Several years ago, I asked Lisa, my good friend and fellow lover of retro pop culture, whom she would like to see me interview. She suggested Kristine DeBell. Ms. DeBell is known to film audiences for her work in projects like the classic 70s comedy Meatballs, the Jackie Chan film Battle Creek Brawl, and, more recently, interesting films like Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance and A Talking Cat?. I sent Ms. DeBell an interview request several years after Lisa suggested her, and we spoke on September 26th. I hope you all enjoy getting to know this talented actress.
Say hello to Kristine DeBell!
Johnny: Hello, Kristine.
Kristine: Hi, how are you?
Johnny: I’m doing good. Thank you for taking the time to speak to me.
Kristine: Of course.
Johnny: I have my questions ready to go, and I always start off with these two questions. First, what were your pop-cultural likes growing up, like favorite movies and music?
Kristine: I watched and loved old movies. I loved Hepburn & Tracy. Desk Set was one of my favorites. I loved watching Gidget movies and Rock Hudson/Doris Day movies. I would say those were some of my favorites when I was a kid.
Johnny: What about the music?
Kristine: It’s funny. When I was in high school, everyone was listening to the Stones, but I liked the band Traffic. I preferred alternative rock, although they didn’t use that term at the time. One of my favorite songs by Traffic was “The Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys”, and my dad loved Three Dog Night. We all used to listen to Three Dog Night and dance around the living room after dinner (laughing). It was pretty funny.
Johnny: You mentioned high school. That leads me to the second question I always ask. What were your high school days like?
Kristine: They weren’t very good, actually. I was not very popular the way I remember it. I wanted to be popular like all the cheerleaders. I’ve told this before, actually, but I wanted to be a cheerleader. The teachers chose the cheerleaders, and I can recall standing up with my long, skinny legs and arms and doing a jump I was asked to do. They said, “Next!”. It really prepared me for being an actor (laughing) and not getting the job. You know what I mean? That kind of rejection. I was very tall and thin. They called me “fawn”, and I had no breasts. I was not popular. I was a ballet dancer and I studied voice and then, in high school, I started doing school plays. I also started modeling as Macy’s had a modeling program in Albany, New York. I think I’ve also said this before, but I saw a picture of Twiggy in a magazine, and she was very thin, obivously. I thought, “Oh, that’s what you’re supposed to be when you’re thin”. That’s where I got the idea to model, but theater was an escape. I’ve heard other people talk about that, about not feeling accepted and how theater was something where you got to play another character. A lot of the plays I did were musicals, and since I was a singer, it seemed like a logical step to audition for plays and sing. I also did some magazines like Co-Ed and Teen.
Johnny: When you were a model, what was the most outrageous outfit you can recall wearing?
Kristine: I don’t know that any of them were really outrageous. As a teen, I did some magazines, but when I was in my 20s and with Eileen Ford, I didn’t do a lot of magazines because I had just begun with her. She was basically sending me on shoots and to have me photographed for all her photographers because that’s what they did in the beginning to create your book. You were photographed, and then they would ship you off to Europe. Through friends, I ended up in California and started making movies instead.
Johnny: Okay. On your IMDB page, there’s a picture of you with Andy Warhol in 1976. Did he do any artwork of you, like one of his famous multi-color prints?
Kristine: No. That was at the big premiere party for Barbra Streisand’s A Star Is Born. It was at a mansion, possibly the Playboy mansion, and we were both there. We were photographed together, which was pretty cool looking back, but no, he did not photograph me in any way. He probably didn’t even know who I was (laughing). He was probably thinking, “Who’s this girl they’ve got me standing next to?” (laughing). That’s what I’m thinking.
Johnny: Okay. In 1978, you played Cindy in Robert Zemeckis’ Beatles comedy I Want To Hold Your Hand. As you were around for Beatlemania, albeit as a child, how accurately would you say the movie depicted that era?
