Johnny Caps1980s, 1990s, 2000s, 2010s, American Girls, Conventions, Divatox, Hilary Shepard, Hunk, Liebrary, Lucky Stiff, Peacemaker, Power Rangers, Private Resort, Radioactive Dreams, Shesus, Soup For One, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Tough Guys, Troop Beverly Hills0
As my 80s fandom blossomed in the 00s, I was first exposed to my next interview subject when I saw the movie Tough Guys on VHS. The final film collaboration of Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster, there were many small, but memorable, roles in the movie. Hilary Shepard played Sandy, the manager of a restaurant that Kirk Douglas’ character, Archie Long, briefly worked at before snapping at the customers. I was fascinated by her, and that fascination would grow along with my 80s fandom. Whether it was movies like Hunk and Summer Lovers, or her musical work with the band The American Girls, I came to love Ms. Shepard’s work. The acting and music were just the beginning, though. Hilary has also been a model, an author and a board game creator, among other things. I interviewed her about all of that and more on March 22nd, and I hope you all enjoy getting to know this formidable talent.
Say hello to Hilary Shepard!
Johnny: What were your pop-cultural likes growing up, like favorite movies and music?
Hilary: My favorite movie in the whole world was The Wizard Of Oz. My favorite TV shows were the old Batman series and Bewitched. I always loved magical realism and fantasy, and things like that. I was obsessed with Catwoman, who I loved. Music growing up? I really loved the same music I listen to today, which is stuff like Neil Young, who happens to be my best friend’s boyfriend, which is really weird, you know? I also like The Grateful Dead and The Rolling Stones and Peter Frampton. I still listen to the same music that I listened to as a kid.
Johnny: Alright. What were your high school days like?
Hilary: I had it very rough. In junior high, I was an unattractive kid with glasses, braces and one eyebrow (laughing). I had a really gorgeous sister who was very sweet to me, but nobody could believe we were sisters. It was always like, “Hey, Hilary, where’s your sister?”. She always included me, which was great, but she was a tall, gorgeous blond. I was a weirdo, so I got bullied and picked on. I was really smart, and I was in plays, which was like a nerdy thing to do. I had it pretty rough in junior high. In high school, I got contacts, I got my braces off and I waxed my eyebrows. All of a sudden, I was kind of attractive. I just kept to myself. I did plays. I had boyfriends, and all the mean girls tried to be friends with me, but I was like, “Too late”. Even though it was really nerdy to do plays, I starred in all the school plays, and graduated early. I was only 16 when I graduated high school, because I couldn’t wait to get out of there. I have my 40th high school reunion coming up, and I’m really excited.
Johnny: Alright. You spent some time as a model. Who were your favorite designers to work with, and what were the most outrageous fashions you wore?
Hilary: I was actually Gianni Versace’s first model. He came over to this country, and full disclosure: My dad was the one who brought him over. It was pure nepotism. Gianni couldn’t speak a word of English, and I was his very first model. I walked the runway for him when I was 17, and did a Fall ad campaign and everything, but Gianni had to approve me. He didn’t know I was my dad’s daughter, but he obviously put me up for the job. That was really cool.
Johnny: Definitely. To work with a designer like that just as he was beginning, and then he would go on to become the designer of the 1990s, it must have been amazing.
Hilary: It was incredible. My dad actually discovered him and brought him to the U.S.
Johnny: Cool. As I had initially mentioned to you in my e-mail about the interview, 2017 marks the 35th anniversary of your acting debut, according to the Internet Movie Database, with 1982 seeing you essay roles in the movies Soup For One and Summer Lovers.
Hilary: Oh, yeah. That is true. I got my SAG card. My best friend in high school was also a total weirdo. She ended up going to college…An all-girl college, mostly, but there was one guy who went to school there, and he was kind of a Woody Allen wannabe. He did a movie in New York, and she got me the audition. I flew to New York, and I actually got to shoot in Manhattan. I got my SAG card through Jonathan Kaufer, who has sadly since passed. I had, like, 10 lines in the movie, and it was so exciting to go back to New York City. I think I was going to USC at the time, and then I transferred to Northwestern. The movie was shooting in the streets I grew up on, so I was really excited about that.
Johnny: Cool. My question regarding that was: Were you nervous about your first year as an actress, or did your experience as a model help you prepare for the transition?
