A Talk With Julie Michaels

She danced for Patrick Swayze and beat up Keanu Reeves. Now I get to interview her.
January 24, 2013
What do "Road House" and "Point Break" have in common besides Patrick Swayze? The other common link is my next interview subject, Julie Michaels.

As you know, I'm very fond of women of action, and Ms. Michaels has been a shining example of that, not only as an actress but also as a stuntwoman. As both an actress and a stuntwoman, she's worked for talents as diverse as Kathryn Bigelow, James Cameron, Joel Schumacher and the late Tony Scott. I'm always interested in exploring different facets of the entertainment industry in my interviews, and I recently had the opportuinity to speak to Ms. Michaels about her career. She has some exciting stories to tell, so without any further ado, here's:

The RetroJunk Interview With Julie Michaels!

Caps: Okay, Julie, can you hear me?

Julie: I can hear you.

Caps: Alright. I have to put it on speaker so that way the voice recorder will pick up what you're saying.

Julie: Okay, great!

Caps: Okay, let me just pull up the questions I have for you. I had to restart the computer a couple of minutes ago, but don't worry, I have them here. Okay, this is my first question. This is the one I always start out with: What were your pop-cultural likes growing up, like favorite movies and music?

Julie: I have to be honest with you. I didn't have any, because I grew up on a farm, so most pop-culture I got was from what my horse ate that day. I was really kind of sheltered from it, to be honest with you. I didn't really watch a lot of television. I was outside most of the time. I didn't really realize what pop-culture was probably until I got into college.

Caps: My next question is: What were your school days like?

Julie: Pretty awful, to be honest with you. I wasn't very attractive...Never went out on dates, didn't even go to senior prom. My dad used to say "Put a bone around her neck, maybe the dog will play with her". Just wasn't very attractive growing up, so I had to learn to be a better communicator, and talk with people, and get people to understand who I was from the inside, which I think was quite effective for me all through high school and college and, you know, into my later years for sure. It was pretty awful.

Caps: Hold on a moment. I have my cat in here. He's, uh she's constantly moving around. I'm going to have to shut the door so she doesn't accidentally click off the phone. Okay, my next question: Before you entered the entertainment industry, you had success in the Miss America competition. Are beauty pageants really as vicious competition-wise as movies and TV shows make them out to be?

Julie: No, I don't think so. I think that's what movies and television do. They glamorize or patronize a lot of different issues, but it isn't the real world. I mean, for me it was the golden arch, so to speak, because I learned a lot about myself and I learned a lot about the industry, and I paid for my college by doing it. One of my very best friends is a former Miss America, and my best friend is someone who competed in the top 10, Kristine Weitz, and they're two of the most amazing people to ever walk the Earth. (Author's note: Kristine Weitz would have musical success in the 90s as Kristine W.). A lot of it came from pageantry. I learned teamwork, even though it seemed like a solo event, but you learn a lot about competition and preparation and diet and performance, and to me, it was the best step that ever happened.

Caps: And now we progress into the film work. You made your film debut as Denise in "Road House". What is your favorite memory of working on that movie?

Julie: I think the off-time between takes was probably what was most fun. Really loved sitting and listening to Jeff Healey just jam behind us while we were hanging out, and waiting for shots. Loved dancing with Patrick in the mornings to wake up and get our bodies moving, even though we were dancing in the scene. I loved sitting with Sammy Elliott and that very sexy voice, and listened to him talk. It was probably my favorite experience in the film industry, and sometimes I think it was because it was my first major one, but I also think the combination of people there were so superior, and so inviting to a novice coming in, but those experiences between the takes were the ones I remembered the most.

Caps: Going by the trailer for "Road House", there were some deleted scenes. Was your part bigger than it ended up as?

Julie: No, I don't think so. I think they changed the order of things, but I don't think it was any bigger. There was a little talk at one point of who they were going to make end up killing Ben Gazzarra in the end, and I was kind of hoping it would be Denise, because she had been beaten, and I think she would have been a very interesting and surprising character to have taken him out, but when they finally ended up with the whole town doing it, I kind of agreed with them. It really worked with them.

Caps: Okay, my next question: In "Point Break", you subverted audience expectations at Freight Train. Audiences were expecting you to be a fan-service extra, and instead you brutalized Keanu Reeves' Johnny Utah. To that point, it was rare for women to beat up men in action movies. Would you say that the character was a ground-breaker?

Julie: I would, and I hope you don't mind me saying that. Yes, I would. I was touted by the New York Times as "the nude babe who nuked Keanu Reeves". It really was, and it was Glenn Wilder that conned me into...Glenn Wilder is the 2nd Unit Director. He was working with Kathryn Bigelow, and I had originally won a different part, and he talked me into doing this part because he knew I was a fighter. I was like "I don't want to do that", and he said "No, I really need you to do this. It's going to be amazing". I finally agreed to do it, but if I was going to do it, I was going to do it all-out and bad-ass, and to be honest with you, I gave Keanu Reeves a black eye.