Kristine: Oh, I think it was great. I couldn’t really remember Beatlemania. I was not in the craze, but I have a friend and she’s still a Beatlemaniac and she’s younger than I. I think it was a very good depiction because people were nuts for them. I think that was terrific, you know? I think they did a good job with that movie. The cast is great and Zemeckis did a great job. It was really a cute movie, and obviously it depicted the era in a fun and sort of quirky way, which was fabulous for that time.
Johnny: Definitely. In 1978, you played A.L in Meatballs, one of the comedies that would come to be loved by younger members of Generation X through extensive airings on cable in the 80s. What do you think has made the movie stand out after all these years?
Kristine: Well, I think that what makes it stand out, besides the fact that it was Bill Murray’s first film, is that by it playing it on cable channels, over the years it has become something of a classic. I’ve actually met a few people who say they always have to start their Summer out with watching Meatballs. Honestly, the movie is so cute and so great because, when people watch it, they can sense the fun. We were having just as much fun making the movie, and it comes across watching the film. It was sweet. I think that some of the other Meatballs they did got kind of raunchy, and they didn’t do as well because, honestly, people don’t want to see that. They want to remember their childhood. Many people have also said to me that that’s what their camp was like. I never really went to camp because I grew up on a farm. My whole backyard was a camp, but many people have said that it really depicted for them what happened, each character!
They can remember that character at their camp, or someone like them, you know? I think that had a lot to do with it.
Johnny: Definitely. Meatballs came out in 1979, but based on its’ youth appeal and the presence of Bill Murray in the cast, some have classified it as an honorary 80s movie. Would you consider Meatballs a 70s or 80s movie?
Kristine: Well, maybe. It came out in 1979. What are you asking is the difference? I mean, 80s? It’s better if it’s 80s because there are those classics like Stand By Me and all those great young films. That’s a tough question. I don’t know. Does it really matter?
Johnny: It just doesn’t matter, to quote Meatballs.
Kristine: Here’s the deal. The 70s were sort of a continuation of the 60s, where people were taking chances and doing crazy things. There was late-night cable full of T&A movies. Maybe Meatballs seems more 80s because of stuff like Stranger Things, which has become this homage to all our favorite 80s films, and you could say that Meatballs was the beginning of that. It was a sweet kids’ discovery film. Let’s put it in the 80s, shall we?
Johnny: Okay, and moving into the 80s: In 1980, you played Rena in Willie & Phil, Paul Mazursky’s American version of Jules And Jim. Had you seen Jules And Jim before signing on for this movie, and if so, did it influence your work on it?
Kristine: No. I had not seen it, so it didn’t influence me. I didn’t even know. (Laughing) I had no idea, but I’ve heard it since. I may have seen Jules And Jim after, but I can’t really remember. Now that you’ve said that, I’m going to look it up and watch it because it would be interesting to see.
Johnny: That same year, 1980, you starred opposite in Jackie Chan in one of his first attempts to break through to American audiences, Battle Creek Brawl, or as it’s alternately called, The Big Brawl. What was your favorite part of working on that movie?
Kristine: It is one of my favorite films because I hadn’t done stunts before this movie. I didn’t do some of the major stunts, but I watched him do his stunts. I learned to roller-skate on that film. I didn’t grow up in the city, so I wasn’t a roller-skater. It seemed to me that’s something people do in a city. I had to roller-skate because there were roller derby scenes, and I became so good at it that, while they were filming, I’d be off-set jumping over barrels. That was one of my biggest memories coming away from that. Often, when you do a film, you come away with something from every experience. Some are similar, like working with a director or the connection you feel with your fellow actors, but roller-skating is what most marked me with that film. I then got a job at CBS on The Young And The Restless. I lived up the street and I’d roller-skate to work every day, and I’d roller-skate through the halls of CBS.
Johnny: Sounds like a lot of fun. I was never good on skates myself. A big guy like me? I went to a roller rink once in 1994 for a friend’s birthday party, and I found myself sticking to the rails so I didn’t fall.
