Diane Franklin and myself at Chiller Theater, Oct. 2011
Like many children of the 80s, I discovered the movie Better off Dead on cable TV. The movie instantly became one of my favorites, and one of my most frequently watched thanks to the very original humor Savage Steve Holland provides. The humor is so original and unique there that has been no movie before it or since that has compared to it. The film’s dark comic plot revolves around Lane Meyer (John Cusack), who feels he would be “better off dead” when his girlfriend Beth (Amanda Wyss) dumps him for the captain of the ski team. Luckily, a pretty French exchange student, Monique (played by Diane Franklin), comes along to help Lane forget about Beth. Diane’s portrayal of Monique is remarkably charming and melted many men’s hearts, including mine.
I would later come across The Last American Virgin and found, to my horror, that before she played Monique, the girl who stole hearts, she played Karen, the girl who could break hearts. The Last American Virgin was a film that is released around the same time as Porky’s and advertised as a teen sex comedy, like Porky’s. The film does contain a lot of the smut humor and nudity that Porky’s does, but it also takes a raw and very honest look at teenage infatuation and what it’s like to be a male in love with a woman who doesn’t know that he exists. The story is about Gary (Lawrence Monson) , who is in love with Karen, but Karen is involved with his best friend Rick(Steve Antin). The film has a sad ending that is not only rare for its genre, but for most films.
Diane also came to my attention in Amityville II: The Possession. The movie is a prequel to the 1979 hit The Amityville Horror. In the original film, the potential occupants are told that a teenager son murdered his family in the house. This movie revolves around the murder that took place. In the film, the teenage son (Jack Magner) is growing up in a very dysfunctional family that is full of verbal and physical abuse. He starts hearing voices from the Devil. Before the Devil tells him to murder his family, he is told to seduce his sister, played by Diane. The initial scene of the brother seducing the sister is easily the most disturbing scene in a picture filled with horrific moments. In fact, the film’s first half strives for gritty realism than is many ways more jarring than the second half, which is more Exorcist-like as a priest tries to exorcise the devil out from the teenage son.
Diane would later go on to play a leading part in TerrorVision and take smaller parts in How I Got into College and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. After the 80s came to an end, Diane disappeared from films. As someone who grew up watching her films, I was startled and occasionally wondered what had happened to her. I would not hear about her again until 2011 when she set up a Facebook page selling an autobiography. I would eventually get the book from her when I met her at Chiller Theater. The book is very good and very informative about her film roles and what happened to her after she left acting. There are chapters dedicated to each film she did and each TV role she did. Each chapter has a rating, so parents who want to share her book with their kids know which ones to show the children. You can get the book from her Facebook Page or her website: http://www.dianefranklin80sbook.com/ I felt more people who were familiar with Diane’s work had to know about the book so I contacted her and asked her if she would let me help promote her book on my blog. She enthusiastically agreed.
In this candid conversation, we covers the classic movies she did, such as Better off Dead, Amityville II, and The Last American Virgin, and how she got started. We do not cover everything about her, such as why she left acting and what happened to her after she left. To hear that, you have to read the book. But what we do capture in this conversation is the essence of her book and what you should expect if you read it. We also discuss why her films had a lasting impression on many 80s viewers, including myself. I want to thank Diane for taking the time out to do this interview and letting me help promote her book.
Jeff Cramer: From the book, I discover that you knew you wanted to be an actor when you were four years old.
Diane Franklin: Yeah. I have to say, it’s a very interesting thing how some kids just know what they want to do or what they feel comfortable with. I know that when I was little, it wasn’t like I was trying to get attention because I wanted attention. I just loved the feeling of performing. It was interesting, because it wasn’t about getting people to look at me. I could be dancing around a living room, by myself, and I would talk to my stuffed animals. I’d get them all together, and I would tell the stories and act out stuff. I was just incredibly creative.
JC: Before you started acting, you would be modeling, doing things for mostly print commercials.
DF: What happened was we had no connection to the business, and if anybody reads the book and sees the pictures, you get a richer idea of my background. I think it’s interesting, when people – I just write about my career and she’s like, “Oh, she did commercials and modeling,” and it sounded so fluff, kind of, it sounds like, “Oh, you’re after… you want to be…” I don’t know. It’s that kind of not very professional, I guess you could say ‘drama’, that kind of thing. I think I was just always somebody who is very… I wanted to get there as fast as I could and work as quickly as I could, and I was always a hard worker. So because I didn’t have the guidance, maybe that some other people do in acting or drama. I think when I started to think about writing my book, one of the things I thought was, Not every actor, even, or actress, even had what I went through. I met a lot of actresses, when I got older, who got their lucky breaks in their 20s, or maybe 18. But they didn’t start as young as I did. I thought it would be very educational – that it was just a different way of becoming an actor. I thought everybody kinda had to start where I did. But it was interesting to find out that some people just got involved later on in life, and had a totally different experience than me in the entertainment business.
