The Movie Waffler Waffling With... Screen Legend Olivia Hussey | The Movie Waffler

Waffling With... Screen Legend Olivia Hussey

She's played Shakespeare's most iconic heroine, Norman Bates' mother and the final girl in the first ever slasher movie. We chatted to the legendary actress about her illustrious career, dealing with early fame and her opinion of critics.

Interview by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

You experienced global success at the age of 15 in Franco Zefferelli's Romeo and Juliet. What was it like to suddenly become one of the world's most recognisable faces at practically the beginning of your career?

By the time I did Romeo and Juliet I had already been working for a few years. There were 800 girls auditioning for the role in London alone. It was all very exciting. Leonard Whiting and I were paired off by Zeffirelli from the very start of the screen testing. The tests lasted for a couple of months, as we would audition, then go back for another test after three weeks; this happened over the two months.

Leonard and I were told we had it but were not allowed to tell anyone until the big introduction to the world at the Ritz Hotel in London was made. Once we were announced things moved quickly. Weeks afterwards we were both in Rome and became rapidly acquainted with the paparazzi for the first time. We were stalked and followed everywhere we went, and while shooting we had reporters from newspapers and magazines from all over the world waiting up to three weeks at a time to interview us and photograph us.

It was a lot of pressure on a 15 (I was 15 when shooting began and turned 16 during it) and a 16 year old. I have always suffered from some agoraphobia (fear of open spaces and large crowds) so I had a particularly hard time with the amount of attention we constantly had and the level of fame that followed once the film was released. I was always the one that looked pouty and a bit serious, but that was nerves and my feelings of being overwhelmed by that kind of success.

Leonard helped me a lot with his great sense of humor. He always knew when I had had too much and would step in with a joke and held me. So it was definitely surreal for anyone, let alone two teenagers. We toured all over the world to all the different openings, and there was not one country we visited that did not recognise us, leading to us having to run away from fans whenever we could.

It got easier to handle as I got older, but when you start out in such an iconic way you have to deal (for many years) with people coming up to you, even if you were out on a date, and asking for photos and autographs. So I spent a lot of time at home hiding when we were not touring.

Many actors who achieve fame so early struggle to transition to adult roles. What advice would you give to today's young stars?

I really wouldn't give much advice as fame is different for everyone. My daughter India is an actress now but we did not allow her to start until she was 12. I think starting younger than that is very hard on you and you can easily lose your sense of reality. My bit of advice would be to really love what you do. You have to learn to live with rejection on a daily basis, so try not to take it too seriously, as it's just business. Try to have a life outside of the business. And be good to yourself.

You have a very distinctive voice, but it's difficult to place your accent, and you did a lot of globe-trotting in your early life. What nationality do you consider yourself?

I am half English on my mother's side and half Argentinian. But now I have an American Passport so I like to consider myself an American.

You starred in the '70s Italian crime thriller Summertime Killer. Italian productions at that time were attracting a lot of global stars, many acting in a variety of languages. How was that experience?

Summertime Killer was filmed in 1972. I loved working in Spain. I found a small homeless dog wondering through the streets of Madrid and adopted her and brought her home to LA. I loved working with Karl Malden; he was such a sweet and wonderful man and so professional. And I made two films with Christopher Mitchum. Summertime Killer was a huge box office success and led to Chris and I teaming up in Thailand for another film called H-Bomb. Horrible film, but great to work with Chris again.

You've worked in almost every corner of the world at some point of your career. Was this a conscious decision to experience other cultures?

I loved travelling when I was young. I loved packing and heading to some distant place and becoming someone else for a couple of months. Icould never have been on a TV show doing the same thing over and over again. I loved the freedom of variety and travel.

Bob Clark's Black Christmas is now considered the birth of the slasher movie genre. Do you recall how it was received at the time, and did you have any idea of how influential it would be?

Bob Clark was an amazing director. He had a vision of what he wanted and he just did it! He was always polite, always smiling. We knew it was going to be something special. He managed to have audiences on the edge of their seats without actually seeing much slashing or blood!

You've appeared alongside some of cinema's most iconic stars. Are there any that left a particularly good (or bad) impression?

I'm not going to talk about anyone that might have left a bad impression. I loved working with David Niven; he was a true gentleman. So was Peter Ustinov. Angela Lansbury was an amazing lady. Sir Laurence Olivier was wonderful, as was James Mason. Franco Nero, the Italian actor, and Armand Assante were fun to work with. Sir John Guielgud was lovely and Peter Finch was funny. So was George Kennedy. Karl Malden was a joy. Robert Powell, who played Jesus, was very professional and very sweet. So was Stacy Keach. Sir Ralph Richardson was sweet. Ned Beatty was lovely and so was Linda Purl.

In 1987 you appeared in the video for Michael Jackson's Liberian Girl. How did this come about? Were you a friend of Jackson?

No, a friend of mine was producing it and asked if I wanted to do it. What fun! It was a fun day and I got to meet a lot of nice people. My skit was with Lou Ferrigno (The Hulk) who is a lovely man, but I don't think it made the final edit.