Kristine: (Laughing) Yeah, it’s crazy. I think I tried rollerblading, too. It seemed like a natural progression to go from roller-skates to roller-blades, but naah, I wasn’t too big with that, either. I’m with you on that. Much later, with my kids and my ex, who grew up in the city and was a big roller-skater, I’d go to big rinks and skate with them. It was a lot of fun.
Johnny: Returning to the matter of The Big Brawl, as Jackie Chan is receiving an Honorary Oscar at the Governors’ Awards this year, have you inquired about being one of the talents to pay tribute to him?
Kristine: No. They’re not going to ask me. I would be interested in attending, but I wouldn’t presume to contact someone and say, “I think I should be there”. I think I would hear from them if they wanted me to be there, and I would be incredibly pleased to be invited, but I’m not that person.
Johnny: Fair enough. In 1982, you played Nancy McAuley in TAG: The Assassination Game, a movie about how a game played on college campuses becomes deadly. With the extensive amounts of shootings that have taken place everywhere from college campuses to dance clubs in the decades since that movie’s release, do you think that a film like TAG could still be played for escapism?
Kristine: No, I don’t think so. All movies are considered escapism, but what you’re suggesting is that it takes on a whole new role, and maybe it’s more poignant to the times we’re living in now than it was when it came out. What do you think?
Johnny: It’s kind of difficult to go back and look at these old projects and think about them in the context of the real world. I’ve interviewed several people who have done projects that have involved violence. Back in 2008, I interviewed Julie Brown, who sang “The Homecoming Queen’s Got A Gun”, and I asked her about that in regards to things like Columbine. More recently, I interviewed Tom Holland, who wrote Class Of 1984, and I asked him about that in regards to the matter of violence in schools. It’s just something I’ve come to notice when looking at these older projects. They’re works of fantasy, and yet reality seems to reflect it and makes it kind of uneasy to watch.
Kristine: Well, the thing is it’s difficult. It was sort of a game that people were playing. It’s just that society has changed so much and people have become so angry. It’s a whole different thing. I think there are a lot of reasons why we as a society, and our young people, are feeling disenfranchised or whatever’s going on, and are taking that step to commit horrible acts of violence against their fellow students or their parents. It’s just a frightening thing, gun violence. That’s a whole separate issue. I never thought of that. It’s interesting that you would ask that question because, to me, it was just a game that kids were playing on college campuses and they wanted to make that film about the game. You might say it could’ve happened, but it was just so different than from what’s happening now. Now it’s coming out of something so totally different than what that was. How many years have passed and the violence has escalated. It’s gone to another whole level. What was a game in 1982 is now a reality.
Johnny: Something to think about. To lighten the mood, in 1984, you played Jennifer Black in the Night Court episode “Harry And The Rock Star”. As you had some experience singing in high school plays, what was it like to be playing a singer on TV?
Kristine: Well, it was great, but it wasn’t like I actually sang. It’s not like they said, “You’re a singer”, and people had gone in for show and had to sing. At the very end of the episode, they play this horrible song that’s screaming like it’s an Indian war dance (laughing). He’s just trying to find any kind of a beat and that made it hilarious. In that regard, I didn’t feel like I was playing a singer. The episode was more about me playing his girlfriend, being famous and having to be hidden because all my fans were there. It was pretty funny.
Johnny: I see. Well, when it comes to singing, since I’m sure you’ve gone out to karaoke nights at restaurants and bars, what have been your favorite songs to perform when you’re on the mic?
Kristine: It’s funny that you should say that because I had never done karaoke up until a few years ago. Some friends had said, “What? You’ve never done karaoke?”, and I said, “No”. I think I sang something by Adele, and I’ll probably never do it again. Here’s the thing about singing. When I moved out here in the 70’s I got a voice coach, and he were trying to stretch my belt voice to my four-octave range, which is crazy, although I didn’t know it then. Obviously, he was not a good teacher. I got laryngitis, and I couldn’t talk for three months. I had to write everything, so after that, I gave up singing. When I was raising my kids, I got involved with a theater company and did go back to singing in musical theater, but I don’t think of myself as a singer. It’s not like I put out an album. I’m just a person who studied voice. To answer your question, I did sing karaoke once, but I consider myself a shower singer now.
