INTERVIEW WITH JILL SCHOELEN – DENNIS WILLIAMSON

 

Dennis Williamson: Welcome to The Bees Are Dead, Jill! You can’t begin to imagine how excited we are to have an icon of the genre such as yourself with us for this most unhallowed moment; it makes B.A.D. feel rather like, if you’ll forgive the allusion, a phantom stalking an opera house.

I remember as an ’80’s kid cultivating my love for horror by repeatedly watching several of the films you starred in, such as 1989’s “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Curse II: The Bite,” and of course “The Stepfather.” You in turn drew a multitude of fans for your performances. Then you sort of left us in the decade that followed. Why did the curtain fall at that time?

Jill Schoelen: I got into the business as a teenager and was fortunate to work consistently – virtually all the time. I met my husband at the end of 1991, now ex-husband. By the early part of 1993, we got engaged and in October of that year, married. As he was a film composer and I was having a steady career of acting, we made the decision together for me to work less. The bottom line was, nature was calling. I wanted to have babies. There was a lot of trauma just after our wedding with the January 17, 1994 Northridge Quake, followed by the death of my grandmother, who I was very close to, but on the heels of that, I found myself pregnant, and on that very day, called my agents and left the business permanently so I could be a full-time mom. I had been a latchkey kid and did not want that experience for my children.

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DW: However, I understand that come next year you’ll be launching a talk show, called “Sugar and Scream,” with fellow horror alum Suzanne Snyder. Please, tell us about this. Where did the idea come from?

JS: Yes, we are working on it and it’s going so well and is so much fun. Suzanne and I have been longtime friends – 35/36 years. A couple years ago I was dating someone extremely briefly but they inspired me about the internet. He had a lot of success being a public person on the internet and so I thought I could create something that might be fun, and people would like, designed specifically for the internet. Because my entire life, being a mom, was now cooking, cleaning and driving, yet I still had this label of scream queen, I thought what I really was was a scream queen chef. I went online and bought that domain “Scream Queen Chef,” but then upon trademarking, found out that would be a conflict with Paramount’s Scream Queens, so I changed the named to “Sugar and Scream.” I was sharing my ideas with Suzanne, just in friendly conversation about all my ideas, and one day she said something about liking this idea so much and I immediately, as if it were predestined, said “why don’t you do it with me?” Previously, there was no thought behind it. But in that moment, it just spontaneously, like written in stars, spoke to us! We both knew (instinctually, like a perfect fit/match), of course, yes and then we started work on it, way beyond my initial idea. That was a year ago. At the end of April 2019, we shot our first four episodes.

“Sugar & Scream” is a cooking and talk show with recipes that parody, in name only, horror and sci-fi films. Suzanne and I are the hosts, and we have on one guest star chef per episode from popular and iconic horror/sci-fi films and TV shows. A recipe example from the cult classic “Killer Klowns from Outer Space,” would be Killer Kale from Outer Space. “Texas Chain Saw Massacre” might be Texas Coleslaw Massacre, and from “Battlestar Galactica,” we would have the cocktail a Battlestar Gallactic Cosmo, and so on – 52 episodes a year (one per week).

“Sugar and Scream” is designed for THE FANS of the genre, and is lighthearted and fun – where health meets horror with cooking and food and conversation!!! These are not intense, chef-like recipes, but instead are recipes for the everyday person who maybe doesn’t even really cook or like cooking, but for sure with our recipes, can enjoy food that is fun and fast to make while being whole and healthy. As an extra point of huge interest, fans will enjoy the entertainment and get a kick from seeing some of their favorite horror/sci-fi stars as guest stars. While the food is literally “cooking,” we have an interview/conversation with that show’s guest star. The show finishes with everyone enjoying a taste of the recipe we prepared that episode.

That’s the show!

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DW: Also, you’ve been working on a book. What’s it about, and when can we expect to see it in print?

JS: 2020!!!! It will be a big year! Of course, the book will cover the films, but what the book is about is a journey of self-worth – mine. I think in the stress of my adult life with a divorce, then meeting Dave, my boyfriend/mate, a year later, and then his dying 5 1/2 years later, and raising my two boys myself (while their dad was in the picture, our boys lived with me), I was stressed but keeping my chin up, but my stress came out with an auto-immune disorder called vitiligo. Now 11 years later, I have virtually lost 90% of my pigmentation. There was a good 6 years stretch where I felt so ashamed of how I looked, feeling so ugly just as me, because my skin was so spotty. I battled coming to terms with it. This was reminiscent of my childhood where I had lost all my hair. I had alopecia, a close cousin to my now vitiligo. For two years when I was 7 and 8, I was bald and had no eyelashes or eyebrows. In between these long stretches of years, I went on to star in movies, travel the world and enjoyed a colorful life where most might not suspect the journey, though even in that journey there were the lows as well. My book is about what lied beneath and really drives our bus. I am hopeful the name of the book will be “The Skin I Live In,” but we will know for sure in a bit.

