I first came across my newest interview subject, Sheila Lussier, when I was looking up the 1990 film Dick Tracy on the Internet Movie Database. Seeing her listed in an uncredited role, I clicked on Sheila’s name and found a very intriguing filmography with work in some of my favorite 80s and 90s projects. Looking beyond acting, I saw that Sheila has also worked as a model, a journalist, a director and a jewelry designer. When I saw that she was Facebook friends with my friend and 2020 interview subject Deborah Dutch, I knew I would be interested in interviewing her. I reached out to Sheila via her Etsy page, and we spoke late in January about her long and diverse career. I hope you all enjoy getting to know this versatile and incredible talent.
Say hello to Sheila Lussier!
Sheila: How are you?
Johnny: I’m doing good. First of all, thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to speak to me.
Sheila: No worries.
Johnny: I have my questions ready to go, and I’ll start off with this: You started out as a model. Who were your favorite designers to work for, and what are the most outrageous designs you can recall wearing?
Sheila: One of my favorite designers was Ton Sur Ton. That was a French designer back in the 80s that was very funky and the totally hip design, like pre-Guess. It was faded clothes and zippers, and big and oversized and cool. My friend at the time, Tally Chanel, who is still my best friend, and I got the job together to be models for the same company.
You’ve got to remember that I’m local in California, so we work with different people here. It’s different than in New York, although I lived in New York for a bit. I was a swimsuit model, too, and I worked with a lot of swimsuit companies, but here, if you go to fashion, I worked with Fred Hayman, who later started Giorgio Beverly Hills. I was a fragrance model who was part of the launching of the campaign.
Fred Hayman was located on Rodeo Drive, and he was very famous with all the different celebrities. He carried Bob Mackie’s dresses, and he had all of this great designer stuff in his shop. It was great to be able to represent his fragrance when it launched. I was still a teenager. I was only a kid, so I liked working for him. It was an honor. Fred designed for Elizabeth Taylor and all kinds of people.
Johnny: I recall reading about him in a biography of the late producer Allan Carr, who hired Hayman to help come up with the first Oscars fashion show in 1989.
Sheila: Nice. You know, it’s interesting. When you mentioned this question, it made me think of meeting Fred Hayman. It was around 1994. I met him as a kid with my aunt. She was married to one of the heirs of the Carnation Milk fortune, so I would go with her into his shop, and I really loved the clothes in there, as well as everything on Rodeo Drive. It was amazing back then, and still is. When I was having dinner one night at Drai’s, Victor Drai’s, he was married to a supermodel for a while. Do you know who I’m taliking about?
Johnny: Victor Drai? I also recall reading about him in that Allan Carr biography.
Sheila: (Laughing) Oh, really? That’s cute. He had a really gorgeous restaurant in Los Angeles, and I was having dinner there with the owner of The Kings at the time, Bruce McNall, before he got in trouble and went to prison. Anyway, Bruce also owned film companies and other things as well. He was an entrepeneuer and businessman.
I was having dinner with him, and I had on a black-and-white jumpsuit with big bell bottoms, very cool, and Fred Hayman sent me a bottle of Dom Perignon that night and said I looked “absolutely exquisite”. I was like, “Wow!”. It was kind of an honor for him to say that and send a bottle of champagne.
Johnny: Very cool.
Johnny: While you would continue to model, including for Playboy, which I’ll be asking more about in a few questions, what led you to make the jump to acting?
Sheila: Well, let’s see. I mentioned Tally earlier. She was an actress, and I felt like it was the next thing to do. I liked doing modeling, but acting was the next thing. She was doing TV commercials and things like that on screen. An actress named Kitty Carl introduced me to David Wilder, my first theatrical agent, and he hired me immediately. That very first week, I booked a TV show called Rituals, a soap opera which is no longer on TV, and I booked My Chauffeur, which is how I got my SAG card.
It just naturally happened. I was older at 18 (laughing), although with some of the jobs I was doing, I was underage and wasn’t 18 yet. I actually met Tally Chanel at a beauty pageant. She wanted to do more acting, too. I was 15 and she was 16, and we started going on auditions together, for modeling and for acting. We really started to work together and collaborate.
Tally Chanel went to boarding school in Kensington, so she had a British accent, but she was Jewish, so she understood what everyone was saying in Hollywood. You know what I mean? (Laughing) There’s nothing better than your best friend being a Jewish girl, and she had blonde hair and blue eyes, so they had no idea. She and I started getting movies and things, and we met a man named Jacob Bressler, who was a manager and helped us get a lot of different parts. We worked in the movie The Stuff with Clara Peller, and I remember different little parts and things we did together. We worked on Bits And Pieces together as well.
Johnny: That does lead me to ask: What can you tell me about Bits And Pieces?
Sheila: I just remember going to an audition. As you can tell, I didn’t mind doing nudity. I just thought it was a part of life, even though I’m from a very strict family, so it was interesting. Thinking of all these quirky things, I don’t like watching the horror movies because they scare me, but it was fun. Tally and I worked together, but most of the scenes I did by myself. I was only 18 when I did that movie, so it just seemed like another day of work. You know what I mean?
I remember they had to come and get my earrings. I still have my earrings from that movie. When they find my head in the trash, they had to put the earrings on the prostheses they made. I said, “I have them right here”, and I still actually have them in my jewelry box (laughing).
