MAMA SAYS: Leslie Easterbrook Ignites As Mother Firefly by Owen Keehnen

Anyone who has seen 'The Devil's Rejects' -- and that's pretty much every horror fan out there - is familiar with the amazing horror performance of Leslie Easterbrook as the jailed Mother Firefly. She takes chewing the scenery to an entirely different level. It's an unforgettable piece of work.
Leslie has been acting for years --- she was Lieutenant Debbie Callahan (that drill instructor who really filled out her regulation blues) in the Police Academy film series. In addition her varied resume includes roles a recurring role as Rhonda Lee for 3 seasons on Laverne and Shirley and a recurring role as Devlin Kowalski on Ryan's Hope. She's been in films like Maniacts, The Taking of Flight 847, Murder at the Presidio, Dismembered, and The Moment After. She's had guest roles on TV shows like Murder She Wrote (4 times), The Love Boat (twice), Diagnosis Murder, Hunter, Baywatch, and The Dukes of Hazzard.
Best of all Leslie Easterbrook is here today for an exclusive interview.


Leslie, can you start the readers off with a visual and describe the room where you're answering these questions?

Sure. First of all, let me say '"Hello" and how nice it is to be doing this interview with you. It's a treat for me.

I would love to say it was a glamorous room...or a sexy room...or even an intellectually stimulating room, but I'd be lying and I'll leave that to the Bush Administration. They are so much better at it than I am.

You see, you have inadvertently given me a chance to vent and, presented with this opportunity, I just can't stop myself!

My husband and I have been remodeling a house for a year and a half. That was not the original time frame. When we moved out of the old house we thought we'd be in the new one in 4, 5, or at the very longest, 6 months. Boy, were we dreamers!

Here's the good news: We have been staying with his sister and her husband who are indubitably the kindest, most generous and most thoroughly selfless people in the world.

Now for the bad news: They have provided us with three small rooms; two bedrooms connected by a bathroom. My husband is using the smaller of the two bedrooms as an office. That's understandable as he is a writer by trade and a WGA board member and union rabble-rouser by election. The other room is our kitchen, breakfast nook, dining room, library, living room, media room, storage room, den, bedroom and, last but not least, MY OFFICE. This is where I now sit, in a bright red, overly complicated but divinely comfortable office chair -- no complaints there! However, I'm told the walls of this room are covered with wallpaper -- a delicate baby blue and white flowered print. Will I ever get this? No! We've crammed everything we own, that's not stuffed into giant storage containers somewhere in \line downtown LA, into this multi-tasking room and it's piled up every wall to the ceiling. If you hear there's been an earthquake in LA, call out the dogs.

Actually, it's a kind of adventure, living this crowded. It's like being 'on the road' with a theatre company again and living in a small hotel -- everything at my fingertips -- everything but what I'm LOOKING FOR, that is. Perhaps I'm a little long-in-the-tooth to really appreciate this particular adventure?

Hmmmmm. Well, I've included good new and bad news, so here's a bonafide NEWS FLASH -- my husband just came in from the bathroom holding the shower \line faucet -- in his hand. I'm going to take a little break now, to call \line the PLUMBER! When I come back we'll move on...

I guess first off I want to hear how you were chosen by Rob Zombie to reprise the Mother Firefly role in 'The Devil's Rejects'? Was it due to your passing resemblance to Karen Black (Mother Firefly in 'House of 1000 Corpses') or was Rob a fan of your 'Police Academy' (as Debbie Callahan) movies or your work on 'Laverne and Shirley'?

I never thought to ask him. Initially I was just excited to audition for him and then so glad he cast me (I instantly loved the material for M. Firefly) it never occurred to me to find out. I don't know whether our casting director, Monika Mikkelsen, bless her soul, had the idea, or Rob. Rob and I never discussed "Police Academy" or "Laverne and Shirley". In fact I don't know if he ever saw them. However, if you were alive in the 80's, it would have been tough to miss at least one of them.

As the years passed I've learned that it's not a good thing to mention those credits to potential employers. As proud as I am of them, the industry tends to hold them against me. I'm not alone in this -- many actors you may remember from the 80's seem to have vanished in the 90's. This is not their idea and not an accident. Getting to resurface in the 2000's is a rare blessing. It is a miracle that Rob took a chance on me and gave me a role so different from anything I'd ever played before. As I'm sure you noticed, there are several familiar actors from the 80's in "Devil's". Rob defies common practice -- just one of the ways he is unique. Another? He refuses to discuss or compare one actress with another. To this day I have no idea why I was cast and I have no idea why Karen Black wasn't. Thank you for the "passing resemblance to Karen Black" part of your question, Owen. That's high praise in my book.

I have a quote here of you saying "When I became an actor I wanted to go places inside where I would never get to go in my personal life". Can you give your take on that internal place you went to in order to create your amazing character work as Mother Firefly?