Caps: Wow. So...

Julie: I trained with Sensei Benny Urquidez, "Benny The Jet".

Caps: Oh, I've definitely heard a lot about him. A definite bad-ass.

Julie: Yeah, and he's the bomb.

Caps: Speaking of Keanu Reeves, he was known for doing some unusual interviews in the late 80s and early 90s. Was that an act, or in your interactions with him, did you find him to be that colorful?

Julie: I have to tell you, I don't really remember much about Keanu. He was pretty quiet, he was...As much as with the scene you would think I interacted with him a lot, I really didn't. He really didn't say much, he didn't really talk much, it was pretty limited, to be honest with you.

Caps: Aaah, okay. To the next question: You played Agent Elizabeth Marcus in "Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday". What were your thoughts on the "Friday The 13th" franchise before you became a part of it?

Julie: When they came to me about doing the part, I said no. I'd been offered a few horror films after "Road House", and they scare me, to be honest with you. I'm kind of a wuss when it comes to those. When I met Adam Marcus, the director, I really adored him, and he was young and vibrant and he had all these great ideas, and I thought "I want to help this guy out". So I kind of talked to him about it, and as long as I don't have to be in the far-out stuff, I would do it, and I'm really glad I did it, because I loved Adam. I loved him, I thought he was wonderful. I actually did my first high fall in that movie, and when it came to the screening, I watched the first several minutes I was in, and then spent the rest of the movie with my hands over my face.

Caps: So what was your favorite part of filming "Jason Goes To Hell"?

Julie: It's actually the film I met my husband, I didn't meet him on, but it was the first time we worked together. He's the one that actually trained me to do the high fall. So it was fun for us because it was kind of where we started working as a team together, and currently, we coordinate several television shows and features together through our own company, so it was when our company kind of started its' buddingness.

Caps: Oh, that's cool.

Julie: It wasn't ripping my feet up running through the woods.

(Author's note: The above segment is dubbed in French, but it was the most complete selection of Ms. Michaels' scenes from the film that I could find on YouTube)

Caps: My next question is: Although you've had quite a few roles in movies, you're also an accomplished stunt woman. What has stunt work provided for you that regular acting hasn't?

Julie: I think the team camaraderie. The one thing I like about stunt performers is they're all like a family. You can have 2 guys that say, don't like each other on the street, might go to blows, but you put them on set together and they'll risk their lives to save each other. It's that kind of ethics and integrity that I really like, and even when I was acting, I found myself always hanging with the stunt crew, because they were more of a team than most actors, who have to be kind of self-inclined, where stunt performers think as a team. "How can we accomplish this?" "How do we keep people safe?" It feels more like a group of firefighters than it does presidential candidates, because they have a collective agreement to take care of everyone. That's why I love it now, because when we hire, and we hire about 300 stunt performers a year on our shows, I love seeing them feeling very passionate about keeping people safe and being safe. I guess it's the mother instinct in me that loves that, and I was drawn to it also because I was an athlete in college, and it was very much that way in athletics.

Caps: Aaah, okay. I have seen several documentaries on stunt people, and they do seem to have this good family dynamic.

Julie: Absolutely!

Caps: Who has been your biggest influence as a stunt woman?

Julie: I'm sorry. Say that again?

Caps: Oh, I'm sorry. Who has been your biggest influence as a stunt woman?

Julie: Stint point?

Caps: Stunt woman. Your biggest influence...

Julie: Influence. Oh, I'm sorry. I can barely hear you.

Caps: I'm sorry.

Julie: I think it would have to be Jeannie Epper. She was the original Wonder Woman, and she broke the mold for women when men were still doubling women, and then as far as men in the business, it would be Conrad Palmisano and Greg Barnett, and they're two of my mentors that have bought me along not only as a stunt performer, but as a stunt coordinator.

Caps: Okay, my next question: On several episodes of "V.I.P", you served as Pamela Anderson's stunt double. Were you friends off-set?

Julie: Yes, she was wonderful. Our kids actually played together.

Caps: Another question related to that: Was it because of the several appearances you made on "Baywatch" that you ended up as Pamela Anderson's stunt double?

Julie: I actually not only made appearances on "Baywatch", but I actually double her on "Baywatch" as well. She ended up taking me on to a commercial, and then "V.I.P" after that.

Caps: Okay. My next question is: You did stunt work in "Batman Forever" and had the role of Jane in "Batman And Robin". Did Joel Schumacher remember you from the first film when casting the latter, or did you have to audition?
Julie: I didn't have to audition. I was bought in by Conrad Palmisano, and Joel did remember me. He was really great. He is just such a delight to work for. So I was actually brought in by Conrad Palmisano.