Sheila: I know, right? You mentioned Playboy a moment ago. I was a model for Frederick’s Of Hollywood and Shirley’s Of Hollywood, which were lingerie companies, and that’s how me and Tally moved over to Playboy. We met Teri Weigel on a shoot for Frederick’s Of Hollywood, and she said, “Hey, you girls should be with Playboy!”. We were like, “Okay!”, so that’s how it happened (laughing).
Johnny: Well, we will get more in-depth about Playboy, but since you mentioned you got your SAG card on My Chauffeur, what are your favorite memories of that movie?
Sheila: Well, I got to work with Leslee Bremmeer. Leslee was my girlfriend, and we worked on a lot of projects back then. It was fun, and then I remember Penn and Teller being strange to me because that was their first movie. Teller doesn’t talk and Penn has a fingernail that’s painted, so I probably irritated them by saying, “Why don’t you talk? Why is your fingernail painted?” in between scenes (laughing). I thought Teller would talk, but he stayed in character all the time. I was only 18 years old.
Johnny: I can recall that sometimes Penn Jillette will say the reason why his fingernail is red is because he “killed a man for asking questions” (laughing).
Sheila: (Laughing) That’s funny. What’s interesting about that scene is that one girl, Jeannine Bisignano, later married Michael Madsen. Everyone meets each other again and again in Hollywood.
Johnny: That was a very enjoyable movie, and before I go to my next question, do you still keep in touch with Leslee Bremmer?
Sheila: I haven’t talked to Leslee in a long time. I wish I did. I don’t know what happened to her.
Johnny: I hope she’ll resurface someday. I’d love to interview her.
Sheila: I thought she was in San Diego. I know Brooke Morales, a model and actress, was best friends with her, and they went to school together, kind of like how me and Tally are best friends. Leslee was always with Brooke Morales, whom I later worked with on Reform School Girls.
Sheila: I know Linda Carol.
Johnny: I know her, too. She’s a good friend of mine.
Johnny: As I’ve asked previous women-in-prison veterans, what do you think the appeal of the genre was?
Sheila: There was a casting lady named Laura Lee who gave us the jobs. I thought the appeal was the naughty girls who got in trouble, but still are kind of backtalking and getting their way. I don’t know what the appeal was to other people, but for me, it still seemed like we had a little bit of our power, you know? Our personalities.
Johnny: That makes sense. Reform School Girls is a personal favorite of mine, and as we weave our way through the questions, you mentioned how Teri Weigel introduced you to Playboy, so what was the experience of shooting for the magazine like?
Sheila: Well, she introduced me to the modeling agency there. Tally had already shot for the magazine before I did, and then I did shoots with Ken Marcus and Earl Miller, but I kind of chickened out. They released my pictures in 1987 in other countries, but they didn’t release it fully in America. I had things in the back of the magazine. I was in a lingerie book. I was released in Europe because I didn’t finish signing the contracts.
I had a child in 1987 and I was a single mom, and I needed to pay bills, so I thought, “Wait a minute, if I go through with this, it says in the contract, for two years, you work for them, you only get $25,000, and you can’t do any commercials anymore because they have a morality clause”, so I was thinking commercials. I wanted to go down that route more so I could make the money to support my son, so I didn’t get fully released here in America.
They were fine with that, and I stayed with Irene Kamal, the agent, and she actually had a picture of me and my son on the wall by her desk. She’s since passed away. She was German, and awesome. There was an assistant, Diane, who worked for them. that took us with her to L.A Models after the agency closed down, but she was responsible for getting me a lot of work and keeping me working for many years so I could feed my kids. That was great.
Say Warren Beatty wanted a pretty girl in a movie. He would call Irene and he would say exactly what type of girl he wanted. We got paid well, even if we didn’t speak in certain movies. I can recall doing The Bodyguard and Wayne’s World, and it was the same girls from Playboy that all worked together. We did films like Die Hard and Road House, and I’m also a trained dancer, so Irene would get me jobs as a dancer in movies. It was cool I could always work, you know?
Johnny: Definitely, and those are all very enjoyable movies.
Sheila: Yeah, and they went for a long time, by the way. (Laughing) We would film for a long time. I worked on Dick Tracy for three months. I worked on Reform School Girls for two or three months. That’s a long time, and most people now work a day or two, a week if they’re lucky, and they’re done.
Johnny: I’ll ask more about Dick Tracy later, but I do want to ask: Did you ever visit the Playboy Mansion, and if so, what are your favorite memories of going there?
Sheila: I just thought it was amazing seeing all the stars, and the animals, too. The grounds had monkeys and all different kinds of animals there, which I thought was cool. Hefner was always so polite, and kind of conservative, if you ask me. I had a great time going into the pool with my friends like Rebecca Ferrati, and the fresh chocolate chip cookies at 3:00 on Sundays during the movies…Things like that were fun.
Johnny: Oh, wow!
Sheila: Yeah, it was cool.
Johnny: I just love hearing stories like that. I’m a young guy. I was born in 1982…
Sheila: Cute. Good year, good year! (Laughing)
Johnny: Yes, but I came to develop a fascination with the 80s as a result of my autism spectrum disorder, its’ intense focus on a particular subject, and wanting to escape from the hell that was the 90s for me, so that’s a big reason why I do these interviews with talents like yourself…
Johnny: …Because I am a big fan of 80s pop culture, and I want to preserve as many of the stories as possible. Just hearing stories like that is very cool.