DW: When did you first realize you wanted to be an actor?

JS: I would say what I knew was I had the bug to entertain. It wasn’t a matter of realizing; it was a matter of not having a choice because it was just there, and I had to do it. The truth is as an adult, leaving the business, I have suppressed all of that. I am sure that is part of the vitiligo screaming at me. It takes a lot of energy to suppress what is inside and in our best interest – becoming all we are.

DW: When you received a role, how did you typically prepare for it?

JS: I read the script multiple times. Then I memorized the lines to forget them, so in the moment of filming, all would reveal itself.

DW: Despite no longer acting in films, you haven’t completely left your horror family behind as you do appear at conventions. How many conventions do you do annually, and what do you like best about them?

JS: What I like about the conventions, let me correct that – what I love about the conventions are the fans!!!! The fans are amazing!!!! They are the gift that keeps giving to the genre! The fans have kept all these films alive. That’s why Sue and I want to do “Sugar and Scream,” to give back to the fans! What I don’t like, is personal, but here it is – it is only that none of my films are big. The people who have seen them – LOVE them, but so few people have seen them. I have a unique audience of fans. And I am so grateful to them.

DW: There’s a nostalgic ambience at these gatherings which is undeniable; a longing, as it were, for that heady decade when the horror genre reached a zenith in the forms of Freddy, Jason, Aliens, Cenobites and the like. I think it bespeaks the faltering state of horror films of this century. What would you say the genre has lost since your time in it?

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JS: Well, think what you are talking about really is in all genres of film and really all over in the times we live in. We are having a unique new problem as the digital world is our new world, of pure substance to a degree. I mean, I think there is some amazing television, thanks to the internet and digital age, but there’s a loss in a lack of innocence and purity that once graced celluloid print, and I obviously don’t mean the film/print itself but the CONTENT! It was sourced from a different place within its creators. I think now, there is just so much content, that the purity of the better content being what’s available, is just watered down. It may not get through or noticed, but it’s probably there. With such an abundance of content, it’s harder to not only find, but for an audience to discern its difference.

DW: What was your initial reaction when you were inducted into the sorority of scream queens?

JS: I am not sure what you mean by that? You mean metaphorically? I am not really a “scream queen,” I mean, I never died in my films. I always survived and thrived. Having said all that, I am honored, so honored!

DW: How else do you express your creative drive?

JS: In every possible way. If I am not creating, I enjoy others’ creations in all forms – music, painting, sculpture, musical theater, plays, architecture – ALL OF IT! I still sing though I lost a lot of my joy from it after Dave died. Our life was music – every night he brought out his bass and he got me playing my guitar again all the time, and we sang our hearts out – especially me, but he did a lot of harmony. Because of his early death, I still struggle with the joy of singing now. It’s something I am called to address one of these days.

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DW: Now, in the restless spirit of our dystopian trope, I have to ask you: it’s the end times in real-time; what would Jill Schoelin do for Earth’s final curtain call?

JS: That’s depressing. For me it’s really simple – love my boys. That’s I really want – for life to be great for them. I can say with all certainty, more than my love, them being productive people who live their passion, is what gives them the greatest opportunity for their lives to be fantastic! And it’s my job to love them through it. If I leave this Earth leaving the world two loving men (my boys) who treat themselves and others with kindness, dignity and regard, then I have done my greatest purpose then I am free peacefully to go.

DW: Jill, this has been a real delight. Thank you so much for visiting the hive, and Happy Friday the 13th! As we bid adieu, would you give us your top seven fright flicks for today’s occasion?

JS:  The truth is I am not a “horror” fan but I do enjoy scary and ethereal based on other worldly … so my list is I suppose a bit unconventional:

“Dragonfly”
“Lady in White”
“The Sixth Sense”
“Signs”

Or crime driven:

“Silence of the Lambs”
There’s a ton of films I like in this area.

Horror:

I loved “The Conjuring” also, and it’s why I wanted to do the sequel the original “When A Stranger Calls.”

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