My first exposure to my next interview subject, Ami Dolenz, came when I saw her as Fran in the cult classic 80s comedy Can’t Buy Me Love during a vacation in Ireland in 1996. I liked her work in that movie, and as I grew older, I would become familiar with her through her work in movies like Miracle Beach and Witchboard 2: The Devil’s Doorway. There’s more to Ami than her acting work, though, as she’s also an author, an artist and involved with the charity Actors For Autism.
I spoke to her on September 4th, and I hope you all enjoy my conversation with her.
Say hello to Ami Dolenz!
Johnny: Hello, Ami.
Ami: Hi, Johnny. How are you doing?
Johnny: I’m doing good.
Ami: Good, good, good.
Johnny: I have my questions ready to go.
Ami: Oh, cool.
Johnny: To start off with, your father Micky was, of course, a member of The Monkees, while your mother Samantha was a presenter on Top Of The Pops. With your pop-cultural lineage, was being in the entertainment industry the first thing to come to mind as a child when you were talking about what you wanted to be when you grew up, or did you initially want to do something else?
Ami: That’s tough. I’m doing it now, actually, as I’m doing my art, but I did want to be an illustrator first, so when I was really little, that’s what I wanted to do, and my dad embraced it wholeheartedly. He did not want me to get into the business, actually (laughing). It wasn’t until high school, when I started doing high school plays, that I got the bug and really wanted to be in the acting world a lot more. I kind of was into illustration and art, and then I went into acting, and now I’m back to doing artwork.
Johnny: I’ll get into your art in later questions, but to go with acting for now, it’s said that you got your start on Star Search. What was your favorite part of competing on that series?
Ami: I loved the people on it. They had such a great group of people, and it was my first introduction to the professional side of it, not just doing theater, but dealing with the camera. That was kind of daunting in the beginning, looking right into the camera. I remember I had to do this opening scene where I had to look right into the camera, and it was a little scary. I just kind of pictured my grandpa in the camera, and that kind of calmed me down a little bit, like I was looking at him. It was scary, but I think it was very empowering as well. I loved working with Tony Danza, whom I later got to work on a movie with, so that was kind of cool. That was really fun. He was a wonderful guy to work with.
Johnny: Cool. According to the IMDB, one of your earliest credits came with the TV movie The Children Of Times Square, written and directed by the late Curtis Hanson, who would go on to win a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for L.A Confidential.
Ami: Really? I did not know that (laughing).
Johnny: Were you nervous about being on set for the first time, or was Star Search enough to help prepare you for the experience?
Ami: Oh, I wasn’t nervous at all on that set. It was such a long time ago. I just remember being outside as it was dark under a bridge or, I think, some kind of tunnel. I wasn’t nervous at all, and my mom was with me the whole time, too. I was underage so I had to have my mom there.
Johnny: Okay. For several years, starting in 1987, you played Melissa McKee on General Hospital. What was your favorite part of working on that show?
Ami: Again, the people. So many wonderful people. I got to work with Jackie Zeman, whom I later introduced to her husband, who is a friend of my family’s. That was kind of cool that I got to play matchmaker. They’re no longer married, unfortunately, but I did get to play matchmaker on that. I think General Hospital really taught me so much, because you have to find your mark. You have to find your light. It’s one show a day for an hour, so you move really fast. It really taught me the basics of acting, and also, it was kind of like going to college for acting because it was just “Go, go, go, go, go!”. They’d change a line, and if you don’t hit your mark and find your light, you’re just going to be in a shadow. They can’t waste too much time. It taught me a lot. They taught me the whole logistics of acting, I guess.
Johnny: Yeah. I’ve interviewed several soap opera veterans, and they’ve said that soap operas are really great training for acting. I interviewed Audrey Landers last year, and she did a lot of soap opera work in the 70s. She talked about how good it was to work on a soap opera, and how it helped her in her later acting.
Ami: Yeah, exactly. So true.
Johnny: As talents often come back to soap operas even if their characters were killed off decades before, or taken off the shows in other ways, have you ever been asked about a return engagement on General Hospital?
Ami: No. I just kind of moved on, and the producers that I worked with? After I left, I don’t think he was replaced. I think he retired, and then another producer who was on before him came back. I can’t quite remember her name. She’s very known as a producer of General Hospital. She came back, so the same producer wasn’t there. She never approached me. I don’t know if she even knew who I was, or knew anything from when the new producer came on. Nobody ever approached me, so Melissa McKee will never return, I guess (laughing). It’s still on, though. I can’t believe General Hospital is still playing.