Sheila: I did an episode of The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air at The Playboy Mansion. They hired a bunch of us Playboy girls, and we did the Bunny Hop all around outside. That was really fun…
Sheila: …Doing the bunny hop with Will Smith and all the characters on Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air, and us girls, you know?
Johnny: That’s a good story. To go back to the 80s, you were one of the many Beauties in Nico Mastorakis’ 1988 movie Glitch!. What did you think of Nico’s work as a director?
Sheila: Well, one of my other girlfriends, Nicole Rio, worked with him a lot, and I thought he was very avant-garde and over-the-top, which I thought was cool for the 80s because everything was avant-garde and over-the-top. When we shot Glitch!, it was at a Malibu mansion, which was very fun. He was polite. He was fun, upbeat…I always liked him.
Now, a lot of times I don’t go back and watch the movies, you know, because I don’t like to critique myself, so I don’t see a lot of them. Sometimes I do, it depends, but I haven’t seen a lot of these movies. I just remember going to his offices off Sunset Boulevard in a beautiful, huge early Californian mansion, and it just seemed very flashy and cool. I liked that. Who wouldn’t like that?
Johnny: Definitely, and now we do go into the 90s with your work in Dick Tracy. You’re the second talent from that movie I’ve interviewed, the first being John Caglione Jr., who took home the Best Makeup Oscar for that movie, so what are your favorite memories of being on set for that film?
Sheila: Well, I think we shot it in 1989…Definitely earlier than it came out. The movie, for me, was crazy because Madonna was already a pop star. I was friends with her for a little while, but she was a little bit crazy, so there was a lot of Madonna crying, so it was a strange set to be on. Warren Beatty was very nice, and very calm and easy-going. There were a lot of girls, and our parts got cut out because Madonna didn’t want us to upstage her, which I don’t think there was any possible way it would’ve happened.
They were Playboy girls again, just so you know. Donna Spangler was one of the girls, and one of my darling girlfriends who got murdered, Sherry Ferrari, was one of the other Gangster’s Molls. It was a fun time, and we were treated like queens. We had our hair and makeup done, but they made us make our hair a little bit different-colored, like my hair was more of a strawberry-blonde than blonde-blonde, and all of the blondes had to dye their hair darker so Madonna didn’t feel there were any blondes around.
I think the movie could’ve been even bigger and better if the ensemble cast was allowed to be who they were. I think it would’ve been cooler with more characters, if you ask me, like we had originally. Once again, I worked three months on that. I brough my son to the set sometimes because I knew it would be a long time. I’d sneak my baby in, and the other girls would help watch him at Universal.
I remember that the shoot used some of Sly Stallone’s cars. He had a big collection of antique cars, and I heard some of them burned up in a fire at Universal later, but he had this really cool car collection. You never knew who was going to stop by the set with Warren Beatty there. That was kind of cool, and I liked the music and dancing. Everything was really fun. It was long hours, but very interesting and colorful to be around it all.
Johnny: You know, I was seven years old when that movie came out. I loved it so much, and I thought Dick Tracy was the quintessence of cool to the point where I didn’t want to be called by my birth name for the first half of my 2nd grade year. I wanted to be called Dick Tracy…
Sheila: (Laughing) Aw, cute!
Johnny: …And my teacher would play along with it. I was in a special education class at the time, and I eventually gave up on it when the Christmas season of 1990 rolled around. I turned eight and I was feeling ill, so that was a bad birthday for me. I went back to my birth name after that.
I know you mentioned that you thought that Dick Tracy could’ve been bigger. I definitely think so. I was hoping that, when Disney was doing their Vista Series DVDs in the early 00s, they could’ve done a Special Edition for Dick Tracy.
Sheila: That would be great.
Johnny: That would’ve been amazing, but now Disney is all-in on streaming, and they kind of like to pretend that Touchstone Pictures never existed, so that’s really sad.
Sheila: That’s too bad. You can only imagine all the scenes that aren’t there, like the Gangster’s Moll girls. We all had parts, but they were all cut down. That was one movie I did watch. It was cut down to a basic movie when it could’ve been even bigger and better than it was. I still do love it. It’s one of my classic favorite movies.
Johnny: Oh, absolutely. It was a blast.
Sheila: About Sherry Ferrari…Her boyfriend was a member of Nelson. She was one of my best friends from meeting her on a video shoot for them. That’s what I was going to say, too. In Hollywood, a lot of us girls don’t have families here, so through doing these movies and these different jobs, we met each other and became a team. I used to call it “our high school”. Even though we had all graduated, it seemed like we went to high school together, like Hollywood High School. Do you know what I mean? It was cool.
Johnny: It’s wonderful to develop bonds like that. To go to my next question, you spent some time as a casting director in the 90s, helping to cast films like Hellraiser III and Children Of The Corn II. Was working in casting a way to gauge a potential different direction for your career?
Sheila: Well, what happened was my acting coach, Geno Havens, God rest his soul, he was one of my best friends, was a casting director, and he wanted to put me in a movie called Girls Just Want To Have Fun earlier. I said, “I’m not doing a stupid movie like that!”. Picture the young Sheila. I thought I could handpick certain parts, and that would be a way to control my career and how I was going to show my talents and capabilities. Geno would just laugh and shake his head and say, “Acting’s not like that”. I turned down a lot of movies.
