I’ve prefaced this interview with this quote from Sally Kirkland because it not only describes Sally in a nutshell but also provides the theme on which I center throughout this interview. Although Sally is the first Oscar-nominee to grace my blog, she is also the most unconventional of my subjects. Sally started out studying acting at the prestigious Actors Studio, while in addition she acted in Andy Warhol films. She would be the first actress to be nude on off-Broadway. In addition, she would also take supporting roles in mainstream films as The Sting and The Way We Were and taught yoga and acting as well. One of the most famous of her acting students is Sandra Bullock.
Sally first came to the attention of many people when she won the Golden Globe for Anna as a once-famous Czech star exiled from her home country who could do no better than be a stand-in for a terrible off-Broadway play. She would also receive an Oscar nomination – the award for which would go to Cher– for Anna in 1987. Afterwards, Sally got more leading roles, one of which is Cold Feet. The cover of that film featured Sally in a skin-tight dress. As a teenager, I stared at that cover a lot. I was startled for two reasons. First, she was not meant to be attractive in Anna and yet she is very attractive in the photo. Second, up to that point I had been attracted to girls either my age or not much older than their early 20s. Sally was in her 40s when she shot the photo and was the first to show me that mature women can be as sexy as younger women. In addition, she could deliver one-liners with incredible humor. For instance in Cold Feet, the night before she marries Keith Carradine, she jumps on him and says, “Oh boy, premarital sex!” She would continue dressing up some in skin-tight outfits and with her wacky humor in other films such as In the Heat of Passion, Forever and Double Threat. These days, Katy Perry, combines sexuality and humor, but where Katy is in her ripe 20s, Sally was doing this in her 40s. Sally did follow up Anna with some serious roles in Revenge and JFK. Nevertheless, roles like In the Heat of Passion was a very unusual choice for any Oscar-nominated actress to do and made Sally very unique. A song by The Original Sins called “Sally Kirkland” describes Sally at this time very accurately. You can listen to it here.
Sally did start doing mother roles in EdTV and has continued to act in a lot of independent films and shorts. Some of these are serious roles. However, her adventurous side has not left her. She still does nudity and most recently did a play based on the porn film Deep Throat. She also continues to teach acting. In addition, she is a minister as well. In this candid conversation, I try to cover as many sides of Sally as I can, whether its nudity, her Oscar-nominated performance in Anna, her acting coaching or her being a minister. I want to thank Sally for taking the time out to do this interview. In addition, I want to thank the Jeff Cramer who happens to be Bob Dylan’s manager. You see, Sally friended me on Facebook, thinking I was Bob Dylan’s manager. Obviously, I am not, but if it wasn’t for the Jeff that is Bob Dylan’s manager, I wouldn’t be doing this interview. Finally, Sally is a very original person with many sides to her. I suggest you watch this six minute clip here to get an idea of what you are about to get into when you read this interview.
Jeff Cramer: How did you get into acting?
Sally Kirkland: My mother was the assistant editor of Vogue for many years and then she was fashion editor of Vogue I think from ’47, ’48 and she was the first person to put multiple models on one page. She was also the first person to bring Italian fashions to this country post-war. So I was brought up as a child being photographed by Irving Penn for Vogue and eventually Richard Avedon as well. So I had this whole socialite modeling career with my mother not because I really wanted to, because I was painfully shy, but she just kept putting me in these situations where I was in front of the camera.
So I would say that there was no escaping me and the camera even at the age of five. I started painting when I was ten. I actually went to the Valley Drama Camp when I was ten and did little bits of A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream and very lofty Shakespeare. I was the president of the drama club when I was in prep school. I always played men because I was a 5’9” woman. So that helped me because playing men for years and years and years you develop a tremendous projection on stage. That allowed me to be probably a better actress than I would have had I not had seven years of playing men first.
JC:Yes. From the drama school, you went into the Actor’s Studio.
SK:Right. So I graduated from high school and right away I went to Spoleto, Italy where I got to be Zeffirelli’s private assistant. So I would sit there all day every day watching these young – he was very adamant about hiring young people instead of big, old fat people, actors, stars – young people doing La Traviata and the tears would stream down my face. So my first hit on acting was the way they did it in opera, which was very bigger than life. So Herman Shumlin, a big Broadway producer then said, “Where did you learn how to do all these emotions?” I said, “From Italy.”
I think I was very lucky to get the best training in the world with, like I said, Paul Curtis for mime, and then Uta Hagen and Lee Strasberg, and ultimately Shelley Winters, who I lived with a lot. So a lot of young people nowadays haven’t had the opportunity to be with those brilliant, brilliant people.
I then went to Lee Strasberg where I became the youngest actor at the Actor’s Studio and got to hang out with Paul Newman and John Woodward and I got to act with Rip Torn. I did Richard III. Then I had met Bobby De Niro and we dated a little bit and I brought him to the Actor’s Studio, brought him to Shelley Winters who got him a working observership at the studio. Pacino was in class and Dustin was in class.