Johnny: Returning to 1987, you played Fran in Can’t Buy Me Love. What do you recall the most about working on that movie?
Ami: Oh, my goodness. I turned 18 by then. I actually had my 18th birthday on that set, or right after, so I was by myself for the first time. I didn’t have to have my mom. It was a lot of fun. It was like going off to college, I guess, something like that. I was there by myself, thrown into a situation, and made some really great friends. I still have some friends from there. I think the fact that I was on my own was a real eye-opener, and that’s why it was just so much fun for me, because it was kind of scary, but kind of exciting at the same time.
Johnny: Alright. Can’t Buy Me Love is, of course, about a young man who compromises what makes
himself special in order to fit in with a group of people who didn’t like him before, eventually leading him to alienate both his old and new friends when his ego gets the best of him. Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you’ve been tempted to compromise what makes you the unique person you are, or have you always been able to say, “This is me. Take it or leave it?”
Ami: I was always raised more like “Take it or leave it”. I was raised always to be kind to people, always be polite and just a good person. I don’t think I ever had to compromise myself, but I was raised just like that by my grandparents and my dad and my mom. Always just be yourself and be kind.
Johnny: Always good advice.
Ami: Mm-hmm. Exactly.
Johnny: Going into 1989, you played Katie Simpson in She’s Out Of Control, which is, of course, the movie where you reunited with Tony Danza. The plot is about a girl who, after undergoing a makeover, becomes very popular, much to her father’s chagrin. Would you say that movie could be seen as a metaphor for the entertainment industry?
Ami: I never looked at it like that, but yeah, I think you’re right. I always thought of it, too, as a metaphor for life in general for a young girl growing up in that time and being a teenager. It’s so hard. It was a really fun part to play, too, because I had that makeover and my whole character changed. It was a really great arc. I think maybe you’re right. It is kind of a metaphor for the entertainment business as well, kind of changing.
Johnny: I like what I’ve seen of it, but She’s Out Of Control was trashed by Siskel And Ebert, with Siskel saying that seeing the movie made him want to quit film criticism, and implying that the only thing keeping him from quitting was a screening of Say Anything later that day. When you heard that criticism, how did you react, and did you ever cross the paths of either Siskel or Ebert after that review?
Ami: I never heard that review. I never read reviews or anything, so that’s the first time I’m hearing it (laughing).
Johnny: I’m sorry.
Ami No! (Laughing) It was a long time ago. I think movie critics are kind of crap, anyway. I’m sorry, but what a horrible job to have, to criticize other people’s work, so that’s why I never read them. I really don’t care either way. I never really got it. I know that people have their own opinions and views and everything, but I never got into reading any kind of critics.
Johnny: Well, you’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din (Ami laughs), because some of my own writing has gotten very trashed. I’m able to keep it under control for the most part, but sometimes I’ll see some very harsh criticism, and as I deal with Asperger’s Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder, I sometimes get upset by the criticism and find myself relapsing into the behaviors of my teens and 20s, before I was under control. I should probably take a cue from you and just try and ignore the critics.
Ami: Exactly. I have friends who sometimes read me what critics say, and I say, “I don’t care. Just get away from me”. I never read anything, ever, so I would do that (Ami and Johnny laugh). Don’t even care.
Johnny: Going into the 90s, you took over for Mia Sara as Sloan Peterson in the short-lived sitcom Ferris Bueller. Did Sara’s portrayal of the character influence you, or did you go in a different direction as the show itself did?
Ami: I think I went a different direction. Of course I saw the movie. I loved it. It was a great movie, but I did try and make it my own a little bit more. I’m not quite sure what direction that was (laughing), but I worked with the actors and talked to the director and producers, and just kind of made it my own. Yeah.
Johnny: Alright. You played Lucy Barrett in the 1991 horror comedy Children Of The Night. If vampires actually existed, and you crossed paths with one, would you handle the situation like Lucy, or would you handle it differently?
Ami: Wow, now I’m trying to remember my character. I think I would handle it kind of like Lucy. I hope I would, but then again, (laughing) I might just freak out completely, but she was pretty strong. She was a strong character. She fought, so hopefully, I’d be a fighter. I love all that kind of stuff like The Walking Dead and Fear The Walking Dead. It reminds me of some of that movie.
Johnny: Sounds good. In 1992, you played Jeannie Peterson in the comedic fantasy Miracle Beach. For many of your fans, it’s one of your most memorable roles. What is it about that movie that stood out for your fans?
