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JENNIFER SALT REBORN: THE FIRST CULT FILM FREAK INTERVIEW

Parking the 2007 Interview with Jennifer Salt at its new location
Now an executive producer of the hit series AMERICAN HORROR STORY and had been a writer for NIP/TUCK, when the name Jennifer Salt shows up on the modern hi-def television screen, memories flash back of a young actress who played cute yet headstrong characters in cult exploitation classics... 

Her eclectic roles and credits range from Crazy Annie, Jon Voight's Texas girlfriend shown via flashback in MIDNIGHT COWBOY to Woody Allen's first date in PLAY IT AGAIN SAM...

The buried lead in Brian De Palma's SISTERS opposite two Margot Kidders; Cornel Wilde's scream queen daughter in the TV-movie GARGOYLES: Yet with all that and more under her belt, she's probably best known as Eunice Tate on the situation comedy, SOAP: And here she is on the very first Cult Film Freak interview, from 2007, initially on the now defunct original website (cult film freak dot com, singular) and hereby eternally resurrected on our main blog site (cult film freaks, plural)...

Waldo Salt, Into The Night
Being the child of scriptwriter, Waldo Salt, blacklisted in the 1950's and whose movie credits range from the thirties to the late-seventies, did you, growing up, have doubts going into a career in Hollywood? Or is being an actress something you always wanted to do?

Jennifer Salt in Woody Allen's Play It Again, Sam
It was actually kind of odd growing up as the daughter of a man who was (at least at the time) a highly established screenwriter. As a young child I thought his actual work seemed boring, I wasn't interested. Of course I loved him very much, but how many kids take a great deal of interest in what kind of work their parents do?

I met so many people in the film industry that everything just sort of happened. As far as the blacklisting is concerned, I didn't even understand it back then. I saw it as some kind of strange science fiction event like an episode of The Twilight Zone. I never thought much about how it might affect me or my personal acting career. And much of those events where my father was concerned were kept from me. I think my parents were simply trying to protect me. By the time I understood it more I had already been acting for at least a decade.

The best picture ever of Jennifer Salt
Did your father want you to be in show business? He always encouraged me to do anything I wanted to do with a full hearted passion. He never tried to weigh in on my choice to become an actor in any negative context. In fact he helped me every step of the way. And often his direct involvement in some projects resulted in some of the characters I was fortunate enough to get a chance to play, even if they were rather small parts.

Jennifer Salt in Gargoyles
As a former actress who has read many scripts and translated them into a character, do you feel that it helps your sceenwriting?

Yes I think it does, but that isn't to say that a good writer who has no acting experience would have less of an advantage. In fact I think being a good novelist or screen writer can give you insights into acting. Writing takes a strong imagination, and often it takes time to cultivate that depth of imagination...

For me writing is easier than acting because I can create characters and situations any way I can dream them up, but as an actor you have to try and interpret a character someone else has created. It's much more difficult. If I could I would write characters and then play the ones I write, I could make them the way I thought they would fit me best, then I would have a stronger grasp on who this character is and thereby playing the character would be much more interesting because I created the character in the first place.

Jennifer Salt with a vintage camera
When you write scripts, do you, in your head while writing, act out the scenes for certain characters, or all of them? (I ask this because most people who aren’t actors will not act out the characters in their scripts, but will instead imagine the characters as a movie they’re watching since they don’t have the acting ability)... 

The successful writer/producer
I think the method has changed a bit over the years. I often find myself watching episodes of Nip/Tuck and observing the different scenarios involving each of the characters. Usually not the episodes I have scripted myself, but that someone else wrote. It gives me a chance to play with events or situations someone else has created for a character and come up with my own ideas to hopefully top that. It's fun to fiddle around with it. It was tougher at the onset of the series to come up with inventive ideas than it is now.

Jennifer Salt with Robert Guillaumeon on Soap
Did you turn to writing when the acting jobs lessened, or was writing (preferably screenwriting for television) always been something that interested you?

As I got older I really began to appreciate the work my father did when he was in his prime. I would watch the films he wrote the screenplays for, read the notations and changes he made in his scripts, and it became very interesting...

I began to think a great deal about it. I realized that the process of writing is what it is all about. If you have a terrible script even the best director can't save the project. Writing is so inspiring. For me it isn't unlike a sculptor creating a work of art, or a painter creating anything he can imagine on a canvas. So which profession has fulfilled you the most: acting or writing? Writing… It's truly exciting work. I really do find it much more rewarding than I ever found acting to be.