I mean the women were myself, Brenda Vaccaro, Jill Clayburgh, the men were De Niro, Pacino, Dustin. The older generation was Paul Newman and Joanne, Geraldine Page, Rip Torn. It was an amazing time to be a member of the Actor’s Studio. So I did a lot of plays off-Broadway. I can’t remember all the names and I became the lead actress in the La Mama Troupe, directed by Tom O'Horgan. I did many, many, many plays.
JC: As you were doing this training, you were also with Andy Warhol. A lot of Andy Warhol people, they didn’t really go to acting studios and study technique.
SK: When Andy said, “Will you let me interview you and photograph you,” I said, “Well, I don’t want to be associated with the underground actors because I’ve been studying with Lee Strasberg for years, and I’m an off-Broadway actress.” And so he said, “Oh, I understand,” and he took away his camera. Now little did I know that Andy was going to become Andy. You know? So I obviously should have let him interview me and all of that, but I was a snob. You know, I thought Baby Jane Holzer was a married wife to a millionaire, and Viva never acted before, and Edie Sedgwick never acted. They weren’t trained, and so I was a real snob about it.
JC:But you did do it with Andy Warhol. It was your first movie.
SK: I did three, but the other director who was trained by Andy, his name is Piero Heliczer, I did two with him, and then I did 13 Most Beautiful Women.
But back in the day we were doing off-off-Broadway and off-Broadway and I became the first nude actress…
JC: How did a shy woman suddenly become the first nude actress?
SK: No, I stopped being shy sometime in the early ’60s,with what’s called “the private moments” at the Actors Studio where I do my imitation of Marilyn Monroe on the calendar. I would find some way to take my clothes off in a private moment, and with Lee Strasberg’s support. Pretty soon, everybody in the Actors Studio was waiting for me to take my clothes off.
I was obsessed with Marilyn Monroe and also at 18 I had met Shelley Winters who took me under her wing, adopted me. She had lived with Marilyn. So she gave me Marilyn’s shoes that were open toe, open back and they were called Fuck Me Shoes according to Shelley. Marilyn’s Fuck Me Shoes. I wore them everywhere. I wore them absolutely everywhere and that gave me the power of being Marilyn Monroe. It also gave me the power to take off all my clothes.
So people were amazed at this “free-spirit”. Little did they know that my mother, the fashion editor, never wore a bra. She created the no-bra look. So I did a play called Sweet Eros by Terrence McNally in 1968 and that became the very first nudity in theater in America. It opened before Hair. It opened before Oh Calcutta. There were policemen lined up in the back of the theater and it was quite something in its time.
JC: In Sweet Eros, I understand you were tied to a chair and not saying anything for 45 minutes.
SK: And having a nervous breakdown, yeah. I was having a nervous breakdown, and then I fell in love with my captor and all of that, so there was a lot of emotion with tears and my face. I had some mime training with Paul Curtis, which helped.
JC: Alright. And even the next one, Futz, you were on a pig, and that’s gonna get anyone’s attention.
Sally on the pig in Futz
SK: Right, I was on the cover of Screw Magazine. That pig weighed 500 pounds. It was freezing. It was ten below zero, and there I am nude.
JC:Curious what it’s like sitting on a pig as a horse?
SK: I almost fell off, and thank goodness there was a stuntman standing by. So when the pig started – the sow was running, I did fall off into the arms of the stuntman. But just give me a challenge, and I’ll take it. You know, it’s really all back to Marilyn Monroe.
JC: But Sally, Marilyn Monroe didn’t really sit on a pig from what I remember.
SK: But she was, you know, she was in her own world, and I guess I’ve always been in my own world when I get into what I call "the zone" with acting, and I surprise myself at what comes out. I learn my lines. I basically listen to the director, and then I just go to the zone. This was back in 1968. Every cab driver in New York knew me because no one else was doing it. It was fun. My mother understood it. My father was furious and my grandparents, Philadelphia mainline, all that. I was a debutant. They could not understand how I could ruin my life.
Then I followed that up with a film that was X rated called Coming Apart [To see the trailer for Coming Apart, click here.] with Rip Torn and myself which there was a whole thing about, “Is it pornography or is it art?” Roger Ebert and Vincent Canby championed it and so ended up being art. But it was about as sexual as you can get and nude as you can get. So I have to laugh when I see people think that Madonna and these people invented all this because we were doing it in what was called the Sexual Revolution in the Arts in the ’60s. When the New York Times called me out and said, “Why, why, why are you taking off your clothes all the time?” – in one play I had a bodysuit with a penis and hair and Fredric Forrest had bosoms. So it was interesting dynamics. I mean crazy things we were doing with the La Mama Troupe. But I said to the New York Times, I said, “Look, you can’t carry a gun on a naked body. I’m opposed to the war in Vietnam.” That was very real. So it was all about tearing down the establishment. My mother was the establishment. She was telling people to put clothes on. I was telling them to take them off.
Sally with Rip Torn behind her in Coming Apart
JC: But also even in Coming Apart, I remember the ending of you destroying the camera at the end, doing it completely nude at the end.
