Dee Wallace on Fuzz Track City, Cujo, E.T. and The Howling

The star of all the 1980s classics has a new rock and roll film noir, and reveals the time when Spielberg wanted her 'a lot more nude.'

Fred Topelby Fred Topel


The local Los Angeles film festival Dances With Films hosted the premiere of writer/director Steve Hicks’ rock n’ roll mystery Fuzz Track City. We got to meet Hollywood legend Dee Wallace at the event. She plays a sultry femme fatale who hires a detective to find her son. The case centers around a famous song and a mysterious vinyl record. After the show, Wallace sat with us in the lobby for an interview. She was in good spirits and feisty with good humored barbs about Hollywood then and now.


CraveOnline: How did you like playing the femme fatale role?

Dee Wallace: [Laughs] Well, I loved it. It’s actually very close to who I am really, and I don’t usually get to play as feisty and as sexy as I think I am. I do a lot of mom roles so we had a good time. Todd [Robert Anderson] and I had a great chemistry together, worked really well together.


Was your line in the childbirth scene, “It’s like taking the biggest sh*t,” an improv or was it in the script?

It was an improv, yeah. Actually, it was an improv based on what my doctor said to me when I was having my baby, which I said, “I am pushing, I am pushing.” He said, “No, you have to push like when you’re taking a big dump.”


This movie was actually shot in L.A. How rare is that?

I know, I don't think I could’ve done it, I don't think any of us could’ve done it quite frankly if it weren’t shot in L.A. because we picked a day here, and a day there, we did it on the weekends when people weren’t doing other stuff. It was “Let’s put on a show.”


But the big movies can’t even accommodate L.A. Only the guerilla indies who don’t go for permissions and permits actually shoot in Hollywood.

I know, it’s a sin and a shame and it’s stupidity. We’re sending our own business away from ourselves. It’s stupid.


Did you get to hear the film’s music ahead of time?

I got to see a screener copy. I don’t come out and publicize anything until I see it.


But before you shot the movie, did you know what the music would be?

Oh no. Oh no. I don't think they knew what it was going to be.


Well, the main track that’s the center of the mystery.

No, uh-uh.


When you have so much experience in your craft, how do you give yourself over to a new director?

I think you have to go in being willing to take your many years of experience and respect who you’re working with at the same time. Steve and I butted heads a couple of times. Steven Spielberg and I butted heads a couple of times. I think that’s what it’s about is when everybody wants the best and wants to bring the best, they fight for what they think is the best. Then you get the best of all worlds.


What did you butt heads with Hicks on and what did you butt heads with Spielberg on?

Well, Steven wanted me to be a lot more nude in the scene where E.T. brings the Reese’s Pieces in. I said, “Why? I think that’s wrong.”


More nude?

Yeah, like the cover way down on the bed. I really argued with him about that.


You weren’t going to be topless in a PG movie, were you?

Well, I was face down in the bed. So it’s just little things like that. It’s creative decisions that get made in the spur of the moment.


And with Hicks?

Steve had really definite certain ways that he saw the character, and I wanted the freedom to bring in some more things so we had to work that out. And I don’t like to do 20 takes. Hicks likes to do a lot of takes. “Let’s try this, and try it from there…” Again, it was that labor of love that we came together and if you respect each other, that’s just part of the working environment making a film, or doing anything creative for that matter. Unless you’re working solo and not working with anybody else.


Did you butt heads with Rob Zombie on Halloween?

I would never butt heads with Rob Zombie. I don't know anybody that’s in acting that ever butted heads with Rob Zombie. I adore Rob. I adore him. I adore working with him. I adore knowing him. I’m happy to consider myself a friend and someone who he hires. I just think he’s great.


How does this experience at Dances with Films compare to other festivals you’ve been at?

I’ve only been to this screening. I haven’t really participated in a lot of the festival. I was thrilled to see the auditorium full. I hope to God there were some filmmakers in there that saw what a great little indie this is and somebody’s going to pick it up. He deserves that. He really deserves that. An agent should pick him up as a writer/director. There’s some amazing performances in the thing. The guy who played Ziggy [Josh Adell] should be in a sitcom right now.


When you think about how a movie of yours is always playing on TV of in someone’s DVD player somewhere, did you ever imagine that at the beginning of your career?

