A brief note before the article begins: For some reason, abbreviations are not showing up, so Julie has given me permission to expand them.
Julie Brown is one of the most versatile entertainers of our time. Born in 1954, she has been acting since the early 1980s and has worked with many great talents from Clint Eastwood to Steven Spielberg. Older members of this site will remember her from movies like "Earth Girls Are Easy" and her TV show "Just Say Julie", while younger viewers will know her as the voice of Minerva Mink on "Animaniacs" and a commentator on many countdown specials for E!. She is a gifted singer of both comedy and serious songs and one of the funniest writers I have ever heard of. I first contacted her through eBay, and with assistance from her agent, I was able to procure an interview with her.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you:
The RetroJunk Interview with Julie Brown!
Caps: When you were growing up, what were your pop-cultural likes (Favorite movies, TV shows, music, books)?
Julie: My favorites pop-cultural likes were: Ann-Margret in "Bye Bye Birdie" (I remember being a little kid and she was one of the first redheads or really one of the first woman playing a teenager to act slutty. In the opening credits she was crazy and I loved it), Lily Tomlin on Laugh-In, Shirley Temple, Hailey Mills in "The Parent Trap", Jonathan Winters, Stevie Nicks.
Caps: A common complaint on the RetroJunk message boards is that schools have become too wussified in recent years. Do you find that to be true, or do you feel that schools have always been the same?
Julie: I do not know exactly what they mean that schools are "wussified". I mean, when we were in school, no one had guns. When I wrote "The Homecoming Queens Got A Gun", it was a joke at the time. Now it is true!
Caps: What was your high school prom like? Your graduation?
Julie: My high school prom was totally perfect. I made my own dress, it was a mint green formal, my date was my really cute boyfriend who I had been with for a year. We were in the school play together (a rock version of Alice in Wonderland). He picked me up and gave me a matching corsage. We went to the prom and got the goofiest/cutest picture and then we danced all night and fooled around at his house at the end of the night. It was heaven. Graduation, I think it was a little boring. We got our diplomas and went to some parties afterwards. Maybe I don't remember it as well because we wore caps and gowns and since I did not have a special outfit, it's kind of forgettable.
Caps: Had you always wanted to be an actress, or did you want to be something else?
Julie: I wanted to be a biologist because I won the science fair in junior high. My experiment was "Can normal plant reaction be changed using growth hormones?". Even early on I was interested in hormones. But I was always doing plays. I just did not think I could be an actress because my parents said, "Whatever you do, do not be an actress." Probably because my great grandfather was an actor (minor part in Citizen Kane, the lead juror in "Reefer Madness" and lots of other small parts) and his life was not so great. So I enrolled in college as an anthropology major, hated it and went back to the Theater Department.
Caps: Your film debut was in the Clint Eastwood movie "Any Which Way You Can". Do you have any memories of working with Clint? Did you ever think that he would eventually become a multi-Oscar winner?
Julie: Clint Eastwood was taller then you think. Like 6 feet, 3 inches. Most actors are small. And he was so nice and sweet, but he was dating that weird skinny Sandra Locke at the time. That made no sense because he could have had anybody! I sort of knew he would be even more successful than he had been because right after that movie he did "Bronco Billy" which was a really interesting movie and aspired to more than just being a cowboy movie. The characters had depth and the story was complex.
Caps: Lily Tomlin helped get you your SAG card. What was she like, and do you still talk to her?
Julie: I do not still talk to Lily, even though I would love to. You meet so many people in your career and it is hard to stay in touch with all of them. I totally love her and I saw again when I did "Murphy Brown" (she was a regular) and she came to a play I did last year, "Oklahomo". She is always so sweet and great. I cannot imagine anyone not liking her.
Caps: You had a role in the movie "Bloody Birthday". How do you feel horror movies have changed from the 80s to now? Do you think those changes are for the better or the worse? How do you feel about the portrayal of women in these movies?
Julie: I think horror movies have changed because I really can't watch them now. They are really big on torture and I just do not find that fun. Also, they can seem so real and it's really stressful to watch people look like they are actually being killed. So I guess I think they're worse. It is always weird to me that horror movies like women to be as naked as possible and then get killed. How is that a good idea?
Over the years I have gotten several ideas for horror movies, but then they always upset me so much when I work on them, that I have to stop and move on to something funny.
Caps: In 1985, you released the album "Goddess In Progress". What made you want to record an album?
