Kelly McGillis Interview: Famed "Top Gun" Actress Portrays "Nosy Neighbor" in Jim Mickle's Cannibalistic Horror Flick "We Are What We Are"
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Newport Beach, California native Kelly McGillis found fame in several films of the 1980s including Witness (opposite Harrison Ford), Top Gun (with Tom Cruise) and The Accused (also starring Jodie Foster). Other film appearances include The House on Carroll Street, Winter People, Cat Chaser, Grand Isle, At First Sight, Morgan’s Ferry, Stake Land and The Innkeepers.
McGillis’ theater work includes The Graduate, Little Foxes and Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune. Television credits are One Life to Live, Perry Mason: The Case of the Fatal Framing, We the Jury, Perfect Prey, The Wild Thornberrys, The Outer Limits and The L Word.
"[Jim Mickle] said that Marge is a very nosy neighbor and kind of the comic relief in the movie. That was fun. I chose to make her very demonstrative with her faith, you know? Very over animated, which was fun to do."
The talented actress can currently be seen in director Jim Mickle’s horror-drama hybrid film We Are What We Are, a remake of the Mexican horror film of the same name. The film tells the story of a cannibalistic family’s struggle to survive and also stars Bill Sage, Michael Parks, Ambyr Childers, Julia Garner and Kassie DePaiva.
Currently a resident of Asheville, North Carolina, McGillis came out as a lesbian in 2009, and in 2010 entered into a civil union with Melanie Leis, a Philadelphia-based sales executive.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Kelly, how are you today?
Kelly McGillis: I’m pretty good. I’m packing to leave town to go do a little project up in Ohio.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How’s the weather in North Carolina?
Kelly McGillis: Overcast, but pretty warm in the 70s.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’m a big fan of your work. Was it your relationship with director Jim Mickle that brought you into We Are What We Are?
Kelly McGillis: Yeah. He called me and asked if I would be willing to do a little part for him, and he sent me the script.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What did Mickle say about your character (Marge)?
Kelly McGillis: He said that Marge is a very nosy neighbor and kind of the comic relief in the movie. That was fun. I chose to make her very demonstrative with her faith, you know? Very over animated, which was fun to do.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Since this is your second time with Mickle (first being the film Stake Land), what do you like about him as a director?
Kelly McGillis: I just think he’s a really nice guy. He has a great vision. He’s really fun to work with and very respectful of everyone. He’s just an all round really good person.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Often times it’s difficult to work with children. How did eight-year-old Jack Gore (with an appropriate name for horror) do in his first film role?
Kelly McGillis: Having been a mom, it was pretty easy with him. You just had to remind Jack that he needed to act now and be really still. In the scene where his character (Rory) had to bite my thumb, we just let the camera roll, and I talked him through it, and Jim talked to him about it.
I think Jack did a really great job. He’s such a sweet kid (laughs). It’s unbelievable. But working with kids, you have to have a little patience at least.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Anything creepy or strange happen during filming?
Kelly McGillis: Not while I was there, but I was only filming for about six days.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I read that you did not like to watch scary movies.
Kelly McGillis: No (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you intend to watch this one?
Kelly McGillis: Well, I think I intend to. I just haven’t gotten to it because I’m trying to get out of town tomorrow. They sent me a DVD late yesterday, and I just haven’t had time, but I’m going to take it with me on my new gig and hopefully watch it on my day off. Guess this one isn’t as scary, so they tell me, so hopefully I’ll be able to watch it all the way through.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It is not your typical horror/slasher film of blood and guts in every scene, so you should be fine (laughs).
Kelly McGillis: Okay.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How did your roles in the two Mickle films differ?
Kelly McGillis: I think Stake Land was a bit more physical as I played a nun who joined forces with vampire hunters (laughs). They both were fun to do. But Jim makes everything more fun.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Was Stake Land your first film after your ten-year hiatus from acting?
Kelly McGillis: Yes it was.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What made you decide to go back?
Kelly McGillis: Well, once my kids left home, I was thinking that I’d like to go back to acting. It has been difficult because I was away so long. It’s also difficult because I don’t live in Los Angeles nor do I live in New York, nor do I want to at this moment. I’m really happy where I live. I really feel spiritually fed by living in the country. I tried to move closer to Philadelphia so I could get to New York easier. I lived in the suburbs, and I just did not like it, not one bit. It just didn’t do anything for me, so I stayed there about three years, and I chose to move down here to North Carolina.