I don’t even imagine it now, honey. I don’t look at myself that way. It kind of surprised me in this moment when you said that actually. I mean, I know my stuff plays all the time. I just look at myself as somebody who would like to have a bigger, better job still. [Laughs]


Do you remember a time when E.T. was not a phenomenon, and it was just a movie you did?

No. Only when I was doing it. As soon as it came out it’s just been the phenomenon that doesn’t stop.


Was the Hazmat scene as creepy in real life on the set as it is when we watch the movie and Peter Coyote’s guys come wrap up the house?

No. I mean, it’s just set dressing when you’re doing it and then when you cross over into the line as the characters, then it gets creepy.


What were your thoughts on the 2002 re-release when Spielberg changed all the guns to walkie-talkies?

Oh, you know, I think it was an expression of our time. It’s sort of like a history capsule. Do I agree with it? Not particularly but I know Steven had had a lot of kids. He felt responsible about what he was putting out for children and I think that was his intent at that time to make a statement about violence in the world for kids.


There was a funny “South Park” joke where they said he was redoing Saving Private Ryan and also replacing all the guns with walkie-talkies.

Yeah, yeah, well everybody’s a critic.


Were horror movies good to you?

Well, that’s my entire career, so yeah.


Not entire, just a significant portion.

Well, pretty much. You know, I like drama and I like a big arc and I like a lot of emotion, and horror films give you that. I would be very, very bored doing light little comedies for my entire career. I don’t get actresses that do that quite frankly but that’s their bag and there’s a place for all of this.


By the time it got to Critters, one of my personal favorites, were they getting a little carried away with the horror movies and monsters?

Oh, that’s what was going on at the time. That’s like saying in 20 years were we carried away with Transformers? Critters were cheesy and cheap but the movie was good. It was a stepping stone and it was definitely a stepping stone financially for me too.


Well, Leonardo DiCaprio came out of Critters 3.

Yeah, well, he’s doing better than I am.


When you made Cujo, would you stay in the car between takes or get out as soon as you could?

Oh sh*t, I got away from that Pinto as fast as I could. We were freezing. It looks like we’re dying of the heat but it was really cold. We were in Northern California in November so it was getting cold and rainy. I hated that car. If I never see another Pinto again it’ll be too soon.


I don't think you will anymore.

I actually did. One of the people that helped me at one of the sci-fi conventions actually owns a Pinto. Still.


And it’s holding up?

And it’s holding up.


Having done The Howling, what do you think of the Twilight series?

I think we were better.


So werewolves should be scary, not romantic?

It’s really hard for me to comment and be politically correct.


Do you have to be PC?

The one thing about the Twilight movies is they do sorta kinda have a story. A really good horror film has a story.


Besides the werewolves, the whole peep show world in The Howling was pretty intense. What did you think of that aspect as a young actor?

It freaked me out. I was this young girl from Kansas so all that stuff even creeped me out even more. I just get into my parts so much that I kind of lived in that world for a while, while we were doing The Howling. Of course I was engaged to Christopher [Stone] too so it was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done at the same time. You know, they don’t make really, really good horror films anymore. I think the last one that I saw was Scorsese’s.


Shutter Island?

Yeah, Shutter Island. That’s really a horror/psychological film which is what Cujo was. And The Howling is a monster horror film but a good horror film has a lot of character development and a story and psychological fears as opposed to: here’s six characters, watch us chop their heads off, or here’s six characters, how are we going to kill them as quickly as we can? Before you even get to care about who the hell they are. That’s kind of the movies we make right now.


What do you look for these days?

Something different. I would really, really, really like scripts like Cujo where I can really show what I do. I’m really tired of being pinpointed in these cameo mother “Hi, come help us make a film because you have a name” things. I really need a challenge.


Can you generate something yourself or write a script?

Well, somebody’s written a script for me and we’re looking to get it done. It’s really gritty. Very gritty.


Can we start some buzz on that now?

There’s no buzz to talk about until you get the money, honey.


Is the script done?

Oh, there’s a script and it’s dynamite.


Who is the writer and director?

Can’t say yet.


Is being interviewed by online journalists a new and different thing?

The only new thing is a new question.