SK: According to all the film magazines, that was a stationary camera obviously. It was an object.
JC: You found it and you were destroying it.
SK: Yeah, I was throwing stones at the mirror and the mirror was – the camera.
Then once I did Coming Apart right after that I got The Way We Were and The Sting. Actually Bob Redford got me the part in The Sting because George Roy Hill wanted a really busty Valerie Perrine type and he wanted to go to Vegas with Robert and find a woman. Bob, he knew me because we did The Way We Were together and we had double dated once. He said, “I really think that Sally Kirkland will be great.” So I got hired to do The Way We Were and The Sting, but where was it? I was with a yogi in the Smokey Mountains having “quit acting.”
My agent called me up or I called my agent, “Where are you?” I said, “I’m in the Smokey Mountains. I’m getting God realized. I don’t want to act.” He said, “You’ve got to do this. I’ve waited ten years for you to have a break like this. You’re quitting on me.” I said, “You don’t understand it. I’m peaceful for the first time in my life. I don’t want to go back to ego shit.” So I said, “I’ll do these two roles for you and then that’s it.”
JC:But these were two movies that were big.
SK: Well nobody knew at that time they were going to be that big.
JC: But they became big, yes.
SK: Right. So I came to California. I did one scene of The Way We Were in New York and then the other scene was in L.A. and The Sting was in L.A., Universal. I didn’t have any money. They paid me $700.00 for each. I ended up house-sitting for all sorts of different people. At one point I was living in a millionaire’s house and I had him persuaded that I was a Swedish house maid. He knew nothing about my off-Broadway career and I would be dressed as a yogi because I was a yoga teacher at that point. I had met Swami Satchidinanda in ’69 and by the time I got to L.A. I was teaching full time at the Integral Yoga Institute.
The guy whose mansion I was in, Steve Powers, he would invite all these Playboy Bunnies over and there I would be in my white pajamas. He’d say, “Sally will teach you yoga.” I’d be teaching the Playboy Bunnies yoga and taking care of his house and occasionally cooking. Then one day he went to play tennis with Kirk Kerkorian and I think he led me to believe he was leaving town for a few days.
Sally ready to practice yoga
I all the time had Bobby De Niro and Roger Corman playing tennis on the tennis courts when I had the house to myself. This one day that I thought he was out of town Baba Ji showed up, the guru who with all these yogis who looked like they hadn’t taken a shower in three weeks. I said, “Oh don’t worry about a thing. The house is yours.” So they were running all over the house, having their first shower and bath. Steve Powers came home, absolutely furious. Fired me on the spot. I was crying and all my friends get back on the bus and they leave and say, “Don’t worry Sally.”
Then the man who introduced me to Steve Powers who was then my manager said, “Do you know who you just fired?” He said, “The maid or the housekeeper.” My manager said, “Well she was considered the Helen Hayes of off-Broadway for ten years and she was in The Sting and The Way We Were but she probably didn’t mention any of that to you because she wanted your money. She wanted you to support her.” So it was a pretty funny period of my life where I just kept going from house to house. Susan Tyrrell took me in. She took me in in New York too when I had my nervous breakdown and she just passed over like six months ago.
But Susan Tyrell took me in. We lived in Laurel Canyon. David Carradine was up the street. We painted together. I did A Star Is Born and Private Benjamin. Then I did a whole bunch of Aaron Spelling television, things like Beretta, Starsky & Hutch, Charlie’s Angels, Lou Grant.
Sally hanging out with DeNiro and Dylan
JC: Actually, your role in Private Benjamin was significant between that period of Coming Apart and Anna.
SK: Yes, I played a lesbian.
JC:Right, but even more so, you were in the military, even though now we’ve come away from Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
SK: Good for you, Jeff, that’s a really perceptive thing to say. No one has ever said that to me. Until you just said it now, I didn’t even think of it. I remember that no one wanted to play that part in New York. They had a hard time casting it. I didn’t even think about the military aspect. I just remember that the buzz was that nobody wanted to play a lesbian at that time, and I couldn’t figure out why they would ever not want to play anything. A good actor will do anything, almost anything.
I also played a lesbian in The Nanny with Fran Drescher, and I in theory had a 15-year relationship with a woman. CBS cut out all the lines. That was before Ellen came out. So I have over the years, I did a short that won a lot of awards called Audit. Judy Greer and I had a kissing scene in the bathroom.
JC: Oh, Judy Greer, most recently from The Descendents. She’s a great actress.
SK:Yeah. So I was like an older woman coming on with this young girl in the bathroom. It was pretty outrageous.
JC: Before we get to Anna, I want to discuss that you have been an acting teacher. How did you become an acting teacher?
SK: My spiritual teacher, John Roger. I was in debt at the time and had been out of work for almost a year, and he said, “Isn’t there anything else you can do besides act?” And I said, “Well, I could probably teach that and yoga, and I could sell my paintings. And I could –” There was a fourth thing. Can’t remember what it is now. He said, “Okay, I challenge you to do it,” and right away, I started doing it all. Or chose teaching acting, teaching yoga for money. So important, so important that when you’re a young actor that you go to the opera and the ballet and the museums, and you see great art so that the artist in you is never without an opportunity to do a different art form.
