In 2003, I saw 2 80s movies I came to enjoy very much. The first was the Stephen King adaptation "Christine" and the second was the crime drama "8 Million Ways To Die". I've written about them in previous articles, and now, my newest interview is with the actress who starred in both of them.
I'm talking about the one and only Alexandra Paul.
I've been impressed by her talent and her looks for a long time. I wrote about her in my 2008 article "Some Of My Fave 80s Women", and now I've taken a new step. I e-mailed her press representative to ask if she would be interested in an interview, and she agreed, so without any further ado, here's:
The RetroJunk Interview With Alexandra Paul!
Caps: What were your pop-cultural likes growing up?
Alexandra: My parents were not into music much, but my twin sister each had a radio in middle school, so we would listen to Casey Kasem's American Top 40 every Sunday night. The first albums we had were Joan Baez, Elton John and John Denver. My first concerts were Jackson Browne and James Taylor. Television watching was a rare event in our house, so I missed most tv shows, except I do remember loving Happy Days. We read a lot, and as a pre-teen I loved Judy Blume books and Harriet the Spy books. As you can see, I was not a very hip kid - wasn't into what a lot of kids were into in the 70s...
Caps: What were your school days like?
Alexandra: I went to middle school at Cornwall Consolidated School in Connecticut, which had something like a whopping 118 kids in grades K-8. I graduated first in my class and my twin was captain of all the teams. Then we both went to different boarding schools. I went to Groton School in Massachusetts, which I loved. It is a small co-ed prep school with rigorous academic standards in rural New England. I was one of those goofy kids who loved school.
Caps: What inspired you to become an entertainer?
Alexandra: I started taking acting classes at 18, when my modeling agent, Wilhelmina in New York City, asked me to so I could audition for commmercials. I loved them! It was like a whole new world opened up - my parents had always veered towards being an observer of art - going to plays and museums,for example - rather than being an artist oneself, so it was like a new side of me was being unlocked and I became passionate about being an actor.
Caps: What jobs did you hold before entering the entertainment business?
Alexandra: I had been a babysitter as a teenager, then started modeling when I was 16. It was modeling that segued me into my first acting job, when I was cast in a lead role opposite Daryl Hannah of the tv movie Paper Dolls, which was about models.
Caps: One of your first roles was in "Christine". Had you read the book before auditioning for the movie?
Alexandra: I read a lot because growing up in the country without television you either read or did sports or both. But I hadnt read any Stephen King or seen any movies based on his books because I didn't like getting so scared! I read the book after I was cast in the movie, however, and thought it was terrific. He is a wonderful writer.
Caps: Did you get the chance to meet Stephen King at any point?
Alexandra: I wish! No, he never came to the set. I would love to meet with him. Maybe someday...
Caps: What are your favorite memories of the movie?
Alexandra: My twin visited me in LA and I took her to the set and, with the help of the hair, makeup and wardrobe departments, she dressed up as my character Leigh and went to the set with John Stockwell (who was in on it too) to shoot a scene. It was one of the last scenes in the movie when he and I are fighting Christine in the bulldozer. They shot Caroline helping drive the bulldozer - no dialogue- and then I walked out in the same wardrobe (it was a fight scene, so there are always doubles) and asked the director, John Carpenter, if he had fired me. The whole crew had been fooled. I do have a great still photo of John looking up at Caroline sitting in the bulldozer and he has this confused look on his face. He later told me he had thought there was something different about me, and he couldn't put his finger on it. The way I greeted him had been different, so he thought I might not be feeling well. That was a fun prank to play.
Caps: If I recall correctly (it's been a while since I've seen the movie), in the drive-in scene, you were eating a hamburger. Since you've been a vegetarian for a long time, was that a veggie burger you ate or did you eat an actual one?
Alexandra: Yes, I have been a vegetarian since I was 14, and now I am a vegan. In 1983, you couldn't go out and easily find a soy burger, so it was a real hamburger, I just bit into the bread part.
Caps: One of my favorite works involving you is "8 Million Ways To Die". How did you get involved in that movie?
Caps: Oh gosh, that was such a great part for me, playing a call girl. My next role was the Virgin Connie Swail in Dragent, by the way so you can see I have range! I auditioned for 8 Million Ways To Die, thinking no way am I sexy enough to be a call girl. They kept calling me back and finally there was the screen test. I worked on it with my acting teacher in class, and he told me that to get the part "I had to be braver than everyone else". So I was. I rocked the audition and got the part.
Caps: I've read that there was a lot of friction during the filming of the movie between Hal Ashby and Producers Sales Organization (the movie's production company). Did the struggle between them affect the actors on that movie?
Alexandra: I didn't notice that particular dynamic during filming, but then I was 23 and not paying attention to anything but the acting part. We did start the movie without a finished script. Oliver Stone had written the script and then they brought Robert Towne in. On the first day of shooting, we had 60 pages, which was up until my character died. That in itself was problematic, since my character in the book dies in the first chapter, so even though I would have liked to be in more of the film, I knew that it was imbalanced to have Sunny die so far into the movie. In the final version of the film, only half my scenes appear. I was disappointed but not surprised. Hal was fired during editing, a pity, as he was an Oscar winning editor. The film taught me something very important: you can have great talent on a movie (Jeff Bridges, Andy Garcia, Hal Ashby, Oliver Stone, Robert Towne), but if you don't have a good script you got nothin'. The final cut of the movie was totally unfamiliar to me when I first saw it, so much had been changed from how we shot it.
