The Flashback Interview: Toni Hudson
2017 Introduction: I was originally going to publish this interview last year, but I didn’t hear back from Ms. Hudson, due to her busy schedule, until this year. She gave me permission to publish it, so here it goes.
Original introduction: In October of 2015, I attended Chiller Theatre for the third time. I met many cool people there, and after a mishap on the Saturday of the convention, I decided to give out my contact info on Sunday to the assorted guests I met. On April 12th, I spoke to one of those talents. I first saw Toni Hudson when I purchased Just One Of The Guys about a decade or so ago. In that movie, she played Denise, the friend of Joyce Hyser’s Terry. I liked Toni’s performance and I told her of how much I liked the movie when I met her last year. My conversation with Toni covered a lot more ground than that, though, and I hope you all enjoy getting to know her.
It’s time to Flashback once again, so say hello to Toni Hudson!
Johnny: Hello there. Can you hear me?
Toni: I can.
Johnny: Alright. Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to do this.
Toni: No problem. I’m actually on set. My 10 year old son is the lead in a movie, and I’m out on set at Sable Ranch in California, so I got time.
Johnny: Okay. I always start my questions with this one: What were your pop-cultural likes growing up, like favorite movies and music?
Toni: Movies and music…I was really a Top 40 girl. I loved Wolfman Jack. I listened to him. That was my thing. I would sing “I Honestly Love You” by Olivia Newton-John in my bedroom. My family would say “Shhh, Toni, shhh!” (laughing), but eventually I got it. Movie-wise? We didn’t go to the movie theater a lot. We went to the drive-in in my childhood mostly. I remember going to the drive-in more than ever going to any theater, and my Mom used to like scary movies. I remember seeing a movie that was called Don’t Go Down In The Basement at the drive-in. Back in the day at the drive-in, they had a playground area up front by the screen so the parents could be in their car, having a normal conversation and experience, while the kids could play if they weren’t interested in the movie. This movie was so scary, and I’m out there on the playground. There’s, like, knives and ice picks and eyeballs, feet being grabbed underneath the stairs. That’s what I remember about movies and music.
Johnny: According to Wikipedia, before any of your acting or other work, you co-wrote a book when you were 19 years old called Racquetball For Women. Do you still play the game today?
Toni: Occasionally. I’ll get challenged by another player, usually always a man. They find it ironic that I’m slight of frame, so they would say “Wow, you play racquetball”? Uh huh. People find out I used to play and I’m the author of a book, so I get challenged. Throughout the last couple of decades, I would say I end up playing maybe once or twice a year. I still got it. There hasn’t been a guy these last couple of decades who has beat me.
Johnny: Very interesting. Now we move into film. One of your first film credits was as Bunny, one of the Candy Stripers in the 1982 soap opera spoof Young Doctors In Love. As you had already spent some time in the soap opera world with a role on Capitol, what was it like to be spoofing soap operas as opposed to playing them straight?
Toni: I thought it was great because it was a comedy. I was originally hired for three days, and I ended up working for thirteen weeks on that movie, so I got to see Garry Marshall’s directorial debut. What he did every day with his writing staff and himself was they would write Bunny and my cohort Valerie, who was Patti Proctor, in at the beginning of the scene or tail end of the scene just for safety. In case a scene didn’t work well, they would have something cute or funny at the end or the beginning. That’s why we stayed for thirteen works. There were 72 speaking roles in that movie, and a lot of them were names or cameos that came from the soap opera world. Yeah, everyone collectively as a group was making fun of what their real profession was, which was what was so funny about it. We were able to be over the top, because that’s kind of what soap operas are anyway.
Johnny: I just wish it could’ve gotten a better DVD treatment than what it ended up as. It was pretty much all bare-bones, not even a theatrical trailer, let alone anything in the way of commentary or deleted scenes, and there were deleted scenes, I know.
Toni: Oh, gosh, there were tons of deleted scenes, but it was a really great experience because there were a lot of firsts for a lot of people on that set. I mean, Jerry Bruckheimer was one of the producers. It was a great, great experience, and Garry Marshall ended up giving me away when I got married to my second husband. He’s like a surrogate dad, and I met him on that movie, so it changed my life in many, many ways.
