Gavin Schmitt Interviews Actress Traci Lords
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Traci Lords.
Q: Let’s just get this out of the way. How was your transition from the adult industry to the movie industry?
TL: In that period of my life, around 1986, there was a lot going on. I was sorting things out. If you’re curious about that, the best way to discover it is to read about it. My book is out there, and now it’s an e-book. I spend a lot of time talking about that. I think that’s probably the best, in-depth way to answer the question because it’s complicated.
Q: Let’s talk “Not of This Earth” (1988) and how you landed that role.
TL: I see a lot of “Not of This Earth” fans. Jim Wynorski would be very, very happy. Roger Corman was doing the remake. He had actually directed the original with Beverly Garland in 1957. They were casting the film, and I was all over the news at that point because I was a notorious teenager. I had just finished doing some work with Lee Strasberg’s acting school and was looking to build my credentials. It’s funny to me now, because straight out of method acting with Strasberg, I now found myself running through Griffith Park pretending that aliens were chasing me. You can’t take the film too seriously, but it got good reviews and positive feedback. Twenty years on, it’s still up there. It’s very kitschy.
Q: You first appeared on “Married with Children” in 1989 and then returned as a different character. What was Ed O’Neill like on the set?
TL: Ed O’Neill was Al Bundy. There were no breaks, from the moment he stepped on the set. He was hilarious and a delight. I’m glad he’s gone on to be such a success. Working on the show, I became good friends with Christina Applegate, and we had a lot of fun. Ed and I had a real good time. It was supposed to be set in Chicago, right?
Q: Right. With “Cry-Baby” (1990), you had one of your many roles for John Waters, and you got to work with Johnny Depp before he was Johnny Depp.
TL: I was cast in “Cry-Baby” after going through the screen test and all of that. Then I went to Baltimore for three months, and we all lived in a hotel called the Tremont (now the Embassy Suites). Johnny was on the top floor. The cast had the top four floors. I think Johnny was the oldest, maybe 25 or 26. He had done “21 Jump Street” at that point but never had a lead in a movie or carried a film. So I think it was a pivotal moment in his life. He was absolutely charming and funny, and still is. And of course just gorgeous. Ricki Lake was there, and she wanted to be a talk show host, even then. Iggy Pop was there, and he was the one I was starstruck by. He was sober, and zany, and fun and rock and roll.
Q: What’s John Waters’ process like?
TL: John, as a director, is very specific about what he wants. There’s not a lot of improvising. You read what’s on the page. When I was cast I didn’t really know who he was and people said to me, “What are you doing? He’s the one who has the dog in his movie!” I wasn’t really a fan of cult movies, so I didn’t know. But I did the movie, and I found him to be one of the most charming people and he’s very funny. We’re now very dear friends. When we did line readings, he’s want you to act out your part, which is kind of bizarre. He’s be holding the camera and mouthing your lines while you were trying to read them. But that was just part of his process.
Q: You went to work with Stephen King on “Tommyknockers” (1993)…
TL: We filmed it in New Zealand because the network wanted it to be the summertime. And in New Zealand, it was summer. I just remember being young and being terrified about how far away from home I was. I couldn’t sleep, and I was in the jungle with Stephen King doing night shoots. One night, he asked me, “Traci, do you want me to tell you a bedtime story?” That’s one of my few regrets, because I should have said yes. But at the time I was afraid.
Around 1993, you recorded a song with the Ramones. Can you talk about that?
TL: I’d love to. Every year Linda Ramone puts together a benefit for Johnny Ramone, in his honor, so I still talk with her. Johnny Ramone was a big fan of “Cry-Baby” and John Waters. Over the years, I’ve watched them die. I had the pleasure of working with Dave Foley and FunnyOrDie in a skit where we welcome the Ramones to Heaven. They’re finally all there. It’s quite funny, and Linda loved it. Dave Foley is very, very funny.
Q: You did a movie called “Ice” (1994) with Zach Galligan…
TL: Yeah. Phillip Troy Linger played my brother in that, and his friends all gave him a hard time that he was in a movie with Traci Lords and couldn’t even make out with her.
Q: Around 1994-1995, you had a story arc on “Roseanne”.
TL: Yes. People have very strong feelings about Roseanne, either loving her or hating her. I’ve always been a fan of hers, and she had everything to do with me being on the show. She put me there. I met her and Sandra Bernhard at an After Hours party for the Grammys. She said she wanted to have me on the show. I said “yeah, sure” but didn’t think much of it at the time. Then I got the call. I didn’t audition or anything, I just walked on. She was very supportive. John Goodman, too. It was intimidating because they were so good and I was the newbie on the set. I still have a fondness for Roseanne and I’m grateful to her. Politically, she’d love to run things.