Jennifer Salt w/ Woody Allen in Play It Again Sam
Although Woody Allen didn’t direct PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM (Herbert Ross adapted Woody's play), was there a feeling in the air that it was his film, or was he simply treated as an actor (part of the ensemble) like everyone else?

Well one thing you have to understand is that I wasn't around for 90% of the shooting for that film. I think I worked directly on the project for less than two weeks.

I considered Woody Allen to be an extremely wonderful man. He was always thinking, and contemplating ideas.

He had a serious, focused commitment to what he was doing, but he was also at times very easy to work with. Maybe it is a different story when he directs, but my experience – however limited it might have been – was wonderful!

Jennifer and Woody again in Play It Again, Sam
Which director: Herbert Ross, John Schlesinger, Brian DePalma, or Robert Altman, gave you – an as actor – the most freedom to improvise (or maybe there’s another director I left out)?

Jennifer Salt, Gargoyles
Without a doubt, Brian DePalma. Back in the late 60's and early 70's there was much more freedom in filmmaking. Brian was always experimenting with new ideas and wanted equal input from everyone. He was willing to hear and try nearly anything you could think of that might help. But I also worked on more than one film with him, so we trusted each other very much and over time we created a formula that worked between us.

Jon Voight and Jennifer Salt in Midnight Cowboy
So there was chemistry there by the time of Sisters. John was also equally open to ideas and he was focused on getting naturalness out of the performances of his actors.

But during the duration of the shooting of Midnight Cowboy John was also battling some personal issues that often hampered the flow of the film's progress. Some of the best directors I have ever had the chance to work with were those in television. Many of them are now making theatrical films. There was at least back then much more room for improvisation in television than there is now.

Jennifer Salt and Charles Durning investigate Sisters
I don’t think there is better chemistry between any two actors than of you and Charles Durning in SISTERS… How was he to work with?

Charles was truly fun to work with. He was such a funny guy. How he got anything done is a miracle to me. We worked a great deal together in Sisters and other projects, and I still think he and I had a great time during those days.

We actually became good friends after that. I had many great experiences with other actors I have worked with. Bud Cort [from Brewster McCloud] especially… He was a certified lunatic back then as far as I was concerned.

Jon Voight imagines Jennifer Salt isn't Bob Balaban in Midnight Cowboy
Do you get in touch with any fellow actors or actresses from your acting days?

Yes, a few of them. Jon Voight is someone I am still in contact with. He is truly a wonderful man. One of the best people I have ever known. He has a heart of gold. I sometimes still see Brian De Palma, and several friends from Soap. Two of them live near me.

What do you make of the very ending of SISTERS, which might be the strangest scene ever (Charles Durning on the telephone pole)? Do you have any thoughts on what the heck this ending means? I remember when I saw the film for the first time thinking "WTH kind of rip-off ending is this anyway?" I don't understand it either. If you find out, let me know :)

Jennifer Salt in Sisters
Which film role (of course, this doesn’t include TV’s SOAP) are you “reminded” of the most… As in, which film role do people talk to you about the most?

As Eunice Tate on Soap
Well if Eunice can't be included then it would have to be “Grace Collier” [from Sisters], for obvious reasons. I really enjoyed playing “Grace”. She was tough as nails. She was a great deal more fun to play than some of these ditsy girlfriend roles I got stuck with. Once in awhile Annie [from Midnight Cowboy] gets mentioned though. Which film – the way it turned out in the final cut – is your personal favorite? Well if you mean which of the films that I was in is my favorite then it would be Play it again Sam. But the movie I enjoyed being a part of the most was Sisters. I do feel honored that I was involved in Midnight Cowboy though. 

Which film do you think turned out the best, quality wise (meaning it doesn’t have to be your favorite, but that you think is the best film)? Midnight Cowboy.

Robert De Niro in Hi Mom!
Which of your performances in films do you like the best? I loved playing “Judy Bishop” [in Brian De Palma’s Hi Mom!]. Of course who wouldn't want to work with Bobby De Niro? Naturally back then he was pretty much an unknown, but I still can't believe I shared the screen at one time with him. Of course I still say “Grace Collier” [Sisters] is up there at the top of my short list as well.


with Jennifer Salt
Did your father ever give you advice on how to weather the fickle place that is Hollywood?

He gave me advice, but it really wasn't thought out with that experience in mind. As my acting career was beginning, the movie industry in America was in the toilet. New directors like Brian and Marty Scorsese were developing a new and refreshing environment for film making that basically broke all the rules...