Love teaching. Love teaching acting, and what I did for many years at the Strasberg Institute, I taught film acting, so there would always be a camera, and they would learn right away by seeing themselves on tape of what they were doing wrong, what they were doing right. They would show up with their tape and leave with their tape. I did that for many years. I did it in 15 cities in this country, Australia, England, France, and Hawaii. The ’80s. The ’80s were when I traveled a lot teaching. Then when I got Anna, everything changed. I acted pretty nonstop until 1993, I think.
JC: I understand one of your famous students is Sandra Bullock.
SK: Sandy was like 22, 23 when I taught her. Sandy listened to a lot of what I said. I picked out her photographs, resume, I got her an agent, did a showcase where she was picked up for her first or maybe second – I think it was her first movie. But it’s been quite a life of putting the magic wand on people’s heads and having them do great.
Other people I taught in class or coached over the years include Barbara Streisand for Yentl, Liza Minnelli for a trilogy on TV and for her act in Vegas, Billy Paxton. Oh God, there’s a lot of them. Amy Madigan, Rebecca De Mornay. So a lot of people that some – they either ended up at the Strasberg Institute when I was there or they ended up in my class in New York or in Barbara’s case I went to her house and Liza’s case I went to her house.
JC: You mention John Roger, your spiritual teacher, encouraging you to start teach acting. He also encouraged you to be a minister.
SK:I’m what’s called a minister of light, and that means I don’t wear a clerical collar and go to a building every Sunday and preach. I do do an amazing amount of service in the world, and I give seminars, and I’ve married many people and buried them (I think I did the eulogy for Raul Julia) done baby blessings, and all of that. Yeah, since 1975. If it wasn’t for my spiritual path, there’s no way I’d be acting 53 years.
There’s a whole period particularly in the ’80s when I was an AIDS caretaker, cancer caretaker, heart, and my uncle had a stroke and for seven years couldn’t talk. So I believed that it’s that side of me that keeps me sane in Hollywood, because it’s just so narcissistic, Hollywood. You can get pulled into this very delusional world. If you’re on a spiritual path, I don’t care what spiritual path it is, it keeps you grounded to treat others the way you would want to be treated. Out of God comes all creation. No soul was lost. So I’ve been Reverend Sally Kirkland at the Church of the Movement of Spiritual Awareness since 1975. John Roger has been an extraordinary guide to me all these years. I take him to the Oscars every year.
I think it’s the death of anybody who reads your interview to think that they can just go be a star and not have other things they like to do. That can be writing, writing a screenplay, making your own movies. Get a little camera and make your own short, make your own. But waiting for the telephone to ring is death. Depending on agents can be death, too. You’ve got to keep creating yourself, reinventing yourself. I’ll never forget running into Harrison Ford, early in his career, in the cleaners down the street in West Hollywood. Then I said, “Oh my Bod, you’re the guy. You’re the guy from Star Wars.” He said, “Yes, but don’t let it fool you. I’m still a carpenter.” That always stuck with me that he kept doing his carpentry work no matter how rich and famous he got. I think that’s a lesson to all of us.
Sally as Anna
Then I went through the whole thing of finding tapes. I found out that the back elevator man of my mother’s building was Czech. I gave him a bottle of wine and had him read my lines. Then I copied his Czech accent. That was sort of the beginning of the Anna period. My whole life changed. Isn’t that funny how that happens when you get nominated? [Click here to watch a scene of Sally’s Oscar-nominated performance in Anna.]
JC:; I remember that you did all the campaigning for your Oscar nomination.
SK: Not entirely on my own but we didn’t have any budget. So I had a New York publicist named John Springer who had handled Marilyn, Elisabeth Taylor and Bette Davis and I had an L.A. publicist named Dale Olsen who just passed away three or four months ago. They knew their stuff. They said, “Go here; go there.” I went everywhere they told me but there was no real budget. So my campaign was almost all black and white ads. They were rarely full pages. They’d be half.
But I got so many great quotes from everyone from the critics to Norman Mailer. Rex Reed said, “Sally Kirkland devours Anna like raw steak and emerges a major star.” Amazing quotes. So initially when I decided that I was going to go for this Oscar thing I went to the SAG After Federal Credit Union and took our $7,000.00 and brought the back page of Weekly Friday and at that point I’d been to enough festivals where I had enough quotes. Variety called me brilliant and Seattle said, “The best performance in ten years.”
So I had this ad and I made it look like my manager took it out but it was really me and I think Vestron [the studio] might have given me their insignia. So that caused some commotion. Because of that ad Dale Olsen said, “I’ve always thought you were talented but I think you could really win the Oscar.” With him saying that after he got eight Oscars for Shirley MacLaine or something I thought, “Anything you say.”
