Dee Wallace Interview: "E.T." Star Talks Career and Teaching Kids Self-Love Through Interactive Bear
Image attributed to Dee Wallace
Dee Wallace is perhaps best known through her appearances in the horror films The Hills Have Eyes (1977), The Howling (1981) and Cujo (1983), but her most widely seen role is as Elliott’s mother, Mary, in Steven Spielberg's blockbuster E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982). Other films include The Stepford Wives, 10, Critters, Alligator II: The Mutation, Invisible Mom, The Frighteners, The House of the Devil, Halloween, Extraordinary Measures, The Lords of Salem, Hansel & Gretel and Love and Mercy.
Television appearances include The Streets of San Francisco, Starsky & Hutch, Lou Grant, CHIPs, Simon & Simon, The Twilight Zone, Together We Stand, The New Lassie, L.A. Law, Touched by an Angel, Grey’s Anatomy, My Name is Earl, Criminal Minds, The Office, Switched at Birth, Grimm, General Hospital and The Whispers. To date, Wallace has appeared in over ninety television shows and a hundred films.
"I think I’m still typecast! Oh yeah, the loving mother, the loving grandma that understands everything. Then you take me into the horror genre, and of course, that will always open up more opportunities for any actor. In television, they really want to put me in those roles. Nobody wants to see me as a hooker anymore, honey (laughs). I’m the grandmother that poisons everybody."
Aside from acting, the Kansas City native is a public speaker and self-help author, having written three books and having her own call-in radio show. She also created the BuppaLaPaloo bear which is an interactive toy that teaches children self-love, importance and self-esteem. More information on Wallace’s books, products and the BuppaLaPaloo Kickstarter campaign can be found at her website (Iamdeewallace.com).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Hi Dee!
Dee Wallace: Hello darlin’, boy do I love your accent!
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Thank you. I’m in Birmingham, Alabama.
Dee Wallace: Fabulous! If I start talking like this (slow drawl) … the year I learned how to talk, I lived in Memphis. So when I hear y’all talking like that, I just kind of fall right into it (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): That will be fine with me (laughs).
Dee Wallace: Okay. You’ve got a deal.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Thanks for taking the time to speak with me. I understand you are very busy these days!
Dee Wallace: Oh my goodness gracious! I’d say that’s a drastic understatement. But first of all, I think the thanks go to you. Thank you for helping me get this wonderful news out. And yes, I just finished my daughter’s wedding and just finished shooting a series which is now down for a little while. I had a day off, and I launched my bear, which you can find out more about on my website. It’s a busy, joyful time doing everything I love with a lot of people I love.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Of course, you’re talking about your daughter, Gabrielle, who’s also an actress. I believe you two are in a zombie film together.
Dee Wallace: Well, we’ve done a couple of films together, yes. We have a film coming out called Zombie Killers which is a really good little film. She does not play my daughter. She’s the lead, and I am in a supporting role (laughs). I’m her boyfriend’s mother who’s dying of cancer.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is Gabrielle following in mom’s footsteps as another scream queen?
Dee Wallace: You know, she’s doing comedy and a lot of different things. I think it’s just easier when you’re starting out. For any actor, it’s easier, especially right now, to start in the horror films because there are so many opportunities there. They’re very big and very popular right now, and there’s a lot of work. If you have the chops that Gabrielle has, it’s easy because she’s got a lot of emotional life in her. I think if you put all those things together, it’s easier to get started in that genre. But she has her little tippy toes in a lot of other places, too.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’ll get back to the horror films in a few minutes. Tell me about the series you are doing for Amazon.
Dee Wallace: It’s called Just Add Magic. It’s based on a book, and the series is a pre-teen dramedy. These young, little actresses are just phenomenal in it. I’m so happy to be a part of this series because of the writing, the production values, and the incredibly talented people involved. It’s a beautiful project. We’ve finished shooting, but I think they’re going to launch it around December or January.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is this your first experience with Amazon?
Dee Wallace: It is, and I’m quite impressed, I must say.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What are the differences, as an actor, between Amazon Studios and traditional television networks?
Dee Wallace: Not really anything. I think the production values perhaps are even better, if you’ve watched the new things on Netflix or Amazon. They have Andrew Orenstein heading up this project as an executive producer, and he’s won a lot of Emmys. Just Add Magic has an incredibly talented cast and production team. They’re giving some very talented new people a shot which I really love. I go out and try to help a lot of new filmmakers when they call me, so I appreciate that. They are giving new people, writers as well, a chance to show how great they are.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Was it great to see Steven Spielberg again on set of The Whispers?