Ami: That was such a fun movie to do because, of course, I got to play a genie. It could be anybody. A genie is how you make her, and I really had a lot of fun with that role. What stood out? I guess just the fantasy of it, the whole feel of the movie. It was a fun, I don’t want to say coming-of-age movie, but it had a good story behind it for what it was. I think just being able to play a genie and have that fantasy outlook on life was the best thing for me.
Johnny: Cool. Miracle Beach was released on Blu-Ray last year by Kino Lorber Studio Classics, having licensed the title from MGM, the movie’s current owners. Were you asked about participating in extras, or did they just decide to release the movie?
Ami: I didn’t even know it was on Blu-Ray (laughing), so nobody mentioned anything to me, but that’s cool.
Johnny: The trivia for Miracle Beach says you still own the genie outfit from the movie.
Ami: I do.
Johnny: Have you ever bought it out for Halloween or costume parties?
Ami: No. I’ve never worn it except for, of course, in the movie. I don’t even know where it actually is. I think it’s somewhere in my basement. I should get it out and maybe frame it or something (laughing).
Johnny: When it comes to follow-ups and adaptations, you played Paige in Witchboard 2. Had you seen the original Witchboard before signing on for the sequel?
Ami: I did see it. It was such a long time before I did the actual movie, and I saw it years before that when it was first released.
Johnny: One of the very first talents I interviewed on the phone, back when I was writing for RetroJunk, was your Witchboard 2 co-star Julie Michaels. Do you still talk to her?
Ami: No, I haven’t seen her in forever. I need to keep in touch more with people (laughing).
Johnny: I liked interviewing her. She’s really quite a talent. When it comes to the matter of the concept of a Witchboard, what are your feelings on Ouija boards?
Ami: Well, I did have a couple of experiences when I was in high school with Ouija boards. Honestly, I just don’t know. I have to say I kind of do believe in them a bit, but you just never know. You’re with other people, and it could’ve moved. I could’ve sworn the thing moved without anybody touching it, but it was in high school and I was with a bunch of people, so you never know. I don’t think I’d fool around with them, though, especially after doing the movie (laughing). I don’t have one. Let’s put it that way.
Johnny: When it comes to Ouija boards, I find myself thinking of this one Calvin and Hobbes strip where they’re playing with a Ouija board. Calvin asks the question, “Will I grow up to be President?’. They’re moving it, and Hobbes reads out the letters, “G-o-d-f-o-r-b-i-d”, and then Calvin kicks the board and says, “When I want an editorial, I’ll ask for it!”.
Ami: (Laughing) That’s so cute. Oh my god, that’s funny.
Johnny: Staying in 1993, like quite a few of my previous interview subjects, you appeared on an episode of Murder, She Wrote, playing Tracy Noble in the episode “Bloodlines”. What was your favorite part of working on that show?
Ami: That’s right. That was a fun show to do, too. God, it was such a long time ago. I got to wear beautiful clothes because I was wealthy, and I was the murderer, which was really cool! (Laughing) I got to murder Mickey Rooney. I think that was fun because he’s such an icon, and working with him and Angela, who is just such an amazing woman. I think it’s really learning a lot from veterans of this business. It was just so amazing and interesting, and the show was so well done because it was on for such a long time. Everybody knew what they were doing…A very professional and very nice environment.
Johnny: It really was great fun. You mentioned talking to Mickey Rooney and Angela Lansbury. What advice can you recall them giving you that stuck with you after all these years?
Ami: I think just really being natural, being in your body and not in your head too much when acting. Taking ti all in, which I think is so important, and reacting, not just saying the lines. Mickey Rooney was kind of directing in a way with the director, and he got some expressions out of me and worked with me and Angela, too, so that was really exciting, an exciting time.
Johnny: Alright. To move to other aspects of your life as a performer, IMDB says you worked onstage with “Weird” Al Yankovic, with him sawing you in half during performances of “Like A Surgeon”. Did that happen when he was opening for The Monkees, or did that come later?
Ami: Opening for The Monkees. I just happened to be around because I was with my dad, and my best friend Chanel was with me, so she was the feet and I was the head. It was a lot of fun. It was so much fun for us, too, because we got to see them together. That was really cool, and he was so much fun. I just love Al.
Johnny: Yeah. I’m glad he got his star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame recently.
Ami: Oh, that’s so cool. I didn’t even know that. Aw, good for him.
