it. They did such great detail work. Some of the
scenes that were re-shot are not as accurate in their
When I watched the
film it says "directed by Jonathan Demme".
I heard that it was supposed to say, "A Jonathan
Demme Film" above the title and that he had asked for
that to be removed. If that is really true, it’s a
shame. Jonathan is a true artist.
must have been a fun movie?
was a very difficult film. I was called on days when I
wasn’t supposed to be filming. They’d say, "Help!
Quick! We have to film something because Van Claude
isn’t showing up today." It was kind of crazy like
It still did very
around at a gas station or anyplace where I run into just
sort of regular working people, they know me from Lionheart.
If there’s any guy who say’s, "Where have I seen
you from?" I know its Lionheart. It’s a
biggie in terms of my public. Mostly men.
Van Damme was at the
top of his game at one time.
know this was his first film that had any artistic merit
in terms of a real plot. Prior to this he had been doing
pure action things. This was the first film where they
tried to bump him up.
next film he did was even more of a step up. He started
jumping up and being thought of as an actor instead of an
action figure. It was good for him and for me.
You also worked on
"Shadow of Doubt".
Kleiser is my son’s godfather. He directed that.
Actually that was a great deal of fun. I was nursing at
the time. What I think of most is running to the trailer
between shots. I had HUGE BREASTS.
Some women love that
when they’re lactating.
get mammoth breasts.
I’ve heard it can
you’re about to have a baby I’d love to talk to you
about it. Nursing is important to speak about. It can be
very painful and it can be heaven. It was a wonderful
experience for me to be able to nurse my son. My whole
life just revolved around him.
It was a cruddy
movie, but you bonded with your son.
don’t know if it was a cruddy movie. I wouldn’t say
that. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen it. I may still
have been in hormone heaven.
In Return to Blue
Lagoon you play a mom.
filmed that before I became a mom. At the time I thought,
"I’m never going to become a mom after that
experience!" Obviously, that was a temporary thought.
What about that
to the Blue Lagoon was a hard, hard shoot. Probably
the hardest shoot I’ve ever had to do. The people were
great, but the location was a nightmare. They filmed it on
a deserted island with nothing. There were no local
drugstores. Everything had to be shipped in or flown in.
It took days to get more Kleenex, or anything.
you more of a city woman?
however, I am also a graduate of the National Outdoor
Leadership School and I also taught there in the Grand
Tetons. I love the outdoors.
Blue Lagoon all my scenes were with children. I shot for
three months on this deserted island. I’m in the first
half of the film. I’m first with a 1 year-old and a 2
year-old. Then they grow into 9 and 10 year-olds. Then I
die, and my "children" become the teenagers.
single one of my scenes was either a solo scene, or one
with me and the babies or me with the children. They did
not have doubles or triples for the children. It was just
1 one-year-old, 1 two-year-old. And I remember them crying
was the first person on the set everyday and the last
person off the set. We worked long hours. I got very
little sleep between shooting days and I shot every day
except Sunday. We worked long hours with lots of overtime
and many, many people on the set got sick or hurt on the
It’s the curse of
the Return of the Blue Lagoon.
were whole crews that were out. I’d do my own makeup or
wardrobe. I’d do the clapperboards for the camera. At
one point the whole camera crew was out. The second unit
camera crew came in to film for us. There were a lot of
difficult illnesses, problems, and people injuring
themselves terribly, badly. I was extremely lucky. I never
got sick and I never got injured.
did all my own stunts. The stuntman at the time said,
"Anytime you want a card into the stunt union I’ll
give it to you because you’re amazing." I do have a
strong body. I am physical in that sense. It just required
a lot of energy and endurance to keep everybody together.
There were so many people sick and injured.
Who would think that
film had such a difficult shoot?
coconut fell from a tree and broke a guy’s shoulder. A
stingray stung a crewmember who had to be flown off the
island for medical treatment. The girl who played my
9-year-old daughter slipped on a rock and broke her front
tooth. The cinematographer got an infection of the leg and
couldn’t walk. His leg blew up 3 times the size of a
normal leg. It went on and on and on.
I guess that’s
part of location shooting.
supposed to take place on this beautiful deserted island.
The island we filmed on is Taveuni, Fiji. On one end of
the island it is beautiful and sunny all the time. On the
other side of the island it’s called Lavena, which means
"gray clouds." Lavena is where all the sets were
built and we filmed the movie. It rained there every
were filming in the rain trying to make it look like it
was sunshine. I didn’t have a dressing room. I had a
little tent. If it started pouring I’d run into my tent.
As soon as it started drizzling (and the film would not
pick up on the rain) we’d run out and film! Most of the
film was shot in drizzle.
producers thought about moving location before we started
filming, and I highly encouraged it once we found out that
they had built all these sets in a place where it was
going to rain the entire time. I said, "You’ve got
to move." They decided for financial reasons or
whatever to stay where we were and continue on.