Dee Wallace: Well, I would love to say, “Yes,” but I never saw his face. I never saw the little sucker there. He would come and leave, and then I would come and leave. I’d love to say, “Oh my God, we went out to dinner and had such a great time,” but I didn’t see him (laughs). Such is the nature of this business, I’m afraid.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Well, how dare he!
Dee Wallace: That’s right! He had a chance to take me to dinner! I’m sure he has nothing else to do (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Will The Whispers be renewed for a second season?
Dee Wallace: I have not heard. I don’t know. I wish I could give you some insight into that. The last half of the season, my character wasn’t really terribly present because it didn’t move the story to have the grandmother there much. They wanted to get the kid out and get him in jeopardy. Now the husband is back home, so I don’t know where it’s going to go. I would love to go back.
I would love to go back on Grimm too, which I hear is a possibility. I’m just keeping my options open at this point. I do a lot of intuitive life coaching, and I’ve just launched this new toy for children to teach them how to love themselves.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): And speaking of Spielberg, while reading the E.T. script, did you think it was just another alien movie?
Dee Wallace: No. Not at all. I had to go over to the studio to read it. I called my agent and said, “Look. This is beyond a special script. I don’t know if it’s going to do anything for me, but I want to be a part of this film because it’s going to do a lot for the world.” I knew it the minute I read it, the minute I read it. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be a blockbuster that’s going to last the rest of your life, but I knew that the script was very special.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You played some characters that found themselves on the wrong side of evil creatures. Did you feel that you were typecast in the horror genre or as a vulnerable mom usually in trouble?
Dee Wallace: I think I’m still typecast! Oh yeah, the loving mother, the loving grandma that understands everything. Then you take me into the horror genre, and of course, that will always open up more opportunities for any actor. In television, they really want to put me in those roles. Nobody wants to see me as a hooker anymore, honey (laughs). I’m the grandmother that poisons everybody.
I actually helped produce and star in a short film called Flowers in December, which is very raw about a drug addict that has conjugal visits with her husband in jail. I did it just because I wanted to remind people, “Hello guys. I do other things than moms, remember?” Actors like to be challenged, and they like to have all kinds of different parts thrown at them. I know what my strengths are. I went in to read for something today, and it was this very stuffy, stern matriarch. I said to my agent, “I ain’t going to get this.” I never get those parts, but I went in to meet the casting people and all that.
The guy looked at me and said, “You’re just so vulnerable, Dee.” (laughs) I told him what Blake Edwards told me when I did 10. He said, “Dee, I could stand ten little old ladies up and let you shoot them in cold blood, and the audience would forgive you. They’d say that it must’ve been something her mother did to her when she was young. You just have that essence, honey.” (laughs) It’s true. You have to use the essence of who you are, and then play the roles that your essence lends yourself to. Hookers with hearts of gold were one of my specialties back in the day, scream queens and strong women in vulnerable situations. All that stuff I do really well.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I heard there might be a remake of The Howling.
Dee Wallace: Yeah, well, I hear there’s going to be a remake of Cujo, too. I just say to both of them, “Good luck with that.” You don’t take something that was done right the first time and redo it. They redid The Hills Have Eyes, and it was not nearly as good as the first one. All the dogs will be CGI, I guarantee you, and it ain’t the same thing. I’m happy to stand in the original classics unless, of course, they want to pay me a million dollars to come in. But we know that won’t happen (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Hey, you never know.
Dee Wallace: Oh yeah, pretty much I do (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Were you impressed by a thirty-something Wes Craven all those years ago in The Hills Have Eyes?
Dee Wallace: Oh, he was such a dear. He was very quiet, very intense. He was a college professor and just a sweet man. Yeah. Very sweet man.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What are the differences between the horror films of today and the ones you made in the 70s, 80s and 90s?
Dee Wallace: I don’t think we actually have horror films now at all. I think we have slasher films. A slasher film is, “Hi. Here’s six characters. Watch how we can murder them more gruesomely than the last one.” A good horror film takes time to create the characters and the relationships between the characters, so you really care about the people when they’re in jeopardy. It builds, and it has a crescendo. Horror and slasher are two entirely different genres.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Stepford Wives comes to mind, too, with character relationships.
Dee Wallace: Yes ma’am.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You were great as Patricia Spencer on General Hospital a few weeks ago, especially since that character had to be developed from scratch and not much was known about her.
Dee Wallace: Thank you. Yeah. That was good. I had a great time. Man, I have a whole new appreciation for these amazing actors that have worked on these shows for so many years. The amount of what they learn, what they do and how professionally they execute it is just staggering to me.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It must have been an amazing experience to work with Tony Geary who played the iconic role of Luke Spencer for almost thirty years.
Dee Wallace: It was. He was a giving actor. Everybody on the set was great. It really was one of the nicest experiences I’ve had in a long time.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Dee, how did acting become a spiritual journey for you?