Johnny: It happened last week. Hopefully, the next step for him will be The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.
Johnny: Speaking of music, with the musical background of your parents, have you ever considered recording an album or performing in a musical onstage?
Ami: Not really. I do like to sing. I didn’t really get into that much. I have done some musical theater for a theatre company I was in, but very little, just a little singing with people in more of a group kind of thing. I never really got into the music side of it, not as much as my dad, of course.
Johnny: Alright. To move to another aspect of your work, several years back, you wrote a children’s book, Harold And Agatha: The Mysterious Jewel, with the protagonists coming from, respectively, London and California. How much of the book was informed by your own childhood, which had time spent in both?
Ami: It was how I came up with the idea, kind of. When I would go to London to visit my dad, he would start with a Harold And Agatha story. He would pick me up at the airport, so every time I went, he would tell me these stories just off the top of his head. Nothing was written down ever. That’s kind of how it came about. That’s how I did Harold And Agatha: The Mysterious Jewel. When he was telling me the stories, it was just a brother and sister anywhere, not England or America. What I did was take that experience, and first of all, they were stepbrother and sister, which they weren’t in the original stories Dad told me, but I thought that was kind of an interesting aspect of it to throw these two kids together. They’re from two separate backgrounds and they don’t get along, and then through the struggles of going through this adventure together, they come together, so it did have a lot to do with me going to England and living here in the States, and going back and forth. That was definitely a big thing in me writing that book, that whole aspect of it.
Johnny: Alright. I’ve asked this of talents who have spent extensive time overseas. Did you ever develop an English accent during your time spent there?
Ami: Not really. I guess maybe a little bit when I was younger, but you lose it so fast when you go back and forth. My husband is from Kentucky, and he’ll go back to Kentucky because he was raised there. He doesn’t really have a Southern accent, but when he does go back there, I can tell (laughing) it comes out. It never really did for me. My father didn’t have an accent, but then I was raised with my mother and my grandparents, who were very English. Maybe sometimes I did get a little bit of that accent coming through, but not a lot. I always kept my American accent (laughing).
Johnny: I have to be honest. When I was younger, I thought that The Monkees, like The Beatles before them, were all British. I didn’t know that Davy Jones was the only British member.
Ami: Yeah. A lot of people did, and not a lot of people knew my father was in a television show when he was a kid.
Johnny: Circus Boy. That show actually reran on Antenna TV a few years ago. I think they might still run the occasional episode.
Ami: Oh my god, that would be such fun to see a whole episode. I’ve never seen a whole episode before.
Johnny: As we move into your artwork, what has painting provided for you that acting has not?
Ami: I think I like the solidarity, but I like people. It’s kind of being your own boss a bit. It’s not like acting where there’s a lot of people running around you, agents and directors and other actors. There’s just so many things and people around you. I like the fact that I can just sit down and paint, or draw, or write, and it’s just me. I don’t have to answer to anybody. I think that’s the nice part about it. It’s very meditation-like. It’s being by yourself and reflecting, and having ideas come to mind. That’s what attracts me to it so much.
Johnny: Alright. Who have been your biggest influences as an artist?
Ami: Some of my teachers at Emily Carr. Emily Carr, of course. I never got to meet her, but I love her artwork. A lot of Canadian artists, as well as America. Matisse. I never appreciated abstract art that much until I started taking classes and really diving into all aspects of art, so that was really interesting.
Johnny: Alright. Which of your pieces are you most proud of?
Ami: I think Elephante, my dad named it that, by the way, which came from one of my teacher’s sayings. It’s a happy accident. You pour paint and see what happens, what kind of image comes through, so that was one of my first pieces. There’s another called The Birds, I think. Lots of watercolors and pen-and-ink, but those are the first two that were such fun that I couldn’t stop.
Johnny: Alright. Since art can be created out of almost anything, what would you most like to use in your future artwork?
Ami: I’m getting a little bit more into collage now, using all kinds of mediums, and I love mixed mediums, too. I’ve taken a few classes where you have all these different textures and colors. I think collage and mixed mediums are where I’ll be going for that kind of feel. That’s a really good question. I’m trying to think now (laughing). That’s a question I should ask myself, but I’m getting into collage, and I’m also working on a couple of children’s picture books, too.
Johnny: Fantastic. You’ve appeared at several conventions over the years, ranging from Chiller Theatre and The Hollywood Show to several conventions related to The Monkees. What’s been the most rewarding part of attending conventions?