I'm glad you found that quote -- it's absolutely true! Most of us don't become actors to play ourselves, Owen. I might even go so far as to say some of us want to escape being ourselves occasionally and have a legitimate excuse for it! Whether it's childhood trauma or simple curiosity, it produces the same result. The heart of a character actor yearns to work outside the envelope. The dilemma? Good villains are deliciously cathartic, but good heroes pay your bills. It's generally a much harder choice for men than women. It's only recently that so many good bad women's roles have begun popping up. Yes, there have always been great bad women in the movies, but not so many of the really complicated cold-hearted bitches we enjoy today.

It really warms my heart, Owen. After years of reading and hearing a wide variety of comments about characters I've played, like Callahan in "Police Academy" or Rhonda on "Laverne and Shirley", it's refreshing and ultimately astonishing to have someone finally compliment my "work" (not just the way I fill out a uniform.) Granted I have always treasured those uniform comments, been truly thankful that I was even noticed and given credit where it was due -- to the terrific "work" of numerous wardrobe departments.

I find it a little difficult to actually address the "work". It's such a personal thing. Truth -- I'm surprised to find it hard. I love to \line joke, as you've probably noticed. To talk seriously about myself is something new. I'll give it a try

I'm proud of my work as Mother F. and I'll tell you why. I don't recognize myself in my performance. Usually I am highly critical of my work and watching it makes me uncomfortable but I got to go way outside my box for Mama, to places I'd only gone in live theatre, and I finally lost ME. (Of course, you can't play something that isn't a part of yourself at all. You have to have the reality somewhere in your psyche to play it; but dormant. It's dormant because of the many layers of civilization placed on you by your own emotional make-up or family, school/education/learning, community, religion/morality, friends/peers -- any number of things that help you mold your own public persona and create the unique individual you call "me".)

Mother Firefly is a brilliantly written character in "The Devil's Rejects" -- that is a given. As a director, Rob gives you a long rope and then gets out of your way. He gives you permission to fly. He trusts you. If you hang yourself, he may shorten the rope a little, make a suggestion or two but then let you go again. He lets you swing that rope, swing from it, fling it, tear is up, wrap it around yourself, caress it, tie it is knots, shred it fiber by fiber, or beat the hell out of it -- it's up to you and it is a glorious experience. No Rules!

After digesting the written word, I decided that Mother Firefly must think of herself as the perfect woman. Sexy, cunning, brave and willing to sacrifice ANYTHING for her children. The fact that she's a depraved psycho never enters her mind. Mama would never see herself that way; so neither could I.

Mother Firefly's mantra and emotional triggers: I love my family. I will do anything for my children, enable them without judging them, and sacrifice my life for them. I am confidant that I am the perfect mother. I am a good and righteous mother and woman. I am a sexual predator and proud of it. That's it. I prepared myself emotionally with my mantra and just let go. I was in a state of absolute awareness. I even remember noticing the smells in the jail cell and how they would change from take to take or after lunch, or if someone had had a cup of coffee on the set during a lighting break. Everything was accentuated. I've heard it called heightened animation -- whatever it was, I can't wait to smoke it again...

So you have been in the business for a number of years - what about the Rob Zombie set did you find unique?

Rob's preparation is astounding. It makes it so much easier to do your work. I say this not only for the actors but the crew, as well.

He shoots with many more cameras that any director I've ever worked with. That means the lighting (which is gorgeous in "Devil's" thanks to Phil Parmet) has to be more specific for each shot, too. Rob does his own storyboards and knows exactly what he wants. Yet he is still open to suggestion -- in short, it's the first time I've felt that making a film was like having an artistic conversation or experience. Rob is an artist and treats others as such. Unique? Absolutely. It's the closest I've ever come to feeling that every contributor was on the same page. Not warm and fuzzy, mind you, but filled with mutual respect. It was a good place to be and one I want to return to as soon as possible. (I must add that this would not have been possible without producer Andy Gould giving Rob his support at all times. There were other producers, all of them gems, but Andy is Rob's manager and produced "House", as well. They have a wonderful relationship. I've never witnessed a relationship between writer/director and produce so close and trusting before.

Any news on what Mr. Zombie plans to do next?

I think there are an enormous number of people asking the same question -- certainly anyone who has worked with him. We all want to do it again. The most recent rumor is that he plans to make an animated movie of his own comic books. I can only hope one of his characters will need a voice like mine!

So has playing Mother Firefly resulted in a huge onslaught and offering of horror roles for you?

Ah...a question with a short answer. Not a one! I still have hope, though. Wouldn't that be great?

Along those lines tell me about your work as Helen in the 2003 flick 'Dismembered' and Knull in 'Maniacts' (2001) - both sound promising.

How things sound and how they turn out can sometimes be a contradiction. I can't believe you know the character names -- good homework. I made both films for friends -- filmmakers I had known and loved for years -- and wanted to support them and their projects. Both films became different animals after the fact. In both cases they changed because of either insufficient funding or conflict between the creators and the producers. I'm not proud of my work in either film or of the finished products, but don't regret being in them. Both filmmakers are very talented and suffered from outside pressures. I know we'll hear from them again and get to see what they are really capable of in their next endeavors.

