Kelli Maroney plays cute and tough, bad and beautiful better than anyone. In “Fast Times At Ridgemont High” her character intrepidly stands up for school spirit during a rally. In the cult zombie classic “Night of the Comet” she wields a gun like John Wayne. And in “Chopping Mall” she battles killer robots… and wins.
How did you get your start in acting?
I wanted to act forever, from watching old black and white films on late night TV with my mom. My schools never had drama depts… so I signed up to be an apprentice at the Guthrie Theater in my hometown, Mpls, MN. We were extras and got classes with F. Murray Abraham, William H. Macy, and lots of other great actors who were there that season. There I heard about a conservatory school in Kerhonkson, NY with a regular program in the fall in Manhattan.
So, I did the summer program and was planning on continuing with the Fall season but two weeks after getting to NYC I got Ryan’s Hope instead. Total fluke—I was looking for an apartment and having trouble because I was too young and too broke and the rental agent said her friend was a casting director who was looking for a teenage Lolita from the Midwest.
Was working on a soap a good learning experience?
It was the best training EVER for being professional, pulling up a performance with not much rehearsal, coming up with the emotions of the character—crying on cue, etc. I worked with some great actors who were classically trained and worked regularly on Broadway. We also had a bunch of famous people come in—Christopher Reeve, Joan Fontaine to name a few, and I got to work with them!
FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH
Your character CINDY, the head cheerleader, has a great moment lecturing students at the rally… How was this scene to film?
I noticed that the script dialogue had cut the line that was in the book, “You know, it takes a lot of courage to get up here and do something you KNOW people will make fun of!” So, I screwed up my courage and asked Cameron Crowe and Amy Heckerling, writer and director, respectively, if I could put it back in. I was sure that line was the whole reason to do the speech. Cameron said, “Sure, try it and we’ll see if it’s happening…” So I did. The real cheerleaders at the school were not happy with my performance and thought they were being mocked. Um… I suppose you could say that. I snuck around the high school for hours beforehand to try and get the Valley Girl accent down. I was from the Midwest and lived in NYC, so I had no idea how it sounded. Talk about having to come up with it at the last minute!
The big football game… How was this experience?
It was COLD! We filmed it all in one night, as far as I know? I was glad I was jumping around staying warm. When you are focused on your own performance you miss a lot of things during shooting that you don’t see until you watch the finished film later. I was amazed that Amy had SO MUCH coverage of everything that she could really cut it anyway she liked. Like I said, the first finished version has me doing the half-time performance and that is gone now and it focuses much more on Forrest Whittaker as the football player.
How about the morgue scene?
I really went overboard with this one—I got a book of pictures of cadavers from the library and grossed myself out the night before. Vincent S. was great fun on the set and really relished his role. I think Phoebe Cates was afraid of him at first, but what a great guy!
Were any of your scenes edited out?
Yes, I had a couple of scenes with Judge Reinhold that didn’t make it in… one outside the guidance counselor’s office where I just pop in at the end, one on the bleachers where I ask him where he works (embarrass him and make him feel like a loser) and I also originally danced to the song “The Stripper” at half-time during the big game. That was fun, and it’s where me peeling off the glove with my teeth, came from.
NIGHT OF THE COMET
When Sharon Farrell, as the evil stepmother, slaps you in the face… How was it filming this?
It was chaotic… Sharon and I kept doing it a few times, but those scenes are hard to make look real. Because I had already done this type of scene on Ryan’s Hope with my “Mom” Louise Shaffer, I told her to just slug me a good one so we wouldn’t be there all night. It actually hurts a lot more to fake it countless times than to just take a punch in film. I was choreographed to throw myself over the couch and tumble to the TV set. That was planned. Strange little cartoon moment that people really enjoy.
An important scene for your character SAMANTHA is when, the next morning, she learns about the fate of the world…
That was our first day of shooting. My coach, Roy London, suggested that I play that I am talking non-stop and running around so that she will not be able to get a word in edgewise, and so can’t say the words out loud that everyone is gone. It’s a classic denial scene and that’s what powered me through it. When she says: “Where are the g-damned kids?” I shut the door on her. Then I feign some more disbelief—because as long as I don’t believe it, it isn’t true, right?
The radio station where you play DJ…
I love this scene even more now because there are very few real DJs in radio anymore—it’s all computerized, and I think that’s sad. So I got to live a lot of people’s dreams, being live on the air, but we also pointed out the pre-recorded stuff and made it creepy. We had no idea just how creepy it was to become in our real future.
The classic ZOMBIE COP scenes: First, the cop who pulls you over…
It was freezing! It was my first time using the fake blood and guts and it was honestly very disgusting. Those aren’t my legs. One of the producer’s girlfriends was used for that in a later pick-up.
And the ZOMBIE COP in the bathroom…
I was pretty used to running around in my underwear after being on Ryan’s Hope, since I was “Lolita” on that show. But it was the closest thing to nudity they were going to get out of me or Cathy, so we went for it. Everyone was very sensitive and respectful that evening, so I didn’t realize how really sexy it was until I saw it myself.
“Daddy would’ve gotten us Uzis”… How was it shooting those cars?
It was fun. Everyone on the set loved it when we had gunplay! Plus we were all pretty tired and firing a round or two off lets off some steam. Thom added “Daddy would’ve gotten us Uzis” at the last minute because the prop guns kept jamming. So, he said, if that happens in the next take, say… so, I did. Sometimes the best things come out of what’s actually happening on the set rather than a pre-planned ‘moment.’
