I first interviewed Kathleen Wilhoite via e-mail for the website RetroJunk in 2011. I was making my way closer to normalcy, but I still had some distance to go. Thankfully, Kathleen’s work in movies like Private School, Witchboard and Murphy’s Law helped get me through those times. As I’ve matured, I’ve made efforts to return to previous interview subjects for new takes and new stories, and so it is with Kathleen Wilhoite. I spoke to her on Monday, September 9th, and I hope you all enjoy getting to know about this fantastic talent.
Say hello to Kathleen Wilhoite!
Johnny: Hi, Kathleen. Johnny Caps here.
Kathleen: Hi, Johnny. How are ya?
Johnny: I’m doing good. Thank you for taking the time to do this interview with me.
Johnny: It’s an honor to talk to you again. The last time we did an interview was via e-mail for RetroJunk, so it’s good to talk to you again, this time on the phone. I’m going to be revisiting some topics we discussed in our e-mail interview, and I’ll be talking about some new ones as well, so I have my questions ready to go, starting with this: According to your IMDB page, you were the youngest member of the Santa Barbara Songwriters’ Guild. When you perform now, do you ever return to the songs you wrote in your teen years?
Kathleen: Ha. Oh, the answer is no (laughing). I’ve grown as a songwriter, and I don’t perform that much anymore. The answer is no, I don’t.
Johnny: No, it’s okay. Another early musical endeavor of yours’ was the musical group The Boogie Woogie Bugle Girls. What are your favorite memories of participating in that?
Kathleen: We were four best friends, you know. We grew up together, so I have a ton of memories. I guess the best memory is that we went to Kenny Loggins’ house and we sung him some of our Christmas carols. That was a really big thrill. He was very appreciative, and we were delighted. You know, back in the day, this would’ve been the late 70s, we were so starstruck and delighted. That was a big highlight. We sang at all the school talent shows. We were very serious about it. When we were on Girl Scout trips in grammar school, we sang all the time. It was very fun.
Johnny: Cool. To go into film, you made your film debut as Betsy in Private School. We had discussed that movie in our first interview back in 2011, but there was one question I don’t recall asking: Where do you suppose Betsy would be in 2019?
Kathleen: Betsy, like the character I played in Private School?
Kathleen: That’s the name of the character I played, not Betsy Russell, who played another character in there, so where would my character be (laughing)? From 1982, where would she be now? Let’s see. She went to a private school. She was a tomboy. I can’t say that she would be like me because she wasn’t passionate about performing arts. I suppose she would be married, because that whole movie was about sex, so I guess she would be married to a funny guy (laughing). I have no idea.
Johnny: Alright. Another movie we had discussed in our original interview was Murphy’s Law, where you played Arabella McGee, the street punk with an unusual vocabulary insult-wise. Did you ever go to the producers and director J. Lee Thompson and ask about using some more conventional profanities?
Kathleen: Originally the script was written with conventional profanities, and then they backed off of that. I was in a Method acting school at the time, and I really, really had a hard time with that script, but I was in no position to complain or demand anything. The truth is I was just happy to hit my mark and memorize the lines that they gave me. I wasn’t in a position to call any shots at all. I had very few credits on my resume at the time, and Charles Bronson liked the script as it was and thought it was funny, so I did it verbatim.
Johnny: Yeah, those were definitely some colorful insults.
Kathleen: (Laughing) Yeah, it was ridiculous, but I had a great time doing that movie, and working with Charles Bronson was a thrill. He was a tremendous actor.
Johnny: Definitely. As I mentioned in our first interview, one of my favorite roles of yours’ was Zarabeth in Witchboard. Has anybody ever mailed you Ouija boards to autograph?
Kathleen: No (laughing). I worked for two weeks of my life on that film, and it’s funny. That’s an example of how movies go on forever. I mean, it was two weeks of my life in the early 80s, so it’s kind of funny that people have responded to the movie like that. I was surprised, but that was a great time. It was another good time. Nobody on that set was older than 30 when we shot it. It was all young people. That’s my memory of filming.
Johnny: Some have said Zarabeth’s look was inspired by the late, great Prince. Would you say there was some truth to that?
Kathleen: There was a brilliant costumer who worked on that, and a brilliant special effects guy who, for fun, used to make busts of heads of people that he just created out of his brain. Oftentimes, he said, he would go out and see the faces that he created out in the world of real people. They had a super-talented special effects guy, and a super-talented costumer and seamstress. She was faster than anyone I had ever seen, and truly passionate about sewing. She had sewed little tchochkes like a tiny doll’s arm and everything on the fringe of that jacket. There was so much detail on that jacket. They turned comic strips into fabric, very specific to their idea of what the character would be into, and sewed it like a quilt onto the main jacket. It was pretty incredible, the care the special effects department and the seamstress put into that. I had no idea what their names are, but I just remember being wildly impressed with their quality.