Johnny: Cool. In 1983, you played Tim’s wife in Cross Creek, based on the memoir by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. Did you read the book before you signed on to the movie, and if so, did it impact your portrayal of the character?
Toni: I did not read the book, and it was probably for many reasons. One, I didn’t really think that, with my role that I played, it was necessary to read the book because I was my own story line. Also, back then I wasn’t really much of a reader, so I have the feeling that had a lot to do with it as well. A few years later, I became an avid reader and am still so to this day, but back then, I wasn’t. It wasn’t something that I was drawn to.
Johnny: Speaking of movies set in the heartland or places thereabout, a year later, you played Ermine in Places In The Heart. Probably the most acclaimed of what Siskel and Ebert dubbed “Save The Farm” pictures, what’s your favorite memory of that movie, and what do you think made it so successful?
Toni: Well, first and foremost, I think that it’s Robert Benton, the director, who just really understands the human condition. That movie and a lot of those characters are based on his life. Ermine Hightower, who I played, was definitely based on some real people woven in there, and it meant a lot to him. I think every project that he takes on means a lot to him and has an impact because he’s a writer as well as being a director. I’ll tell you the story of how I got the movie. I had a callback in L.A, and then I didn’t hear and didn’t hear. I called my agent and I said “Hey, I haven’t heard on that movie. Sally Field is in that movie. I would really like it”. He said, “Well, they’re already on location”. “How are they going to make a decision?”. “I don’t know. It’s really between you and a girl in New York”. I said, “Well, how are they going to decide?”. He said, “I don’t know”. I said, “Look, I’ll fly there”. He said, “Well, they’re not going to pay for you to fly”. I said, “No, I’ll pay for myself. I’ll fly there if they need to see me”. He checked with them and they said okay, so I spent my entire savings, which was $378 for the ticket, and I flew to Dallas. They picked me up at Waxahachie, 30 miles South, and took me to this motel. They checked me into this room. I had this audition, which was very horrible because I wasn’t giving him what he wanted. He was very frustrated. He had this assistant named Sondra Lee, and she would talk with him and then go to you, the actor, and come back to him. She spoke for him, in a way, in that whole process, and it was very frustrating.
Toni: I mean, I couldn’t figure out what he wanted and he couldn’t really get it across. I went to my room, thinking “I’m a horrible actress. I should just give it up”. I’m crying, and I hear a knock on the door. It’s Sondra Lee, and she came and she said, “Listen. We want you to read again tomorrow. Can we change your flight? We have a young actor coming in from Fort Worth, and he’s coming in for a callback. We’d like you guys to read together for the boyfriend”. I said “sure”, and then she told me what to do, and what he was looking for. I went “okay”, and then I had to read again the next morning. They said, “Okay. Thanks”, and then I packed my stuff up and waited in the lobby. I see Robert Benton walking towards me with Sondra Lee, and he looks at me and says “What are you doing here?”. I had my suitcase, and I said, “I’m waiting for someone to pick me up. I had to check out of my room, but my flight’s not ’til later, so someone’s going to drive me”. He goes, “Well, listen. Pending we can make a deal, the part is yours'”. I said, “Really?’. He said, “Yes. What time is your flight?”. I said, “A little bit later”. He said, “Have you eaten?”. I said, “No”. He says, “Come with me”, and we walk out of this motel, which is like a Bates Motel. I mean it’s dank and really quiet. We walk out to the parking lot where we see these work trailers. Inside we go, and the phones are ringing and the faxes are buzzing and people are talking and lunch is being served. I’m being introduced to people, and I’m part of the cast now. Sally Field comes over, and she’s introduced to me. She looks at me and goes, “Did you just find out?”, and I went, “Yeah”. She got chills. She said, “Oh my God, I’ve got chills in my arm”, and that’s how I found out.
Johnny: Very amazing story.
Toni: Isn’t that a great story?
Toni: Oh, and there’s a tag on this story. This is a great tag. Remember when I said it was between me and a girl in New York?
Toni: Guess who the girl was? The girl who played the prom queen in Just One Of The Guys, Deborah Goodrich.
Johnny: Wow, that’s quite the coincidence. I’ll actually be asking about Just One Of The Guys in a couple of questions, but first, in 1985 you had a starring role as Julie Collins in the movie Prime Risk. Themed to the world of finance, did you find yourself thinking back on the movie in the late 00s, when we entered the Great Recession?