I did acting classes with him, both private and public classes with a group of people, and he offered me a job to work with him doing casting. I was very fascinated by the process, so he brought me in and I worked side-by-side with him, casting and reading all the actors and picking them, even though some of my choices didn’t get picked.
I have a message on my machine still from Geno Havens because I wanted to hire Sandra Bullock. I called her in six or seven times when she was an unknown, and the director told me she was too plain and too much “the girl next door”, and she’d never make it in Hollywood. Geno left me a message when she did Gravity, and said, “Sheila, you were right. You were one of the first people ever who thought Sandra Bullock had something, and she did”.
I wanted to hire Danny Nucci, too, and it was a little frustrating because they told me he was too ethnic, so I was like, “Wow! This is what happens behind the scenes?”. I remember Linda Blair’s agent calling, and me, not knowing who Linda Blair was, going, “No, she can’t have an interview”. There was also Meat Loaf. I had no idea he had Shakespearean acting training. I’m like, “No, he’s not coming in”, so (laughing) it was a strange job for a kid like me, and that was just part of it, but I enjoyed that time in casting. I did some other casting with Geno as well.
Johnny: You know, you’re actually the second actress who worked in casting with Geno that I’ve interviewed. Late last year, I interviewed Marcia Roeder.
Sheila: I love Marcia. I haven’t seen her in years. Remember earlier when I mentioned me and Tally met Jacob Bressler? She was married to him when she was really young. Marcia worked with Geno before me, and I knew Marcia, but she’s older than I am.
Johnny: I speak to Marcia occasionally. She’s a Facebook friend of mine, and she had some interesting stories about working in casting. It’s always good to be well-rounded in the entertainment industry, and how lucky you were to have that opportunity to work with him.
Sheila: I also helped cast Kevin Bernhardt, who was in my acting class with Geno, in Hellraiser III. I’m afraid of scary movies, so I don’t watch them that often, but it’s nice that Geno was able to hire kids from the class.
Johnny: Well, speaking of scary people (Sheila laughs), both Hellraiser III and Children Of The Corn II were produced by Miramax and/or its’ Dimension division, so did you have the misfortune of crossing paths with Harvey Weinstein?
Sheila: Of course. Unfortunately, I’ve crossed paths with so many of them, him being included, that it was so hard to deal with. I think that was one reason I turned down a lot of movies. I would walk off the set because of having that problem with men much older and scarier. We were kids, and we weren’t very sexually active, if you know what I mean. We just wanted to make these movies and be friends, and then you had these older men giving you these orders that are just outlandish. “I’m not going to do it! Not going to do it!”, so of course I had to deal with that, with him and many of the other top producers, and directors, and agents.
Johnny: Well, you’ve definitely come out the other side spectacularly, and I definitely admire you for having stood strong through all of that.
Sheila: Thank you.
Johnny: No problem. On a lighter note, you made several appearances on General Hospital in the late 90s, being credited on IMDB as playing a Waitress. What was it like to work on that show?
Sheila: Okay, so I was on General Hospital as many other parts besides just the Waitress. I played a Waitress at Jake’s, and Jake was Stella Stevens, so it was very cool to be on a show with somebody like her. We became friends, and that was nice.
What happened was I was hired by the original casting director, Marvin Page, and Marvin Page was friends with the movie stars. He really had a great ensemble cast of people he could put together and create a show with. He was the casting director that hired me, and I was going to play Monica Quartermaine’s daughter on the show, but I ended up becoming pregnant with my daughter, and wasn’t able to fulfill that commitment because (laughing) they didn’t want a pregnant girl playing a teenager on a TV show, right?
Casting stayed friends with me and gave me every bit part they could for many years. I even worked on it up to two years ago. I think I started working on it in ’87 or ’88, and then Martin Page sent me to Helena Sorel, who was a very famous acting coach. I didn’t know then, of course, what I know now because we have the Internet and I can research people, but I knew she taught Marilyn Monroe and John Wayne and other people.
He wanted me to learn the ability to (laughing) not sound like a Valley Girl all the time, to have my own rhythm and my own voice as opposed to being so California-sounding like I was. I was a kid, and didn’t understand the concept of acting with your voice as well. It’s one of the many aspects of getting a job. It’s not just a job. It’s the connection and guidance. It was a great job, and I was able to play all kinds of different characters on it, and also on Port Charles as well. I also worked on The Bold And The Beautiful, too. They don’t always put your credits up on IMDB, for some reason. I don’t know.
Johnny: That’s what I’ve been told by quite a few of my previous interview subjects, that there are a lot of parts they have that don’t show up.
Sheila: Yeah. The daytime television ones, for one. They’ll also have it wrong, like they’ll say 1960something as that’s when the show was created, but I wasn’t even created yet for some of those years (laughing). I’m like, “Wait a minute”.
Johnny: To go to a different aspect of your work, you’ve also done some work as a director. Who have been your biggest influences in that field?
Sheila: Well, gosh, I love so many different directors that I can’t even think of one right now. Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese, I’m in awe of their work, but I’ve always liked being behind the camera. I also shoot photos, and I’ve been on the road with music people, too, so I like musical things, something I can wrap my head around and understand. I’ve directed TV commercials, and I understand products from being a model, so that’s been interesting. I’ve only directed documentaries and TV commercials, and I haven’t booked anything since, but it would be interesting to direct a movie in my future, you know? I would like that.