Johnny: Okay. You took a long break from acting, a break lasting from 1990 to 2012. Upon your return, you’ve been working extensively with David DeCoteau, becoming one of his most reliable players in both his horror films and his family films. How did that partnership come about?
Kristine: It’s actually a very interesting story. When I first came back, I’d gotten a few agents here and there, but times have changed so much. If you don’t have an agent, you can submit yourself, so I’d spent time in the morning on Actors’ Access submitting myself for projects. I happened to see a a role I was right for, and it was the first film I did with Dave, A Halloween Puppy. I submitted myself, and I got a very quick response saying, “Are you available?”. I wrote back, “Oh my gosh. Yes, I am available to read”. His message back to me was, “Read? I know who you are. May I send you the script?”. (Laughing) I said, “Well, yes, of course”. That was the beginning and we’re still doing projects together. He has been in Canada doing a lot of Lifetime movies, but he came back to do a Christmas film, and I was to do a part in the film. I was excited about it, but it was filmed while I was in Chicago. I couldn’t do it, and I said, “Darn it, David. Next one”.
Johnny: Cool. You played Sister Jasmine in Trophy Heads, and you’ve done enough horror work in recent years to be considered a scream princess, if not a scream queen. As we’re entering the Halloween season, what do you think makes the horror genre so appealing to film viewers?
Kristine: I don’t know. I’m not a horror person, and I love that you say “scream princess”. Here’s how that started: One of the first things I did for Dave before A Halloween Puppy was a voice-over for a scary film he was doing. I think I was recording the voice of a witch or something. That was the first sort of scary thing, and it was just my voice. We made the family films, and then 3 Wicked Witches, which was kind of a witch film, and a little Chucky-esque with a scary doll. That’s not really a classic horror film. It was a scary film in some respects, but I wouldn’t call it horror, really. Dave decided to have these signings of his own called Day Of The Scream Queens. His mentor was Roger Corman. Dave was Roger’s assistant, and in the beginning, made horror films. He’s had three signings now at Dark Delicacies with actresseses like Laurene Landon and all these women he’s worked with over the years. We had just done 3 Wicked Witches, and we were really there promoting the film, but all of a sudden and all over the Internet, I’m being locked in with these women as “Scream Queen Kristine DeBell”. I was like, “What? What?”. That said, I am about to do my first horror film in February. I can’t say anything else about it. I’m shooting in Maine, and it’s scary classic horror, so I will officially become a scream queen. Woo hoo!
Johnny: Cool. You recently co-starred alongside three of my previous interview subjects, Laurene Landon, Mel Novak and Lisa London in Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance, which I was a Kickstarter backer of. What was your favorite part of working on that movie?
Kristine: First let me thank you for being a backer. Second, oh, my gosh, working with Greg Hatanaka was amazing. We met through a friend because he was a big Jackie Chan fan, and became a fan of me because of The Big Brawl. We met at a lunch, and I think he is an up-and-coming Quentin-esque director.
He’s a brilliant director. I adore him, so just working with him was awesome. Because I had starred in Hunter with Ron Becks, I had a much smaller part in Samurai Cop 2. I loved playing the nerd. I am a nerd, by the way, a science nerd, and I finally got to play one, and I love that (laughing). Because I had such a small part, I wasn’t privy to a lot of what was going on, but when I went to the screening and saw the film, I was like, “Wow! Amazing”. Have you seen it yet?
Johnny: I have. It was a blast.
Kristine: Yeah, it was. Wasn’t it awesome? Everyone was amazing in it as well.
Johnny: Okay. What would you say has been the biggest change in the entertainment industry between the 1970s and 2016?