So the harshness that existed and executives that ran everything for decades prior to that were no longer making the rules. And people like Marty, Brian, Dennis Hopper, and others were making the rules, and making a great deal of money in the process. They re-invented Hollywood and made it more "User friendly". So during my introduction into the film industry, things were changing, so none of these "Climates" existed at the time.

Jennifer Salt as Crazy Annie in Midnight Cowboy "They took her away"
About how many takes did you do for the voice over work for MIDNIGHT COWBOY, including “You’re the only one, Joe” (which, along with the Ruth White’s voice-over, is so ghostly and incredible and really makes the film)? Hard to remember, but I would say it was at least 15 or more.

Having read James Leo Herlihy’s novel MIDNIGHT COWBOY (personally I like your father’s script better) in which “Crazy Annie” has a much bigger part – were there more scenes filmed for Annie and the Texas bullies (including actor Randall Carver) than ended up in the final cut?
Yes there was. In fact if the best of it were included, the film would have been 3 hours long. But most of it revolved around Joe and Annie's relationship. But I can understand why it was cut. It would have ruined the flow of the movie.

Scream Queen Jennifer Salt on the Gargoyles VHS
I am a huge fan of the 1972 television movie, GARGOYLES; in fact I just bought a DVD for eighty dollars (yes I am reminding you of this!). Was it hard to keep a straight face in the scene where the lead creature (played by Bernie Casey) was “feeling you up” while the other monsters were ransacking “your father’s” car? I don't even have a copy of it :) So I got felt up? Is that what he was doing? Naughty, naughty monster!!!

The pre-date scene in PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM (you meeting everyone at Woody’s apartment), to me, is probably one of the funniest scenes in any Woody Allen film – or in any film, ever made. Did you ever break up at his antics and/or lines during the shooting of that scene; or any other scene?
Well I was so nervous and petrified for the first few days I had to try and make myself laugh because I didn't want to offend anyone. It in fact was Woody’s antics that helped loosen the mood up a great deal for me. But Woody's method of comedy wasn't exactly naturalistic back then. It was more like "How do I play this nervous character convincingly?

Jennifer Salt in Play It Again, Sam with Woody Allen
What if I make a nervous gesture and the LP comes flying out of the jacket? Yea let's try that and see if it is funny or not." So it wasn't like Robin Williams doing stand-up. The ideas were well thought out in advance, then rehearsed until it looked funny enough. But yes at times it was hard to keep a straight face. Had it been done spontaneously I probably would have been rolling.

In PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM, was Gang-bang (your character's indie film that “Really isn’t sexual at all”) homage to the Crazy Annie flashback-nightmare scene in MIDNIGHT COWBOY? That was actually my idea. There was another title in the script that wasn't as shocking so I just blurted out "Why don't we change the title to 'Gang bang'? I have no idea where that came from but everyone loved it, so they put it in the script.

Woody Allen facing Jennifer Salt
Was Redford’s character “Waldo Pepper” from The Great Waldo Pepper homage to your father? Oh you see the connection, Waldo Salt/Waldo Pepper. As you might imagine this question has come up before a few times. I never personally asked anyone about the subject. Although my father nor anyone else ever said one way or the other around me, I know he had friendships with both George Roy Hill and Bill Goldman, so I think it may be possible that the title could have been arrived at that way. I always thought Waldo Pepper was a real person from history. I never took the time to look that up to see if I might be right. So I have no idea if it was some sort of honorary gesture to my father, but it's a nice thought anyway.

Jennifer Salt as Grace Collier in Sisters
The strength and independence of your character in SISTERS was very ahead of its time… What woman or women in your life inspired you when preparing for this role? The character development for “Grace Collier” came partially from myself and partially from Margot and Brian. Basically Brian was trying to get more confidence and determination built into my interpretation of Grace. Brian once said "Try being a total bitch here and see if that works". Well it worked I guess. But no it wasn't based on anyone I knew of. I figured I could pull off being a bitch if I wanted to. I once told Brian "Try holding off till I'm having my period then I'll be as big of a bitch as you want me to be. It will be easy" :D

Great! Thank you so much for this interview, Jennifer, you’re the best, and I miss seeing you on the big and small screen... that is, until I stick a DVD in the player...
Thank you James for such wonderful thoughts and words. I am touched that what little I did during my acting days is so well remembered by at least a few people. Best Wishes to you and I hope you have a bright, creative, and rewarding future in the film industry.
The original Jennifer Salt: Salt of the Earth banner and title for our first interview on the former interview-only site
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