Toni. No. I’m interested in your slant on that question.
Johnny: Well, it’s about two young people who discover a plan to make banks go bankrupt.
Toni: I see what you’re saying. The correlation between the idea that I did a movie about kind of the same catastrophe about to happen, yeah?
Toni: I see. It actually did flash in my mind, but all it really gave me, seriously, was…Maybe I was walking down the street and I was thinking about it, in reference to how they correlate, it probably made me stop when I was walking, pause for a second and smile, and the continue walking. That’s about how much time I gave the correlation, but I had. I had because it was saving the day in Virginia. Come on. (Laughing)
Johnny: Even though you’d been acting for several years by this point, did your Prime Risk co-stars and veteran actors Clu Gulager and Keenan Wynn have any good advice for you?
Toni: Yes. They are real people, and real people continue to work. When I say “real people”, I want to be clear about that. I mean they actually just love the craft of acting, and this is their career. This is what they want to do in life. It’s not that they just want to be famous and they’re just trying to make a lot of money. This is what they do, and so they show up to work. That’s putting your head down and doing the work you need to do. That’s their own personal process, but that’s what I observed. I mean, you had George Kennedy and Clu Gulager and Alex Cord, and these people had a lot of work under their belts, so yeah, they did.
Johnny: We now come to the movie where I’m most familiar with you from, and that’s Just One Of The Guys, where you played Denise. As I had mentioned when we met at Chiller Theatre last year, it was a very progressive movie for the 80s. What do you think has made it stand out after all these years?
Toni: Joyce’s (Hyser) boobs at the end of the movie. (Laughing) I know that sounds silly, but that’s one of the things. The idea that they would do that? Like you said, risque and ahead of its’ time. It’s a complicated relationship that the two of them had. She’s befriending him as a man, seemingly, and then “Hello. I’m a woman”, and it’s like the end of the movie almost (Laughing). It’s very tricky, playing with people’s emotions, and then, of course, she has these amazing breasts that everybody just wants to see and freeze-frame on.
Johnny: Since Hollywood is constantly remaking titles from the past, do you think that, if they ever do a remake of Just One Of The Guys, that the writers might redo the story and pair up Terry and Denise in a romantic relationship as opposed to a friendship?
Toni: Romantic? Oh. you mean they could be gay?
Johnny: Yeah, maybe.
Toni: I don’t know. I kind of saw the sequel as, since Denise used to be fat, I have my own company like Jenny Craig, you know, and then maybe Terry is an activist. Maybe Tolan runs a gym. Everyone has who their character was in high school, but the adult version of it, and they come back for the reunion. That’s how I saw it.
Johnny: You talk about what you think would happen in a sequel. Speaking of which, were there ever plans for an official sequel, and if so, do you think that Denise might have ended up in drag herself?
Toni: No, I don’t think Denise would do that. Well, I mean she could. You know, that would actually be kind of funny. I like the idea that I came up with before, everyone had their profession based on their childhood personalities, but then you have it that Terry comes to me again and asks me to do her a favor, but this time, I have to go as a boy (Laughing). That would be funny.
Johnny: Definitely. I feel that all the characters in Just One Of The Guys had a great sense of style, but many people look back on 80s fashions and hairstyles with a sense of mockery and shame. Why do you think that is?
Toni: Well, because the 80s style is kind of an unattractive style (Laughing). I grew up through the 80s, and I wore 80s styles, so I’m talking about myself as well, right? It’s just not the most attractive style, the way it came out, but I think when you redo a style, I think you make it better, and it makes it more acceptable. I mean, that’s what they’re doing now. It’s kind of retro. I look back, and I think the style was okay. The dropped shoulders, the Flashdance style, saggy, baggy, layered, belted…
Johnny: Well, I certainly think you looked great then and still do now.
Toni: Thank you.
Johnny: Back to the movies: In 1988, you starred as Rachel in Greydon Clark’s horror movie Uninvited, which was about a killer mutated cat. This will seem like an unusual question, but me and my brother are cat owners, so here it goes: Which animal do you think makes for a scarier villain in a horror movie, a cat or a dog?
