Written by / 5/12/2013 / 2 Comments / , , , ,

LEE PURCELL REVISITS BIG WEDNESDAY

Interview with actress Lee Purcell on BIG WEDNESDAY
How were you selected for the role of Peggy Gordon in BIG WEDNESDAY?

There is a funny story about my audition. I was given the script and invited to audition for the role Patti (d’Arbanville) ended up playing, but I had already recently played similar characters...

Lee with Jan-Michael
So I asked if I could instead audition for the role of Peggy. John (Milius) said yes, but that I had to come into Warner Brothers Studio and show them how I looked in a bikini.

I was appalled since I was a “serious” actress, trained in London, etc. But, I wasn’t going to get the role if I didn’t, so I showed up in a trench coat with a bikini underneath. I told them to watch me carefully and not blink, and “flashed” everyone in the room then quickly closed the coat. They all laughed and I had the role then and there.

Was there any preparation for the actors/actresses in pre-production?

The only group preparation that I remember was one table-read at Warner Bros. After that, we were on our own creating our respective characters’ universes, until being on set and hearing Action. I became good friends with John and Billy Katt.
Jan-Michael Vincent, Lee Purcell and Gary Busey
There seems to be such a unique and genuine closeness of the central characters in this film… Was there a family-like feeling on set?

I don’t think anyone was actually close – it was just good acting, good direction, good writing. And the natural evolution of being with a group of strangers over a period of months day after day in isolated conditions. A certain dynamic develops that translates to the screen. It happens on many sets. Each actor has their own style of preparation, and whatever that was, perhaps helped create the on-camera illusion of closeness.

It seems more pronounced in this film because that is what was on the written page. The film was about universal themes of friendship, loyalty and love. It happened to be set against a surfing background with that as the metaphor, because surfing and the BW story were autobiographical for John and Denny (Aaberg). But, it could have been football, or a factory, or anything else.
Peggy Gordon (Lee Purcell) bids farewell to William Katt's Jack Barlow
Of course, the three guys, Jan (Jan-Michael Vincent), Billy (Katt) and Gary (Busey) spent more time together to learn, and/or improve, how to surf (someone of them had never surfed, I don’t remember who) and they got to travel to distant locations together and they just had more time on the film than Patti and I had, so there would be more of that natural evolution that I spoke of above for them.

Patti and I were ordered by John to get tan for the film, since we were both naturally pale-skinned. I didn’t want to tan my face, as it is so bad for the skin, so Patti and I sunned ourselves on my little patio at my little Laurel Canyon house day after day, getting tan. Except, I kept a towel over my face to protect my skin, so I was tan from the neck down, but very pale from the neck up.
Lee Purcell with Patti D'Arbanville
John was very puzzled and kept trying to figure out why the skin on my face wouldn’t tan, but my body did, and I never said anything until now. I knew that makeup could easily give me a fake tan on my face, so I never let my face tan. If John reads this, he’ll laugh.

A thought: Many people say how much like our characters we BW actors are in life or that we grew to be like them in real life. I always found that particular concept of a self-fulfilling prophecy odd and not true. I just think it was great casting by Karen Rea. We, as actors, could hardly be like each character we play, as they are so varied! I am certainly not like Peggy in real life. But, I really enjoyed creating and playing her.
Jan-Michael Vincent and Lee Purcell
More trivia: the adorable little blonde girl who played Jan’s (Matt) and my (Peggy) daughter is Jan’s actual real-life daughter…There was quite a bit of that type of down-home casting in the film, i.e. John’s wife playing the bride, etc. I also remember Jake Busey, a toddler at the time, being around, but I don’t remember if he was actually filmed.

Memories of the Mexico bar-fight scene?

I was avoiding getting actually injured in the fight scene since it was pretty wild. There is one point in that scene where I had to repeatedly duck to the floor after the camera panned away from me to not get punched – take after take.
Peggy Gordon (Lee Purcell) gives a dirty glare to an obnoxious surfer
There’s another scene where we’re all walking down a dark Tijuana street and we’re approached by a creepy drug dealer played by John Milius! And he was very good. He made me laugh and laugh; I could hardly breathe from trying not to laugh in the scene and would burst out laughing when he yelled Cut. It still makes me laugh when he says that line to me when I see him.

How about the keg party scene?

The best part for me was in the “bathroom” when I tell a girl she should wear a padded bra and she responds that she already is! Very funny and very realistic female dialogue!

And also, when Jan (Matt) and I were on the couch towards the end, and my character is so drunk that I fall over sideways. That was my improv and John loved it and kept it in. Of course, then I had to fall over and over, from different angles, for many takes. I also loved working with Billy’s mother, Barbara Hale – she is a great woman, a real trouper and very funny.
Beach Girl Power! Lee Purcell's Peggy Gordon strikes back!
The water hose scene was a very fast, one-take scene, for obvious reasons. I was so nervous I wouldn’t get it right and knew the consequences if I didn’t, so I did get it right! I was so relieved.

How about Bear’s wedding scene?

I loved working with Sam Melville (Bear); he was a wonderful person and terrific actor. That scene has a wonderful bittersweet quality to it that is so true of time passing, people growing up and the inevitable changes of life. Also, the “bride” in that sequence was John Milius’ actual wife, Celia Kaye, at the time.
Barbara Hale, Fran Ryan, William Katt, Patti D'Arbanville, Lee Purcell, Reb Brown and Gary Busey
Your character Peggy Gordon has quite a story arc… How did you prepare for a character that goes through so many changes?

Because of the chronology in the story, and also because we were shooting in a bit later era from the film’s story era, I created a written timeline for myself that I could refer to as needed.

Since we were, of course, also shooting out of sequence, within the span of a day’s shooting, I could be the beach girl, then the mom, then back to the beach girl, etc. So, the timeline was a great help to me.
Lee Purcell as Peggy Gordon at the end of BIG WEDNESDAY
Then also, because we were portraying an earlier era, there was research involved in that to be authentic to the time. I also created a biography for my character that I could refer to.

Plus, since I was playing a person loosely based on a real-life girl John and Denny had known, I interviewed them both about her. Her name was changed in the script. I wanted Peggy to “grow up” on camera, and I think that worked out.
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2 comments:

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    1. Great interview with a great actress - loved the movie and her part in it

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