Caps: What was Arnold Schwarzenegger like to work with?

Julie: He was great. He was great. His make-up artist actually ended up doing my make-up a couple of times, and so we'd kind of be in proximity, and he ends up freezing me later in the scene. He was great. He was very jovial and kind, and treated the cast and crew really well.

Caps: That's cool. You were also one of the many stunt people who worked on James Cameron's "Titanic". Cameron has a legendary temper. Were you witness to any of it?

Julie: You know, James Cameron also cast me in "Point Break". He was our producer on "Point Break", so I already had a pretty nice relationship with him from "Point Break" when I got to "Titanic". He's brilliant, and that's just the way brilliant people are. He just doesn't have time for people who aren't at their best. I think he works ingeniously, and he's very honest, like we were jumping off the boat at 60 feet, and he came over to myself and another stunt performer and said "It could be great or it could be shit", which is true, so you've got to remember to that he has these hundreds-of-million dollar films under his belt, and he just doesn't have time for anything less than stellar performances, and if you can't jive along with that, then maybe you shouldn't work for him. I love working for him. I'm always on the top of my toes when I work for him. I think he's brilliant.

Caps: I think if you have his level of success, it definitely factors into wanting the best from your performers.

Julie: Yeah. It's not only success, but the artistic phenomenon that he is, it's very hard to see anything less than stellar, but that's why he's James Cameron.

Caps: If one were to look for you in "Titanic", where could you be seen?

Julie: Oh, good luck. Don't blink. You probably wouldn't. I mean, I'm in with hundreds of people. It was a great experience, except for the fact that I got pneumonia.

Caps: 5 years after being part of the "Friday The 13th" series, you did stunt work in "Halloween: H20". Which do you prefer working on, action movies or horror movies?

Julie: It would have to be action movies. Horror movies scare me. Even though it's fake, it's still scary to me. It's the little girl in me. I love action films. That's my genre.

Caps: Another one of the movies where you did stunt work was "Domino". What did that movie require you to do?

Julie: I was in the helicopter when they did the shoot-out in Las Vegas at the Stratosphere. Actually, during that sequence, we had a near-bad accident, but thank goodness, the quick thinking of an amazing pilot...We were flying around while they shoot out the windows, and what they didn't tell the pilot was that they were going to blow a bunch of paper out as if it were money getting blown out. The paper got into the helicopter, and it caused the helicopter to lose power. We took a nice dive. He was able to get it out and land us, and we all got out and kissed the ground and thanked God...and the pilot. It was pretty scary. It was great, though.

Caps: Absolutely. That was easily one of the best scenes in the movie.

Julie: Yeah, it was cool.

Caps: Did you do any work on that movie with the late Tony Scott, or was that all second-unit material you did?

Julie: No, he was there. Chuck Picerni, the stunt coordinator was Tony's boy, and just watching them together was phenomenal. It was just the best team between director and stunt coordinator. They just meshed. One would finish the other person's sentences, and I know when we lost him, Chuck was just devastated.

Caps: Yeah. I'm a fan of Tony Scott's work, and I think "Domino" was definitely one of his best movies. Very underrated...

Julie: Yes, I agree.

Caps: As you've gotten older, has stunt work become harder or easier, or maybe a little bit of both?

Julie: I love the way you said "a little bit of both". Yeah, a little bit of both. As you get older, you know what can go wrong, so you're smarter, and emotionally, I've done so many now that I know what to look for, what to prep for. When you're young, you really don't know. You just kind of trust people, and I got into a couple of situations that, if I were in now, I would never have done. Ignorance isn't bliss when you're a stunt performer, but I learned from that. As you get older, too, the body goes "Oh, that's going to hurt, so maybe I don't want to get hit by a car today".

Caps: On a different tack, you're also active in doing work with military veterans. What drew you to that charitable endeavor?

Julie: I was born on an Air Force base. I'm a military Brat. My father was in the Air Force, and I learned from him about the value of courage and country. Something in me always said If I ever get anywhere, that's going to be what I'm going to do. That's going to be the effort I'm going to put forward. I met Rick Seaman, who bought me on board with Veterans' Network, and started doing a show for him called "Homeward Bound". I regularly visit V/A hospitals, and fundraising events for the Veterans' Foundation. It's my way of giving back. I always wanted to be Marilyn going to the USO shows and singing to the troops. Anything I could do, and when that didn't necessarily become available for me, I found other outlets to be able to support the vets, and it's a very strong passion of mine, and I wouldn't have what I have, nor you, nor anyone, were it not for the valor and courage of our veterans.