Caps: I enjoyed "Dragnet". I've heard several stories about Dan Aykroyd, some of which have portrayed him as a comedic genius and others that have portrayed him as a Peter Sellers-like individual. What were your experiences in working with him?
Alexandra: I love Dan Aykroyd. He was incredibly professional and very kind and courteous. A total gentleman. I shook Dan's hand every morning, but would hug Tom hello. Maybe because Dan was quiet, not the rowdy jokester that Tom Hanks is. On Dragnet, Dan was a producer AND he had sooo many lines to reel off in that rapid, clipped manner - a big challenge and Dan was amazing at it - but it was a lot of pressure to pull that off. I remember Dan as just being a total gentleman, no kookiness of his SNL characters, and I think that is because he was playing a character who was conservative and rigid. A bit of Method Acting. I am sure on the set of The Blues Brothers he was totally different!
Caps: Many of our 90s fans recognize you from your work as Stephanie Holden on "Baywatch". Knowing the effort the cast put into the show, how do you feel when the show is made fun of?
Alexandra: It used to hurt my feelings - I would be amazed at the things that people said to my face about the show! Or they would laugh as they said "She's on Baywatch". Then when everyone realized what a phenomenon it was, they were a bit less snarky. The most common thing I hear is someone immediately assuring me they NEVER watched the show. Which is rude, if you think about it. They don't mean to hurt my feelings, so I don't take it too seriously but it does surprise me folks can be so tactless. Plus, I think it is awesome to be on the most watched show in the world, a tv series that ushered in an era of globalism. We on the cast never thought we were doing brain surgery - we knew it was just light, scenic fare. Maybe people expect a show that takes place on the beach to be solving world issues?
Caps: What are your most favorite memories of "Baywatch"? Conversely, what are your least favorite memories?
Alexandra: I love the cast so much. We all got along so well and David Hasselhoff is such a great person, so wonderful to work with. The lead actor sets the tone on the set with their attitude - if they are whiny or angry, it affects the rest of the cast and the crew. David was awesome: always on time, always knew his lines, always upbeat and really, really funny. We all adored him. My favorite memories are the swim days - when we would go out on a big fishing boat and shoot all the rescues for 4 or so shows. I dont have any least favorite memories, frankly. I loved filming Baywatch. My job was to play on the beach with wonderful people all day.
Caps: What roles did you audition for, but didn't get?
Alexandra: Oh gosh, I have blocked all those out!
Caps: You're a very passionate activist for various causes. That passion has led you to some interesting places...Including jail. What's it like to spend time in prison?
Alexandra: Scary, like a totally different world. But also worth it, since I went to jail for what I believed in, like peace (http://alexandrapaul.com/activism/activism_war_and_peace.htm.)
My brother is in prison at the moment, also for what he believes in - animal rights. (http://alexandrapaul.com/corner/jonathan.htm)
He has been there 3 years, not the measly few days here and there I served. My mom and I were arrested at the Nevada Test Site together, and my sister was almost kicked out of Stanford University in the 1980s for protesting its involvement in South Africa and its Western biased curriculum. I have a photo of my dad holding a protest sign outside a jail my brother was being held in in 1993 for another animal rights matter. So it runs in the family, activism.
Caps: Looking at your IMDB page, I'm amazed at all the swimming you've done. Did your work on "Baywatch" lead you to gain a passion for swimming, or had you always enjoyed it?'
Alexandra: I have always been a swimmer - growing up in West Cornwall, Connecticut, my twin Caroline and I would swim across the local lake doing the butterfly. It was 3/4 of a mile ling and we would swim back and forth, back and forth, without stopping. A precursor to my 10 mile swims as an adult, I suppose, although I no longer butterfly it due to my wonky lower back. In fact, the reason I was called in to audition for Baywatch is that the show creator, Greg Bonann, swam at the same city pool I did and he heard I was a very good swimmer.
Caps: What are your guiltiest pleasures in the fields of movies, TV, music and food?
Alexandra: Hmmm, well, Ian and I don't have a tv (even though I hated not having one growing up, I have never had television in my house as an adult except a couple times when Ian wanted to watch the Tour de France in the late 1990s, before it was on the internet), but we do watch The Good Wife online. My favorite tv show is the English comedy series, Coupling. It is hilarious! In terms of music, I listen to country music, thanks to the influence of a Texan boy with whom I was in love a couple decades ago. In food, my tastes are simple: sweets! I am a vegan, so they have to contain no dairy or honey, so I indulge in Rice Divine in any flavor that has yummy things in it! I like movies from the 60s, probably becuase I was born in that decade, so it interests me to see the styles and the cars etc. Sean Penn is my favorite actor, and I admire him greatly as a person.
I would like to thank Ms. Paul for working with me. It was a great pleasure to speak to her.
For more on Ms. Paul and her career and activism, visit http://www.alexandrapaul.com/