Early Diane in a print Ad
JC: During your modeling time, you did come across another model who would eventually make the jump to films and TV– Brooke Shields.
Brooke Shields and Diane Franklin
DF: Oh, I won’t give away too much from the book, but I think she’s a wonderful person, and I got to know her, her and her mother, through modeling. She influenced my life in a lot of ways that she never even knew. If you get my book, you’ll see what the scoop is, but she is a really lovely, sweet girl, and woman. When I knew her, she was probably, I don’t know, maybe 12. It was before everything hit.
She wasn’t a victim of her situation.
She just kept the purity of who she was, I felt. She wasn’t spoiled or somebody who didn’t seem pushed. She was such a beauty that you could not ignore the fact that she was going to be successful. You had to. I know, as a mother myself, when you have a daughter that is beautiful – I do, too – you just can’t help but want to tell people or show people, cause you’re proud of them. But for whatever it’s worth, I had a very good experience with her.
JC: Shortly after modeling, you did a guest spot on As the World Turns.
DF: Yeah, that was interesting. There’s some awesome coincidences in growing up, but I did do As the World Turns first. That was my first experience playing a character. That was very educational, because I had to come back every week and play this character, the same character, over and over again, which is a little different than doing a play. You have a beginning, middle, end, you’re done, whereas here, you’re ongoing, and you also don’t know the storyline. You don’t know if you’re going to be killed off, or if you’re going move on (laughter).
I knew that it was a recurring character, so that was extremely fun. I think the most awesome thing was, was when I was doing it, I was going to public high school. I remember being a teenager, being in class, and somebody – I don’t know who did this, but – over the loudspeaker, they said, “And everybody, you know, tonight, today, on As the World Turns, Diane Franklin will be on episode blah blah blah, and will be on, you know, on an episode of the show.”
And so they announced it at school, which, if it was, I guess, a theatrical school or some sort of art school, maybe wouldn’t have happened. I don’t know. It sort of put my real world mixed with my acting world together, and that was such a fun experience to have as a kid, just – I was 17, but still, I was very happy that the school acknowledged that and put that out. So it was an interesting experience and I went and I performed and did that. And then after that, then I started – I went to NYU.
JC: During that time, what’s interesting is right after that you had some success, you went to NYU to major in biochemistry, whereas most people either drop out to continue acting or go to drama or film school.
DF: Yeah (laughter). Right. And here I am going back. Well, part of that is I think I have, in a way, a very scientific nature. I really like to figure out how things work. How things are created. One of the great things about education – one of the things you need to do, as an actor, is you never stop learning, just always pursue knowledge, because you have to fill the cup yourself. You can only act what you know, and what you experience. That’s not to say you don’t use your imagination, but you have to fill the cup of knowledge.
When you go out and you… For me, going out for my interests was very important, and it wasn’t that I was never going to pursue acting, it was just that I thought, “Well, if I pursue my interests, then it’ll all fall into place. Maybe I’ll play someone who’s a scientist. You never know.” It might even – it’s just, you become a fuller person and it benefits other people around you. You don’t sit around waiting. During my years at NYU, that’s when I got the opportunity for Last American Virgin. [To see the trailer for Last American Virgin click here.]
The Last American Virgin poster
JC: Yes. Last American Virgin. I remember seeing that, and like many people walked in, thinking it’s gonna be another Porky’s or American Pie, because it’s been advertised that way. The last thing I expect is that ending! Boy, that ending! I’m going to talk about the ending, because I think most readers at this point will know what the ending is, so I don’t think I’m spoiling anything, but that last scene –
DF: They may not watch – I don’t know. You may not want to say, only because there’s a whole new audience of people who haven’t seen it.
JC: True. Especially seeing as Brett Ratner is considering remaking it.