Johnny: Well, to stay with your directing, in your documentary Life On The Road With Mr. and Mrs. Brown, you captured some of the final footage of The Godfather Of Soul, James Brown. What are your favorite memories of that shoot?
Sheila: Well, all of it, pretty much. Mr. Brown was a character, as you might know or see. A lot of his stuff was contrived. He was very over-the-top. His widow, Tommie Rae, is one of my dearest, closest friends still, and I think there were iconic moments there that I didn’t know there were going to be. One time at the House Of Blues, I had Bruce Willis and Dan Aykroyd and James Brown all singing me Happy Birthday, and then I blew out the candles! I mean, how surreal is that?
You look up and it’s those people, and then it’s time to go on stage with James Brown, and only I was allowed to walk with him and Tommie Rae as the audience is saying, “James Brown! James Brown! James Brown! James Brown!”. He really wore that cape, and being against the wall and standing there, “James Brown! James Brown!”, and then going out and seeing an Elvis-like thing happening, but it’s Mr. Brown…
It was pretty amazing, and to hear the music, the band was phenomenal. Two drummers, the background singers that danced…That was a show! That man was amazing. There will never be another James Brown, and I’m honored that I was able to capture so much footage. I still have a lot of footage that Tommie Rae and I are going to work with, as soon as COVID is over, where we’re going to edit it as something we put out either on DVD or as a series since we have to break it up into parts.
Imagine all the people that you meet on the road, both famous and non-famous. Like I told my mom last night, Mr. Brown and I came up with this little game. There’s always somebody in the crowd that had a girlfriend, a wife, a mother, a brother, who wanted to be a singer, and they would get through security, or they knew someone. James Brown and I, for some reason, looked at each other and said “Cruise Ship” one day. It’s like the person’s not capable of being on the road, and they don’t know it, but they could do a cruise liner, you know?
Sometimes I would be with Tommie Rae and a group of people, and we’d hear someone singing. We’d look each other in the eyes and say, “Cruise Ship!”. It was our inside joke, “Yeah, they could get a job on a cruise ship! See ya!”. We didn’t meet Michael Jackson, you know what I mean? I did meet Michael Jackson, but not any performers who had the potential of a young Michael Jackson. We’d look at each other and go “Cruise ship!”. It was fun and silly.
It was a fun and crazy time. Unfortunately, Mr. Brown passed away at the end there. He called me a couple of days before he died, and he wanted me to do a story on him because he wanted the world to know that he really did love his wife. He had photos at the Taj Mahal, which I haven’t seen still, and he said,”Here, I want you to print these”.
Sometimes I would help them out with stories because when you do journalism, you can basically plot what you want to say like any publicist or writer does, and at this point, he really needed to protect his wife, and we later figured out why. It was a lot, so it’s been a crazy ride since he passed away. I actually got Tommie Rae on Larry King right after he died, so she could speak. I called Larry as I was good friends with his wife Shawn. I’m happy that they let her go on television because it was a very hard time, and I think it will always be hard for them because when you lose somebody that important in your life, that iconic, you can never replace them. You know what I mean?
Johnny: Oh, absolutely I understand. I lost my father when I was 12.
Sheila: Oh, God!
Johnny: That wrecked me…
Sheila: God bless you.
Johnny: …And then I lost my mom 15 years later, but that was easier because she didn’t know how to raise a child on the spectrum, and there was a lot of anger and bitterness between us. It was easier to deal with her passing than my dad’s passing.
Sheila: He was in your pocket. He understood you.
Johnny: Yeah, he did, but to stay with you, and to go back to Life On The Road With Mr. and Mrs. Brown, you were able to get quite a few talents besides James Brown in that documentary…
Sheila: Yes, and let me just tell you a little secret here, mister: I didn’t pay anyone. They were all my friends, so I was able to call people, and then I’d have them calling me…Some of the biggest names calling because they wanted to be a part of it. I was able to get Bon Jovi, and I dated Rudolf Schenker from The Scorpions, so I was able to get a lot of people on the road from meeting. At the time, I was dating Jani Lane from Warrant, and he was also part of it.
I had a lot of friends growing up in the business, and when I would call up and say, “Hey, would you like to do an interview?”, not one person said no. They were all in on it. I was very happy about that, will.i.am and Fergie and everybody.
Johnny: That’s fantastic. I have my own network of entertainment industry friends myself, which I think is very cool. I have many of them as contacts on my cell phone. I feel very cool about that because writing is a hobby for me. My paying job is working in retail as a cashier, so writing is a hobby for me, and it’s allowed me the chance to have some very cool people in the entertainment industry become friends.
Sheila: That’s cool. It’s creative expression, don’t you think? We all want to express ourselves creatively, and that’s what I talked about earlier. I met these friends and we become our Rock N’ Roll High School, or whatever you want to call it. B-Movie Queens (laughing)! It’s an alliance, and there are people I’ve been friends with forever.
I call one girl AK-47 because she’s like a machine gun, and she’s from Germany. She just got a hold of me on Facebook a few days ago, and I was so happy to hear from her. Her name’s Anne-Kathrin, so I thought, “Yay! AK-47’s here!”. She helped me get into the journalism part of it moreso than I was before. I met her on the road with The Scorpions, and she was producing something here for Germany, so it’s great to be alike and driven and appreciated. There are lots of people who aren’t creative like we are. They don’t understand us, and they think that we’re being snobs or weird or something, and we’re really just genuine people who like creative things.