I remember Rolling Stone did a 14-page story and I was supposed to be on the cover if I won, which at that time they thought I was going to because I had won the Golden Globe and the Independent Spirit Award and the L.A. Film Critics Award. So they had the cover but then Cher won. So I was on the French cover of Rolling Stone but the 14-page article, which I no longer have, was intact.
My story about the spirit of the campaign was that I was at the Golden Globes I think and I had the Golden Globe in my hand, or maybe it was the Oscars, and I was waiting for my limo and Gena Rowlands was standing next to me, who I worship, and she said, “I voted for you.” I said, “Wow, that’s amazing because my character is sort of a combination of you and Marlene Dietrich.” She said, “I’m embarrassed Sally but I didn’t see your film. I just saw your campaign and I’ve never seen anything like it. So I voted for you.”
A lot of that was going on, the actors for actors were holding up signs outside the Oscars. There were all these people with placards with signs, “The actors for Sally.” There was a party that Dale Olsen gave me and De Niro showed up and posed with me. Back then he wouldn’t pose with any woman at all. So it was a huge breakthrough to have him pose with me, endorse me. Shelley Winters, Lainie Kazan, all my friends.
The Actor’s Studio was out there sort of campaigning. I think that between Shelley and I we made 150 – you could not send out tapes then. That was the year before they allowed you to send out tapes. We made about 150 phone calls. I wrote letters to everybody I had heard was a member but I couldn’t show them the film unless they saw it. So a lot of people they wanted the underdog to win because everyone else had a lot of money in their campaigns.
Nowadays that probably couldn’t happen anymore because now you can send out tapes and everyone spends millions on the campaigns. But that was 1987, ’88. So I hope this doesn’t sound egotistical but I was very blessed to have a huge support team who loved the film Anna.
JC: The other thing I have to remember, it’s been talked about, people mention it, you really thought you would win that award because your mouth opened wide when it didn’t happen.
SK: Really? Really? You mean in other words, I had a disappointed look?
JC:Someone asked you about that in an interview. Your words were that, “I’m not a good liar.”
SK: I think what I meant by that was I was heartbroken. If I had won the Oscar, I probably would have had some pretty damn good scripts offered to me. I thought I was going to win. It was because my publicist convinced me of that. You know, they do those things in Las Vegas for people, and it came out that I was either going to win or tie with Glenn Close, but it didn’t happen. I think in the next years, you will definitely see me winning a supporting Oscar. I mean I don’t plan to stop. When I was 18 years old, I was told by an astrologer that I wouldn’t do what I came on the planet to do until I was much, much older.
So that’s the way I see myself, as somebody who’s growing all the time, growing.
JC: That’s the other thing. There was always this talk as – I haven’t seen it lately but I remember each Oscar you would come in with some sort of outrageous outfit.
SK: Yeah. That was when I had my tits, excuse the expression and I just had to show them off. I was so in love with Marilyn that I had to – if they weren’t going to put me in movies like that I had to show up and look like that. It was my little fantasy that I was living out. Then once I got the surgery to have them taken out I wasn’t so attached to going and being Ms. Red Carpet. I’ll do it occasionally but I’m at my Katharine Hepburn period where I wear sneakers and stretch pants and that’s it. I’m really at a different phase in my life since the whole getting dressed up thing. But I’m still very blonde and my legs are still good. I think I’ve got a good body. I wish I worked out more but that will come in its time.
Sally in a red dress riding to the Oscars
JC: You charted a much different path after Anna. In your next film, High Stakes, you played a prostitute and stripper.
SK: Well, I just – I get bored easily by actors who play themselves, and I think a really great actor is a character actor and likes to surprise him or herself every time at bat. And so hopefully, I’m different every character I play. I think it’s too bad that they’ve made such a thing out of actors being celebrities. A lot of young actors nowadays in Hollywood are made famous so quickly that they sort of get stuck being themselves a lot without doing theater training and playing around with all different characters. Another reason is my Scorpio sign, which is intense to the extreme, and the other is my Gemini rising sign because you know – well, Marilyn was a Gemini. Bob Dylan is a Gemini, I like to identify with them.
So when I heard I was going to play a stripper in a film called High Stakes I had these implants put in, and that ended up being a tragedy because I almost died from them.
JC: Having been the first actress to do nudity on stage, you were already very comfortable with your body. Why did you feel you had to get implants?
SK: I was losing a lot of roles. Busty women. Hollywood was very different than New York. So had I not been rejected so many times because of that, I probably wouldn’t have done it. Back when I did it in ’86, really was no proof at that point that you could get hurt by it
You know, my favorite picture in terms of eroticism comes from High Stakes, the still from that that classic picture of me dancing with the pole with the stripper outfit. it’s my busts were pretty nude. I just had tiny little things holding them up.
Sally’s favorite picture
>JC: Now we come to Cold Feet. That was the picture that got me to pay attention to you. I stared at the poster of you in that skin-tight dress for a long time.
SK: That’s Annie Leibovitz who shot that poster. [To see the trailer for Cold Feet, click here.]
JC: Right. Well, it was that Annie Leibovitz photo, I will confess, I stared at many times.
