The following will cover SHARON FARRELL films THE REIVERS, IT'S ALIVE, OUT OF THE BLUE and NIGHT OF THE COMET. Beginning with Sharon, after working in Hollywood for over ten years, getting a chance for the love interest in THE REIVERS, a coming-of-age story based on a novel by William Faulker and starring the biggest movie star at that time, Steve McQueen, with whom she's the romantic interest...
What was Steve McQueen like and how did you get this part?
He was just lovely. I read for that scene like twenty-three times. I read for it and read for it and read for it and I was studying at the time with Joanne Linville who was with Stella Adler and she was married to Mark Rydell and I had worked with Mark Rydell, he had been working on “Ben Casey” and I had worked with him on “Ben Casey”, so I wasn’t like Leigh Taylor-Young or Tuesday Weld… There were a lot of actresses who were up for this part that were like much more well-known than me… And I just begged him and begged him, “Please, just let me read for Steve McQueen.”
Because I had had a crush… You know, who didn’t have a crush on Steve McQueen? And I just thought, I don’t care if I get it or not, I just want to meet him, I just want to read with him and then I said, “I’ll read fast, Mark, I’ll read really, really fast.” So it was this one scene I read over and over and over and I wasn’t supposed to cry but I kept crying and I could not stop crying.
And it was when the little boy says to me, “You’d make a good nurse”, and I say, “I’ve had men fight over me before, but I’ve never had anyone fight for me, and I don’t know what to do about this.” He looked at me. And I’m bandaging up his hand and… At that point I just turned into a faucet and Mark Rydell did not want that. He said, “Number one, this woman has been a hooker forever, and, you know, just because some little kid says something like that to her, she’s not gonna cry.”
So he had me do it over and over and over. So finally he got me all drained out of tears and he called Steve in, and I read with Steve and I read it just the way Mark wanted and he said, “Okay now, Sharon, do it the other way. Do it the way you came in.” And tears came poppin’ to my face and Steve said, “You’re Corrie. You got the part.”
Larry Cohen’s cult horror IT’S ALIVE centers on your average suburban family: a husband, John Ryan, and his pregnant wife, Sharon Farrell, who thinks she’s going into the hospital to give birth to something human, but as luck wouldn’t have it she delivers an evil mutant...
How did this role come about?
It was so funny because this was a really low-budget film, and Larry Cohen called me and said, “You know, Sharon, this is not a glamorous part.” And I said, “Oh listen,” I said, “Don’t worry, I can be unglamorous.” And I ran into the bathroom and I washed my face, and I straightened out my hair, and I came in and he said, “That’s it, that’s it… That’s what I want. That’s exactly what I want!” So that’s the way I did the movie, kinda like a plain Jane kinda character… And it was wonderful, I had a good time, but I was kinda worried... The way it was cast and everything… It was all his neighbors and everything, it was like, all friends of Larry Cohen did the movie.
And at one point I said, “Are you really going to show the baby? You aren’t really gonna show the baby?” ‘Cause I was so scared, and I was like, oh man, if they show that baby it’s gonna be all over; everyone’s gonna be laughing, you know, ‘cause he brought this rubber baby out, and the baby, it looked like a scary baby, but it was like a hard rubber thing. And I saw the movie and I don’t know how he got that camera to do what it did. And of course the music was so great… Bernard Hermann did the music… And oh my goodness the music was incredible. And the way he filmed that… Larry Cohen is a genius.
It's a very intense scene as you're in the hospital about to deliver the mutant and the doctor keeps reassuring you: while you know something's not right...
That was a real doctor… He was not a fake doctor, and he was really trying to examine me, you know, he wasn’t like an actor. He was trying to do what he was trying to do, but at the same time, I was an actress and I wasn’t really having a baby, but at the same time he was like going through the motions like, I mean, he was like… He had to stop himself from really… He had to stop himself several times from examining me. But he did make my screams and screeches a lot louder and more authentic just by being the doctor that he was. All those nurses in there and everything; that was a real hospital… They wheeled me out and wheeled somebody in.
The 1980 independent film OUT OF THE BLUE, directed by and starring Dennis Hopper, is one of the most shocking, controversial, and intense coming-of-age films ever made, and Sharon Farrell, as the mother of punk rocker Linda Manz, adds a desperate, intensive realism to the mix...
How did this film begin for you?