Hilary: I was always an actress before I was a model. I starred in my plays. I starred in plays at USC and Northwestern. I was in the Groundlings doing comedy improv. I was much more nervous as a model because I didn’t feel beautiful and I felt I was a faker, whereas as an actress, I was way more confident. I never liked modeling. I lasted two seconds because I would always make a character out of it or a scene in my head. It wasn’t enough for me, and I knew it wasn’t helping the thing I liked, which was imagination. I was much more comfortable being an actress than I was a model.
Johnny: Alright. You mention being in the Groundlings. That’s really been an amazing comedy troupe. I’m actually Facebook friends with several veterans of the group, like Sherri Stoner. I don’t know if you worked with her or not. She wrote for Animaniacs and Tiny Toon Adventures, and was the model for two Disney Princesses.
Hilary: She does sound familiar, but in my particular group, there was Jon Lovitz and Phil Hartman. I went because Pee-wee Herman had a late night show there. Daryl Hannah was, and still is, my best friend. she wasn’t famous yet. We would go and watch his late night show, and I thought, “What theater is this? I want to do this”. I ended up taking classes there, not knowing that the way to get into the Groundlings was they vote you in. The next thing I know, I was at their Sunday night shows, and I got voted in to be a member with Kathy Griffin and Jon Lovitz and Phil Hartman and Cassandra Petersen. They were already in the troupe and I really looked up to them, as well as Mindy Sterling, who I recently saw at a con. She was my teacher. It was the greatest training ever. I love doing comedy improv in everything I’ve done, especially playing Divatox. They let me improvise a lot. I made up most of my lines and the director just let me go for it. That’s when I’m most happy.
Johnny: Alright. One more question about the Groundlings before going into my next questions: What was your favorite sketch to work on as part of the Groundlings? What was the one that stood out?
Hilary: I talked about this with Jon Lovitz. The one favorite sketch I did? Jon Lovitz and I played these two weirdos on a blind date. His name was Pip Lorenzo and he had no upper lip. I played this weird woman named Jackie who was all in white. I looked like a ghost. It was hilarious. I also used to do my mother on the beach, screaming at me. It was kind of word-for-word because I have a very New York Jewish mother with a strong New York accent. That was the one that got the biggest laughs to this day, when I came out in character, shrieking at a young kid on the beach.
Johnny: Alright. Jumping back into movies: In 1985, you played Shirley in Private Resort. You’re the second cast member from that movie that I’ve interviewed, the first being Lisa London, whom I interviewed for RetroJunk in 2011. Both Johnny Depp and Rob Morrow have stated their in-hindsight displeasure with the movie, but I thought it was funny.
Hilary: (Laughing) Well, the funny thing was that Johnny Depp was an unknown. He didn’t know how to drive, so I would pick him up and we would go to the set together. Every time I would change lanes on the freeway, he would hide under the seat. He was scared of the trucks and he hated the freeway. He was the sweetest kid, and he was married. I’m still friends with his ex-wife. She’s a make-up artist. He was brand new. Rob Morrow and I had a lot of scenes together. At the time, everybody was just really happy to have a job. Looking back, it’s a B-movie and it’s pretty stupid, but they were our first lead roles, and we were all thrilled to have the parts.
Johnny: Also in 1985, you had a supporting role in Radioactive Dreams. An interesting fusion of comedy, action and post-apocalyptic films, what’s your favorite memory of working on that project?
Hilary: I loved doing that movie. We got flown to Hawaii, and they have to fly you first-class, so I flew first-class to Hawaii. As a starving actress, it was really cool. I met one of my best friends, Michelle Little, who starred in the movie. We met in the first-class lounge. We got on the plane, and Sissy Spacek was sitting right in front. It was like, “This is a sign! Our first big movie, and Sissy Spacek is sitting in front of us”. I got to shoot on top of a volcano. I had to lie to get the part. i was told “you have to ride a motorcycle”, which I did not, but as an actor, you say, “Yes, I can do everything”. I thought, “I’ll have time to learn how to ride a motorcycle”, but they literally flew me to Hawaii the next day, and I was like, “Uh oh”. I was playing the head of a biker gang. They got us to the top of a volcano and it was very hard. There were tons of motorcycles. There were people there who did stunts, but they were like, “We want you to do your own stunts if you can”. I was like, “Yeah, sure. I can do it”. I whispered to the girl who played my sidekick, “I don’t know how to ride a motorcycle”. She said, “I’ll show you”, so she gets on, starts the motorcycle, falls off and breaks her arm. The director was like, “That’s it. No more actresses on bikes. We just had an accident”. I said, “Damn, I really wanted to ride my own bike”, but thank God she saved me. That poor girl got a broken arm, and they ended up giving her a bigger part so she wouldn’t sue them.