CW Cressler, who wrote and directed "Maniacts", has a script called "Heads You Lose" that would make a fabulous movie. In fact it was that script that first introduced us. When I read it in the 80's, I liked it so much that I tried to help him get it made. We came so close that I still can't believe it wasn't shot. It's terrific. It's about a serial killer who has an ingenious method of decapitating his victims and a tough lady cop who tracks him down. I'm too old to play that cop now but there are any number of good young actresses working today who could bring her to life -- if any of your readers are looking for their next project, track down Mr. Cressler and read "Heads You Lose". You won't be disappointed.

Going back to something I mentioned earlier. I've read that a new 'Police Academy' movie is in the works. After starring in 7 of those movies are you excited to go back to work as Sgt. Debbie Callahan?

You hit the nail of the head. I live in suspended animation, waiting to go back to work as Debbie Callahan. I've been in this state for 11 years now and have no intention of giving it up. I love her and am very grateful for her!

Are there any other projects in the offing you would like to mention or plug for the readers?

Would that there were. I'll tell you what; if anything comes up, I'll let you know.

In addition to what I've already mentioned you've done so many great things - several episodes of 'Murder She Wrote', as Rhonda Lee on several seasons of 'Laverne and Shirley', a recurring role on 'Ryan's Hope', lots of guest starring work on 'Matlock', 'Hunter', and movies like 'The Taking of Flight 847', 'Private Resort', 'Collector of Souls', etc. Is there some role or moment on screen that you see as your finest as an actress?

Just for the record, "Collector of Souls" was never finished. In fact all we shot was the trailer. It's funny how things get confused on the net. I hope it is made someday -- the filmmaker, Marcum Anderson, is another good friend of mine and deserves a break.

I made a movie for USA Network in 2004 as part of their True Crime series. It was directed by another brilliant filmmaker and dear friend, John Fasano. No one involved in the project wanted me in the movie, but John had faith in me and insisted I be in it. He even provided my accommodations on location in Canada when the network refused.

The role was small, but complicated, and John helped me find something inside myself that I'd never used before as an actress. The character was based on a real woman this time -- a mother, like M. Firefly, who did terrible things to protect her children. This time it was just a son, but her crime was real and unimaginably horrible.

If you have a chance, take a look at "Murder at the Presidio". There are two scenes near the end of the movie that I am very proud of. They are quiet scenes but emotionally, for me, off the chart. You won't regret seeing the film. Lou Diamond Phillips does wonderful work -- as does the rest of the cast.

I also want to hear your impressions of what it was like to sing 'The Star Spangled Banner' at Superbowl XVII - that's got to be an insane rush?

You ask the BEST questions. Yes, an insane rush. I was so nervous, I only stopped shaking two years ago -- and I sang it in 1982. I get nervous every time I'm at a ball game or watch one on TV when someone sings the anthem -- anyone. That's sense memory for ya.

It was the best time, though. They gave me 10 seats on the 50 yard line, I got patted on the butt by John Riggins, I got 2 limos for myself and my friends and family, I got "Cheers" in TV Guide, every once in a while the Arizona Republic describes my performance as the best one ever (why, I'll never know) and I've had a most unique resume from that day forward.

I still get to sing our national anthem for events and I'm very proud to do it. I sang it last Saturday night in Irvine, CA at a banquet honoring our soldiers. It was a very emotional evening and there I was, singing my favorite song while crying my eyes out -- all these years later.

I also want to hear about your take on the horror movie conventions. What is the best way to describe that experience from the "other side of the table"?

Wow! Horror conventions are great. I've never had such fun. This shouldn't be kept a secret. It can't possibly be better for the fans \line than for the actors. It's totally entertaining -- the wardrobe alone is a knock out. You get to meet your audience -- it's better than theatre, too, because the audience talks back. I've never been treated better or had a better time. I think this is why I'm so anxious to make another horror movie -- so I'll get to do them again and again. I really feel I've made friends at both of the conventions I've attended and not just friends for the day.

Okay - we are pulling the car into the Leslie Easterbrook Drive In. What three horror films are on the triple bill tonight and what goodies are they going to be serving at the concession stand?

Any horror movie by Rob Zombie -- I just want him to keep makin' 'em. Any movie by George Romero -- he's the master. Or perhaps "Heads You Lose", "Collector of Souls", and a new John Fasano flick or anything starring ME. Actually any movies could be running (I'm a complete movie freak) as long I can eat popcorn all night long with short breaks to knock back some turkey chili and wash it all down with vanilla milk shakes. No alcohol -- when I watch a movie I want a clear head, to become one with the content but also to admire the filmmaker's work process -- God, I love it!

What makes you go psycho in real life?

Having most of the things I need every day locked away in storage for a year and a half!

What scares you in real life?

The thought that something terrible could happen to people I love.
The thought that I'll never work again.
Being held down -- I am claustrophobic.

Thanks so much Leslie - all the best to you in both life and career.

To you too, Owen. Thanks for the great questions.