Caps: Absolutely. Was this a relatively recent development or did you do work with veterans back when you were on the beauty pageant circuit? I know that often-times Miss Americas will go on USO tours, or was this more of a relatively recent thing?

Julie: No, actually, not with Miss America, but with another beauty pageant association, not the Miss America pageant. I did go on a goodwill ambassador tour through Asia, so that was kind of maybe where part of it started, but it was also to perform for royalty out there. It did start the idea of...I could get on board with it, and when I had the success of "Road House", people would ask for autographs. I charged everyone except vets. That was my way of giving back, and if someone couldn't afford a photo, I would ask them just do something kind, with the idea that they would do it, and that would be the payment.

Caps: That sounds very noble. That sounds very admirable of you.

Julie: It's nothing compared to those guys in those uniforms...And ladies, too.

Caps: That's true. On a different tack, how would you say the entertainment industry has changed since you started out?

Julie: I think it's radically changed, not only with the economy, but the infiltration of visual effects, and a lot of our work here in the United States is either leaving California, which used to be the capital of filmmaking, to other parts of the country, just because of the tax breaks, but the majority are leaving our country, so the jobs are harder and harder to come by here in the United States. When I first got into the busines, Hollywood was THE place. Maybe you could go to New York and work, but if you wanted to work, you went to Hollywood, and Hollywood is really hurting right now. I know a lot of people who used to work all the time and now are really, really struggling, because of the...I would guess about 30 percent of production now stays in Hollywood, whereas 70 or 80 percent was when I first got into the business, so it's very scary.

Caps: Definitely sounds it. To return to "Road House", I've noticed that health-wise, the women who worked on the movie seem to have done better than the men. Kelly Lynch, Kathleen Wilhoite (who I interviewed in 2011), yourself, you're all still alive, but Patrick Swayze, Ben Gazzarra, Jeff Healey, Chris Latta, and just yesterday, I believe his name is David Ellis, he was a stuntman on "Road House", and directed "Snakes On A Plane", among others...They're all dead. Why do you suppose the women have had better luck with their health?

Julie: You know, I can't really offer that. I can tell you that there was something going around the Internet saying "Road House" had some kind of hex on it, and who was next, Julie Michaels or I can't remember who the other person was. I was like "Wow, really? Geez". I don't think it's necessarily men versus women. We knew Jeff was sick for a long time. He had ocular cancer from childhood. We knew he had been sick for a very long time. Patrick, obviously, was a complete shock. Ben, being a little bit older, was maybe more of his thing, and yesterday, with the loss of David Ellis, that was just a freak thing, and young at 60 years old. The whole stunt community right now is...They can't take a breath right now. It's pretty hard on all of us, because nobody saw it coming. I'm sorry, it's just really new, so I can't answer that very well, I guess.

Caps: I apologize. I didn't mean to...

Julie: It's okay.

Caps: Okay, here's a lighter question.

Julie: Okay.

Caps: With your acting and stunt work keeping you busy, what's your idea of the perfect day off?

Julie: Oh, a day when I can make homemade pasta. I love to cook. I love to cook for people. I'm Italian, so a day I get to roll up some dough is a good day.

Caps: Definitely sounds good. This is my final question. This is the question I end every interview I do with, and it's: If you could go back to your youth with the knowledge that you have now, would you do anything differently?

Julie: I would. I wouldn't worry so much about fitting in, I think like kids still do, and I wish they wouldn't. I worry just about being the best person I can be all the time, which I think I was doing, but I wouldn't worry so much about fitting in. I would worry only about being the best and most ethical Christian person I could be. I would trust God more.

Caps: Sounds very noble. Well, that's really about it for the questions. I want to thank you for agreeing to do this interview with me. I really enjoyed speaking to you, and I wish you the best of luck with your future endeavors, whether you're seen in front of the camera in an acting role or doing stunt work.

Julie: Thanks, and we love what you're doing, too. It's fun stuff. Nicely done, big applause on this side.

Caps: Oh, you've seen it before? Well, I mean, I had e-mailed you the link back when this was going to be an e-mail interview, so I'm presuming you checked it out then?

Julie: I checked it out then, and I was just so swamped at the time that I let it slip underneath me. When I saw your e-mail this time, I was like "Okay, I'm really doing this". I remember the site was really great, so I love what you do. It's fun, especially because the 80s was a big time for me, so thank you very much. The best to your viewership or readership, and keep doing what you're doing. You're the reason us stunt actresses are out there.

Caps: That's very kind of you. I thank you for the compliment, and I hope you have an excellent day.

Julie: E-mail anytime.

Caps: Sounds good to me.

Julie: Bye.

Caps: Bye.


Julie has an official website. She can be found at http://juliemichaels.com/.

Thank you all for reading, and have an excellent day yourselves.
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