Johnny: That’s a movie I really hope gets released on DVD or Blu-Ray soon.
Hilary: It’s a cool movie. It was very interesting. The interesting thing is that John Stockwell played a character I had a huge fight with. I ended up doing my own stunts. I was jumping on top of a car and doing a whole fight on a windshield. My agent got very mad at me. She said you’re not supposed to be doing your own stunts, but I was trying to be a badass. It was really fun. John kept asking the director, Albert Pyun, a lot of questions, and John ended up being a director and shooting a movie in Hawaii called Blue Crush.
Johnny: Oh, yeah. I know that one. Even though Radioactive Dreams has yet to come out on DVD, another movie you starred in is going to coming out for the first time on American DVD, and that’s my next question. In 1986, you played Sandy in Tough Guys…
Johnny: Sharing a memorable sequence with Kirk Douglas. In addition to that, you wrote and performed the song “Androgynous” for your band The American Girls, whom I’ll be asking about soon, for the movie’s soundtrack. What drew you to Tough Guys?
Hilary: By the way, I’ve never gotten paid for that song, and I’ve always wondered what happened to that. Now that it’s coming out on DVD, I’d better look into it. Tough Guys? I was friends with an actress who tried out for the lead part in Tough Guys. We would give each other leads. She would be like, “Oh, I just tried out for this movie”. I’d call my agent and go, “I want to try out for this movie”. I went in and read for the lead, and they said, “No, we don’t think you’re right for the lead, but there’s another part you could be right as”. They were about to give me the part, and then my agent called and said the director just went out to dinner and saw this very butch lesbian lady who owned the restaurant. They wanted me to play the character as a lesbian. They said, “Will you cut all your hair off and have a butch haircut?”. I said, “It’s only two scenes and I’m on tour with my band right now. I don’t really want to cut my hair, but could I go back and show them how I could have short hair without cutting it?”. They said, “No, that’s alright. They want you to cut your hair”. I said, “No! I’m going back”. My dad, who was always my biggest fan, gave me the whole Rocky story about how Stallone got to star in his own movie because he wouldn’t give up the script, and he said, “March into that studio and get your hair done”. I got my hair done in these crazy spikes, and I knocked down the director’s door and burst into his office. I said, “Look, I can have short hair and I don’t have to cut it”. He was so impressed with me that he gave me the part. I was on tour with my band, and I had to fly back to do it. I was so excited to work with Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas because they were huge stars, only Kirk Douglas was way shorter than me and had to stand on an apple box. He didn’t mind at all, and since then, I’ve been with many actors shorter than me. They had to stand on apple boxes until recently. An actor, who I will not name, asked me to take my heels off, and be barefoot in every scene so he could look taller.
Johnny: Alright. We now come to the American Girls. I had read that your band was originally going to be the basis for a movie. Can you recall what the plot was going to be, and do you still have a copy of the script?
Hilary: The movie, interestingly enough, was written by Susanna Hoffs’ mother, because our manager Miles also managed the Bangles. It was about an all-female group in prison. We form a rock-and-roll band in prison and get really famous and burst out of prison. It never went anywhere. We got a movie deal before we got a record deal. I don’t know what happened, but we never made the movie. It was Miles Copeland’s idea to put a band together. He had the Go-Gos and he had the Bangles. They were always getting offered all these Monkees-type shows, and they couldn’t act. His idea was to find actresses who could sing and play instruments, and that’s how he found us. I randomly met him at a dinner party. He met me and Daryl Hannah. Daryl was doing Splash, so she was in the band for a second, but she got famous and couldn’t do it. He decided to go ahead with the band and hire other people, and that’s how that whole thing ended up coming along. We ended up being a real band, and touring, and having a great time not doing any acting jobs at all.
Johnny: I see. What has music provided for you that acting hasn’t?
