With credits that included TV’s General Hospital and Star Trek: The Next Generation, as well as horror movies Nightmare on Elm St. 4 and 5 , actress Lisa Wilcox has been a part of some big productions. Recently, we had a chance to talk to her about her work and what is was like working in the acting business.
When did you decide that you wanted to get into acting?
A couple of things happened to make me think it chose me. I grew up in Missouri and did a play called M.A.S.H., the TV show was originally a play, and I played this character that was more like the comedy relief of the play. I came out in my cute little pencil skirt and sit on the desk of my boss and what not. So we have a Saturday performance, about four hundred people, and I come out and I’m walking on stage and fall right through a footlight that was obviously not locked properly. So my clipboard and pencil go flying and I’m stuck in the footlight in the middle of the stage. The actor who played Hawkeye, who happened to be my boyfriend, stuck his head out between the curtains and saw what had happened and after helping to untangle me, we continued on with the scene. So on Monday at school, where no one knew who I was before, everyone knew who I was now! (Laughs)
The second thing that happened was my family moved to California and a friend of mine had an audition at a theatre called Buddy Epsen’s Theatre in Newport Beach. So I’m sitting there in the audience waiting for him to do his audition and the producer comes up to me and asks me if I’m auditioning. After saying no to her three times I ended up doing the audition for the lead girl and got the part. From then on I’ve been acting and that was when I was sixteen years old.
How hard was it for you when you started acting and was there ever a time that you thought about doing something else?
Once I was sixteen and could drive a car I did play after play, and this was school full time, rehearsals at night and then the plays, and I actually got my first agent by doing theatre. Back in the day that’s how it was done, you would do theater and agents and even casting directors would go to plays to find their next new fresh talent. So it went pretty well but I will say my first agent sent me out on all these auditions for movies and TV and I didn’t book anything. Then I did another play at UCLA and I got a manager who wanted to represent me, and he wanted to change my theatrical agent. So I talk to this new agent and end up signing with him and he told me when I go to auditions I have to have a hook. This made sense to me and so the sixth TV audition he sent me out on I booked and from then on I booked every one in seven auditions.
I feel really fortunate because right out of college I did commercials, six national commercials in a span of nine months, it helped me pay for school, for college, my apartment, everything. Then I got a part on General Hospital six weeks after I graduated so I feel very lucky and very fortunate.
When you go to an audition, is it a nerve wracking experience every time and do you have a certain way you approach each audition?
Yes, every audition is different. I approach a part the same way usually, drawing from personal experience or my imagination. Creating a backstory for that character is always important to me, really going through what this character made choices about, the whole background of the character and that is what’s so fun about acting is to be able to create this whole different person. You get to see where this character is coming from, how their life has shaped the way they think and act and it’s really so much fun.
You played the part of Alice in Nightmare on Elm St. 4 and 5 which was obviously important to your career. Were you a horror fan back then and did you realize what kind of genre and franchise you were stepping into?
I was a horror fan back then and in fact I’ve been fascinated with horror for it seems like forever. I’ve always been fascinated with the macabre and ghosts and vampires and monsters, it’s always been something I’ve loved so yes, I was well aware of what I was hopefully getting into and so excited to be auditioning to become part of the series.
Wes Craven passed away recently. Did you ever have the chance meet him and what impact do you think he had on the horror genre?
I never did have the chance to work with him and I really wish I did. I would say that he was the Alfred Hitchcock of our time, revolutionary and brilliant. The Nightmare on Elm St. series was a perfect example of the genius of the man. Who knew I’d be flying off to Australia to do a movie I did in the eighties? I owe that all to him and although I only ever met him once I feel like he will always be a part of me. That franchise just seems to go on and on as well. It seems like horror is huge right now and is just going to get bigger and bigger.
You have a new movie coming out called Clinger. Can you tell me a bit about the movie and the part you play in it?
Sure. I have to say I have never laughed so hard reading a script as I did when I read this one. I play the leads mother and it’s a fun little scene and wow, it’s just full of surprises. It’s so quirky that you really fall in love with it. It is so over the top in just the most perfect way, that’s all I can say. Like I said, I was dying with laughter when I read the script and the teddy bear scene just pushed it even more over the edge, it was great. It definitely appealed to my sense of humor and it’s so adorable, it’s like Fast Times at Ridgemont High in horror!
You also had guest appearance on an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called ‘The Vengeance Factor’. Both your character Yuta and the episode itself were very powerful. What was that experience like for you?
Wow, that was a really powerful experience. I remember the audition as if it happened only yesterday. I remember what I wore, I remember what they said to me, I remember how I sat, that was really something. It was incredible to work at Paramount and the soundstage that they use to create those planets, you can’t believe it, you literally feel like you are on another planet. Massive soundstage, such talent, it’s amazing that they created these scenarios.
The role of Yuta was a fascinating role because Star Trek does like to mirror current politics and troubles in the world and the fact that this innocent, a seemingly innocent, beautiful young girl literally changed genetically to hunt and kill the last guy in a quest for revenge. It was a beautiful role and she had to get killed in the end, something they don’t often do in Star Trek, because her thirst for revenge would just not allow her to stop.
Interesting enough, there is a Star Trek: The Next Generation monopoly board game and the character of Yuta is actually a property on the board! So when you say it was a powerful episode you are obviously not alone in that belief as there were many, many guest stars on the show so I was really honored about that.
So who was your biggest influence in terms of getting into the acting business?
This mays sound so corny but I would have to say Meryl Streep. I just think she is so amazing, she is such a chameleon and can play so many roles. Another influence was my Polish acting teacher, who taught me while I was at UCLA. I actually went to Poland for six weeks with our small class and practiced this method. It is a very physical method where there would be things like imagine your hair crying, it involves the body and the mind in a very deep way so that was a big influence on me.
It was such a big influence that I started showing up at auditions in a t-shirt and shorts, even if the role was for a lawyer or a judge. The outside clothing didn’t help me get into character or work on the role, it was the inside that helped me in the audition. Now later on, it would help to get into more specific roles by dressing different but I got cast from a lot of auditions where I wore just a t-shirt and shorts.
As an actress, do you still find there is an ‘old boys club’ mentality in the acting business towards women or have you seen attitudes change over the years?
I would say it’s changing but at a snail’s pace. There are simply still many more male roles than female roles out there. It’s changed a little bit, it use to be say one of ten roles for females and now I would day it’s closer to one out of seven. There is still a pay difference, there is still a majority of upper management jobs that are held by the men. I guess the good news is things are changing, it’s just happening far too slow and will probably still take some time before the average person really sees a difference.
Besides Clinger, what other projects do you have coming up?
I’m going to be doing a film called William Froste in November, it’s kind of a horror/thriller. I’m doing something called Nightmare and that’s with Lance Henriksen and Kane Hodder which has already been filmed and I also just did a movie called The Church with Bill Mosley and Ashley Williams. I’m also going to be doing a movie called Red Hollow for director Pressley Parrish and that is filming in Canada and this cool movie called Something Horrible. So after all of things just started coming out of the woodwork so to speak, I realized it was time to get back in the acting game!
I want to thank Lisa for taking the time to talk to us.