Johnny: Oh, absolutely. I can definitely relate to that, and since you do mention being a writer, what has writing provided for you that screen work has not?
Sheila: Well, a paycheck, sometimes. I was able to learn from Anne-Kathrin, and she helped me get published in France in a magazine called Paris Match, and it paid very well. There are two German magazines, Stern and Gala, I was published in as well. What happened was it opened my eyes to the world, and I was able to sell articles with her help, and produce some of them as well.
I would come up with a concept with a Time photographer, and I’d get a writer to do it if I couldn’t because, in German, it’s too much to translate, but I could get paid $6000. It was like, “Wow, what the heck?”. That was awesome, so I did a lot of work with her in the late 90s. It gave me another creative outlet, a form of expression that allowed me to be heard.
To tell you something else, I worked for the National Enquirer and the Globe, and all those magazines for many years, but as a pseudonym, and I never wrote anything derogratory about anybody. Even I knew the secrets, I just wrote silly fashion stories or something. I never would want to hurt somebody, so sometimes people would know I worked for them, but I never used my name.
That’s what James Brown was calling me about. He needed me to help with some Enquirer stories, but I’ve always kept my sense of who I am, whether it was a story or running from Weinstein (laughing), trying to keep my soul intact. I like being creative, and I’m happy that I was able to write. I’m working on a book right now, so I plan on doing more writing.
Johnny: Alright. As a journalist, what pieces are you most proud of having written, whether they’re articles or interviews?
Sheila: Well, one of my best friends was Tia Carrere. I was at her birthday party, and I met Sofia Shinas, I think because of Geno Havens, really. She did the movie The Crow with Brandon Lee. It was nice uncovering things and just healing together, because it was such a hard time, and Sofia is still one of my best friends today after meeting her and doing that article then.
I did one on this girl named Jackie, with the last name Heston because she had a child with Charlton Heston’s son out of wedlock. She wasn’t married, but he is married, so it was controversial and it was a crazy time. Pipe bombs were coming over the fences, and she was getting offers to have an abortion for $100,000. It was nutty, and I was like, “Listen, we’ll write about it, and they won’t bother you anymore”. Sure enough, we did an article about her having her daughter. She became public, and there were no more threats.
It’s a wild road that you go down. I did Sultan Of Brunei stories as well, but I didn’t write anything that would be hearsay, or something I felt I shouldn’t speak about, because I don’t feel I should tell everybody’s business. I kept it very low-key. Those were interesting things. I’ve lived a kind of kooky life, if you think about it.
Johnny: Well, I’m definitely enjoying hearing all these stories. I wouldn’t say “kooky”. I’d say “amazing”.
Sheila: Well, thank you.
Johnny: No problem.
Sheila: When I told you earlier that I did Slammer Girls, they then wanted to meet me at Paramount to do Top Gun. I went to Jerry Bruckheimer’s office, and I wouldn’t go alone. I brought Tally with me, and the office was bigger than my mom’s house. I’m not kidding you. The rooms were so huge that you could shout and it would echo…Two big rooms.
He wanted me to play the Meg Ryan part, and he said, “Gosh, Sheila. I love you. You’re a great actress, but you’re so young. You’ve got to stay in touch”, and he handed me his card. I had to sign a nondisclosure contract saying I wouldn’t speak about the movie, but me being so young, I said, “Who cares about a fighter pilot movie?”. If I could go back to the younger Sheila, I’d say, “Hey, take that part! Who know if you’ll get another job?”, but I was so afraid of the casting couch that they scared me a little bit. It was a crazy time in Hollywood.
Johnny: It definitely was. Speaking for yourself, and jumping back to the screen, you’ve also worked as a stuntwoman, so as I’ve asked several other talents in the field of stuntwork, what stunt did you perform that, once you completed it, you said to yourself, “I can’t believe I did that”?
Sheila: Hmm. Well, there’s the movie Final Analysis with Kim Basinger. It’s out in the rain on, I think, a metal stairwell with guns. It was her and Richard Gere. That was exciting and interesting. When I worked with that director, I had to run the dialogue for Kim Basinger. I had to say every part that she said, so when they went back to do the P.O.V, it had to match with the sequence. It was cool because the director said, “I wish we could just shoot this”. It was a compliment that they liked my acting.
A lot of times, it would be my hand or my leg or my body, even, walking up the stairs, or driving in a car, whatever I did for Kim Basinger in that movie. There’s so many different things that you that you forget them, and then with some of them, you go, “I remember that”. I remember doubling Annette Bening in American Beauty, and I did things like pulling a gun out of the glove compartment, walking up to the door and away again, driving in her car with the rain going, and walkie-talkies to ensure I didn’t have an accident.
There’s just so much. I remember doing a leg doubling part for a movie that Anne Heche was directing and starring in. She was dating Ellen DeGeneres at the time, and we had to do this scene where I was in a truck that had a sunroof, and I had to put my legs up through the sunroof. I said, “Sure, I can do that”. It wasn’t very easy to do, I can tell you that, and I was happy to done with it, but I did it.
I also did a lot of TV show stunts. I did a stunt on Diagnosis: Murder, and it was just cool to hang out with Dick Van Dyke. I told him how much I like Mary Poppins, and he was like, “Really?”. I said, “Yes, it was amazing!” He was so gracious and kind, and he would do these little tap dances when we were waiting to go do the scene. That was a really cool moment to be talking to him.