SK: Oh, great.
JC: That’s what encouraged me to look at it. And occasionally, I would look back at Anna and go, “Wait, is that the same woman?”
The Cold Feet photo I loved
SK: Well you see I always wanted to be Marilyn. I told you that story. As for Cold Feet I believe, I loved Tom Waits so much. I was friends with Bob Dylan and he’d introduced me to Tom Waits at the Troubadour. At the time Tom was living in his car down the road from the Troubadour, in the ’70s. So I was told that he was fine and I wanted to act with him. Then Keith Carradine came on board and then Jeff Bridges, that he’d do a cameo and then Rip Torn came on board. It was really an amazing experience and we were all in Montana and Arizona and whatnot. I wanted to show people that I was funny because Anna was so dramatic. But Cold Feet was fun and then I did a film called Best of the Best with Eric Roberts and James Earl Jones. So many people to this day say, “Coach Wade.”
JC: Right. I’ve seen the movie. Yes.
SK:For that that was intriguing, I was a martial arts coach but I didn’t know how to cut a brick. Of course I had to learn a little bit of tai-kwon-do and make it look real. But I was a yoga teacher so I could come close. My audition consisted of standing on my head and doing a backbend I think because they had already seen my movies.
JC: Right after that, you went on to Revenge.
SK: That’s true. Then I did Revenge with Kevin Costner and I showed up and Tony Scott was at the office. I was supposed to be there at 2:00 and I was in my car learning all the lines. So I showed up at five minutes after 2:00 and he said, “Oh Sally, Kevin just left.” I didn’t even know Kevin was going to be there. I said, “You’re kidding me.” He looks at me like, “You may have blown it. It’s between you and Faye Dunaway.”
So he calls up Kevin and he says, “Sally’s here now.” Kevin says, “Ask her if she can be there at 2:00 tomorrow.” So I go back and I don’t realize I know Kevin. I’m going on and on about, “Oh my God, Bull Durham.” I’m going through all five films he’d done that year. “I love this moment. I love that moment. I love Field of Dreams. I love when you did this.”
Finally he says, “Sally, don’t you know who I am?” I said, “What do you mean? You’re Kevin Costner.” “Don’t you remember I was the stage manager when Neil Young directed you and Dennis Hopper in Human Highway?” Well of course I didn’t remember. That was back in the ’70s and who was to know that Kevin Costner was the stage manager. So he definitely pulled for me to get that. I had a blast with them in Mexico.
JC: That was one of the late Tony Scott’s rare non-commercial pictures.
SK: Yeah. I mean a lot of people really loved the film Revenge and it is so dark and it is so edgy. I was just heartbroken when Tony killed himself. To work with him – first of all, he made me more beautiful than anyone’s ever made me physically I thought. He let me improvise a little and he – oh God, he sent me to the village with all this money that I was to get all of this sort of – I got my ears pierced five times over at all these sort of S & M bracelets and things and he really let me – I got that Tina Turner wig that I attached my own hair to. Tony also let me improvise. When I started talking in that same scene about I was from Oklahoma, and I was pronounced dead from drugs, it’s not in the script.
Sally in Revenge
JC: Well, I think in Revenge we get to see many sides of your acting talent. The beginning with you flirting with Kevin in the beginning, we get the funny sexy side of you, and then you know, when it becomes serious, once you realize he’s being serious and you’re about to be involved in something dramatic, we get the more serious side of you then. I think it’s one of the few roles – it’s the only role I can think of where we get to see both sides of you in the same role. You know?
SK: Did you see the scene where I tear up? I’m sitting right by his side, and he’s saying, “I’m not going to do this with you, and I’m not going to do this with you.” I said it with tears in my eyes because he’s frightened me. “For a second, I thought you were going to say you were gay.” That was the line.
JC: If I had to explain you briefly, I would point to that role if someone only had five to ten minutes, I’d say, “All right, we’ll just watch that scene. That kind of explains Sally Kirkland there.”
SK: That’s very perceptive. You’re very good.
JC: Thank you. You also worked with another director who recently passed away: Michael Winner. He directed you in Bullseye! with Michael Caine and Roger Moore.
SK: Winner, last week. Right. He was eccentric. He was about the most eccentric person I ever worked with. Michael Caine would come on the set when I was doing close ups because Michael Winner would scream at me so much, and he’d say, “Michael, darling, you don’t have to be here. We’re just doing Ms. Kirkland’s close up,” and he would say, “I’m here to protect Ms. Kirkland from you, Michael.” I can’t do my cockney right now, but he really did take care of me.
Michael Winner was somewhat of a misogynist. Great director, but very used to working with men. So he didn’t know how to treat women. So Michael Caine played my protector all through that film. He really did, from beginning to end of that experience. And Roger Moore’s daughter played my daughter in the film. I mean I never really knew a misogynist well until I met Michael Winner, but he was a misogynist. I couldn’t understand how his girlfriend took such abuse. Her name was Jenny Seagrove. She was a well-known British actor.