It’s like starting over because I’ve aged. I’ve changed. I have to reintroduce myself to people, so to speak. I don’t want to try to recreate what kind of career I had before. I don’t want to do plastic surgery. I don’t want to try to look younger than what I am. I really want to do character roles, and that’s the great thing about working with Jim. He gives me the opportunity to do character roles, which I really enjoy.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Going back to the beginning of your career, would you consider Witness to be your breakout role?
Kelly McGillis: It wasn’t my first film, but it was one that got me noticed by a lot of people.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did you live among the Amish during the filming?
Kelly McGillis: I did. I went down to Lancaster and lived with an Amish widow (Mary) and her seven kids for about a week or so, and I did research. The funny thing is about five years ago, I was doing a talk at Lititz, which is near Lancaster, and some guy in the audience asked, “Do you remember me?” I said, “No. I don’t.” His name was Sam, and he goes, “You lived with me and my mother.” I just about died!
I got a chance to go to Mary’s house a few years ago as a Mother’s Day surprise and saw her again. After twenty-eight years of not seeing me, she turned around in her kitchen, looked at me and said, “I knew I would always see you again.” That was really sweet.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): That had to be an eye opening experience even living for that short period of time in Amish country.
Kelly McGillis: I have to say that I really admire their culture in a lot of ways, the simplicity of it. I think it is very admirable.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I can’t believe that it has been almost thirty years since the release of Top Gun. What was your life like after that film?
Kelly McGillis: Afterwards, I certainly had no anonymity left whatsoever. If I walked into a restaurant, everybody knew who I was. That was really overwhelming because I never wanted to be famous, so to speak. I hate that word. But I never wanted that kind of recognition. I just wanted to be able to act. That was really difficult for me. It was very scary.
I wasn’t prepared for that psychologically. I don’t know how one would prepare for that. I had a tough time dealing with being a household name.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What was your childhood like, Kelly?
Kelly McGillis: My childhood was good. My mom was a stay-at-home mom. My dad was a general practitioner, and he made house calls. He was a good old-fashioned doctor. I really loved hanging out with my dad. He would sail and build things on boats. I loved going to the hardware store with him (laughs). That was my Saturday time with my dad. We’d go get the car washed, go to the hardware store and buy black licorice.
I was a very rebellious teenager, and I don’t think that I was really kind to my parents in my rebellious years (laughs). But I think I changed a bit, as I got older. So yeah, I had a very normal, middle class upbringing.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Were you always interested in performing?
Kelly McGillis: I was always interested in acting since high school. I really wanted to be a theater actress. That’s what I really wanted to do when I grew up. So when I made movies, it was a real shocker to me because I never ever thought of myself as a movie actress.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What film role is your most memorable?
Kelly McGillis: The most memorable isn’t from the movies. It’s in theater playing Lavinia in Mourning Becomes Electra. It’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. In movies, I can’t say because each one I’ve done has afforded me an opportunity to express myself in a different way.
I have learned something from all of the projects I have done. Some have been painful lessons, some have been humiliating lessons, and others have been just really great blessings. So it’s hard for me to name a memorable role in movies.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What would be your dream role on stage?
Kelly McGillis: I think I’ve pretty much played them all. I would like to do Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are you still working with addicts and alcoholics?
Kelly McGillis: No. I’m not doing that anymore since I moved. But I am teaching acting in Asheville (North Carolina) at a place called the New York Studio for Stage and Screen. I am still helping young women who have drug or alcohol addictions, but not in terms of being a counselor.
I’m not a counselor, nor was I. I don’t know how that got interpreted that way. But I just share my own experiences with people who struggle with the disease of addiction. I try to help others. Then I have another film I’m going off to shoot tomorrow called Love Finds You in Sugarcreek, Ohio, so I’ll be a couple of weeks doing that.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Would you call yourself a LGBT advocate or activist?
Kelly McGillis: Yes I would. I wouldn’t say I’m into militant activism. I think being an activist means being willing to be who you are in any social situation and allowing people to get to know you as a person as opposed to a label. That’s how I would describe my activism.
I don’t run around telling people what they should be thinking. I believe people have every right in the world to make up their own minds and their own decisions without my help.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are you personally happy in your life now?
Kelly McGillis: I’m exceedingly happy. I have a very quiet, little normal life, and I love it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Well, I’d say you might just have a bright future in horror films (laughs).
Kelly McGillis: (laughs). I don’t know what the future holds for me.
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