You’d think from a
technical standpoint it would be tough.
had plastic over everything. The second half of the film
where they had the teenagers they actually built a studio
on the Island. They built shelters to film out of the
rain. They did inserts and stuff like that.
The girl Milla
Jovovich is beautiful in it.
she’s a top model. She was then too. She was a
great beauty and the boy was gorgeous too. Everybody was
sweet. It was just the location. I have a gazillion
stories. It’s unbelievable how difficult it was.
You could do a whole
book. You’re not old enough for your memoirs yet?
few people have to die first for me to write my memoirs.
You have to wait
before you say the horrible things about people.
not say horrible things. The Truth. I’m not good at not
telling the truth.
Let’s talk about
some of your TV stuff. James at 15?
have fond memories of that show.
How was working with
was a sweetheart. I had my first screen kiss in that show.
I played a character called Paisley Hufton. I just loved
her. Lance’s character is in love with me, but Paisley
wasn’t in love with him. I fell in love with somebody
else. We had a whole story.
Lance said it was a
revolutionary TV show at the time.
had a wonderful writer, Dan Wakefield, and he’s a
novelist too. I got to be friends with him for a while.
I remember 2 big
think it was one movie of James at 15 then they
started the series. The first show aired on the same night
as a TV mini series I had done for PBS called The Best
of Families. In James at 15 I played this very
upper crust girl who lived in a mansion, had servants,
oysters, I had my hair absolutely straight and everything
"perfect." In "Best of Families" I
played this very poor Irish immigrant at the turn of the
century that was raped. They were both on TV on the same
thought, "How can I get everyone in the world to
watch both shows at the same time?" That was back
"Happy Days" and "Kojak"?
"Happy Days" I played a French girl. I could
only speak French and couldn’t speak English. She was
Fonzie’s date to the graduation prom. That was fun to
play a character that could only speak French (and, of
course could not understand what Fonzie was saying to
her!). All the people were wonderful on that show. This
was a two-part episode about graduation. Happy Days is
taped so you rehearse it like a play and then you film it
as if you’re doing it as a play. I love taped
television. It was easy for me. "Kojak"
was shot in New York. I was doing theater. It was a
nice way to make some money.
I saw a picture of
you with Linda Purl.
one of my best friends. She has a son who is a year older
than my son. We were in Japan together as children. Our
parents knew each other when we lived in Tokyo, Japan. I
think she lived most of her childhood in Tokyo. At least
she lived many, many more years in Tokyo then I did. We
met again in New York when we were both acting in the
mini-series, Beacon Hill. And now our sons are best
Are you more into
comedy or drama?
love comedy. I love to make people laugh! In the last
couple of years I have performed in the farce, Communicating
Doors by Alan Ayckbourn; and Accomplice by
Rubert Holmes which is a comedy/thriller. They’re just
so much fun. Then I’m doing something like The Glass
Menagerie. The tragedy of going to those depths is fun
in a different kind of way. I guess I could say I love
whatever I’m doing now.
You have a great
love of the theater.
rehearsing a play I’m very excited about. I’m doing The
Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams. I’m playing
Amanda who is the mother. Usually she’s cast with an
actress who would be much older than I am. So, I’m
absolutely thrilled to be doing this at a young point in
my career in terms of theater. Generally it would be
another 20 years before I played this role. The director
wanted to cast it this way & I’m just thrilled.
You must have an
incredible mind for theater plays.
love doing theaters and I love long runs of plays. Most
actors like 4 or 5 weeks and then they want it over. Not
me. I love being able to do it again and again. I love
long runs. My favorite experience was a play called Blue
Window in an extended run. I did that for about a
year. It was written by Craig Lucas and directed by Norman
René (who also wrote and directed Longtime Companion
which is how Bruce
Davison, my husband, met them. I’d done the play
first so I already knew them before he met them.)
Bruce’s career is
doing well too?
played the senator in the X-Men movies and he has a really
good film coming out called Breach.
Actually, I should say, we are currently separated after
20 years of marriage.
There must be
another movie that you’d like to do?
far as I can tell my film and movie career is completely
nonexistent. Maybe you’ll bring me to the forefront with
your review. Every little bit helps. At this time in my
career the parts I can play on the stage are glorious. The
parts I’m getting offered in film are not. I can’t
wait to find a wonderful, juicy role for me on film!
Is there someone you
had a retroCRUSH on while growing up?
Mills. I was in love with Hayley Mills. When I was a
little girl I just wanted to grow up and be Hayley Mills.
you’re in the LA/Burbank area between February 8 - March
12, 2006 come see Lisa in The Glass Menagerie at the
beautiful 300 seat Colony Theatre. Click here for more
sure to check out Lisa’s website at: www.lisapelikan.com
Lisa's first feature film Julia
comes out on DVD this February 7th.
Special thanks to:
Vince Cornelius for the use of the Jennifer photos.
Chris Chris Argyropoulos from Fox Home Entertainment for
the Julia photo.