P.J. Soles has appeared in some of the most memorable films of the past four decades, including the original Carrie, the comedy hit Stripes, and theRamones classic Rock and Roll High School, and she is also in a unique position to talk about working with both John Carpenter on the original 1978 Halloween and Rob Zombie on The Devil’s Rejects just prior to his own Halloween remake.
We were beyond honored to meet and interview P.J. Soles this summer, and we found her to be just as beautiful and friendly in person as she is talented, talking candidly about the making of Carpenter’s classic, her favorite scenes and memories, and how Zombie is truly one of her biggest fanboys.
We asked Soles to compare the directing styles of John Carpenter and Rob Zombie.
“Well, John smokes cigarettes and Rob doesn’t,” P.J. laughed. “Otherwise, they’re very similar in terms of that you can just tell that these are two extremely creative and energetic and passionate and exciting guys. They just love making movies.
“Certainly with John, his passion is film, and I guess music too, though not to the extent of Rob Zombie who really was a music guy first. And along with that comes somebody that recognizes that other people can contribute, and that I really love, because they’re open to ‘You have a suggestion, let’s hear it,’ as opposed to ‘We’re going to do it my way because everything’s storyboarded out and you have to do it exactly as it’s written.’ They’re very similar in that regard.
“It’s a strange word, but it’s like a ‘tenderness’, they both have an extreme gentleness, and I think that comes from really respecting actors, which some directors don’t, but they do. They respect what they’re trying to accomplish, which is get the best scene possible from you so it makes them look good.
“So there is a gentleness and a tenderness that they both have in common, which was striking.
“Obviously I worked with Rob Zombie so much further down the road than with John, but the casting call for Devil’s Rejects was ‘notable ‘70s actors’. After I got the part, somebody sent me a 20 questions with Rob Zombie and one of the questions was ‘Who was your favorite ‘70s actress?’, and he said ‘P.J. Soles.’ So that was really nice to know that he thought of me way back then when he was probably six.”
Soles says that both directors share a confidence in their actors that she feels comes from a deep-seeded respect for the craft itself.
“As opposed to some other directors,” she said, “I always like about both of them that they know when they got it. If they get it in one take, they’ll just take it and move on. They don’t need 55 takes, which is really impressive, because I like people that are confident. They saw it, they know they got it, and they’re going to go get to the next setup. So that’s cool.”
P.J. remembers Zombie showing his true fanboy colors during a break in filming on the set of The Devil’s Rejects, in which P.J. has a small cameo appearance.
“At lunch he brought all of his stuff for me to sign,” she said. “I’m sitting there eating and he comes up with posters and DVD covers and his Rock and Roll High School album. I was like, ‘What is this?’ He said, ‘I just thought if you had a few minutes you could sign stuff.’ So I said ‘Okay’.
Soles then told us the story of when she made Rob Zombie the happiest rock star turned movie director on the planet.
“After Devil’s Rejects, I got invited to Rob’s 40th birthday party, because we had become friends, even though it was one day on the set,” she said. “I’m like, ‘What do you give Rob Zombie?’ I had no idea.
“Not that it had to be ultra-special, I’m not a relative, but then I just thought ‘My kids have so much of my stuff, Do they really need my Halloweenscript?’ The cover was ripped off. It did have all my notes written in corners in pencil, and it was very yellowed and I thought ‘My kids will probably throw this away.’ So I wrapped it up, I bring it to the party.
“It’s pouring down raining and it’s at this club. There’s this huge pile of presents when you walk in, I think ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to put this wrapped up script down, it’s probably going fall in a puddle on the way out to the car and someone will run it over.
“I was really nervous to leave it, but I thought I’m going to take chance and see what fate has in store, and no sooner had I put it on the pile than Nicholas Cage walks in with like a shrunken head. Everyone’s swarming around going ‘Oh my God, it’s the best thing ever,’ and Rob Zombie’s freaking out, and I’m thinking ‘Oh great.’
“Anyway, at seven in the morning I get a phone call, and of course I let my machine pick it up. In those days we had the answering machines you could hear, and I hear somebody going, ‘Oh my God, that’s the best present I ever got in my whole life! Nobody’s going to touch it! No hands are going to touch it but mine! I’m wrapping it in plastic, it’s going in my vault! I can’t thank you enough! You have no idea what this means to me! Thank you so much! It’s the best present I ever got!’
“So I was like ‘Yay, it didn’t fall in a puddle and get run over, and two; he liked it.’ Then from there, he did the Halloween remake, so I feel like I did contribute to those re-imaginings because of that gift.”
P.J. said she would have loved to reunite with the director in his Halloween remake, if only he had asked.
“I heard that he didn’t want anyone from the original Halloween in the movie, but I could’ve done Dee’s (Wallace) part or the nurse or something,” said Soles. “I’m sure he’ll use me in something again, he’s just saving me for a good part. Right Rob?”
Flashing back to the original again, we asked about the soon-to-be husband-wife team of Carpenter and producer/writer Debra Hill.
“Obviously they knew what they wanted out of the deal,” P.J. said, “because John got to do the music and also got assured final cut, and then got to have his version and do everything exactly how he wanted it. They weren’t doing it on their own budget, but I think they were a very good couple in terms of working well together and knowing exactly what they wanted to achieve with this movie.”
Much like the unstoppable Michael Myers, the legacy of Halloween is stronger than ever 35 years after the film’s initial theatrical release, and we asked P.J. why viewers keep returning to the classic year after year.
“I think it was certainly a surprise even to them (Carpenter and Hill) that it has lasted this long and that people are still championing it,” she said. “When you do see the Rob Zombie ones and all the movies that are coming out now and have been for the last 20 years, they’ve just taken it to a far darker place than Halloween was.
“I think it’s that simplicity of Halloween, coupled with the characters and the music that made it last. Like a hit song, when you hear it, it seems so simple, but it’s simplicity that makes it last, and when you hear it again it’s like ‘Oh yeah, I love that song!’”