DF: Mm-hmm, I know. That was hysterical, because I got a whole bunch of calls that day, when he did the interview. People saying, “Brett Ratner has a crush on you. Brett Ratner likes you.” I was like, “What?” I didn’t even know what people were – what it was all about. Then, they said, “Well, you’ve got to see the Howard Stern interview.” It was just kind of funny and ironic. So, but from that, I felt like I couldn’t believe that he was – that he even remembered that movie. I mean, seriously.
JC: But I’m going to say, it’s because of the ending. That’s, to me, why it is memorable.
DF: What I was going to say was when I go out and I get recognized, it’s always shocking to me. When I was 18, I thought, “Oh, you know, I don’t know if this will ever – if anyone will even see this movie.” So it is so shocking to me that people not only have seen it, but they also remembered, and they also passed it on to their kids, like, “You gotta see this movie.” One of the things I thought was really amazing – the ending makes it so distinctive that I think – I don’t know if they can make a sequel – not a sequel, a remake of it, today. Endings like that happens and it’s reality, but I don’t know if they could make that same movie today.
JC: Because when I saw it, I hadn’t entered the dating world yet (laughter) so when I saw it at the time, I was like, “Why would that happen?” I was puzzled. And then, a little later in life, while I didn’t encounter anything as dramatic as the lead, I did see that endings like that one do happen in real life. Once I later learned the lesson from what the ending was telling me, the ending struck a chord with me.
DF: Right. Life is not fair all the time, and also, you can’t see it coming, sometimes. What was kind of interesting for me was when I played that role, I personally would not have done that as a person. So, I remember thinking, “I’m not going to do this, obviously. This is not how this movie’s gonna be. How can you have an ending like this?” And it was so funny, because then, when I went to play the character, I thought, “Well, at least I’m going to play it how I would, as a girl who’s got good intentions for someone who’s really caring.” But I think it made it even worse (laughter). People were more shocked. Like, how could somebody who was so nice do something so horrible?
JC: What’s also interesting is later, we’ve had Juno and Knocked Up, when the lady gets unexpectedly pregnant, the guy is there with them throughout it all until they deliver the baby. Here, during the 80s, both your character and also Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character – in Fast Times at Ridgemont High – you’re getting abortion and the guy who is responsible is nowhere to be found in both movies. Both movies are the flip side of Juno and Knocked Up – the real grueling ugly side of unexpected pregnancies.
DF: I address that in the book as well. I think what’s interesting is that both movies – Jennifer Jason Leigh’s movie at that time as well as Virgin –, the movie’s not about the issue of abortion. It’s just something that happens. That’s what makes it so distinctly 80s, that it’s part of it, but it’s not the whole thing of it. The movie doesn’t stop to teach a lesson. It’s like, “Okay, this is happening, let’s move on with the story.” So you really get to see what 80s life was like.
JC: It’s funny: all these gritty moments in The Last American Virgin, stick with me, including the scene where the guys get crabs, more than the comedic moments. I mean, I know why it’s being billed as a comedy, but if I was the director Boaz Davidson I would call Last American Virgin a comedy-drama. But no one has said to this day about Last American Virgin, “There was so much drama I forgot there was comedy.” I mean it really balanced the comedy and drama so well.
DF: Well, here’s the thing, too. We’ve had a lot of comedy. The 80s is always considered a time of a lot of fun and upbeat times. So, to introduce and get the audiences to come, you had to have that upbeat music, fun appeal – which was in at the time. So you get them to come in, and then, of course, there’s this heavy storyline in it. That, to me, it showed that there was a grittiness in 80s movies. Again, Fast Times, there was this – even though there was Jeff Spicoli, there was Jennifer Jason Leigh’s situation and that was more of the grittiness. So what I find interesting about these movies is that even though it was really fun, there was always an element of reality in it.
Always – you’re watching a movie, and there’s just something that takes you by surprise. That’s why, today, people see it and watch it and say, “Wow, that was a great movie,” because it’s not so fluff. Another thing I had to say about it is the director Boaz Davidson. Last American Virgin – I’ve always wondered if people have been interviewing Boaz. So I always thought how interesting it would be for him. I don’t think he even blinked an eye about doing it, but on the other hand, I always wondered if he felt like it was revealing something about him – his life and his perspective.
I wonder if that’s how he experienced the situation himself. He had this kind of crazy life. Actually, this is a remake of Lemon Popsicle a film he made in Israel. I wondered, when he was going through as a teenager, is this his experience, or did he push the limits on both sides, making it really silly, and giving it this heaviness? I always wondered what his real experience was like.