The Australian movie Turkey Shoot (aka Escape 2000) has developed a cult following, and its influence can be seen in the many Young Adult dystopian sci-fi movies we see today. It's the sort of crazy movie that probably couldn't be made now. Any memories of that shoot and working with cult director Brian Trenchard-Smith?

I am shocked at how many people love that film. It's an awful film. And for the record, it was not my body in that shower scene! I loved working with Steve Railsback who was already a friend of mine. I had never been to Australia and so accepted the offer. I loved working with the Australian actors; they were all so professional and so good. It was fun, and Brian Trenchard-Smith is a very nice person and easy to work with. Any other memories I have put in my biography which my son Alex and I have just finished putting together. He's working with an editor right now cleaning things up before taking meetings with publishers.

We recently interviewed Tommy Lee Wallace, who directed you in the 1990 TV mini-series adaptation of Stephen King's IT. He claims to have had some trouble with the script but ultimately managed to pull it all together; did this affect the shoot from your point of view?

I hated shooting it, but the cast was so lovely. John Ritter was the first person to come welcome me. All the actors were staying at the usual place actors stay when they are shooting in Vancouver - The Sutton Place Hotel - and for some reason the production office put me in some awful little hotel far from the rest of the cast. I was shooting Psycho IV with Anthony Perkins and Henry Thomas in Florida at the same time, so I would shoot for a couple of weeks on Psycho, where I was staying at the wonderful Peabody Hotel and treated very well. Then I would fly back to Vancouver, reluctantly, to work on this film that I thought was pretty bad. My husband David had been on tour with his band in Europe and came to visit me there, and when he saw where they put me and how sad I was he never left, so that helped. Tim Curry was wonderful too and did an amazing job as the clown. But the experience of working there was not a good one for me.

You gave a chilling performance as Norman Bates's mother in Psycho IV. How did you approach playing a character who we had never previously seen alive yet is one of cinema's most iconic?

I wanted to play her as a schizophrenic bi-polar type of woman. As she had never been seen before I was free to do what I felt. I loved Mick Garris the director. He was a joy to work with and set the tone for the whole film and crew. It was a very happy shoot -so different from the IT shoot! I loved working with Henry Thomas; such a talented, professional young actor he was, and some of our scenes together were quite uncomfortable to shoot. I kept apologising to him, saying "I'm really not like this at home Henry, you can ask my two sons, I'm a great mom". Anthony Perkins was very intense and quiet; a sweet man, but kept to himself a lot. I didn't actually have too much to do with him as we only appeared in one scene together. I had a blast doing that one and wish there had been even more crazy stuff I could have done.

You've done a lot of acclaimed work voicing animation. How did you first become involved in this and what do you think makes a good voice actor?

I had an agent who submitted my voice for different things. I don't think I'm great at it. I get the job done, but I think to be a good voice actor you have to be able to play all different types of characters with all types of accents. It's a lot of fun and I'm always game for that if they are looking for my type of voice, but I can't do all the different voices most great voice actors can do .

According to IMDB you're set to star in a historical drama called 1066. Can you tell us anything about this?

Nothing yet on 1066. I loved the idea and the script, but do not know what is going on with it yet.

You reteamed with your Romeo and Juliet co-star Leonard Whiting for a movie called Social Suicide last year. Are there any details of that film's release?

I know that Social Suicide is going to different film festivals in Europe but do not know yet if it got a release. It was a little indie, so you never know. Leonard and I really had very small roles as most of the cast were young people, but we both so wanted to be in a film that my daughter India was in. Janet Wells the producer was amazing to cast and crew, and a joy to work with.

Outside of film, you seem heavily involved in animal welfare. What can you tell us about this aspect of your life?

I don't know about being heavily involved. I sign petitions and share them and get many people to sign and I rescue animals whenever possible. I love animals. I'm vegetarian.

Some actors and filmmakers think of film reviewers as 'the enemy', but we were happy when you told us you love to read reviews. Does this include reviews of your own movies? It's hard to imagine anyone criticising your work, but there's always one. Did you ever feel unfairly treated by a reviewer? Do you think film critics have any real relevance?

Well film critics are people and have their opinions like everyone else, but I do believe that when they are good, like a Roger Ebert, they really love to watch films and great performers. They are true fans, so I love to read what they think about a project.

If it's an actor or director and I love their work it doesn't matter what the critics say; I'm still going to watch it for myself. But it's always nice to read a respected critic's views. I've had good and bad reviews over the years, and that's okay. Everyone's allowed their opinion, but I did think it was unfair of the critics in England to pull apart Zeffirelli's version of Romeo and Juliet because Franco had omitted certain Shakespearean monologues. The point Franco made was we don't want to get so caught up in the dialogue that we forget all the young people we are aiming to bring Shakespeare to, who might get lost in all the prose. He wanted the film to be relevant to young people about young love no matter over how many years the film was watched. And he achieved this! Everyone remembers our Romeo and Juliet (we were honoured to have been a part of it...a classic). Nobody remembers who the critics in London were that panned it! So Franco achieved what he wanted. He was, and is a true master of film!

Thanks for your time Olivia.

I love The Movie Waffler's reviews. They have been so far spot on. Well done, keep up the good work!

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