I worked on that show several times, and I don’t know if it was Diagnosis: Murder or another one from the same studio, but Anson Williams from Happy Days was the director. I had lunch with him that day, and it was really cool to listen to him talk, and get his view on things. He talked about how he wanted to help people, whether it was buying someone a car or paying a person’s rent one month, just to do something kind. I was like, “Wow, that’s really nice of you!”.
It’s cool to be there and meet these people you see on television, and work with them…Well, some of them (laughing). It’s cool meeting those people, and stunts bring that to you because you’re there with the crew and you’re there with the cast, whereas sometimes when you’re an actor, you’re not with the crew that much, just when it’s your scene, and the cast, you only work with one person. With a stunt, you work with a sequence of people. It gives you a bigger perspective on how a movie or TV show is done because you see it from different aspects.
Johnny: Very cool.
Sheila: Yeah, it was fun.
Johnny: To go to my next question, on our mutual Facebook friend Nancy Valen’s page, you talked fondly of Lana Clarkson, whose murderer died on January 17th, and I’m not going to acknowledge him by mentioning his name.
Sheila: Yeah, I know who you’re talking about.
Johnny: What are your favorite memories of being friends with Lana?
Sheila: Lana was a big spirit. She was such a bright person. When she walked into the room, you could just feel her. Nancy and I are friends, and she’s married to one of the Van Pattens, Nels. I’m very close to the Van Patten family, and my kids trick-or-treated with them every year. One of my son’s best friends is a Van Patten, so Nancy and I have known each other for almost 30 years. She’s just such a sweet person, and she spoke out for Lana the other day, and she was so sweet back to me.
Lana and I had this limo driver friend named Thomas, and he drove us to concerts. Most of us girls can get a ticket to any concert we want, which is kind of fun. I was remembering that Lana and I would go see concerts together, and one of them was Gregg Allman of The Allman Brothers. I was with Punkin Pie, another friend of ours’, and we went to pick Lana up, and she wanted to play Charlie’s Angels.
She said, “You’ll be Sabrina. I’ll be Cheryl Ladd”. You did what Lana said, and we got out of the car like we were on a mystery run. I said, “What are we going to do?”, and she said, “We’re going to a rock concert”, so we all played along. It was just fun and silly. We would have those fun and silly moments where we would just play like kids, you know?
Johnny: That’s a lovely story, and may Lana rest in peace.
Johnny: On a lighter note, what do you think of attending autograph conventions like The Hollywood Show?
Sheila: You know, I used to do them and Glamourcons a long time ago. It’s hard because I’ve done a few of them, and you never know who you’re going to meet. I also did one signing at Apple Comics, too, with Julie Strain and a bunch of friends.
They’re different. When I was doubling Annette Bening in America Beauty, I did one of the Glamourcons. My hair was reddish as I was doubling Annette, and I wish I had worn a wig now because I look at pictures from that show and I’m like, “Oh, my god! I look terrible!”, because I was doubling Annette. I didn’t get all dolled up like everyone else did. I approached it differently.
It’s interesting because it’s a great way for us to make money, so we can survive, and meet people. It’s interesting because there’s no filter. Remember when I said we’re like big kids? It’s no fun when a bully shows up (laughing). That was a little scary for me. I did share a table with Traci Dali a lot, and Julie Strain and I would do some of the shows. I think it’s good if everyone’s happy. I guess it’s a personal taste, right?
My friend Mike Marx might still work on putting those together, and my friend Shelley Michelle does them, too, but I don’t know. I’ve had good experiences there, and I’ve been scared as well (laughing).
Johnny: That’s understandable. To stay with that, what’s been the most wonderful piece of memorabilia that you’ve signed, whether at a convention or through the mail?
Sheila: Gosh, I don’t even know. I don’t get anything too crazy, you know? Let me think. Maybe I’ll sign a pair of earrings or something silly. I’ve signed index cards. Have you heard of this? You put your lip prints and a signature on there, which I think is a little different, but I don’t know if there’s anything too weird.
I don’t really sign things. I’ll sign a script here or there, just the normal stuff. An index card, I thought, was weird. I don’t know why they’d want an index card with a signature on it. I’m not really sure, but I don’t have anything too weird.
Johnny: Alright. To go to my next question: You currently design jewelry on Etsy. What led you into that field?
Sheila: Well, I’ve always been creative. I could crochet and sew things. I went to fashion school, too, and, of course, I’m a girl and I love designs. One day I started taking all the different jewelry I have, and my friend Tally would go back to Hong Kong, where she’s from, originally, and have her jeweler make a ring different, or we’d take a necklace and redesign it and use the gold. It only became natural that one day I laid out a bunch of stuff and said, “I’m going to start making jewelry and designing it”.
I’ve been offered the opportunity to do it on a bigger scale, but I haven’t yet with COVID. I have a jeweler I met at a party once who wants to introduce me to someone that I can show my designs to. I just haven’t gotten to that next step. I hand-make everything myself. I sell vintage things, or I’ll repair them. I’ll go on a treasure hunt where I’m at. I’m at my mom’s up here, and I’ll go on a treasure hunt up here just to see the thrift stores and find something cool that someone might appreciate. I think it’s another form of creativity.