Dee Wallace: That’s a great question. Once I became a healer and a channel, I realized that I had been channeling all the time I was acting. I learned that when I found my brilliant mentor, Charles Conrad, who taught me everything I know about the way I work. Now Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood are all like, “Oh, let’s film the rehearsal. Let’s not rehearse it.” Well, everybody in Charles’ classes were doing that in the 80s.
It was just absolute freedom for me. I could literally go into that channeled place, and my character knew exactly what to do. It became a spiritual experience for me because you allowed yourself to trust and go into any place that you wanted to go into and see what happens. It was always magical. Now, of course, we know that if we live our lives that way, magical things happen if we just go in to trust.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): On your website, you say, “Love yourself beyond anyone or anything else. Love yourself so much that you can’t do anything that doesn’t make you love yourself more.” But doesn’t that hurt the people around you if you become too arrogantly self-centered or ego driven?
Dee Wallace: No, no, no. It’s your alter ego that keeps you out of loving yourself. It keeps you in your fear. It keeps you in your judgment. It keeps you in your limiting perceptions of the world that keeps you from seeing the world as a world that’s on your side. The first thing we’re all taught is that God is love and love is God. They’re interchangeable. When you become the God of you and the love of you, you would not do anything to hurt another person because hurting another person is hurting yourself. So when you truly live in the stage of love for yourself, not only do you think and act with love toward other people, which we are taught, but you think and act with love toward yourself which we are never taught. That’s why I created this little bear.
When I started scientifically studying the brain and looking at the development of the brain, do you know that how we emotionally experience ourselves and how we see ourselves in the world is pretty much embedded in us by the time we are eighteen months old? Our whole personality in the brain is completed by around four years old. So if we are not taught to love ourselves, to honor ourselves, to respect ourselves, to believe in ourselves by the time we’re four years old, we spend the rest of our lives trying to redo that or to function at a high level in spite of it.
Everybody identifies with that when I talk about it. “It’s so hard for me to stick to my diet,” or “I keep thinking I’m going to create that website, and I just don’t get it done,” or “I should’ve sent out resumes, but I just can’t make myself do it.” That’s all due to the lack of self-love they feel within themselves because they don’t even know that they can accomplish what they want to accomplish, so their ego says, “You’ll never be able to do that. Let’s just keep you small and then you can stay safe.” But we don’t ever get what we want, do we? Or we don’t get it in the joyful way we want it, or we don’t get it in the massive way of creation that we want.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): The bear teaches children self-love, so that they can retain that feeling as they grow?
Dee Wallace: It’s the feeling, but it’s also creating the synapses within the brain. The child pushes one of the paws, and the bear says things like, “I love me.” The child then says it back to the bear. “I love me.” The bear says, “I love my body,” and the child says, “I love my body.” It’s combining all the things that create synapses in the brain: fun, joy, experience of love and actually stating it in first person.
When you put all those things together, you create at massive levels. The feeling that we have when we create is as important as what we say we want in the steps we take. If you combine fear while you’re taking steps of doing what you want, you’re going to limit yourself in your creation process. I guarantee you.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are you mostly a happy and confident person?
Dee Wallace: Yes ma’am. I believe that’s why we’re here. This is the greatest challenge when you’re in an embodiment, to stand back and go, “Wow. I’m not going to blame somebody, and I’m not going to wait for somebody to create me. It’s up to me.” I get to look at all the places that I’m holding me back, all the thoughts, all the perceptions, all the actions that don’t support my self-love.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Has this art of self-creation helped you through some difficult times?
Dee Wallace: Oh my gosh. How many do you want me to list? My father was a drunk. He shot himself in the head when I was a senior in high school. My beloved husband, Christopher, died suddenly at fifty-three when I was shooting The Frighteners. I’ve lost my mom. I’ve lost my grandparents. I’ve been hurt so many times in this business, I can’t even begin to tell you. But I always bounce back because I have learned the most important lesson that to not forgive takes you down and destroys you.
Not forgiving somebody else is one of the biggest ways we don’t love ourselves and that you have to accept what life gives you. Then you have to take that and go, “Okay. What am I going to create from it? This happened. I accept it. Now it’s up to me what I create out of it.” Am I going to be pissed off? Am I going to be judgmental? Am I going to live my life in fear, or am I going to create what I really want, which is often times the antithesis of what we get?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Final thoughts, Dee?
Dee Wallace: I have monthly webinars that I do, and I have a weekly radio show every Sunday morning. It’s a free call-in show where people can absolutely ask anything about where the block in their energy is or how they can create more of something. It’s a beautiful show. And I would just love people to visit my website.
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