But then after Revenge and Bullseye! I think I did in and around that period I was hired to recur on Roseanne and I played Barbara Healy, Johnny Galecki’s mother. Hit in the face, kicked him out of the apartment, et cetera. I’m also very proud of the TV movie I did, The Haunted, a true story which got me a Golden Globe nomination for best actress in a movie for television. I did a lot of research. I went to Pennsylvania where the haunted house was, all the townspeople and really studied the woman who wrote the book. What I like about it is generally I don’t like horror films at all. I’ve turned 20 of them down, but I liked this story because it was a breaking down of her mind, a real character study.
My agency, William Morris was funny because they didn’t really want you to do television if you were making it in films but I wanted to do everything. They would say – like Howard Stern wanted me to be on – and they’d say, “No you can’t go on Howard Stern.” So I would go on Howard Stern. William Morris was kind of trying to keep me in line because I wasn’t acting like an Oscar nominee. You have to understand back then the big stars didn’t go on talk shows unless they very specifically had a contract with the studio to do so.
JC: The other thing William Morris probably wasn’t happy about was when you decided to do In the Heat of Passion.
Sally in In the Heat of Passion
SK: Yeah, if somebody was strategizing my career, they probably wouldn’t have let me do that. I love In the Heat of Passion. If people come down on me for it then they might look at their own issues.
Roger Corman asked me to do that and I’d grown up with Roger. He taught me – I was a casting director for him and [his wife] Julie back in the late ’60s, ’70s and then he had mentored me on producing. One reason why I ended up later getting EdTV was Ron Howard was so fascinated with my relationship with Roger because he’d had such a relationship with Roger.
In the Heat of Passion. I’m actually very proud of that film. A lot of people would have said, “She made a lot of wrong choices,” thinking that I should have continued to do Anna-type films and why was I doing this B film but I owed Roger Corman so much. I owed him a favor, and for those people that didn’t like it, fuck ’em. He mentored me from day one and I’m godmother to his oldest daughter. So it was a payback. Much later, I ended up doing a film with Jeremy Renner much later called Neo Ned. Jeremy Renner was discovered by Valerie McCaffrey. You could tell in two seconds he was going to be a major star but here he was working for free as a payback to Valerie who had discovered him. So sometimes you do that. You just say, “Okay, you helped me when no one would talk to me so I’m going to do a film for you.”
But with In the Heat of Passion, Roger paid me well and you know Roger doesn’t pay. So to get paid well by Roger was really something. I think I said something like, “I’ll trade you $40,000.00 of my salary if I can get somebody that I like rather than be assigned an actor.” Nick Corri, that was his name then and now he’s called Jsu Garcia he was a best friend of mine.
So it was easy to do all this erotic stuff because we would just laugh about it. Because I mean I was attracted to him but I was also best friends with him. So that would have been a harder film to do. Same thing with Coming Apart. Rip and I had dated. So I’m a strong believer in if you’re going to do an erotic film where you know the person you have to be erotic with and gracefully do it.
JC: Well, even if your friend and you laugh about the erotic scenes, a lot of viewers didn’t find it funny but erotic. When I was doing a Google search on you, believe it or not, on the first Google page a scene of In the Heat of Passion comes up. Comments on the YouTube page were saying like, “I can’t believe it, how sexy Sally is at . . .”
SK: I was probably about 45 or 46. Yeah. I was well into my 40s. I was trying to break down the rules. Look at Sophia Loren. Isn’t she like 77 or something? Why in Europe can you be a gorgeous, sexual woman? America you have to stop being sexual when you’re a certain age?
JC: Though at a certain age, you did start playing mother roles when you did EdTV.
SK: Now EdTV came from my current agent, not William Morris.
JC: Right, and you said that was to pay for your removal of the implants – EdTV.
SK: Yes, that’s true. I think Ron Howard was really shocked by that.
JC: I understand he tried to cast you – he originally wanted you in Parenthood for the Dianne Wiest role.
SK: Right, there were three of us considered for it, Dianne and I and a third woman, I can’t remember who. And he wanted me to read, and William Morris had told me, “You’re an Oscar nominee. You don’t have to read.” I knew in my gut that I should read, but I was very newly with William Morris, and I was trying to follow the instructions. The very next day, I was the first person he met with, and he told me how he used to watch me on Joe Franklin in New York. I couldn’t believe anybody saw me on Joe Franklin.
What he say is, “I can’t sleep, so I’m up in the middle of the night watching these shows.” He said, “I think you’re hysterically funny.” I go, “You mean you didn’t see Anna?” He said, “No, I just watch you on television, and that’s how I know you.” He said, “Please read for me.” Knew every line by heart, and I still said, “Well, I’ll have Anna messengered to you within an hour. If you still want me to read, I will.” He said, “Unfortunately, I’ve got to get on a plane and go to New York.”
Dumb Sally. By the time I actually was in a room with him ten years later, I said, “Look, I don’t want to make the same mistake twice. Last time, you asked me to read. I’ll do anything you want this time. How much time do I have?” He said, “Forty-five minutes,” and that’s when I knew I really was going to get this part.