Johnny: Alright. What particular pieces of jewelry hold a place of pride in your creations?
Sheila: There was a necklace I wore once to Larry King’s birthday party that I created myself. It’s black onyx, and I can make one piece longer and the other kind of tight in the middle on a piece of chain that’s made of white gold. Randolph Duke, the designer, came up to me and said, “Oh my god, that necklace is absolutely beautiful”. I said, “I made it myself!”. That was like being honored.
I love Randolph Duke’s gowns, and the beauty that he brings out in every piece of the woman he’s creating for. Randolph Duke, I don’t know if you’re familiar with him, but he started making gowns like Bob Mackie, yet in his own kind of flavor. He makes them for my friend Shawn King, and I think it was an honor for him to say he liked that.
I’ll come up with something really cool that’s unique or different, and people like him will admire it, so there’s nothing better than to be admired by a designer when you’re like a kid. You’re not even in their league, you know what I mean?
Johnny: Alright. What have been the most unusual materials you’ve used to create a piece of jewelry?
Sheila: Let’s see. I use old materials. I’ll use old zippers in a design. I put a box over here, and I don’t know what’s in there. To one person it might be unusual. Like I told you, I’ll reuse something from vintage pieces, and I’ll recreate them and make something new, which I think is cool. I have a lot of supplies. I’ll shoot for somebody who’s doing an estate sale and, in trade, they’ll give me a lot of pieces, so I have a lot of things to work from.
I make these leather wristbands with rhinestones on them. I don’t think they’re too unusual, but they’re different and they’re cool. I can take these pearl necklaces, and I’ll make them half-pearl and the other half lace or ribbon, and I’ll make them as belts or a necklace or whichever way they can be worn…Kind of multi-purpose pieces, you know? (Laughing)
I don’t know what’s too unusual about it, but I just got a rock tumbler, so I’m going to try and tumble my own rocks and see what I can do. I’m up here in Northern California, so I’m going to go on an adventure and see if I can find something that looks cool that I can tumble. I could make some wire wraps or some jewelry out of those.
Johnny: That would be interesting. Another interview subject of mine, Ginger Lynn…
Sheila: Yes, I know Ginger Lynn.
Johnny: I interviewed her about her painting, and she says she uses a lot of natural materials in her work.
Sheila: That’s what I do. What does she do now?
Johnny: She’s active as a painter.
Johnny: Oh, cool. Remember when I told you Tally and I met in a beauty pageant? Ginger Lynn won that beauty pageant, by the way. Tally was second place, and I was third place. I ws 15, Tally was 16, and Ginger was probably 17 or 18. She was a little older than us. Her sister put her in the beauty pageant, and she was so shy then. I remember she was sponsored by a gas station. I remember that was one of the first things she did. It was at Universal Studios. She went by a different name back then, but it’s interestin that’s how she started, the day I met Tally, you know?
Johnny: Very cool. I know I’ve said that a lot but, I mean, that’s what I think you are. You’re very cool.
Johnny: You’ve had an amazing life. You’ve gone through so much, and you’ve done so much, and I just think you’re a very cool person.
Sheila: Thank you.
Johnny: I now come to my final question. It’s a question I’ve been asking a lot of my interview subjects in recent months: What are you most looking forward to once the chaos of coronavirus passes?
Sheila: Not being afraid anymore. I’m so afraid of getting this. I don’t want to be in fear, so I can’t wait for that to go away. I can’t imagine being in fear all the time. It gives you a different insight on other people. I’d like to go to New York. That’s where Tally lives. I want to see Tally and be ourselves again, you know? I’m single (laughing), and I spend a lot of time by myself..Not that I don’t like myself. I just want to interact with someone, you know? It’s important to see your friends. Julie Strain just passed away recently, you know, and it’s sad.
Johnny: Yeah. I would’ve loved to have interviewed her.
Sheila: God, what a sweet girl. I knew her from the moment she got to town. Alan Thicke was an ex-boyfriend of mine, and at this moment, we were just friends. He needed a date, and I was walking in with her, so they connected. What a beauty. He died, too. It shows you how fragile life is.
You need to seize the day. Carpe diem. That’s what I’m looking forward to (laughing). I also want to go to France. I’m half-French, and I’ve never been to Paris, so I’d love to do the things I haven’t done, just little things, you know?
Johnny: Well, I certainly have faith that you’ll have the chance to do them. On that note, that does it for my questions. I thank you again for taking the time to speak to me.
Sheila: Thank you.
Johnny: It was an honor to share your stories.
Sheila: You’re my friend now, anyway. We bonded. What can I tell you?
Johnny: It’s been an honor, and I’m definitely going to keep in touch.
Sheila: Thank you.
Johnny: Thank you very much for your time. You’re a fantastic interview subject and a fantastic person, and I hope you have a wonderful evening.
Sheila: Likewise. Thank you. Good night, Johnny.
Johnny: Good night, Sheila. Be well.
I would again like to thank Sheila Lussier for taking the time out of her schedule to speak to me. For more about Sheila’s work, you can visit her Facebook fan page, which also links to her website which is currently being redeveloped, follow her on Twitter, and check out her pages on Etsy and FineArtAmerica.
Coming soon to the Flashback Interview is a conversation with Oscar-winning visual effects designer, animator and director John Bruno. Thank you as always for your time in reading this. Be well, everybody.