Kristine: Change? Oh, my gosh. Dude, it’s changed so much. When I started, there was only SAG. Once you were SAG-eligible, you’d get your card. I don’t remember there being non-union work, but now, coming back, it’s just unbelievable. The joke is: There’s SAG, there’s SAG low, there’s SAG ultra-low and then there’s SAG in-the-toilet-low. Of course you have deferred, which means IF the movie makes any money, you may get paid (laughing). Finally, there’s non-union, which a lot of people are doing now because they just want to work. I’d say that would be on the actors’ side. In some ways, for an actor starting out, like I was almost starting over when I came back, that’s a good thing. It’s not easy getting back to SAG level, so that’s work. To be seen and to do smaller projects that get your face and your acting out there? It helps you to build your resume. I am just currently now auditioning for SAG projects and guest starring roles on series. Eight years later, I’m just now getting back now to the auditioning level I was at before I left the business. I’m just at the auditioning process. On the producers and directors side anyone can make films now with their cell phone and get it into a festival. Things have just changed so much. Some people argue that it’s not as good, but I think, allowing actors, and film makers more access to the film industry, is a good thing, it’s better.
Johnny: To my next question: You’ve appeared at quite a few conventions over the years, ranging from Chiller Theatre to The Hollywood Show. What’s been the most rewarding part of attending these conventions?
Kristine: Well, the rewarding part has been meeting my fans. I didn’t know I had fans. I didn’t know those signings existed until Dave Elkouby asked me to do my first Hollywood Show. When I did my first Hollywood Show, people flew in from Texas. They drove from Seattle to meet me, and I was like, “What?”. I mean, I had no idea that I had such a fan base. I didn’t know anything about signing autographs. In that regard, it was being able to meet my fans. After my first show, I was invited to Chiller because Kevin Clement is a huge Meatballs fan. Having people come up to me and say things like, “I became a camp counselor because of Meatballs”, or “Your character in this movie changed how I feel about life”. I have people walking up with flowers, and, oh my gosh, it’s so overwhelming sometimes.
Johnny: My friend Lisa actually met you at Chiller Theatre when you attended in 2014, I believe. There’s pictures of you and her, and Lisa’s a very good friend of mine. She likes a lot of the same pop culture that I do, and she thought it was great to meet you. She actually had suggested you as someone to reach out to for an interview.
Kristine: Oh, that’s so sweet. Tell her I said thank you.
Johnny: I will.
Kristine: It’s just been wonderful, because when you’re sitting in your home, or when I took a break to raise my children back East, I came back and I was concentrating on getting my career back on track. To do that show? It’s not televised or anything I would’ve known about. I had no idea that there are celebrity signings or those types of events, and no idea that I had a big fan base. People still come up to me and say, “Do you have a fan club?”. I’m like, “No”. (Laughing) They say, “Can I start one?”. It sounds so 50s. I mean, a fan club? Do they have those anymore? It’s just wonderful. Every time I go, it’s wonderful. I meet the sweetest people and get to shake their hand. It’s also kind of nice for people to say hello, and for me to say thank you for being a fan. Right?
Johnny: Yeah. I’m actually going to Chiller Theatre again this October.
Kristine: I was going to go this October, but I decided to wait until next October. They say you should come back every three years. I went the year of Hurricane Sandy, and a lot of people contacted me afterwards who didn’t go to the show because of the hurricane. I barely got out. That was a pretty harrowing experience. Some people were stuck there for weeks. I got the last plane out of Albany, New York the next morning before the storm was that far north. I went back the next year, and sure, it was great being there, but it was just too soon, you know what I mean? Maybe if you go next October we’ll meet, since I’ll be there next year, not this year.
Johnny: Sounds good. Getting back to the questions: What 5 directors would you most like to work with?