Sally as mom in EdTVwhile son Matthew McConaughey looks on
JC: Yes. Well, what was interesting, your original husband and the guy who dies in bed with you were played by Dennis Hopper. You and Hopper both have careers that are both mainstream and cult.
SK: But that’s how you could definitely say that he played my husband in EdTV and he played opposite me when Neil Young directed us both in Human Highway with Devo and Dean Stockwell, et cetera. Dennis has been in my life a lot. I think Dennis is absolutely brilliant. It’s very perceptive of you to compare the two careers, and the only thing I didn’t do as much of as he did was direct. However, I directed ten years of theater. I only did this one thing on television. Roger Corman wanted me to direct his films.
But I identify with Dennis because he was a painter, I’m a painter. He loved doing far out things.
But unlike Dennis, I never really did hard drugs. You know? And now that I’ve been a minister since ’75, we’re not allowed to, and I’ve never been a drinker because my parents died of alcoholism. So I’m pretty – for all of my craziness in the movies, I’m pretty straight laced, except I flirt like hell.
I think my least favorite thing in the world is to be bored and to be alone. I have a friend, Coty Galloway, who lives with me now, and it’s great. You know? But I can’t stand being alone. I have been for many years, but not by choice. I was married twice. You didn’t mention that.
JC: No, but I read that in a People Magazine article around the time you did Anna, where you talked about your two marriages and said, “It's hard to find a man who can handle my intensity.”
SK: Yeah. They wanted a simpler life. I’m a handful, as they say. But that’s not by choice. I would love to be married and happy and live with a soul mate for the rest of my life. I’m no different than most women. But this career thing, you know, has definitely driven me since I was ten.
JC: Right. What else did you do around the time of EdTV?
SK:EdTV was ’98. I did that same year Brave New World for NBC as Susan the mother who doesn’t make it to the Brave New World and my son does. I did Norma Jean, Jack and Me, played the festivals but did not get proper distribution I don’t think and it’s a shame because I played Marilyn had she lived to be in her 50s and it’s one of my best works. Jay Bernstein, who made stars out of Farrah Fawcett and Linda Evans and Suzanne Sommers, he said he liked it better than Anna but you can’t get a hold of it. It never came out on DVD. I have one copy. So that was that timeframe. I loved being the art professor on Felicity.
JC: Yes. I do remember seeing you on Felicity.
SK: I then did a play in Los Angeles. Because I played Matthew McConaughey’s mother on EdTV, because I taught Sandra Bullock and I kind of followed their love story and the two of them came and saw me do the play…
Sally in Powder Room Suite
SK:I love you said you saw that play because it’s a little theater and it’s always amazing when someone’s taken the trouble to go to a little theater. The late Lana Clarkson, she and I shared the dressing room and we’d talk about men and God. In no way, shape or form did she kill herself. No way. So getting on stage again Thursday is the first time in a long time.
JC: What are you getting on stage for?
SK:; I’m now doing this star cameo with Bruce Vilanch in Deep Throat Sex Scandal and we open Thursday night. We’re just doing four performances, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday.
JC: I see you still aren’t shying away from sexual themes.
SK: I still do nude scenes. I did a nude scene in Archeology of a Woman which has been in three festivals – no, it’s won three awards already. I did a nude scene in a short. I do a lot of shorts now. They pay me. They pay me well. They’re terrific roles. Even Ron Howard is producing shorts.
But I just did a nude scene right before the hurricane on the east coast with Burt Young called Tom in America. I did a nude scene just recently. What was it? Posey? No. Now I can’t think. I think I’ve done at least three in the past two years. So even though my body isn’t as great as it used to be there’s something about me that likes to take it to the edge.
But yeah, I guess nudity has played a huge part in my life. Even now, I’m on a crazed crash diet right now in order to get into a dress that is very, very sexy for the play Thursday night. So I’m like water, coffee, and a hard-boiled egg is about it. And so I guess I’m vain, to a certain extent. I’ve always had a thing about wanting to be sexy and beautiful no matter what age. And if you saw the clips from Broken Roads [To see the trailer for Broken Roads, click here] and Archeology, I mean I have double chins, I have all this stuff that happens when you get older.
Sally in Broken Roads
But even in the clip in Archeology when I have no clothes on and I’m saying to the officer, “Would you zip me up,” and that’s supposed to be a 70-year-old woman. And this girl came up to me afterwards, and she said, “Can I hug you?” I said, “Sure,” and she said, “My God, what a role model. I hope I’m just like you when I’m your age.” And so there is something to be said for younger women thinking, “Oh, you mean I don’t have to turn off my sexuality when I’m past 50?”
I like to make people – I want women to really love their bodies no matter what, and I love men. So there’s that element of wanting to attract men. And then all the other stuff that goes with it. I’ve always been, for better or worse, a highly sexual person. But I had no regrets in life. I’ve been at gunpoint, knife point, almost strangled to death and I’m still here and I’ve had all these amazing experiences.