Hilary: I just read an article about this because the drummer in my band is also like me, and she makes cakes. I write books. I design board games. I knit. I do a lot of things and play a lot of instruments. I’m just a person who’s creative in a lot of ways, and I need to be constantly doing something and making something. Even though I’m semi-retired, I play music almost every night. I write songs still. I knit. I create things. I invent things. I have a perfume line. There’s a lot of creative people who are like me. At the time, it was really frowned upon, and you were looked upon like, “What are you, an actress or a musician?”. I was constantly having to defend myself. There was Madonna, who did one movie and was a terrible actress. That sort of sunk it for all of us, at that time, who wanted to do both. Even now, when I look at something like Portlandia, where they’re comedians who are musicians and get to do both, I tried to do that my whole career, and it was very, very difficult. I was always sort of portrayed as a dilettante. “What are you? An actress? An artist?”. I’m everything. Now everybody does that. Now even Johnny Depp has a band. People do it all the time, but back then, it really was frowned upon.
Johnny: That’s very disappointing, because you are a tremendous, phenomenal, versatile talent.
Hilary: Thank you. (Laughing)
Johnny: No problem. Last year, I saw on your Facebook fan page pictures of you and several of your American Girls bandmates having a meal together. Are there any plans for crowdfunding a new album, or was the meal just a reunion of old friends?
Hilary: It was kind of both. We would like to do another album. We’ve been approached about it. We weren’t a big success. We had one hit in Italy, and I think one in Japan. It was a difficult time for women musicians where people didn’t realize we played our own instruments. They’d look behind the curtain to see who was really playing, but it was us. I co-wrote all the songs with the drummer mostly, and we got together to speak. We love to write together, but I moved outside of Los Angeles, and I live pretty far out, so it makes it difficult to casually get together with people. I’m now writing a book with Daryl Hannah, and she lives in Colorado while I live in a small beach town outside L.A. I’m traveling a lot for that, so I can really only work on one project at a time, especially because I put myself in an environment where it’s not Los Angeles and it’s harder for me to get together and collaborate with people.
Johnny: I see. Returning to acting in 1987, you played the wonderfully named Alexis Cash in Hunk, your second collaboration with Crown International Pictures. What did you like best about working for Crown?
Hilary: They were a great company. They were a husband and wife, Milton and Marilyn Jacobs. I loved that they were a family-run business. That movie ended up being very fortuitous for me. While I was acting in this B-movie, Deborah Shelton was married to a man named Shuki Levy, who was this composer who didn’t speak any English. He came to the set and watched me, and said to himself, “One day, I’m going to work with that girl”. He ended up owning the Power Rangers with Saban, and when it came time to cast the evil queen, he remembered me and had me in for the part, and ended up casting me in that part. You never know, as an actor, who’s going to remember you. My friend Daryl Hannah got Kill Bill because Quentin Tarantino was up one night and saw her in some crappy TV movie. He remembered her and went, “Oh my God, she’d be great in this film”. As an actor, they say there are no small parts. I took every part that came my way, because I knew how hard it was to get work. I was lucky that Crown liked me and kept hiring me. Also, Tough Guys. I went on to do Troop Beverly Hills and write the song “Cookie Time” for the same director. Recently, I got together with Jeff Kanew, the director of both those films, because they did a musical version of Troop Beverly Hills. We went to see it, and people went crazy when they met me. They couldn’t believe the Evil Queen had written the song “Cookie Time”. The song was very memorable. It was so much fun to go with my daughters to see them perform the song they didn’t even know I wrote.
Johnny: That definitely was something. I’ll be asking about Troop Beverly Hills in a moment, but first: In 1988, you played Cissy in Lucky Stiff, directed by the much-missed Anthony Perkins and staring the also much-missed Joe Alaskey. What was it like to work with those two talents?
Hilary: They were very interesting. Anthony Perkins was a very interesting guy. He gave me strange direction that I actually understood. He spoke in otherworldly terms. I had a very small part. One thing I loved that Anthony Perkins did: I was hysterically sobbing in one scene. Anthony said, “Wipe your tears away. Now I’m going to shoot you”, and that was much more effective than the hysterical crying on screen. It was the aftermath of the sobs, and the devastation on my face. He taught me a lot. I’ve since met his children, who are incredibly talented and charismatic musicians. He left some great kids on this planet. That was fun to work with him.
Johnny: Alright. Returning to Troop Beverly Hills, the movie was a critical and box-office disappointment in 1989…
Hilary: Like everything. Every movie I made was critically disappointing, and then later becomes a huge hit. It’s hilarious.
