[continued from Part 1]
The Terror Trap: Tell us what else you recall about filming Curtains.
Linda Thorson: It was actually my first feature film, and so it was a very big deal for me to be flown in and put up in a beautiful room in a lovely hotel. I just thought it was great.
Of course, Sam and I becoming good friends was a big added bonus. My sister Barbara -- who very sadly died three years ago of cancer -- was the greatest gal. We used to ride around Toronto on bikes when we were kids.
Anyway, Barbara was gay and she had shaved her head and gotten tattoos. You know, a whole look at the time. And riding around on bikes together, Barbara and I, people used to scream, “Hey, who’s your friend? Yul Brynner?”
Very unkind. Very mean.
LT: Yes, it was...so anyway, during Curtains, the three of us -- Barbara, Samantha and I -- used to hang out quite a bit because Barbara and Sam shared the same birthday. In March.
Sam, of course, just loved everybody because she's an educated, intelligent woman. We had a great time together, and my sister was so happy because she always wanted to be a part of what she saw as my "show business life" and I had moved away to England. So here was her chance.
That was a very nice part of filming Curtains, actually.
TT: Richard Ciupka was hired by producer Peter Simpson to direct Curtains. It was Ciupka's first time from cinematographer to being a director.
LT: That’s right.
TT: Simpson wanted a commercial horror film, something he could market and make some bucks off. Ciupka wanted something more like an arthouse thriller.
So there was this conflict on the set where Ciupka was shooting these long, expository scenes with all of you around the dinner table and Samantha. Whereas Simpson just wanted slasher scenes.
LT: Yes, that's exactly right.
What I remember most vividly is that for about a week straight we all thought we were going to get fired. That it was going to be the end. I mean, THE. END. (Laughs). I couldn’t figure out, in my own inexperienced way -- and frankly, I don’t think Sam could either -- how this thing was going to go forward when these guys [Simpson and Ciupka] were literally yelling at each other.
LT: Yes. The whole thing got very tense at some points. And also very embarrassing. I remember that. I remember thinking: "These men are acting like a couple of little kids. A couple of boys." And then as suddenly as it started, it would get very gentle and quiet and we would be kept waiting, not knowing what was going on. We would go back to our trailers or just hang around the makeup room.
TT: Then what happened?
LT: Then I remember, out of nowhere, BAM! An entirely new script came out. I don't know if it came from Bob Guza (the screenwriter). Or from one of the script people. I have no idea. But at that point, I remember wondering, "Wait. Am I still in this thing?" (Laughs).
TT: That tension ultimately resulted in Ciupka leaving the film and Simpson finishing the movie as more of a horror film than Richard had envisioned.
LT: Yes. When Richard left, I sort of felt that I had lost my champion in a way. Because he liked to talk about the character’s motivation. We would talk about why things were going on in the storyline. He liked to discuss the relationships between the characters.
And I remember, after that, any kind of talk about character motivation went out the window and there was more horror in it afterwards.
TT: Were you unhappy with the change in direction?
LT: I actually remember calling my agent and saying I didn’t want to be in something like that. A sort of arthouse movie became more of a horror film. But I hadn't seen any dailies or anything, so I had no idea where it was headed.
However, I also remember being very glad that we were going to keep doing it. When I was told I was finished on the movie, I actually thought they had decided not to use me anymore and I was upset because I didn’t think I’d finished it.
Then at some point, they had to bring me back. I was in L.A. and they brought me back to do some scene. They probably didn’t know how they were going to end the film. I guess if I had nothing to do with how they were going to end it, they wouldn’t have brought me back.
I recall being really upset because I wondered if I had failed or I hadn’t done a good job. My agent told me, “It’s just a mess. It’ll probably get shelved. No one will probably ever see this movie.” And that depressed me as well! Because I wanted everyone to see it.
TT: It had a limited theatrical release but it wasn’t huge.
LT: No, it wasn’t.
TT: However in the States in the early and mid 80’s, it was a perennial on cable stations like HBO.
LT: Well, it’s interesting because I often go to Star Trek conventions or science fiction conventions…
TT: Because of your appearance on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
LT: Yes, that's right. I played Gul Ocett, a female Cardassian commander of a Galor-class warship in 2369. That was fun to do.
Anyway, there’s always people who come up to me at these conventions with a Curtains poster or a photograph from the movie. I’m always kind of amazed because it didn’t seem to have had that much exposure.
I suppose it became a cult film.
LT: I would say that overall for a small thriller with some drama, the actual real-life tensions backstage became a very, very big drama. A lot more dramatic than what was onscreen. (Laughs).
You know, in reading in Vanity Fair all about World War Z, this kind of artistic disagreement that occurred between Brad Pitt and director Marc Forster…you just sort of think, why would anyone start a project before having this discussion? Is it a zombie movie with a lot of action? Or is it a movie that’s trying to change the world and say something? You’ve got a budget of $250 million…maybe you should just decide what the thrust of the thing is before you start it!
TT: According to Peter, Ciupka had said he would make the kind of commercial horror movie that Simpson wanted…but when they got to the set, it was starting to become a Bergman film.
