John Carpenter’s Halloween first opened in theaters 35 years ago today, on October 25, 1978, launching the careers of those who made it while carving out a new subgenre of horror, and when P.J. Soles seductively asked “See anything you like?” in one of the film’s most iconic scenes, audiences worldwide most definitely said “Yes”.
“I can’t believe it’s been that long,” P.J. told us when we spoke earlier this summer, before recalling how she got the role of Lynda, the undying impact of Halloween three and half decades later, and where all those totallys came from as part of our ongoing “Halloween at 35″ retrospective series.
You can read the next installment of our interview with P.J. Soles below, and then read Part 2 of our interview here, and click here for P.J.’s thoughts on her film debut in Carrie and its remake!
“Debra Hill wrote the dialogue,” P.J. remembers, “because obviously she was a woman and she knew how teenage girls talked, and there were ‘totallys’ in there. My audition was one of the scenes. He (Carpenter) has told me that he had always wanted me in the movie, but after I read, he gave me the part right on the spot, which was really unusual.
“He said, ‘You’re the only one who said the word ‘totally’ the right way, and I said, ‘How else would you say it?’ He said, ‘Well that’s why you get the part.
“Then when we started shooting I said, ‘I think it’d be really cute if I tried to say totally in every sentence that Lynda speaks, but if it gets to be too much, pull me back and let me know. I don’t know if I really accomplished that or not. I don’t think I did it in every sentence, but I tried to say it as much as I could.”
As we did with all of our “Halloween at 35″ interview subjects this year, we asked P.J. if she had a personal favorite scene from Halloween.
“The ‘See anything you like?’ scene, because that was totally improvised,” she said. “After Michael Myers kills my boyfriend, he puts the sheet on and his glasses and comes back upstairs, I just love the sound of the door creaking, and Lynda not having any idea that that’s not Bob, being really annoyed. ‘What is your problem? You’re not talking, you’re just breathing.’
“That was just in the script that he comes back upstairs. John took me aside and said, ‘What I want you to do is try to entice him, try to get Bob to come back into bed with you, you’re like very frustrated. He’s supposed to bring you a beer, you don’t see a beer. How come he’s not coming back into bed with you? What is going on? You’re getting really annoyed.’
“And then he said, ‘And if you could just do something a little sensual or sexual that would be great, but if you don’t want to, it’s okay.’
“He was really nervous about asking me. I said, ‘You mean like nudity or something?’, and he said, ‘Yeah, just anything you can think of.’ I’m thinking, ‘Wow, my parents already saw Carrie and I was the only one in the shower scene in the opening credits who made sure that my underwear were on.’ I have towel on over my underwear in the shower, because I knew my parents were going to see my first movie.
“This was my second, so the only think I could think of was just to quickly flash, like pull the sheet down for a second, ‘See anything you like?’, and try to entice him as per John’s instructions to get him to come back into bed.
“I’m very proud of that scene because I accomplished what the director asked me to, it’s a favorite of fans, and it wasn’t too bad for my parents to see. I never asked them what it was like to see their daughter get strangled in the movie, but that wasn’t even part of it for me, because for me that was just acting and silliness. To people watching it, it was scary, but to me it was just funny.”
While P.J.’s death scene is no laughing matter for Lynda, Laurie and the gang, Soles fondly remembers that there was plenty of laughter on set while filming it.
“That scene was Nick Castle,” she said. “I think Tommy Lee Wallace was doing something. Usually he was putting on the jumpsuit and the mask, but he was busy doing something and Nick was always hanging around, so he was the one.
“When it came to putting the cord around my neck, he was just tickling me. I was like, ‘Nick, please, you’re going to have to do it a little bit harder. You’re making me laugh.’ I mean he was literally making me laugh. Usually we did one or two takes, but this was three or four only because Nick was just not pulling it tighter. I don’t blame him, I wouldn’t want to hurt an actor either, but it was funny.
“Then I remember thinking, ‘John wants me to go out of frame, but I don’t want my screen time to end’, so I just kept that gargling and gurgling going because I didn’t want him to yell ‘Cut’.”
P.J. told us that Carpenter’s encouragement to improvise and thus help create what would become one of the movie’s most memorable scenes was one of the best experiences of filming.
“Even in the van with Bob,” P.J. recalled, “I say ‘Hey don’t rip my blouse idiot, I just bought it’, and I had just bought that blouse literally for that scene, because in those days they didn’t have a big budget. I bought that blouse because I thought it would be nice for going out on date, so when I said it I meant it.”
“It started really with Carrie, because we all went to the three auditions and did our screen tests. I tested for the Nancy Allen part of Chris Hargensen. In the script, not in the Stephen King book, Norma was just at the volleyball game and I had this one line. ‘But it’s okay, it’s my first movie, I’m in!’ I had one week. Everyone else was on for six weeks.
“We showed up for the day of shooting and I had those pins on my hat and the when we lost, and my line was ‘Thanks a lot, Carrie’, I took my hat off and wacked Sissy in the head, and those pins caught in her hair and just wrenched them out. It pulled her hair and it made it look like torture number one of Carrie on the screen.