Johnny: Well, I enjoyed it, but my question is: It’s become a cult classic in the years since its’ release…
Hilary: Kim Kardashian had her baby shower Troop Beverly Hills-themed, and on their anniversary, they stayed home and watched that movie, which is hilarious to me. I wish Kanye West would loop “Cookie Time” into one of his songs, so I could make a fortune.
Johnny: (Laughing) So my question is about that: What do you think has given Troop Beverly Hills such staying power?
Hilary: It was actually a really great, funny movie. It was hilarious. I don’t know why it didn’t get its’ due at the time. I mean, it had over-the-top 80s outfits, and Shelley Long is hilarious. The little girl, Jenny Lewis, grew up to be a famous rock-and-roll star, and she say it’s the bane of her existence, because every time she walks out on stage, a fan will scream, “Sing ‘Cookie Time’!”. I think, back then, a lot of movies got released, and if they didn’t make it big the first weekend, they would pull them. It’s different now. Things premiere on TV. I think some of these movies I made, in retrospect, didn’t get their due because they didn’t have enough marketing dollars behind them. Who knows? I think Fries Entertainment went bankrupt, actually, and didn’t have the money to push it, but it was a really good movie, and a lot of people love that movie.
Johnny: It was definitely enjoyable. I mean, I think that entire decade was underrated in terms of cinema.
Johnny: Jumping from the 80s, we go into the 90s…To be specific, 1990, where you played Dori Caisson in Peacemaker. A memorable project about two aliens, each one proclaiming that he’s good and the other is bad, if there really is intelligent life in other parts of the solar system, and they came to Earth, how would you really react?
Hilary: Well, I actually had an experience once. I was doing a movie called Avalanche in Alaska. I was there for months at a time. To see a movie or do anything, we had to drive from a little town called Palmer, Alaska, into Anchorage. It was a two-hour drive. I was coming home with another guy from the movie, and we saw these crazy, flashing lights, grays and purples and blues. I thought it was aliens, so I pulled over to the side of the road, and I was waving them down. :Over here, over here! Come get me!”. I then realized it was the Northern lights, so I know how I’d react. I was really excited when I thought it was aliens.
Johnny: Alright. We now come to probably your most famous role of the 90s, the Power Rangers villain known as Divatox. The character is such a part of you that your Facebook fan page is called Hilary Shepard Divatox. What has made her such a favorite character of yours’?
Hilary: She is my favorite part in the world. Like I said, I grew up loving Catwoman. I loved the Wicked Witch from The Wizard Of Oz, although I was scared of her. I played the Red Queen in a USC production. I really gravitate to crazy characters, and maybe it’s because of real life. Because I’m tall and dark and have that Valkyrie look, I got cast like that a lot. The day I got that part, I found out I was pregnant. I really thought that was going to be a hindrance, because I had a little, tiny corset. By the time the movie stopped shooting, I was bursting out of the corset, but they let me improvise. I got to devise the character from the very beginning, although the costume was already created and I wasn’t too thrilled about wearing a mask. They actually let me go really over the top. I would go to the prop guy and say “Make me a compact. Make me a magazine. I want her to be very vain”. They let me add everything I wanted to do. They let me make up any lines I wanted to say. They just let me really have a huge input into the character, so it was so much fun. Shuki Levy came on as the second director. There was another director before. He and I had an incredible chemistry. He would think of it, and I was already going to do it. He was one of my favorite directors to work with because we had a really great synergy. The sets were so beautiful. I got to shoot in the old Batman cave from the movie. It was all built, and everything was there for you. As an actor, I love treasure chests and pirates. I got to play that. I got to have a huge treasure chest full of coins, and all these elaborate sets. It was so much fun. It was such a huge production, and I loved every minute of it, even though I started throwing up in my trailer because I was pregnant.
Johnny: Definitely an amazing experience. Have you ever been considered to make a legacy cameo in recent seasons of Power Rangers?
Hilary: No, they’ve never contacted me ever about anything. I didn’t really know I had fans or that anybody knew who I was. My publicist was the one who suggested I Tweet and talk to my fans at Comic-Cons. Even though I was in a Star Trek series, I thought “Nobody’s going to know who I am. I’ll just sit there like an idiot”. She was like, “You’d be surprised”, and that’s how I found out that I had this big following, because I didn’t think anybody remembered who I was.