By the way, who's still alive from Curtains?
TT: Well, as you know, Peter died shortly after we spoke to him.
TT: And as we spoke about earlier, John passed away in 2005. Sandee Currie, who played Tara, has also passed away…
LT: Oh, really? That’s so sad.
TT: Richard is alive.
We've interviewed Lynne Griffin and she's doing great.
LT: Oh yes, Lynne! I see her sometimes in Toronto. She still works a lot.
TT: Let’s see. We’ve also talked with Lesleh Donaldson. She was the young ingénue who gets killed while ice skating. Do you remember her?
LT: Yes, I do. Is she still alive?
TT: She’s still alive, well and working. Do you recall filming the scene where you find Lesleh's head in the toilet?
LT: (Laughs.) Oh, God! I never would have remembered that if you hadn’t mentioned it! (Laughs again.)
TT: We also interviewed Michael McLaverty, who was the film editor. He had some interesting things to say. And we've chatted with Paul Zaza, who did the score. We just adore him.
LT: Oh, yes, the music for Curtains was quite good!
TT: As you can tell, this little film got…
LT: Got under your skin? (Laughs.)
TT: It did. We had always loved horror movies, but Curtains…whether by default or by design…it's a bit different because the material is a bit more adult for a horror movie. It’s not a T & A slasher for adolescents kind of picture.
TT: Sounds like your memories of Curtains are generally good?
LT: I'd say so. They are. Looking back, the perspective of course changes with time.
The greatest thing was to actually get to go back to Canada and work. Because I’d left. But then I was able to go back and my family was there and I could make a film in my hometown.
I really saw that in a positive light. And I was thrilled to be there doing something like that. I seem to remember there were articles in the Toronto Telegraph or The Star along the lines of “Linda Thorson comes back from England to make a movie…”
Now, Curtains wasn’t smooth sailing by any means. I'm fairly certain I may have pushed back into my memory the whole Richard actually leaving and Peter taking over thing.
TT: Any thoughts on working with Maury Chaykin, who played your agent Monty in Curtains?
LT: Maury! I ended up working with Maury again in a show that I did for three years on Prince Edward Island called Emily of New Moon in the late 90’s. He played Lofty John in the series. So there he was again. Maury was a really lovely man -- and a great actor.
TT: Thanks for some insight and your perspective about Curtains. Fans of that film should find what you had to say very interesting.
You also did some episodic television in the States such as One Life To Live.
LT: Yes, I was on that soap for two years. Loved that work, it was such a good time.
TT: Let's talk about horror films in general.
LT: I remember going to see PSYCHO and coming home and not being able to get out of my car for about three hours. I was so terrified! (Laughs.)
TT: That’s great.
LT: Oh, and the SCARIEST movie I’ve ever seen in my life. The one with Linda Blair…where her head turns around and she pukes green. The Exorcist. I saw the premiere in London in Leicester Square…at midnight. Oh my God. I remember that.
But I’ve never been good at horror movies. When my sister and I were little, the first time we were allowed to go into the cinema, we saw Ray Milland in The Premature Burial (1962). In that movie, he’s buried and there’s a little window in the coffin. And as the dirt’s going down, you see his eyes open…and he’s trying to speak and they can’t hear him.
I ran out of the cinema! I just couldn’t take it.
In my house, if my son is not around and there’s something really, really scary that comes on…I have to turn it off. Like that Chucky movie, Child's Play, or anything like that…oh, forget it! (Laughs.)
TT: Do you have a role in mind that you haven’t played that you would like to?
LT: Without a doubt, my number one would be Shakespeare’s Cleopatra. I'd even take Shaw’s Cleopatra. She was such a powerful woman who was also hugely female…full of all the desires of a woman and all the power traits of a leader. Fascinating.
Of course, Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire. Although I'm past Blanche's age now, so I probably couldn't tackle that one.
TT: Interesting. Well, you know, Tennessee Williams wrote Streetcar in two parts, if you really think about it. You might say The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone was Blanche DuBois' second act.
LT: Oh, well, now you’re talking about my favorite actress! The name "Tara" in The Avengers came from the house in Gone With The Wind. I chose it. Incidentally, a full exhibition has just opened in London for Vivien Leigh that includes memorabilia and all of her letters. Her correspondence with Winston Churchill is all there.
TT: The queen of tragic roles.
LT: Absolutely she was. And she did what she didn’t have to do. She continued to press for more and more difficult roles, taking risks all the time. Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone is in my top five films.
I met Laurence Olivier at a celebrity tennis match long after Vivien had passed. He held my right hand in both his hands and he looked at me and said, “Christ, you’re like my Viv.” And I just replied, “Well that is just the most wonderful thing…thank you so much.” It took my breath away. I worshipped her.
TT: What have you been up to recently?
LT: Going on stage a lot. As I was so lucky to do recently at the age of 65 and play the part of 65-year-old Violet in Tracy Lett’s play August: Osage County. It won the Pulitzer Prize and the movie is coming out this Christmas with Meryl Streep playing Violet.
TT: Tell us about that.
