Close Encounters of the Celebrity Kind...
A Chat with Veronica Cartwright
Expanded Edition of 11-08-06 WCT Interview
by Richard Knight, Jr.
Cartwright with Birds co-star Tippi Hedren and the author in Chicago in October, as Lambert in 1979's Alien, on the cover of the
recent Sister Scissors CD and on the cover of the disc's first single
Actress Veronica Cartwright is an indelible part of cinema history. Not only as Cathy, the little girl chased by all those winged creates
in The Birds but as Nancy, Jeff Goldblum’s girlfriend who outwits the pod people in 1978’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and Lambert,
with her cowboy boots and chopped hair cut, the butch dyke to Sigourney Weaver’s butch femme in Alien. The gay community will
remember her as Jack McFarland’s mother on “Will & Grace,” as the tough talking agent in the indie gay comedy Straight Jacket and
most recently, featured on the cover of the new Scissor Sisters CD, “Ta Dah” and in promos for the disc.
The forthright, very funny Cartwright was recently in town for a screening of The Birds and to attend a benefit performance of Handbag
Productions latest parody musical, “Caged Dames” along with pal Tippi Hedren where WCT caught up with the actress.
WCT: It’s ironic that right after you were here in town for The Birds, they’re going to be showing Alien here at the Gene Siskel Film
Center (November 10 and 14) as part of their ongoing science fiction movie series.
VERONICA CARTWRIGHT (VC): You’re kidding!
WCT: No, isn't that ironic? You played in another memorable alien movie, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Let's talk about that for a
moment. How did that happen?
VC: She was a cool character. I had just done Goin’ South with Jack Nicholson just before that in Mexico so I had color in my face
and I felt great about having done that movie. It was really fun. I can remember going in wearing an antique shirt and a fedora
and just a pair of blue jeans (laughs) to meet Phil (Phil Kaufman, the director of Invasion) and he offered it to me right away and
that was totally cool. Nancy was a hippie dippy character and I looked like a hippie that day. She was a fun character; she was cool
WCT: You worked with some new actors to the screen on that – Jeff Goldblum was fairly new at the time—
VC: Brooke Adams was the one with the largest body of work and Donald (Sutherland) of course. Jeff was hysterical. He was like a
string bean and really fun to work with and then we were both in The Right Stuff for Phil as well.
WCT: Which I also love. You’re wonderful in that film as well. In some ways I think Kaufman’s work is a little under appreciated.
Those two films – Body Snatchers and Right Stuff – will really stand the test of time I think. Both were big hits with the critics but I
don't think the second did very well at the box office.
VC: The Right Stuff wasn’t a huge, big hit because it was three hours long.
WCT: It still should have won the Best Picture Oscar – it was the movie of the year.
VC: I know. But Phil also did The Unbearable Lightness of Being and I loved Quills. I thought that was fabulous. I voted for that for
Best Picture; I thought it should have won; I don’t know what did but I just loved that film.
WCT: Now about Body Snatchers…I remember you as being hysterical all the time.
VC: Not in Body Snatchers. I was the one that knew what was going on. I was the one that said, “Why can’t it be like the monkeys
and the apes and they’re changing our DNA.” I was the last survivor. The only reason I freaked out was because Donald stood
there and did that horrible scream in my face.
WCT: So that’s me. I guess I just remember you always crying because you do it so well. You cry beautifully, let’s say.
VC: That was one of the thing that bugged me about Alien. I thought, “I’m weeping in every scene” but they insisted that my
character, Lambert, was actually the audience. That was Ridley’s concept (Ridley Scott, the director). Originally, I thought I had the
part of Ripley.
WCT: That’s what I’ve read.
VC: Even my agent thought that. I called and I said, “Aren’t I Ripley?” and he says, “Yes” but I wasn’t and nobody had bothered to
tell me I wasn’t. I hadn’t even read the script thinking about Lambert because all I’d ever auditioned for was Ripley.
WCT: I’m sure this was a very intense shoot. Certainly, filming those scenes where you put on those suits and go into the huge
spacecraft and find the alien eggs.
VC: Oh that was horrible! The suits were lined with nylon and there happened to be a heatwave and even wearing just a leotard
under this thing I lost ten pounds that week. You’d take the thing off and there’d be a pool of sweat at the bottom and they were
supposed to put air vents in there and they didn’t. They forgot or never bothered to drill them so what would happen is (laughs) you’
d start breathing your own carbon monoxide and you’re exerting yourself. You couldn’t have a dummy, no, we had to do it. We had
hockey gloves on our hands that had been spray painted so they couldn’t be manipulated and we were carrying John Hurt’s body
across that soundstage of sand. Then we get on to this elevator that takes you up to 24 feet in the air on this forklift thing and I
started to pass out. There weren’t any mics in our suits and Tom (Skerritt) is waving, trying to grab me because he can see I’m
WCT: Oh my gosh.
VC: We all dropped like flies. John went first, then I went, then Tom passed out. It was ridiculous but of course, we were actors
complaining. This went on until they shot the long distance thing with Ridley’s three kids in little suits and they all passed out, too.
Then of course, things changed but by that point, it was too bloody late. I tell you, the thing weighed about 75 pounds on your
shoulders. It was mind boggling. It was the most uncomfortable thing.
WCT: So Alien really was a horror film – from every angle.
VC: (laughs) Yes, it literally was.
WCT: You’ve played some wonderful characters in some gay themed projects and now you’re on the cover of the new Scissor Sisters
CD, “Ta Dah,” and in the promo video.
VC: I am!
WCT: How did that come about?
VC: Well I moved and I changed telephone companies and I’ve always had an unlisted number but I didn’t when I switched
companies and out of the blue Jake (Shears) called. He got my phone number from 411 and he leaves this message, “Hi, I’m Jake
from the Scissor Sisters. I am not a stalker! I have always loved your work and this sounds like you on the message and would you
please give me a call because I would love to have you on our new album cover.” So I ended up calling Jake and we ended up
having a long conversation and he’s just a sweetheart. I thought it was terrific that he tracked me down. Then I saw them when
they were here in LA. God, what a show! I went with my friend the drag queen Coco Peru and Jake saw us up in the balcony and the
next thing we know all of these eyes are looking at us and waving to us. It was hysterical; it was great. I was in a movie with Coco –
she was in Straight Jacket and another movie that has a huge gay following, Red Sparkler. I’m bisexual in that one.
WCT: I haven’t seen that one but I will now. Is this a rather a new thing for you to be aligned with the gay community?
VC: Oh no, they love me and I wish they were producers (laughs) because I’d be working all the time. I’d be the lead in a lot of
Note: To honor Cartwright's performance in The Invasion, another film based on "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," here's more of
KATM's original interview with Cartwright in which she discusses working on the 1978 version