The part where you open up to your sister while sitting on the cop car is very moving… How was this to film?
Well, up until this scene Sam has been coping with the disaster by being in denial. But here is where she begins to face the truth and has to say goodbye to everyone she knew, but also to everything that was SO important to her yesterday! It’s growing up all at once and trying not to go crazy. Actually, they almost cut that scene because they thought it was stupid. But the test audience responded to it so fortunately it stayed. I still think that scene is one that I’m most proud of in my career to date. I can’t imagine it not being in there!
Dancing in the mall…
That night we just went in and trashed everything. It was tremendously freeing for all of us. We just improvised things as we went along, like with the shoes and the TV. Thom wanted it to be kind of a homage to those gangster films of the ‘30s.
The needle injection scene with Mary Woronov…
This was important because the audience is supposed to think she’s really killing me. I loved working with Mary. She is not only a very giving and generous actor, but also such a kind and gentle person. I had not met her before this film and I guess I didn’t expect that. It was great. Not to mention it was one of the few times I actually got to lie down instead of running.
Final scene when you meet your new man Marc Poppel…
Being that in the original first draft Sammie was supposed to die, this was added afterwards. In a comedy, at the end everyone has to be paired off—you couldn’t have just left Sam by herself, because that’s not a happy ending. I don’t know how many people realize that DMK is the person who kept beating Regina in the video game at the beginning in the movie theater. So, Thom rapped up the whole story by doing it that way. Ingenious, huh?
What mall was this movie filmed in?
This was, again, The Galleria, a mall that was iconic in the Valley here in California in the 80s. It has since been torn down and rebuilt, but it isn’t the same. That is, in fact, Perry’s from Fast Times, I think. The ‘Orca who beached there every night’ was Bob Greenberg, a dear friend of Jim W’s who afterwards lost ALL of that weight. He has passed on now, but what a nice guy he was.
You and your date talking in the Furniture King…
That scene sets up who we are further. You know the innocents are always the survivors in horror films. Notice the lack of nudity on my and Tony’s part. It also sets up the fact that I’m a great shot for later on, to validate why this girl is kicking robot butt. Then I trashed that mall, too. I guess I must have a hatred of malls, which I believe was an intentional comment from both of those writers, through my characters. I think at the time both of those writers were commenting on where the culture was going. Surprisingly, today we look back nostalgically at those times. It’s funny.
How was it crawling through those ventilator shafts?
Oh, that was a big fake silver thing that they set up so they could get a camera somewhere near us. I’m glad it looks real, but that was all cheated and no one went in the ventilator shaft. I don’t even remember it being hot in there—it’s called acting, dear boy, as Laurence Olivier once famously said to Dustin Hoffman.
What were some of your favorite stunts to do?
I mostly remember running and running and running. The actor has to ‘cheat’ running fast or otherwise the camera can’t keep up with you, which makes the DP very cross. The trick is to look like you’re really booking but… uh, not be really booking… The spiders and snakes were only okay because they had a great ‘bug wrangler’ who took time with me, the snakes, and Dolores the professional Tarantula, used to working together. It was cute.
How do you go about doing the various reaction shots?
It’s different every time. It’s something every actor must have in their ‘toolbox.’ If you have to do many takes, sometimes what was working initially ‘wears off’ and you had better have a couple more up your sleeve so you don’t dry up.
And finally – the climax where it’s you alone against the robots?
Another happy coincidence—I really DID slip on the paint and almost fall down. See what I mean about the accidents being great? I loved the way they put that reverb in my voice at the end for “Have a nice Dayayayayayay!” The challenge in those scenes was to keep my injuries consistent so that one minute I’m hurt and the next I’m not—I just hate that when I catch it in films. It’s like, hey, what happened to your broken leg all of a sudden? And it takes the audience out of the movie.
For the fall, they harnessed me to the railing so I couldn’t really fall. That was fun, and not at all frightening, so I had to ‘play’ being scared. Then we did kind of a homage to The Terminator where I pick up the killer robot’s arm and reflect on it for a second. THIS is what killed all my friends? It’s just metal, kind of thing.
How was it doing a two-tier job as actor and producer on SAM AND MIKE?
It went pretty smoothly, surprisingly, since I had a partner and a fantastic below the line co-producer. Of course we had the usual disasters, including one of our trucks getting into an accident. I learned to always keep that crew well fed and they are picky! Especially if they are doing it for free.
Once we had the bright idea of ordering pizza—we were broke already—and I thought the camera guy was going to kill us. I hadn’t thought about the fact that they can’t have grease on their fingers and handle the lenses. Live and learn. From then on, it was fork food all the way. We had way under budgeted the meals. It won’t happen again on my set, guys, I swear. Also, I sincerely hope to pay everyone well on my next project. It sure would have cut down on all my guilt trips.
What’s one of your favorite TV shows that you appeared in?
Well, shooting “Leo And Liz In Beverly Hills” was where I got to meet and work with Carl Gottlieb. I also had to audition for Steve Martin, which was intense and wonderful.
How was it working with director Jim Wynorski again in BIG BAD MAMMA 2?
I had auditioned for Monique’s part but obviously didn’t get it. But by then, Jim and I were friends and he often called me up and said, “Wanna come down tomorrow and do a scene or two?” And I always would do it because it was such a great time and we had so many laughs. I’m in quite a few of his films if you look closely!