Johnny: They definitely were impressive. I definitely wish your character had survived. I just loved her line about how “you need to keep your psychic humor”. God knows we need to do that in these times.
Johnny: To move to a different tack, you voiced the comic strip character Cathy in several specials in the late 80s. What are your favorite memories of those specials?
Kathleen: I thought it was exciting to meet Cathy Guisewite. That was fun. I worked with Rob Paulsen. He was really nice. I liked working with him, and he was funny. It was exciting that Cathy won an Emmy for it. I don’t really remember much about that one (laughing). I was young. That’s all I’ve got for you. Sorry.
Johnny: That’s okay. We’ll go to my next question. You played Carrie in Road House, which celebrates its’ 30th anniversary this year. Shout! Factory was not able to find the deleted scenes, which featured more of your work, but have you ever come across them yourself?
Kathleen: I don’t really like to watch the things that I’ve been in. I went to a screening of Road House this past year for the 30th anniversary with the American Cinematheque. They had a question-and-answer period either before or after the film, and it was so fun to see a lot of the cast members. Kelly Lynch is so nice and sweet and smart and funny. It was great to see everybody, and the audience response was incredible. They laughed and responded to the film like it was a farce, and I think that’s what it was really intended to be. I don’t remember seeing it in its’ initial run. Again, I’m not a fan of watching the finished project as far as acting is concerned. I’m not the best judge of myself and my work when I see myself on screen. I just get comfortable and savor the moment after shooting something, but I did watch the film and it cracked me up to see how everyone was responding, and how much fun it was to be so silly. That was the temper of the audience. It was pretty delightful, actually. As opposed to seeing a film and thinking it’s terrible, these people just enjoyed the campiness of it. It was camp, a lot campier than I thought.
Johnny: Yeah, I can see that. The late Roger Ebert said in his review of the movie, “This is not a good movie. But viewed in the right frame of mind, it is not a boring one, either.” I think everybody has gotten into that frame of mind, and I think that’s why they enjoy it.
Kathleen: Yeah. That’s great. It was silly, but it was a lot of fun to make. I really had a blast.
Johnny: Definitely. To jump into the 90s, you played the character of Gwen Morton on Twin Peaks. What was it like to be part of such an important series?
Kathleen: I think I worked about one week on that show, and during that week, I worked two days. It was in a period of my personal life that I call The Dark Ages, where I was in a very self-destructive head space at the time, so my memory of working on Twin Peaks is very shoddy. I don’t remember much. I remember that they blacked out all the lines so that nobody could decipher who killed Laura Palmer. I remember Kimmy Robertson. She’s very nice to me.
Kathleen: She was very nice. I liked her. I did a Twin Peaks Festival, and really had no business being there because I don’t remember anything about it (laughing). I really don’t, outside of the fact that they blacked out all the lines. I just didn’t know what I was involved in, much to my regret. Many of the things in my life I look back on and think, “Wow, I had no idea how lucky I was to be where I was”. At the time, I didn’t see that. I guess I was pretty self-involved, and in retrospect, I think, “Wow, you were part of a really real thing. David Lynch was so remarkable”. I had no idea (laughing). I just showed up for work.
Johnny: Alright. Well, speaking of the fantastic, you played Katie Rogers in the movie Fire In The Sky. As I often ask talents who were involved in movies with elements of the fantastic, do you believe in UFOs and aliens?
Kathleen: No, I don’t. I guess I believe there’s a possibility that, on the other side of the sun, there’s the possibility of life that exists, but I certainly don’t spend any energy or time thinking about it. I have friends who completely believe in that, aliens and Chemtrails and just that there. I wouldn’t say I disbelieve in it. I’d say that anything’s possible, but I don’t track any of that stuff. I think that with Fire In The Sky, the story is very compelling for sure. I wouldn’t say that that guy’s insane or anything. I mean, who knows? Maybe? I don’t know. I guess I shouldn’t say I don’t believe in aliens. It’s just not a passion of mine.
Johnny: Alright. To jump back to TV, you played Rosalie Hendrickson in the final season of L.A Law. What was the most memorable part of working on that series?
Kathleen: Hanging out with Larry Drake, who played Benny. He was very funny, and he chewed a lot of nicotine pills. I remember that he wore sort of a canister around his neck and chewed nicotine pills. He was really nice and funny and sweet, and so I hung out with him a lot. Michele Greene I went to college with, and she was my friend, but I don’t think I had any scenes with her, although we had that overlap. She’s a nice, sweet person. Bochco was a great artist, a brilliant mind, so it was fun to work with him, and the scripts were good. They were sensitive. I can’t remember who directed my episodes, but they were sensitive and respectful of the acting process. Corbin Bernsen is a good dude. I liked that guy a lot, and I see him around sometimes. What else can I tell you about that? I remember auditioning for that, and really trying to be specific with the character. I parked really far away from the actual place of the audition, so I was practicing the character’s walk across the lot at 20th Century Fox. I saw an old boyfriend of mine (laughing), who was like, “What’s wrong with your leg?”. “Oh, I’m just practicing my character for an audition”. (Laughing) That’s what I remember about that.