“At the dailies, Brian de Palma was like ‘Oh my God, that’s so funny,’ and he called my agent and said ‘I’m putting her on for the next five weeks wherever Nancy Allen is. She’s going to be her best friend. From that day forward, everything I did with Nancy was improvised.
“It sort of started the ball rolling there. In between Carrie and Halloween I did a bunch of television shows, but that you have to go exactly by the script, so it was kind of nice again to come back out to do Halloween and have the freedom to do a little improvisation.
“Something fresh like that always adds more, you make the character your own, and it’s much appreciated, especially by male directors I think. They don’t know what to say. Male directors aren’t going to give you a line for a teenage girl.”
We asked P.J. if she would ever want to return to Haddonfield if producers of the inevitable next film the franchise were to offer her a role, and she told that she is hesitant but would definitely consider it.
“There have been so many Halloweens already,” she said, “and obviously what would my part be? I don’t know.
“The best thing for me, especially going to the conventions that I go to, is that I was in the original Halloween. Nothing could ever beat that or top that. Obviously I’m not going to turn down work or a good part, but I don’t know that that would be the case.
“Given the chance, I would read the script and see what the situation was, but I can’t see it really happening. I keep my options open if they want me to play a witch or the old grandmother or I don’t know what. It just seems that with all the ones that followed, nothing ever topped the original.
“Even Rob Zombie’s, what did he really do? He took a psychological viewpoint and he also updated it. Couldn’t get strangled by a telephone cord because there’s cell phones, so it’s updated. To me, like those three girls, we were all distinct personalities, but in Rob’s the three girls seemed to all have similar personalities.
“In my mind, it was very artistic and very updated also in terms of its blood and gore, which is what people are now used to seeing at horror movies.
“I like the no blood. I don’t think it was in the budget, and we didn’t have time to clean up the mess, so no blood.”
Like everyone involved in the making of Halloween, P.J. says that she never could have imagined that she would still be talking about the film 35 years later.
“What you hope for is that first of all you do a good job and that you get another job,” she said, “and when it shows in the theaters that people go ‘Oh my God, that was great, I love that movie,’ and then it lasts about six weeks in theaters. Back then we never thought about it going to DVD or VHS or anything, we just hoped it was received well. And it took a while. It wasn’t an instant hit.
“After it was first released, I think it took half a year or more, and then it wasn’t even like an amazing hit. It always was a slow burn. It was the same with Rock and Roll High School. That never got hit status, but it got cult status. Halloween certainly put John on the map, but it was all really word of mouth and it took a while. There wasn’t the media that there is today.”
Thanks in large part to today’s media, and specifically social media, P.J. says that fans now have more access to the actors and crew who made the movie 35 years ago, creating a cozy new community through online sites and the growing number of conventions around the country.
“It’s incredible,” Soles told us. “These fans, none of them are my age, they’re all so much younger with kids who are eight and nine years old who have seen Halloween, which is a little shocking. My kids had to be 13 before they could watch the TV version.
“I’m always amazed when I have kids coming to my table that are teenagers and they’re like ‘Oh my God, I love this movie! You’re the totally girl!’, or young newlyweds or whatever, all the way up to people my age, because some have brought their parents and whatever.
“That’s why it keeps regenerating generation after generation. They’ve seen all those bloody slasher pics, and they still say Halloween is their favorite horror movie. Most of them show it every Halloween and it’s so great.”
We also asked P.J. about the current theatrical re-release of Halloween playing in limited theaters for the second year in a row, and she said that she agrees with us that Halloween should be re-released every October.
“It was a very successful event at least here in the Los Angeles area (last year),” she said. “It was playing at a bunch of theaters, and people were so excited to see on the big screen, because let’s face it, no matter how big your flatscreen TV is, it’s not going to be like watching it in a movie theater with a whole bunch of people you don’t know. There’s something creepy about that. It just really works and it’s really great.
“It could be a double bill. It’s short enough that they could still play another movie afterwards. For that weekend before Halloween, I think it played really well and was very successful, and people love it. I do think that they should do that (re-release Halloween every October).”
P.J. gave us the exclusive scoop back in May that she would be at the upcoming 35 Years of Terror Halloween anniversary convention in November in South Pasadena, California, and she said she is looking forward to seeing her former co-stars like Nancy Keyes (Annie) and John Michael Graham (Bob).
“People always ask, ‘Do you keep up with them?’ but it’s like we don’t meet for lunch, we don’t call on a regular basis,” P.J. said of her castmates. “Nancy Allen, I run into her at different events and it’s like we’re just best friends for that night again.
“You never lose that bond when you make a movie with somebody. It’s like you went to high school with them. It’s just something that’s always there.
“If I saw Jamie Lee Curtis again, we’d have a big hug and say the ‘F’ word a lot. She’d say that about three times and we’d hug, and we’d be right back to being 19 again. That’s just the way it always is. I’m not on a regular basis going and hanging out with people that I knew from any of the movies that I did, but we’re friends forever.
“We’re BFFs forever once you make a movie.”
We will talk much more about the making of Halloween, as well as working with both John Carpenter and later with Rob Zombie in The Devil’s Rejects, in Part 2 of our interview with P.J. Soles!