Dee Wallace on Finding the Truth in ‘Beyond the Sky,’ ‘Cujo,’ and ‘E.T.’

We chat with the actress about her process and her loving relationship with the fan community.
Dee Wallace Beyond The Sky
RLJE Films
By  · Published on October 2nd, 2018

Some actors are a seal of approval. Their very presence on a cast list can determine whether we’ll plop down our hard-earned cash on a ticket or not. Dee Wallace is one such stamp. I don’t know if I would have bothered with Beyond the Sky without her name on the poster, but there she is, whispering her endorsement for this latest alien invasion saga.

Having appeared in over 240 movies and television shows, Wallace is a significant monument in our pop culture landscape. She was the coolest mom ever in E.T., and she took no guff as the journalist on the hunt of a werewolf cult in The Howling. Lately, she’s been terrorizing audiences alongside Rob Zombie in The Lords of Salem and the upcoming 3 From Hell.

I spoke to Wallace over the phone. We start our conversation with her status as a proud member of the horror fan community. We discuss what it is like to come face-to-face with such adulation from others, and how she is determined to not fail her fans by staying true to her characters. How does she accomplish such a feat? We spend a good time on that topic. You have to keep the cooties at bay.

Here is our conversation in full:

We’ve actually met a couple times, but about 20 years ago.

Oh, dear god, where at?!

In Maryland. I was one of the many who lined up for autographs at a Horrorfind convention.

Oh, my gosh, don’t we miss those conventions?

I really do. I got a couple 8x10s of you from The Howling and Critters.

Well, great! Well, hi, again, Brad.

(Laughter) Hi, again. It’s a true thrill to talk to you.

Thank you.

And that’s really what I’ve always appreciated about you – your passion for the fan community. You seem to give your full self to the fans.

Oh, I do.

What is that relationship like from your side of the table?

Well, the first thing that comes to mind are the good friends that I haven’t seen for a long time. Although, I do see a lot of them at several of the conventions and personal appearances that I do throughout the year. But, you know, there are really no better fans than a horror fan. They are insightful; they have beautiful, kind hearts. They’re knowledgeable about all of your work and appreciative of your work.

I did one this weekend here in Burbank, and I had three of the most amazing encounters. The first guy was the gentleman who created E.T.’s heart light. I had never met him before, but he told the story of how this was Stephen’s idea, and how at the last minute, a divine hit that he got. So, they created this heart light through E.T.’s chest, and it was only supposed to be used in the last scene, but, when they saw it, they worked it throughout the whole film, and it ended up, literally, being the whole message of the film; keep your heart light on.

Then, there was this beautiful Japanese couple. The minute that she walked to my table, she burst into tears and explained to me this was the first film as a child she was ever allowed to see in Japan. And, you could see in her eyes and in her emotion, how much this film meant to her and touched her. Then she explained to me that she was confused when she saw it because they didn’t celebrate Halloween, and they didn’t have pizza delivery in Japan.

Then, there was this beautiful couple from Brussels, who knew everything that I had done, and followed my work. We just spent so much time talking about how much they love our country, and how friendly and wonderful the Americans are. I think, during this time of unrest, politically, it’s so nice to be reminded that people from the outside still see our country this way, and so should we. Those are huge gifts that you get when you interact with the fans you love.

So, when you appear in a film like Beyond the Sky, for a fan like myself, it’s a seal of approval. Immediately, I need to know what this movie is about.

Well, thank you. That’s a lovely compliment. And I will need to be more aware … of the importance of picking the right films (laughter).

It’s absolutely true.

I just read this script, and I said, yeah, I know this is the truth. What they’re stating in this film. I like to go in and help young filmmakers if I think they’re good and talented. Sometimes my name helps the financing and the distributions. And I love the character. She’s very spunky and a color I don’t get to play as often as I’d like. So, I figured, everybody won. And I’m very proud about how this film came out.

What’s your strategy, as an actor, when you step onto that set, and you’ve got this one scene to make an impression, to knock it out? How do you approach that role?

My strategy is the same, whether I do one scene or I’m carrying the film. I want to go in and be as truthful in every moment as I can be. To serve that character and to work to bring the director’s vision into being, as long as it does not jeopardize my truthfulness. Right? As the character. That’s the most important thing to me. Is every moment that I’m playing truthful.

How do you know if you achieve that?

Oh, honey, you know, because when you’ve been doing this as long as I have, and trained in the way that I was trained, and the technique that I was trained in, if you’re not real and you go into an acting place, it just feels like cooties are crawling all over ya. I don’t know how to explain it, but, it’s like you’re fake. It’s the most horrible feeling in the world, for me.

How do you rectify that?

You just go back to the truth. It’s really easy. It’s “what would she do?” She, I, in that moment, truthfully, what would she do? What’s going on with me, truthfully? Not, what do I think would go on with me? Like when I crack up at “penis breath” line in E.T.

A lot of actors would have gone, well, she’s a mom, and she should say, “No penis breath.” But it was funny! In the moment, it was funny to hear that coming out of his mouth. So, I went with it.

It’s such a human moment in the movie. That feels very real.

Yeah! Well, that’s what I mean. The moment in Cujo where I lose it with him and say, “All right, I’ll get you your daddy!” They were thinking about cutting that out. I said, “You’re crazy!” Every parent in the world has had that moment. So, they left it in, and every critic that reviewed the film found that moment. What a real moment it was. You gotta trust it. You really have to trust that instinct of what’s truthful.

You’ve worked with so many directors of different styles, different genres. One of my favorite recent roles of yours was in The Lords of Salem for Rob Zombie, a truly unsettling performance. Unlike anything I’d seen from you before that.

Thank you. Well, I just adore Rob Zombie, just adore him. He has such trust in the people that he hires, but, in Lords of Salem, she’s really playing a character. She’s playing this innocent, little, kinda wacky healer girl. Then, once we give Sheri to the devil, I’m sitting in my dressing room, and I start feeling those cooties. And, I’m going, geez, this isn’t who I am. This look isn’t who I am. This was all a show. And I ran to Rob and said, Rob, everything in me says I’ve gotta look different now. I’ve got to be who I really am and not the kewpie doll that I’ve been playing on her behalf.

I explained it all to him, and he looked at me, looked at his watch and said, you got 15 minutes, Dee. That was it! I ran to makeup and we slicked my hair back and made me look a lot harder, and, I thought, it’s either gonna work or it isn’t gonna work. But it did work. And, yeah, I’ve just come to really trust that knowing of that truthfulness.

You must have enjoyed the experience if you’re coming back for 3 From Hell.

Yeah, we just finished 3 From Hell. It’s gonna be quite a ride. You’re not going to ever talk to an actor that doesn’t wanna work with Rob Zombie.

Why is that, exactly?

Well, he’s a genius. He’s a nice guy. He’s great to work with. Respects you, loves actors. It’s just a beautiful playground for an actor.

How are you feeling about the horror genre right now?

I think we’re in the highlight of it. From TV to film, there’s some incredibly innovative stuff going on. And it has really opened up to the general public. Shows like Stranger Things. It’s just kind of a golden time for horror, I think. There is so much really innovative stuff under the horror banner in film and TV coming out.

Beyond the Sky is now available on VOD and Digital HD.

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Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)