Toni: Well, the thing is, you say dog. That’s very general, because you could have a chihuahua or you could have a Doberman. I believe a dog because of the Doberman issue. I mean, it’s a huge, big, giant dog with big, sharp teeth. That’s a lot scarier to me than a cat, unless of course it’s a cannibal, like our killer cat in Uninvited was, and then it does other things besides being a normal cat.
Johnny: Okay. Speaking of horror, in 1990, you played Sara in Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III. Since you mentioned horror movies being part of your childhood earlier, and I don’t know if you’d sneaked into theater to see the original, if you did, what was it like to be part of the franchise?
Toni: I loved it. I still love it to this day. I mean, a lot of people have seen it, you know? Whenever they hear Texas Chainsaw Massacre anything, it doesn’t matter if it’s Leatherface, 2, whatever…They go, “You were in that?”. It’s so recognizable, you know? The franchise is so recognizable. I say yes. I got chainsawed in half. Are you kidding? I’m honored (Laughing). I think it’s great. I think it’s awesome.
Johnny: Definitely. A turn your career took in the 00s was towards being a choreographer. What drew you to the field of dance?
Toni: Well, I come from a family of dance. My grandmother owned and ran a dance studio and taught little boys and girls how to dance…Tap dance and ballet, you know? She had a daughter, my mother, who was an only child. My grandmother raised my mother like a Shirley Temple type, and in fact, was auditioning around Hollywood a little bit, but my mother was very temperamental, so she would cry a lot. My grandmother stopped it, but that’s where I came from, so here now I’m the daughter with my grandmother who taps and my mother who taps. I’m the granddaughter, so what am I going to do? I started tap-dancing at the age of 4. In fact, we were auditioning for The Lawrence Welk Show as the three generations at one point. Again, we rehearsed for months and then something happened, and for some reason we didn’t audition, but we would drive to Los Angeles. I was in San Bernardino, where I was born, and we would drive to L.A and meet with a choreographer and do this whole thing for the Lawrence Welk audition, but that never happened. I just kept dancing. Dancing and singing was me. I liked dancing and singing, and I grew up in that family. We had challenges financially, so I couldn’t always take lessons. I couldn’t always nurture my desire to do it, even though my aunt had a studio and I took lessons from her for a little bit. I was too far away from my grandmother’s studio to take them there. I would trade and I would barter. I would teach people a dance move, and they would teach me how to twirl a baton. Any time I could learn something, I would just teach them something if they could teach me something. Eventually, I started taking dance classes in L.A on my own. I went to Moro Landis. I danced at 3rd Street and the Dupree Dance Studios. I danced all around. I still teach. I still dance. I also invented a workout based around dance that I’m trying to bring to market right now called Boogie Bands. Dance has been with me since I was 4, and I’m still going at it.
Johnny: Cool. To my next question regarding dancing: You’ve done a lot of country music choreography, according to Wikipedia, which says you’ve autographed several Country Music Awards ceremonies as well as music videos for Dwight Yoakam. What would you say to people who reduce dancing in country music to line-dancing and square dancing?
Toni: I would say “that’s okay. You just haven’t been exposed to it enough”. I mean, people can have that opinion, but it’s kind of like the way country music, back in the day, was super-twangy, and now country music sounds like what The Eagles were back in the day. It’s kind of glorified country pop, so it’s all kind of evolved.
Johnny: You wrote a second book, an e-book entitled Kerekt Living, which is also the name of your website about living a healthy lifestyle. This would explain why, even though you’re in your 50s, you could easily pass for two decades younger. As the author of Kerekt Living, do you find it easy to stick to the advice listed in your book, or are there times when you want to go off and eat or drink something decadent?
Toni: The one question, do I find it hard? I find it easy because I’ve been doing it for over 36, 37 years now. It’s just part of me. It’s not something that I have to try and do with willpower. It’s just who I am. My cravings and my taste buds crave what I make now, what I like now, and it’s always so healthy. There’s always that spectrum of what is healthy and what isn’t healthy. For me, if I’m going to get crazy, I’ll have sweet potato fries somewhere. If I’m out and about, I’ll have a Guinness beer. That, to me, is living it up, people, or maybe some sake with some sushi, but I like to have my sushi with brown rice. I find those spots that serve brown rice. That doesn’t mean I won’t go to restaurants that serve sushi with white rice. It’s just that white rice has sugar and vinegar and all that to make it taste and stick together. I like the brown rice because they don’t put anything in it, and with the whole grain, you get more nutrients and vitamins. It’s not hard for me. It’s easy. It’s easy, but do I ever go off? Yeah, like with the fries. I’ll even use Heinz ketchup, which has high fructose corn syrup or organic sugar, occasionally. Specific, but not neurotic, if that makes sense.