Julie: When I released "Goddess in Progress", it was because I had been doing stand up and did not really like it. Before that I was in a comedy team with Charlie Coffey called "Brown and Coffey" in San Francisco and we did a lot of songs in our act and I liked that a lot more. Songs kind of elevate the energy in the room. So I struggled for like half a year to come up with some songs, then recorded them and started performing them. The songs went over so well in the clubs I was working in that I decided to release the album. Then the songs became cult hits.
Caps: Do you feel that a song like "The Homecoming Queens Got A Gun" could be released today?
Julie: I do not know if "Homecoming Queen" could be released today. It probably could be. There would probably be people who thought it was incredibly offensive. At the time, everyone thought it was funny because it was ridiculous. I mean, school shootings? I was not even sure I could keep performing that song, but when you do it in a club, anyone who is there, or anyone who came to see me does not seem to be offended.
Caps: One of the songs on GIP was a tune called "Earth Girls Are Easy", which later served as an inspiration for your movie of the same name. Had you always intended to do a movie based on the song, or did the movie idea just come to you one day?
Julie: While Charlie and were working on the song, "Earth Girls are Easy", we got the idea for the movie. And when the album got released, Warner Bros. called me up and said "these songs are so theatrical, do you have any movie idea?". So I went in, acted out the movie (I did not know how else to pitch a movie) and they bought it in the room. That is NOT the way movies are generally sold. But I didn't know any better.
Caps: How come you didn't perform the title track in the movie?
Julie: I do not know why I didn't perform the track in the movie. Probably because at that point there were so many other people involved (the director, studio, producers) I really had no control by then.
Caps: EGAE had a great cast. How involved were you in the casting progress?
Julie: The way I was involved in the casting process of "Earth Girls..." was that they sort of ran ideas by me. I did not have veto power but I could say, "Good idea". It was a little frustrating even though now I think the cast is great.
(The above picture is of Julie Brown with co-star Jim Carrey on the set of "Earth Girls Are Easy".)
Caps: The set design in the movie was fabulous, from the scenes in Curl Up And Dye to the scenes at Deca Dance. I think that the set designers could've been nominated for Oscars. Why weren't they?
Julie: The Curl Up and Dye in the movie was a set and it was fabulous, wasnt it? It is probably the set that looks the closet to what we were thinking when we wrote the script. I think the set designers should have been nominated, but when "Earth Girls..." came out it was not a hit. It was pretty much under the radar. It has become a cult hit over time and I think the exaggerated style of the whole movie was a little bit ahead of its time.
Caps: In-between GIP and EGAE, you released the full-length album "Trapped In The Body Of A White Girl". Besides the comedic stuff, there were also some regular stuff, including the upbeat love song "Calling Your Heart" and the straight-forward ballad "Time Slips Away". You sang those songs quite well, but were you the one who decided to include the non-comedy songs, or was it suggested to you by the label?
Julie: The non-comedy songs on "Trapped" were songs I wrote, but the whole idea of non-comedy songs was the labels idea. They hooked me up with a bunch of people who had worked with Madonna and I guess they were hoping I would be Madonna-like. But I am just not that person. The funny thing was I kept hearing stories about Madonna along the way and I think that had a lot to do with why I eventually wanted to satirize her in "Medusa". By the way, she is insane!
Caps: In 1989, you started the show "Just Say Julie" on MTV. I found the show hilarious, but a common complaint that's been hurled at MTV throughout the years is that it isn't really music television. How do you define music television?
Julie: I do not know if I have an explanation for "Music Television". "Just Say Julie" was the show I came up with when MTV said, "You can have your own show, you just have to play 3 videos in the half hour". At the time it was their best rated show. But I think the problem with MTV is that they never wanted to hire real writers. Charlie and I had to put that whole show together ourselves. MTV never wanted to be a signatory to the Writers Guild so the whole channel was just music videos and shows written by kids who just got out of college.
Caps: Do you think a show like "Just Say Julie" could be done today?
Julie: There is no way "Just Say Julie" could be done today. We did not even have an executive on the set. It was just me and Charlie Coffey and Charlie Singer (the MTV line producer) who would fly out to shoot the shows. That was unheard of. If you go to the set of any TV show there are a boatload of executives who all have an opinion. I mean we did not have much of a budget, but we could do ANYTHING we wanted as long as we showed 3 videos. That would probably never happen again.
Caps: I have not seen you as a commentator on any of the pop-culture programs on VH1, and they have not talked about any of your work on their various "I Love..." programs. Is there bad blood between you and Viacom?