JC: Someone involved with the film must have had a lot of power within the music industry, because you got songs from all the major 80s people, like Journey, U2, The Police, The Cars. You got The Commodores to do an original song for the film.
DF: I know! Wasn’t the music wonderful?
JC: Yes. It was like a who’s who of 80s.
DF: Yeah. So it was unbelievable. At the time, to get those rights was amazing, but maybe it was just because it was just before everything hit. It was incredible. We had no idea they were going to get all those music rights until the film came out. That benefitted. A great surprise.
Amityville II poster
JC: The next film we’ll talk about is Amityville II. [To see the trailer click here.] It’s interesting, because again, here you have another film that is the last place you expect to have some gritty moments. Your character getting involved with her brother gives this film a whole dark, realistic feel you would not expect from this horror franchise, because in most of the Amityville film series and most other haunted house films, they usually put a happy family as the occupiers. This family’s dysfunctional from the get go. It doesn’t need the haunted house’s help to tear it apart.
DF: Yeah, there’s abuse, physical abuse. There’s verbal abuse. There’s problems right at the beginning, which set the tone for the rest of the film.
JC: During the film, you almost have to wonder if the house is trying to put this family out its misery. The whole incest theme is very dark and realistically portrayed. I find myself more disturbed and shocked by those scenes than any of the other horror elements in Amityville II. One of the most disturbing scenes in the film, and it is a very telling moment about the family, is when, at the birthday, you and your brother hug in a very intimate way that is very inappropriate for siblings to hug. The mother notices it right there, but never says a thing about it.
DF: It’s great you mention that, because it’s interesting that was a point in the story. I think what is great about that movie in the horror genre is it’s all about the secrets. It’s all about no one telling anybody anything. It really captures, I think, also, an 80s kind of thing, where there are secrets – not that people don’t have secrets today, but it certainly works for that movie. You believe, when you’re watching it, that because there’s all this turmoil and these secrets going on in the family, that if there is any kind of possession or devil or spirits coming around, they have a place to go and feed off. They can expand and explode from this family. So I think it makes sense to the audience when they watch it.
JC: Right. They go there. So, not only can you believe the devil is ready to take over the brother, but also since Amityville is based on reality, you could also believe a skeptic’s possibility, that the brother with this kind of family had serious mental problems. That the voices were in his head (not the devil speaking to him) and he’s gone schizophrenic.
JC: And likewise, you do go to the priest, who’s not there to help you at the moment that you need them.
DF: Right. The priest – I think what was interesting about the story, when I took the part on, was they were very concerned with making it as real as possible and having the house – I don’t know why they didn’t get to use the original house, but making the house look exactly as it did as the original house. They were concerned, in the script, I think, of making things based on reality as much as possible. So, obviously, no one really knows what exactly happened, but I think the idea of going to the priest and was more believable in the sense that whereas today, we don’t rely on it as much.
Well, I wouldn’t say ‘rely on it’. It’s looked at a little differently than it was, I think, in the 80s. I think it was more maybe conservative at the time, in a sense. So, like, the devil and the church and the whole thing was taken in a way that people maybe went to church every Sunday. It was more of a … more respect for religion, perhaps? It adds to the creepiness and the weirdness of going to the priest and trying to get him to listen. I enjoy playing that part, being able to go back and haunt the preacher. It is really funny (laughter).
JC: One element that makes Amityville II distinctive is that you had an Italian director, who brought a European flavor to it.
DF: Yes. Damiano Damiani did definitely bring a different flavor to it. He couldn’t speak English that well, so I think that it definitely made it. The film wasn’t presented in such a direct way. It was a lot more visual. Let me put it this way. In America, you can talk. If you have an American director and you speak to an American director, they’re going to be verbal and they’re going to express what they want in a verbal way. They’re going to use their words. When you deal with a European director, it’s not always verbal. So as an example, let’s say, for instance, in the scene before I have to confess. Damiano had me – he wanted to get something out of me, and I couldn’t figure out what it was that he wanted to do. So he said, “Run, run, run to the church.”
So I ran and ran and ran. Then he’s like, “Go back, now!” So he got what he needed from me. I’m coming out of breath, and I’m like “Oh, Father,” that kind of thing. Him, to work with me, he had to use a different technique. It wasn’t going to be verbal. It had to be just physicalizing it so we could get it to where he wanted to go. I really thought that was a smart thing to do, because when you’re trying to get something out of an actor, you have to have a lot of different ways to approach them, because everyone works differently.