Johnny: That makes sense. As mentioned earlier, I met you at Chiller Theatre in October of 2015. I currently have a picture of me and you as my Facebook profile. I believe I may have asked you this when I saw you at Chiller, but I made the decision to scrap the article I was working on and just do individual interviews instead. The question is: What’s been the most rewarding part of going to conventions like Chiller?
Toni: Wow, that’s interesting. A couple of things…One, it reminds me of the community that I’m a part of, the artistic community. There’s going to be people there that I’ve worked on a movie with whom I haven’t seen in years. That happened. There were probably four or so people there that I didn’t know were going to be there, and I got to see them and hear the creative things they’ve done and the process that they’re doing in their lives, and to know that we’re all part of it. We don’t go to an office. Most people go to a job? They go to an office or a cubicle, so they see their co-workers all the time. Ours’ come and go with each project. “Oh, we did that film together”. “I saw him on that project”. We’re hit and miss, so when we come together, it’s a really cool thing to see that family, and then to meet people that you haven’t met, but aspire to. Also, it’s really the fans, because the fans are the people that really allow you to see how you’re being seen, you know? It’s their perception of you, and meeting you, you’re going to either confirm that perception, or negate the whole thing and they’re going to walk away probably dissatisfied, right? I think that exchange, to know what gratification we’re giving people, what they’re getting from it or what they’d like to see, is educational. It’s a lot of fun. It’s definitely fun.
Johnny: Definitely. It was a great honor to meet you. What do you think has been the biggest change in the entertainment industry between the 1980s and 2016?
Toni: I think it’s just the whole analog-to-digital thing. We used to mail and hand-deliver head shots in a manila envelope with a resume tp try and get auditions. Submit yourself and your agent to do the same thing, but it was all paper. It was all physical. Now it’s e-mail, and shoot this over, and digital. I’m 55. I’m of the generation that didn’t grow up with computers. We’re learning it as adults, so it’s not an easy glide. I think it’s the whole digital world that’s changed for me.
Johnny: Yeah. Born in 1982 myself, even though computers were part of my life as a teen, up until I was 13 or so, digital was not really a part of my life. I mean, the family had an Apple II computer, but that was about the extent of it.
Toni: There was no computer in my house. Are you kidding? Look, I grew up with the phone with the rotary dial and the curly-q cord to the handset. It was connected to the wall, and you sat down where the phone was.
Johnny: We had that for a long time ourselves. I don’t think we got touch-tone until, like, the mid-90s.
Toni: (Laughing) Yeah! Right?
Johnny: I now come to the question I end every interview with, and it’s this: If you could go back to your youth with the knowledge that you have now, would you do anything differently?
Toni: I would. This is the thing that I would’ve done differently. I wouldn’t have physically done anything differently. It would’ve been an internal experience and reaction to what I was doing. I would’ve had a different internal experience. I would’ve enjoyed it more. I think a little anxiety, a little insecurity…It would be kind of like, if I was going to bake a cake of what was going on inside, that I wish I could’ve known to relax. This goulash, this conglomeration of different emotions that were unnecessary to be going through while trying to create a character and be on set, be present and deliver a great performance, but you’ve got all this emotional stuff. I think I would’ve welcomed a calmness internally.
Johnny: I see. Well, I think that you’ve done some great stuff, and it was an honor to speak to you today.
Toni: Thank you for having me.
Johnny: Thank you very much for taking the time to speak to me, and I hope you have a good day.
Toni: You, too. Thanks for having me. You have a good day, too.
Johnny: Okay, bye.
You can follow Kerekt Living on Twitter. Toni herself is on Twitter at this link.
I hope you all enjoyed this Flashback, in more ways than one, Interview. 2016 was quite a year for the Flashback Interview, and 2017 will be one as well. Coming soon to the Flashback Interview will be Chuck Workman, Holly Fields and Shari Shattuck. Thanks for all your support.