Johnny: Okay. One of your roles that stood out the most for me was your voice work as the title character on Pepper Ann. In an era where Disney revisits their previous work quite often, if they were to revive Pepper Ann for the Disney+ streaming service, would you come back to the show, and would you try and get in the writer’s room for it?
Kathleen: Oh, that’s interesting. Of course I would do that show. It was a great gig for me. I loved doing that show. I think the writing of that show was incredible. Nahnatchka Khan was one of the writers with Sue Rose, who created it. I think she was a bit of a genius. I think that show was fantastic, some of the funniest stuff I’ve done. I would do anything for that show. It was great for me. It was great fun. I don’t know how you get from actress into the writer’s room. I wouldn’t presume to think I could ever write anything as good as Sue and Nahnatchka Khan did. It would be a thrill to be in the writer’s room, but I could never think that I could do that. They were really quite brilliant.
Johnny: They definitely were. As I had asked Kimmy when I interviewed her earlier this year, in several episodes of the show, you worked alongside the late Luke Perry, who voiced the character of Stewart Walldinger. What are your favorite memories of working alongside him?
Kathleen: Wow, I don’t have a memory at all. I didn’t even know he was in it. I know Luke Perry because I did an episode of Criminal Minds where he played a David Koresh-like character and I played the mother of a girl who got blown up. I worked with him on that. He was very sweet and lovely, and that’s a huge loss, you know? I used to live next door to Jason Priestly, and he was on 90210. I didn’t know Luke was on Pepper Ann. He was a sweet dude. That was a big loss. I’m sorry. He was also in my community. He had kids that were close to the age of my kids, so I saw him at some of the school tours. He was always nice and kind. What a loss. What a huge, huge sad loss.
Johnny: Yeah. It was definitely sad when he passed. He was just one of the real nice guys in Hollywood, and I just regret that I never had the chance to interview him. On a lighter note, songs from your album Pitch Like A Girl helped provide the soundtrack for the movie Valerie Flake. How did you react when you were approached about that?
Kathleen: I was flattered beyond belief because my friend, John Putch, directed that movie, and my friend, Susan Traylor, starred in the movie. Susan told me she had been listening to my record, and suggested that John consider using some of my music from the record in the film. He liked it and used it, and I was so flattered. There’s nothing like the respect of your peers to put a real bounce in your step, you know?
Johnny: Those were fantastic songs, and you are a great songwriter.
Kathleen: Thank you.
Johnny: No problem. To jump into the 00s, in 2005 you played Jessica in Steve Balderson’s film Firecracker, which also featured two more of my former interview subjects, Jane Wiedlin and Pleasant Gehman. Pleasant speaks highly of Steve Balderson, so what was it like to work with him?
Kathleen: I love Steve Balderson. He’s my friend. I would work with him any time, any place. He’s a true creative soul. He’s inspiring and inspired. Susan Traylor was the star of that, and she’s one of my dearest friends, and so getting to hang out with her was a blast. I’ve known Pleasant for a thousand years. I don’t know if she knows me, but I didn’t get to work with her on that. She worked on different days, but she’s always delightful. Really, I adore Steve Balderson. I think he’s a true talent.
Johnny: Cool. I always admire directorial talents who remember older performers and give them good roles. I don’t mean to cause offense by the term “older performers”. I…
Kathleen: Oh, no. Don’t worry about it. I know what you’re talking about. He does. He’s just a very inspired person, and I love that he takes huge risks and he chases down his vision. I have nothing but respect for that guy.
Johnny: Alright. Speaking of directing, in 2009, you wrote, directed and produced a short film called The Postcard. What was the story behind that project, and what was it like to be a director as opposed to an actor?
Kathleen: Oh, wow. It was the first chapter of a novel I wrote, and my husband wanted me to start directing, so I turned it into a script and my friend Xander Berkeley played the lead. He was very generous. I enjoyed that process very much, and I do like directing. It’s very satisfying, I should say, especially if you’re a writer/director as I was, to see your daydreams come to life. It was a gift, especially with Xander. He’s such a good actor. He brought so much to the character that I didn’t even imagine, and then my friend Lauren Zuckerman edited. I had this great moment where she pieced together the scenes in the movie that I had written, basically, in the edited room, and then my friend Stephen Kay came to the editing room and looked at it. He asked me, “Is the story you want to tell that your lead character was driven to suicide because his wife was so horrible?”. I was like, “NO, that’s not the story I wanted to tell at all! Not even close! The story is he had depression, and his wife was so tired of dealing with this manifestation of his depression. She did lash out at him, certainly, but he didn’t kill himself because of her. He killed himself because he had a mental illness”. Lauren said, “I can completely fix that”. She took all of these outtakes of my friend Lucinda, who played Xander’s wife, and she pieced together these very subtle takes. Xander would say something, and then Lucinda would react. She’d have a little smile in her words. It was amazing to see how powerful the editing process is. Lauren Zuckerman literally transformed a film I felt had completely missed the boat of what I had written in the script, and turned it into something I was so proud of.