I went up to Canada and the first couple of days somebody else was directing and we were going to dailies and the shots were kind of normal kind of dailies and Dennis was sitting there saying, “Oh man, you should’ve done this… Oh man, oh man, you should have done it this way”, or, “What did you do that for?” “Why did you use that shot?” It’s like… in two days all of the sudden Dennis was directing this movie… And I kept thinking, “Why would a director give up his reigns?”
And I thought, “That guy probably had money in the movie," and Dennis had directed EASY RIDER, with Peter Fonda, and I had worked with Peter and I had heard all kinds of tales, and Dennis started rewriting the script. And what we went into that movie with… The script we went in with was not the script that was done. That movie had a life of its own, it really did. It was a lot of… It was Dennis. Dennis was just brilliant, he really was.
What kind of things did Dennis change from the original script?
Dennis had a horrible problem with the fact that his character had molested his daughter in the movie, and I think it kinda changed, it was a story about a girl who was molested by her father, and when you see the movie I don’t know whether you see that…
Only in the very end does the audience realize the girl, played by Linda Manz, had been, and still is being, molested by her father…
It was really hard because Dennis had a hard time with that. I remember he was saying things to me like, “You know it’s really the mother’s fault, it’s not the father’s fault, it’s the mother’s fault, because the mothers always know that this is going on and look the other way.” And so we’re always trying to figure out how to put that in somehow. It was like a… It was a dark movie.
What memories do you have of Dennis Hopper, the director?
It was a drug-induced… Everybody was on drugs during that time… And Dennis was a big drug user. I mean, it’s very hard to walk across the floor, in a room, and walk across the floor with amyl nitrate is stuck up your nose… Number one, when you take amyl nitrate, you get such a rush, your heart flutters and goes so fast you don’t know what’s happening. You have to walk across the room, you have to get over that just to walk into the room like a normal person, and he was always pulling stuff like that.
He was a little scary, you know… And he drank and drank, and he smoked. He started drinking beer at the crack of dawn. You know, it was just like… If you weren’t in that dressing room when he was rewriting the script, you’d be written out. So if they didn’t show up, they weren’t in the scene that day. And Dennis, he didn’t like the Canadian actors at all, and he kept firing them. And he brought in Don Gordon, and there was just actors he did not like… He just did not like Canadian actors and he got so many of us American actors in on it that they kicked him out of Cannes.
How was Don Gordon, who’d worked with Dennis in THE LAST MOVIE, to act with?
Oh he was wonderful… He was a good actor. And we were both scared, we didn’t know what Dennis was gonna pull… We really didn’t. We didn’t know what he was gonna ask us to do… We were scared to death.
SHARON FARRELL appeared in the zombie film NIGHT OF THE COMET in a very important role during the first ten minutes, playing an evil step mother of the two lead actresses, not only setting the stage of how life was before the comet turns humanity into piles of red dust, but the camera only shows her reaction as the comet, unseen to the audience, passes in the skies above: making her the sole representative of the world's demise.
Memories of the fight scene between you and Kelli Maroney?
She said, “Just really slap me, and I’ll really slap you, and we’ll fake the sock.” And she just flipped over the back of the couch, but the slaps were real. But the punch was not… I would have broken my hand. And we would have been hurting too much for that. But a slap… You can do a slap if you just do the palm of the hand and hit the cheek you can do it. It’s always better to fake it but…
We were shooting so fast we just… Kelli just… She just took over then. She just said, “Hit me… Slap me… I’m gonna slap you, Sharon, and you slap me.” And she was a good little actress… She was a wonderful little actress.
And it was fun working with her and the other girl [Catherine Mary Stewart] was great. And my son [Chance Boyer] was in that.
When you’re staring up at the sky as the comet is passing, what are you really looking at?
The director threw a football across, and that was our Comet. He just took a football… I think it was… He took Chance’s… He wanted to be Terry Bradshaw during those days… And he wanted to carry a football. They have this little boy carrying a doll and he said, “I don’t want to carry a doll, I’ll carry a football.” So the director took Chance’s football and he threw it across and that was our Comet... We all followed it with our eyes in horror.
You've done some other great indie horror films like IT'S ALIVE and...
THE PREMONITION! That one’s a scary one… Danielle Brisebois was in that… She was a little girl that was in “Archie Bunkers Place”, she did that series, she was a wonderful little actress… She was such a trooper. I was holding her in my lap; it was raining and cold… We were on location, oh my God, these little kids that start out acting… They go through so much. The thing of it is that whenever you’re on a set, everybody loves kids… And they’re away from their kids and so everybody has a lot of love for children… And they get a lot of attention that they wouldn’t normally get from anyone else, you know… And I remember she was just a little doll.