Johnny: I see. Well, it’s good to know that you’ve made an impact. Speaking of Power Rangers, by the time this interview is published, a new Power Rangers movie will be in theaters. It looks like it will be darker than the 90s incarnations were, and this is something of a prevailing theme in 21st century pop culture: The idea that movies and TV shows have to be darker and edgier to reflect modern times. In reality, the 20th century wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. In your opinion, why do so many reboots and remakes trend to the darker side?
Hilary: I haven’t seen it. I haven’t even seen the original Power Rangers movie. I have two girls, and they didn’t watch the Power Rangers, even when I was on it, so I don’t know enough about it. I only know mine was campy. I liked to perform like it was the Batman TV show that was on, and the movies were dark, and I didn’t like them. I like the weird, campy, funny stuff. For my sensibilities, that’s what I like, but I don’t know what the fans like. Maybe the fans like it darker and harder-edged. Maybe that’s what people need now. Maybe that’s what the younger kids will like. I have no idea. I’m sure the studios have studied what’s going to make the most money and have the most impact, and often they’re wrong. For me, my own tastes? I would go for the fun. I like humor and things off-script. I like less dark things. That’s my own taste.
Johnny: Perfectly understandable. Jumping from one franchise to another, you made several appearances on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Which character did you prefer playing, Hoya or Lauren?
Hilary: Oh, God, Lauren. I mean, Hoya was a one-shot. It was 8 hours of make-up. It was very, very hard. I couldn’t hear or see or move my mouth. Underneath all that, I could barely see. I went on set and was told, “We only have one take. You’re going to get killed and we’re going to blow your console up, so you only have one take to do this”. It was a 4-page monologue, and it was in a different language. I started the scene, and the director yelled cut. He said, “What are you doing? What are you saying?”. I was saying the script, and they said, “Oh no! They didn’t send you the new script?”. I said, “No, this is what they sent me”. They said, “Our bad. Really sorry, but you have 5 minutes to look over this new script because we’ve got to shoot now”. It was very stressful. I could barely move my mouth. Later, I went back, luckily, for my ADR. Sometimes, they use other actors for a different voice. They used me, and I thought I would never hear from them again, because I was sweating under that make-up. It was one of the biggest pressures I ever had as an actor because everyone’s waiting for you. They’re like, “Sorry, we only have 5 minutes”, and I need to memorize 4 pages in a different language and it has to be exactly word for word. “We don’t want to let anyone improvise”. I was like, “Oh, my God”, but I did it, and I thought, “I’ll never hear from them again”. When they asked me to audition for another part, they said, “Well, no one will know it’s you”. I thought they made a mistake. They said, “No. You won’t have any make-up on”. I didn’t think I was going to get it at all. I did a take on it where I made her like a female Hannibal Lecter, and I made her like a kitty cat in my mind. They loved my take on it, and I ended up getting this part. I was so thrilled. It was such a big hit that they had me back for another, and was going to keep coming, but then the show got cancelled. I was very proud of that. It wasn’t comedy. It was a whole different genre for me and it was much more controlled, and I loved it. I actually was shooting that while I was shooting Power Rangers, so I went back and forth from campy craziness. I also had a new baby. The Power Rangers producers kept calling me to come back. That’s why they had to have Carol Hoyt do my part, because I was nine months pregnant when they started shooting the series. They said, “Will you come back after you have the baby?”. I said, “I don’t know”. They kept calling me, and I said, “Alright. I’ll come back, but I’m also doing Star Trek”. They said, “We’ll shoot around you”, so I was shooting two shows and had a new baby at the same time. It was pretty crazy.
Johnny: I see. Will you be participating in the upcoming Deep Space Nine documentary What We Left Behind?
Hilary: No. I didn’t even know there was one. I was in the book they did. They interviewed me and I got a whole chapter in the book, but I didn’t know they were doing a documentary. No one has contacted me, but I’d be happy to do it if they wanted to contact me.
Johnny: Alright. You and your longtime friend Daryl Hannah, whom I look up to as a role model as both she and I are on the autistic spectrum, created several board games. What led you to that field?
Hilary: Well, Daryl is a very creative soul as well. She can do everything. She’s an incredible artist, architect, designer. She can draw beautifully. She plays every instrument. She’s one of those people, too, who is multi-talented. She and I loved to have board game nights, so we ended up just making up our own games, and that’s how that happened from our love of games. We’re writing a book together called Wild Love that’s coming out on Penguin.