Ami: I think meeting the fans…Definitely meeting the fans and meeting people, so many nice people, and chatting with them. It’s just really interesting to talk to people who have followed your life. It’s really interesting, especially when they tell me things that I forgot. They’ll say, “Do you remember when you were in….”, and I’ll say, “Oh my god”. I think definitely meeting the fans is the best part of that.
Johnny: Cool. What’s the most wonderful piece of memorabilia you’ve ever signed at a convention?
Ami: Whoa. Ever signed? I signed an album, actually, from She’s Out Of Control. I remember that was kind of interesting because I think I might have gotten one later, but I hadn’t seen it. The really cool thing was that I bought my dad a poster that had my grandfather on it, because my dad’s father was also an actor, George Dolenz. It was a 50s poster and he was on it. I got a really good deal with it because the guy who was selling it to me might have even given it to me. It was such a long time ago, so my dad framed it and it’s up at his house, the poster with my grandpa on it, and it says George Dolenz.
Johnny: That’s wonderful.
Ami: I know. It’s really cool. That was really fun.
Johnny: I hope you’ll be able to return to Chiller Theatre someday. I’d love to be able to meet you in person.
Ami: Aww, that would be great. That would be so cool. You never know. I’ve been out of the business for such a long time now. I don’t know
Johnny: Well, you do still have a foot in there, and to go with that, you’re active in working with the charity Actors For Autism. As I mentioned earlier, I myself have an autism spectrum disorder, so I thank you for the work you do with that charity. How did you get involved with it?
Ami: Well, my husband does work for them as well and talks and stuff, so it was really through my husband. He’s really great at that. We also volunteered for the L.A Police Department years ago for Jeopardy, which was a gang prevention organization. He got me into that, too. It was really my husband who got me into doing all of that, but for that particular one, it was my husband who got me into doing that.
Johnny: Cool. To go with the entertainment business, if someone offered you an amazingly well-written script, would you come out of retirement from acting?
Ami: God, I don’t know. To tell you the truth, that’s what I ask myself all the time (laughing). A part of me, because I haven’t done it for such a long time, is a little nervous, but then people tell me, “Oh, it’s just like riding a bike. You get back on the bike and you’ll be fine”. Honestly, until it happens, I really don’t know what I would do. There’s a part of me that does miss it, and then there’s a part that really doesn’t (laughing).
Johnny: I now come to my final question. Turner Classic Movies is a lot better at including actors in their TCM Remembers segments than the Oscars are with their In Memoriams. When former co-stars of yours’ like Corey Haim and Amanda Peterson passed away, they were included in the TCM Remembers segments for 2010 and 2015, respectively, with a clip from The Lost Boys for Corey and a clip from the aforementioned Can’t Buy Me Love for Amanda.
Johnny: With that in mind, and my apologies if this sounds rather ghoulish, when you pass away, which of your film roles would you most like to have Turner Classic Movies use as a clip for you if they were to include you in their TCM Remembers segment?
Ami: God, that’s a toughie. I guess either Miracle Beach, Can’t Buy Me Love, or She’s Out Of Control. Can’t Buy Me Love, I guess, because I did that with Amanda, and it just broke my heart when I heard what happened to her. We actually became really good friends on that movie. Either Miracle Beach or She’s Out Of Control, but Can’t Buy Me Love, too, because that’s how I knew Amanda, and Corey Haim was an amazing person to work with as well. I can’t believe that he died so young because I was good friends with Corey Feldman as well.
Johnny: For all the talents I’ve been lucky enough to interview over the past 12 years, including yourself, there’s just as many that I’ve missed out on, and I would’ve loved to have interviewed both Mr. Haim and Ms. Peterson. I think they would’ve made for interesting interview subjects.
Ami: Oh, definitely. Amanda, too, but definitely Corey (laughing). Corey was a character.
Johnny: Well, that about does it for my questions. I again thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to do this. I have to say you certainly don’t look your age or sound it. You still have a very young spirit about you, and it was an honor to interview you.
Ami: Oh, thank you so much. It was a pleasure talking to you, too.
Johnny: Alright. I’ll keep in touch.
Johnny: That does it for me. I look forward to seeing what you come up with next, and I hope you have a good afternoon.
Ami: You have a wonderful afternoon, too, Johnny, and thank you so much.
Johnny: No problem. Talk to you soon.
Ami: Okay., you got it.
Coming soon to the Flashback Interview will be an interview with Sherri Stoner, the animation icon who has been my biggest influence as a writer. Stay tuned, and thanks as always for reading.