LT: It’s about a dysfunctional family in 2007 in Oklahoma. I think it’s one of the greatest plays and best dramas of recent years. It’s also very funny.
Let's see...this coming January, I'm going to be starring in a wonderful play by Jon Robin Baitz called Other Desert Cities. It will be at the Alley Theatre in Houston Texas, and it runs from January 10th through February 10th. It comes to Houston hot from Broadway, so I'm very excited about that.
TT: You also have a hand in producing, right?
LT: Yes, I have a play I’m producing at the moment…we just did a production of it in L.A. called The Goodnight Bird. It’s a wonderful piece that’s never been done in NY. I’m trying to get it on Off-Broadway. It’s a three-character piece written by Colleen Murphy, who won the Governor General’s Award for Literature in Canada. She’s a great writer.
It’s funny and dark and interesting. If I can get that on somewhere, I’d play the lead. So I’m helping myself, which you have to do these days in the business. You have to call your agent, bug him, look at what’s happening…and be willing to go absolutely anywhere to do something.
I would go anywhere now to do a good play.
TT: We began this interview with a video montage of some of your film and television work...accompanied by your lovely voice singing a tune called Bad Time To Stop Loving Me.
Tell us about your singing.
LT: Oh, my singing! Well, I got very involved with that in the late '60s when I was approached by Jeffrey Kruger and Ember Records in London. A famous British songwriter named Kenny Lynch wrote some songs for me and they gave me a contract and we recorded a 45. The A side was called Here I Am and the B side was Better Than Losing You.
The record cover was a shot of me wearing a nose ring, which was a popular jewelry statement at the time...often a jewel in the nose or nose clip. It wasn't permanent like piercing is now. It kind of clipped into the nostril. It was pretty but didn't catch on in a big way. (Laughs).
TT: Was the single a hit?
LT: Well, it became a #1 in France. It played loudly in every drug store. And I remember I did public events all the time for about a year in France. I sang on TV wearing suede hot pants, and emceed a concert with Jose Feliciano and Tom Jones at the Olympiad in Paris!
The year after that, Tamla-Motown and Berry Gordy invited me to the US to record on a compilation LP they were making called New Faces of the 70s. The songs were written for me by Mickey Stevenson, who at that time was married to the great Motown singer Kim Weston. The song on the album is You Will Want Me and others. That album is a real collectors item.
TT: Did you enjoy recording?
LT: Yes. However, I had to make a clear decision around then as to whether I was going to be a singer or an actor. And I went quite strongly and decisively with acting.
But I've always loved singing. And musicals. I did go on to sing a good deal in venues such as Panto in England. I had several songs in Cinderella in London in the 70's. I also did the great musical The Club in both Toronto and in London's Regent Theatre. My favorite song from that show was Miranda, On Your Veranda.
TT: Looking back over your career, what role are you most proud of?
LT: Well, I talked about August: Osage County. It would be very hard to beat that.
I suppose one of the greatest career experiences of my life was doing Noises Off! on Broadway. It’s part of an ensemble cast, of course, but the part of Belinda was just the most fantastic role. Being part of a play that was such a huge Broadway hit was mind-boggling. And playing opposite Paxton Whitehead, who played Freddy in that. Paxton is one of the world's best farceur, so that was just tremendous.
I also did a play on Broadway called Steaming (1982) written by Nell Dunn, which I won the Theatre World Award for. That was a wonderful British play about these five women in a bathhouse in London.
Of course, we were all naked on stage during Steaming. I remember Dustin Hoffman came and sat in the front row. It was funny because everyone in the first two rows were given plastic to cover themselves from the water that splashed over when all of us jumped into the baths onstage. Dustin seemed to enjoy the whole thing though.
TT: Must be nerve-wracking to be in the buff onstage!
LT: Extremely nerve-wracking! (Laughs). I think Dustin thought it would make a good movie. In fact, they did make a movie of it and Vanessa Redgrave did the part I played. It was a terrible flop.
TT: The movie version of Noises Off! was a flop as well…
LT: Yes. They also made a movie of No Sex Please: We’re British, which was the other great comedy that I was in for a year in London around 1971. But that didn’t work as a film either. These are farces, though, and farces really need to be done on stage. You need to see all the doors opening and closing at once, as it were.
I also played in Peter Shaffer's Equus in the UK opposite the great actor Simon Callow.
TT: Simon Callow. He's so good in all the Merchant Ivory productions.
LT: Oh yes, of course. He was just fabulous to work with.
TT: Now you've had a long career in television. And you continue to work in television…
LT: Yes. I did Flash Point (2011), which was one of the best parts I’ve ever had. And also Rookie Blue (2013). These shows are all made in Toronto. They make some wonderful things up there. All the Hallmark movies are made there and I might be doing something soon for that channel. And I did a lovely Lifetime movie called Committed (2011).
TT: We wished we'd caught you on stage for August: Osage County! But we'll keep an eye out for Other Desert Cities, and we'll be waiting for The Goodnight Bird to take flight.
Linda, we wish you well. Thank you so much for talking to us. We're honored you gave us your time.
LT: My pleasure, gentlemen.