Johnny: That’s fantastic to hear. The collaborative process is very important. It’s kind of like the same thing that I do with my interviews. I record them, transcribe them and send them to the talents for proofing and corrections. We work together and we create a great portrait of the talent.
Kathleen: I bet. Yeah, it’s interesting. When collaboration works, it’s fantastic.
Johnny: To go back to the small screen, you had the recurring role of Liz Danes on Gilmore Girls. As the show was very popular, and remains popular enough to have gotten a Netflix sequel series, would you say that role is the one you’re most recognized for on the street, or would that honor go to a different role?
Kathleen: Yes, I would definitely say that, for sure. For sure.
Kathleen: I can always tell when there’s females between the age of 25 and 40. They’ll walk past and kind of do a double-take. I can just feel a certain energy, and they’ll say, “Oh, I have to ask you something. I just have to ask you something. Are you on Gilmore Girls?”. I’ll say, “Yep”. “Oh, my god! I knew it! I loved that show. I used to watch it with my mom”. I hear that probably once every two weeks, not that I get recognized that much, but it’s definitely something that resonated with that demographic certainly.
Johnny: Okay. Although you still act, you’ve also returned to school in recent years. What brought you back to education?
Kathleen: (Laughing) No acting jobs. I always heard that the opportunities dry up around 50, and I never thought that would be true for me, but it certainly was. Just slowly, like a slow drip, my auditions, my opportunities got fewer. The time between got longer. I just wasn’t making very much money, and I decided I’ve got to do something. I don’t want to just sit around waiting for the phone, so I went back to college and got my Master’s Degree and fell in love with acting again. I started writing plays. It’s my new super-passion. I’ve written three plays that I really, really like, and would like to see them onstage one day. I have two more in the tank that I’m thinking about writing, but right now I’m in the throes of getting feedback on my third play I’m very excited about. Going back to college turned out to be this enormous blessing, and I’ve been teaching at a university for four years now. I have to say that although it’s a different muscle than the acting muscle, it’s super-satisfying and enjoyable, and I actually love it. Teaching is a real gift in my life, I tell you.
Johnny: That’s fantastic to hear, and I’m glad it’s worked out so well for you. Now I come to my final question: Would you ever do a convention like the Chiller Theatre convention in Parsippany, New Jersey or The Hollywood Show in California? Would you ever attend a convention like one of those to sign autographs?
Kathleen: I’ve been asked to do them, and I have friends who make a lot of money. I did a Twin Peaks Festival, and it was so humiliating. It was so funny. I sat at my table, and nobody asked me for my autograph. Twin Peaks fans are so passionate about the show and were clamoring for answers to their questions, and I had no answers. I don’t remember the show, so after that, I was like, “No, I’m not doing that. That’s crazy”. I’m sure my husband would love if I could make money doing it. I once signed, like, 2000 cards for something, and they paid me money. I did that from the privacy of my own living room, so there are autographs out there (laughing), but I don’t do the conventions. The answer’s no (laughing).
Johnny: Fair enough. Well, I’d gladly pay for your autograph.
Kathleen: Oh, you’re sweet as hell. Thank you.
Johnny: Well, that about does it for my questions.
Kathleen: I’m flattered you asked. Thank you.
Johnny: No problem. I’ve admired your work for a very long time, and it’s an honor to have interviewed you twice. To interact with you like this was an honor. I mean, I go back a long way with your work. I can recall watching movies like Murphy’s Law and Private School, and they got me through some pretty dark times. In my teens and 20s, I was just in a very dark spot. I’m thankfully out of it now thanks to therapy and medication, a therapist who understands Asperger’s Syndrome and medication that finally got me to a more stable place. I’m in a better place now, and I’m able to do things like this, to talk to talents like yourself, and it’s something that makes me feel good.
Kathleen: Lovely. That’s great. Well, you’ve been delightful, so thank you.
Johnny: No problem. I’ll definitely be in touch, and I hope you have a fantastic evening.
Kathleen: Sure. You, too.
Johnny: Alright. Talk to you soon.
Kathleen: Alright. Take care.
Johnny: Bye bye.
Kathleen: Bye bye.
I would like to thank Kathleen Wilhoite for taking the time out of her schedule to talk to me. It was an honor to interview her again.
Who will I Flashback with next? Stay tuned.