Julie: There is no bad blood between me and Viacom, and they have had me do a couple of VH1 shows. I can't remember the names of them because I did so many of the same kind of shows for E! (101 Celebrity Break-ups, etc.) Maybe that is why they haven't had me do them. Maybe I should call them, but I always have so many other things going on I have not thought to do that. And I have a 14 year old son who does not watch those shows, so it has sort of been off my radar.
Caps: I enjoyed the movie "The Spirit Of 76". Since you both acted in this movie and saw the decade first-hand, how accurately would you say that movie depicted the 1970s?
Julie: I think the movie "The Spirit of 76" was an exaggerated version of the 70s. And I do not remember the plot, I am embarrassed to say. I remember that it was awesome to meet David Cassidy and that I had a really cute red, white and blue costume. And you know who did the costumes? Sofia Coppola. She was like 17 years old and really sweet and gorgeous. That was what I thought. And look how far she has come!
Caps: In 1992, you starred in, co-directed and co-wrote "Medusa: Dare To Be Truthful". I thought it was hilarious, but I have to ask: Do you genuinely hate Madonna or are you merely annoyed with her? Considering the way Madonna has changed over the course of the past decade-and-a-half, any chance we might see Medusa make a return to our TV screens?
Julie: I do not hate Madonna at all! I love her. I mean, she is completely nuts but I believe the world would be a sadder place without her. That does not mean you cannot make fun of her. And I would love to do a current satire of her. I even pitched one to Logo and they loved it, but they cannot afford to do movies yet. So I have to find someone to finance it. Got any ideas?
Caps: In 1993, the show "Animaniacs" debuted. You were involved with the show as voicing the character of Minerva Mink. The character was not used that often. Why do you feel that happened?
Julie: What happened with Minerva Mink is that I did kind of a Marilyn Monroe voice and it was very popular with those guys who have a "thing" for cartoon characters. So Warner Bros. redesigned the character and made her less sexy, since the show is for kids. Ultimately they thought she was too hot and it really was a children's cartoon so I did her voice several times and that was it. I still get weird fan letters from guys wanting Minervas autograph.
Caps: During your time on "Animaniacs", you worked alongside one of my all-time favorite writing talents, Sherri Stoner. What was she like to work with and do you still talk to her?
Julie: Sherri Stoner is so sweet and nice and normal. Most of the voice people you meet are that way. Maybe because people do not know them for their faces, they do not have the same crazy egos that actors can have. I like so many of them, and Sherri was a doll!
Caps: A criticism hurled by many (including, admittedly, myself) at the final "Animaniacs" work, "Wakkos Wish", is that it was a rather melodramatic endcap to a comedy series. What are your feelings regarding these comments?
Julie: You criticized "Wakkos Wish"? I think it is okay. I do not know if it is the story I would have written, but I guess my expectations were not that high for the series. Sometimes when you are working on something, you enjoy the people and the process and that colors your perception of the final product. For example, I worked on "Fat Rose and Squeaky" for Showtime and even though I loved the director and Louise Fletcher, the other actresses were not always a picnic, if an actress can even be a picnic. In any case, I was happy when it wrapped.
Caps: In recent years, you've done a lot of TV work and smaller-budget movies. Is there any chance we'll see you do a major studio movie again anytime soon?
Julie: I would love to do another major studio movie and I'm trying to make that happen. The big thing I have coming out this year is "Camp Rock", a TV musical for Disney that I wrote and act in and they keep saying is their next "High School Musical". God I hope so!
Caps: In relation to question 23, if you could work with any 5 directors, who would they be and why?
Julie: The 5 directors I could work for, Martin Scorcese, Woody Allen, Ron Howard because I think they are all legends and really talented. And no matter how the movie came out you would end up with some great stories. And I'd like to work for the Coen Bros. because their movies are so weird and cool and Frances McDormand is usually in their films and god, I would love to work with her. And Meryl Streep, even though she has never directed that I know of, but my god, how much fun would that be?
Caps: To put a cap on it, if you were to go back to your youth with the knowledge you have now, is there anything you would change?
Julie: I wish I done more projects just for the money, something I never did but really smart actors always do, like Michael Caine or Heather Locklear. That way I would have lots of extra mad money for buying things I do not even want because the older I get the more I want Manolo Blahniks and a jet ski! Just like Heather Locklear!
I would like to thank Ms. Brown tremendously for doing this interview with me, and I would like to thank her agent Michael Warwick for setting it all up.
Until next time, this is Caps 2.0, telling all of you to think back, but look forward.