Kristine: As an actor, I’m working hard to get back in, as I said. For me, I’m thrilled to have a job. A dream director would be to work with Quentin Tarantino, someone of that caliber I would love to work with. I would, of course, work with Spielberg, the Coen Brothers and the Wachoswki Sisters, but getting to the level to work with directors of that caliber is so far away at this point. I’m so far down the runway now. As I said I am working very hard to get back to the level of even auditioning, where I was before I left. I am just now moving away from doing non-union parts. That said, I’m thrilled to be working with Gregory Hatanaka not just because he’s a huge fan but because he’s making great movies. He’s got them lined up for me to do down the road. I’m also thrilled to work in any project for David DeCoteau. If I were to just pick one director I’d like to work with, though, I’d say Quentin. There are films I’ve seen that take my breath away. Would I love to work with those directors? Yes! Do I see that happening? We’ll have to wait and see. (laughing)
Johnny: Okay, we’ll go to my next question. What advice would you give to someone who wants to enter the entertainment industry?
Kristine: I think it’s easier now. It used to be, you would have to send out your picture, like you heard about people in the music business sending out their tapes, and they’d throw it in the trash. It wasn’t easy, but now they have so many other ways for actors to reach out. They can do showcases where they have an agent and a casting director where they can go and do a scene. When I meet other actors, I’m always saying “How can I help? Would you like me to introduce you to my agent?”. I do that all the time. I actually received a note recently from someone, who wanted to thank me because I helped her. I do that without thinking, trying to help someone. “How can I help? My friend is a casting director. He has a class, and if you’re going to take a class, why wouldn’t you want to take a class where you can be seen by someone casting films?”. With filmmakers, now you can make a film on a shoestring budget, and if you can get it into a festival you’re in the business. You make movies with friends, and I have done a few of those. The second film I did when I got back was an AFI film. I would still do a movie for students, for absolutely nothing, if it was a good script, because they’re trying to jump-start their career with a project they believe in. I would love to be a part of that process.
Johnny: Okay. I now come to my final question. I don’t normally end my interviews with this question, but here it goes: What do you hope to accomplish within the next 10 years?
Kristine: Let me ask you: What question do you usually end your interviews with?
Johnny: The question I usually end my interviews with is: If you could go back to your youth with the knowledge that you have now, would you do anything differently?
Kristine: Oh, my gosh. Thank you. Well, first of all, you and I both know that that would be a huge question for me. I would totally change a lot, absolutely. Just let me say this: You can’t ever do that. We all have checkered pasts, and they all make us who we are. You can’t take that back. We are made up of these memories and things that have happened, and if it was bad, something good comes of it, a lesson. It’s about acceptance. You have to accept things and move on. I think in many ways, especially the horrible things that may have happened, many good actors have said that an amazing scene they did, or a character they played, came from a very painful place of something that had happened to them. So, the essence of everything that happens to you in some way is a reflection and makes you, who you are today. That can be a good thing or a bad thing. To answer your question of what I hope to accomplish in the next 10 years, that’s easy. What I hope to accomplish is to continue to grow as an actor and to continue on the path I am on. I’m doing smaller parts in big productions and larger parts in small productions. I just want to keep working. Continuing to work as an actor, with, hopefully, the parts being a little better… Not that the parts that I’ve had are bad, but you know what I mean. I disappeared in the 90s, and now I’m back working with directors that remember me, but I’d like to get back to doing smaller parts in big SAG films. Or where do I see myself in 10 years? As a very old lady. I’ll be 70 years old (laughing), so I’ll be playing grandma parts. That’s a lot more fun than the the previous answer, right? (Laughing)
Johnny: Well, it can be two things, as they say on the AV Club. That about does it for my questions. Once again, I want to thank you for taking the time to speak to me.
Kristine: Oh, come on. I’m thrilled to. You’ve interviewed lots of my friends, and I’m very happy to do the interview. It was a good interview, too. Thank you so much for the interview. I love doing them. It’s so sweet of you.
Johnny: I thank you very much for the compliments, and I hope you have a good afternoon.
Kristine: You have a great rest of your day.
Johnny: You, too.
Kristine: Okay, bye.
I would like to thank Kristine DeBell for taking the time to speak to me. I would also like to thank my friend Lisa for suggesting Kristine as an interview subject. For more about Ms. DeBell’s life and career, visit her Facebook fan page and and her official website.
Who will I flashback with next? Stay tuned.