Johnny: Of the three games you created together, Love It Or Hate It, Liebrary and Famous Last Words, which one was your favorite?
Hilary: Liebrary is our favorite. It’s still being sold on Amazon, but not by us. The company that bought it from us went bankrupt, and now someone’s bought their back stock and is selling it on Amazon, and we get no money from it. We’ve gone to another game company to try and sell it to them, and they told us that they were going to buy it, but they didn’t. Now we’re going to try and go out to another game company. Someone’s illegally selling our game right now, but that’s our favorite game by far.
Johnny: Alright. Moving into your writing, your novel Shesus is a very powerful story that touched on some very personal subjects from your life. Were you nervous about revisiting these subjects, even in a fictional context, or was it a cathartic experience?
Hilary: I was actually going through cancer when I wrote it. I was in bed a lot and had a lot of operations. I mean, even talking about it makes me sad because my sister, my father, and my mother all had cancer at the same time when I was writing the book. My dad and my sister ended up dying, but my mom is alive. It was based on a series of dreams I had when I was little, and also about what was going on in my life. It was interesting to see it was published in 2013, which was about four years ago, and so much has come to pass, that I’ve already predicted for the future, that it kind of freaked me out. I self-published the book when I was in bed. I didn’t even shop it to a publisher, but I think when my new book with Daryl comes out, I’m thinking I’ll reshop it and get it out on a new print so it can have a wider distribution. I get so many incredible letters from people, and so many kids love the book and want more, so I’m going to revisit that after I finish this new book.
Johnny: Alright. So, having survived a battle with cancer, what did defeating that demon mean for you?
Hilary: I’ve always known that I was a strong person. I wanted to be an actress since I was a little girl, and everybody told me I was crazy. Nobody in my family knew an actor, let alone how to become one, but I just knew what I wanted to do with my life. I’ve always gone for it, I’ve always defied convention and I never wanted a regular job. I followed my dream. If I wanted to be in a band, everybody told me, “You’re crazy. Why are you doing that? You’re already in the Groundlings”. I would just do it. I just ran towards my belief in myself, and realized that, if anybody’s going through any health struggles, you have to be your own advocate. A lot of times, you walk into a doctor’s office and say, “Heal me”. Instead, I got incredibly informed, and became my own health advocate, and kept looking. I actually, at one point, took all my tissues out of a hospital because I didn’t like how they were treating me, and I roamed all around Los Angeles, looking for another doctor to help me. I think people are shocked if you go to a doctor and they don’t know what to do, but I really realized they didn’t know what to do to help me. I had to do it myself, and I did it.
Johnny: That’s fantastic. I’m a pretty easy-going guy, but cancer is one of the few things that pisses me off. I mean, I lost my own mother to it, albeit multiple myeloma. Every time I interview someone who’s dealt with it, I always admire them for having defeated it. It really is a demon. I’ve interviewed people like Jewel Shepard and Ginger Lynn and Max Wasa, all of whom have dealt with cancer in various forms and defeated it, and I admire them for doing so. Cancer just really angers me.
Hilary: Yeah. It’s pretty incredible that it’s so prevalent. Daryl and I were in a meeting the other day with some very young people. There were a lot of guys, and somehow the cancer subject came up, and 10 out of the 12 people had had cancer. It’s everywhere. It affects everybody, and we’re poisoning ourselves, from the air to what we eat to our water. We’ve completely poisoned ourselves. It’s terrible. We don’t even know what to do about it.
Johnny: It’s crazy. Moving away from that, and going to a lighter subject, like quite a few of my previous interview subjects, you’ve collaborated with David DeCoteau on several of his works. What do you think makes him such an appealing director?
Hilary: Aaah, I love him. David DeCoteau is the sweetest guy. He remembers actors like me who haven’t worked in a while. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be working again. I mean, I don’t have an agent. I don’t go on auditions. I’m not going to go out to L.A and try to get a part. He literally contacted me. I had lunch with him, and he said, “Honey, you’re in pristine condition. We have to write you a part”. He asked me what kind of a part I want to play, and he wrote the 666: Teen Warlock part, a great witch part, and then he hired me again two other times. A Husband For Christmas came out last Christmas on the Ion Network and did really good. Vivica A. Fox is adorable. I loved working with her on the movie. It was really funny. He enriched my part. He’s just very sweet and he loves actors. He loves actors who have had their day in the sun, and he remembers us and gives us parts. I love him. He’s very fun to work with.