Q: Your debut album, “1000 Fires”, came out in 1995.
TL: I always wanted to do that. It took a little while to get the ball rolling. At the time, I was living in the south of London and I worked with some of my idols from when I was a kid. Juno Reactor and the Thompson Twins. I got to work with Mike Edwards from Jesus Jones. These guys were all doing things independently, away from their bands. They were writing and producing. Perry Ferrell called and asked if I would do the After Hours rave thing at Lollapalooza. I ended up DJing. I’m not sure how good I was at it, but it was fun. And then he asked me to open for this new act called Moby. That was a trip. Moby was in America, and he was conquering, so I got to go around playing basketball and doing sound checks with Moby.
Q: Is Moby a good basketball player?
TL: Yes he is. And he plays good music.
Q: “Blade” (1998) was a huge deal, and you’re a big part of the film’s opening.
TL: Stephen Norrington directed that, and he’s an amazing director. I love the Blade series, and not just because I’m in it. About that time, I was also doing techno music, and Norrington would direct with music. Blaring music. You can feel the music in that film, which taught me a lot about filmmaking, the process. He’d have his headphones on, and then there’s that bloodbath scene that’s just insane, it was complete chaos on that set. There was a tunnel… you know when there’s construction, and they build a walkway for pedestrians, to keep them safe? That’s what they did. You would leave your hotel room in the morning, and walk down this tunnel. And it was because of that scene. That one scene took days to film. Whole days. You’d put your wardrobe on, and your trailer is covered in plastic because you’re sticky and covered in blood. That tunnel was like a car wash for actors, because we’d get sprayed with blood as we walked through. It was just so crazy. We were filming days and nights. One day I was driving home, it was like 92 degrees, and I was stained pink all over my body. I just wondered what would happen if I got pulled over. I had a fake gun in my trunk, a bottle of alcohol on my passenger’s seat and I’m stained bloody.
Q: You’ve done some wacky films. Case in point, “Epicenter” (2000), where you commandeer a rampaging street car. How do you prepare for that?
TL: Well, I drank a lot. (laughs) Just kidding. “Epicenter” was a trip, I had actually forgotten about that. We shot it in Romania. The pickups of the street car were in Canada. Doing the film was one thing, but then seeing it… I was shocked with how much I had done. There’s a scene where I get trapped underwater, and I felt scared for myself watching that. But while filming, you’re just so in the moment, you can be like, “I’m going to jump off this building right now, and that’s okay.”
Q: You did a guest appearance on “Gilmore Girls” in 2003.
TL: I like them a lot. I played sort of a wacky decorator. It’s hard to walk into a show that’s so well established, but I liked all the ladies and it was just nice. I played Natalie Zimmerman, and I talked really fast. She spoke very quickly about some very strange stuff.
Q: Also in 2003, you released your autobiography, “Underneath It All”. Was that cathartic?
TL: Yeah. There was a lot of misinformation out there about me. You read the articles, and now that there’s Internet it seems like once something’s on the Internet everyone takes it as fact. It’s frustrating in that way. From IMDb to Wikipedia, it’s hard to get facts straight. I’m okay with that, but I wanted to get my story out there. (affiliate link) And in the process I found I’m a really fast writer. All I had done before that was write short films, scripts, or short articles for magazines. Songs. But nothing that was 100s of pages. HarperCollins picked it up, wanted a rewrite, and that took me only another 6 weeks. It came out and was on the New York Times bestsellers’ list, which I’m really proud of. That’s not an easy task. A lot of people were really surprised about the details in my autobiography. I write very visually, and I’ve always done that. I just remember things, like what people were wearing. People’s shoes. I usually remember fans.
Q: What was it like working with Kevin Smith on “Zack and Miri Make a Porno” (2008)?
TL: I had just had my son, so I was on set with him and a baby carriage. The pictures from set are hilarious, because it’s me and a 3-month old. I love doing comedy. Not a lot of people realize I started out doing comedy. “Not of This Earth” was comedy, and then I did “Married… With Children” and had an arc on “Roseanne”. And one thing I’ve learned is that fans come from all walks of life. I have my music fans, my John Waters fans, my “Blade” fans. It’s interesting to me that even at a horror convention, you get the people who love “Cry-Baby”.