Johnny: Definitely. He’s a director I like as well, because of how often he works with veteran talents. That appeals to me, being as the autism spectrum disorder I have was previously classified as Asperger’s Syndrome. One of the aspects of that is intense focus on a particular subject, so for me, my subject is the 1980s.
Hilary: Oh, well there you go. (Laughing)
Johnny: That’s one of the main focuses of my interviews. Many of my subjects, yourself included, did great work in the 80s, and I’m always interested in learning more about the decade from the talents who made it my favorite.
Hilary: Oh, cool.
Johnny: Enough about me. Let’s go back to you. Because of your solid fantasy credentials, you’re a frequent presence at conventions, sometimes even showing up in your Divatox costume. What’s the most rewarding part of attending conventions?
Hilary: The best part is meeting fans. When you’re an actor, you don’t get the feedback. You just do a movie or a TV show, and you never hear about it again. Having people come up and say that I affected their childhood…That they felt lonely, so they’d sit home and watch me…That I was their crush, or, “I was gay, and you were my spirit animal. I was afraid to come out of the closet, but you were my favorite drag queen character”. It’s so nice that I affected people’s childhoods. I remember that the people I was a fan of when I was a kid. They were the actors I’d love to meet. When you’re growing up, you really look up to actors, so it’s so nice to meet people that I’ve had an impact on. To have an impact on anyone’s life makes me really happy.
Johnny: Definitely. This is a question I haven’t asked an interview subject in a while, but here it goes: I think you looked great in the 80s, and you still do so now, but a lot of people look back on that decade’s fashions and hairstyles with a sense of mockery and shame. Why do you think that is?
Hilary: It’s just hilarious when you look back on it. I mean, I just put something from my Golden Girls appearance on Facebook. I was wearing bright pink Spandex. I had giant, curly hair. It’s just funny to look back on anything that was the style. I’ve always dressed the same in my real life, a kind of rock-and-roll hippie. I wear a lot of the same clothes I had in high school, and I still gravitate to the same peace sign belt and bell bottoms. It’s a little touch of rock-and-roll, but a lot of times as a character, they dress you up in the craziest outfits. It’s funny to look back on it.
Johnny: Okay. What would you say has been the biggest change in the entertainment industry between 1982 and 2017?
Hilary: It’s totally different. When I was doing TV all the time, from Family Ties to Golden Girls, they were really considered B acting parts. When I went from the Power Rangers movie to the series, I was told not to do that, you know? “You don’t do TV once you’ve been in a big movie”. Now most actors love to do television. Television is better than most movies that come out, and it’s considered a great genre to do, whereas in my time, it was B actors.
Johnny: I see. Now I come to my final question. I end every interview with it, and it’s this: If you could go back to your youth with the knowledge that you have now, would you do anything differently?
Hilary: Oh, God. Yes. I didn’t think that I was talented or beautiful or had any value. I did believe in myself, but I was easily disappointed. I was always being told no and I would question myself. I would tell that girl not to let anything get to her, not to get so discouraged because I was going to get some big Yeses, not to take it to heart, not to let men decide my self-worth, which I did a lot, whether a guy liked me or not, or a producer for the part. It would really affect when you wouldn’t get a part. It was depressing because you’d get told no 10 times before you were told yes. I wouldn’t take it to heart as much.
Johnny: Alright. Well, that about does it for my questions. I thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to speak to me. I’ve been wanting to do this interview for almost two years, ever since I first purchased your autograph.
Hilary: I thank you for your persistence, and I’m sorry that it took so long. I get so many interview requests, and it’s so hard to go through them all, so I thank you for keeping persistent.
Johnny: You really are a tremendous talent. The depth and breadth of all you’ve done is really something amazing, and I thank you for sharing your stories with me.
Hilary: Sure. Thank you very much. Bye.
I would again like to thank Hilary Shepard for taking the time to speak to me, and I hope you all enjoyed reading this interview.
Coming soon to the Flashback Interview: I’ll be speaking with Oscar-winning filmmaker and montage master Chuck Workman, actress and voice-over talent Holly Fields, and actress and author Shari Shattuck. Stay tuned, and thanks for your support.