JC: Around that time, there was a bunch of TV movies you did before Better off Dead.
DF: (laughter) Those movies – I wish that they were on the internet, Summer Girl in particular. Did you see it?
JC: I didn’t see Summer Girl, but I do know it’s interesting, knowing that you would be with Kim Darby in that one, before you two did Better off Dead. In Summer Girl, you are trying to take away her husband in that one.
Diane in Summer Girl
DF: Oh, yeah. It’s fantastic. This was such an amazing movie of the week. I have to tell you, we had so much fun. Whenever it plays – it has played over the years on television, I don’t know who has the rights, but whenever they play it, people love it, because it’s very dramatic, but it’s also juicy. Actually, I play such an evil character in it, that when my husband and I – We were at a wedding once, and a woman came up to him and she was just scowling at me.
He just turned to her, “What is your problem?” She said, “Oh, I saw – I think your wife, I’ve seen her. She’s on television and she’s really evil” (laughter). I was like, “Oh my god, it’s just television, you know?” But it was a great character. Anyway, if you’re interested, obviously more information’s in the book, but I would – I really hope that somebody gets some clips of it, puts it on, or finds a way to find the people to re-release it, because it is really fun. Very 80s, but very fun.
JC: Okay. One film that you also did before Better off Dead was Second Time Lucky. You got to work with legendary director Michael Anderson and you got to be with Robert Morley. That, I guess was your first art film.
Second Time Lucky poster
DF: Well, Second Time Lucky – what’s interesting about it is the people, the caliber of people that were around in the film, were unbelievable. Michael Anderson was nominated for Best Director for Around the World in 80 Days, and Robert Morley was an amazing actor as well. There were a lot of people in it that were highly respected.
But what happened was that the script – it was sort of a parody. Well, the script didn’t have the tone. It changed tone. I think that was a big problem for it. But regardless, it is probably, I would say, the most versatile role I’ve ever played. There are characters in there. Have you seen the movie, or no?
JC: No, I haven’t seen it yet.
DF: Okay. I play the character of Eve through time. And aside from nudity, I played this character. Example – I play Cleopatra in Roman times, and then I go to playing Florence Nightingale in World War Two, I think, or World War – I think it was one, World War One, I think. The idea is that – There’s always an element… always a woman seducing a man throughout time. The other gentleman, Roger Wilson, he played Adam.
He’s always being tormented and has to make a decision whether he’s going to take the right road or wrong road. So the idea of the character is going through time. I played all these different characters of Eve, and I played a gangster’s girlfriend in the 30s. You would not recognize me in the movie and it’s awesome and the characters – that’s really where I got a chance to try accents and do different body movements – great character studies. That’s a prequel to Better off Dead. When you see that movie, Second Time Lucky, you’ll understand how I got to play Monique in such a comfortable way.
Better Off Dead poster
JC: Okay, that would answer my question as to how you developed your French accent for Monique. In fact, I have to say, even when I talk to you (laughter), I expect a little French accent in your voice.
DF: (In the familiar French accent of Monique)Unfortunately, I cannot do putting this on tape though it would be very nice. (laughter).
JC: What’s interesting is that’s actually the first movie I saw you in, and then I went back and I saw all the other films. Then I read Savage Steve Holland’s foreword about being a little reluctant about you playing Monique because all these characters we’ve been talking about, they’re not such innocent girls. They’re not Monique.
DF: Right. Well, you mean because I play such a funny – an innocent character?
JC: Just like Savage Steve must have been shocked that day on how well you did there playing Monique. I was shocked to watch you play all those not-so-innocent people (laughter) when I saw Last American Virgin and Amityville II.
DF: Exactly. Well, that’s the thing, Better off Dead [To watch the trailer for Better off Dead, click here] is a role that’s closest to who I am. All the time I’ve ever worked as an actress – That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy playing other characters, but when you get to know me, I’m mostly like Monique, because I’m somebody who’s upbeat and I’m with someone who wants people to do well. I’m a more wholesome person. I’m an upbeat person. So it’s kind of funny when I got that role, because I thought, “Oh, finally, I’m getting a role to play something that I can just… if I wrote it.”
Something that’s coming from me, more so, because as an actor, you have to play roles that maybe don’t express your views or your thoughts. That’s the job. The job is to play something. You play a character or play something that is not you. So it’s really fun to play something that is closer, but also, the accent is wonderful, because I love doing accents and I’ve always enjoyed doing accents, playing different characters that way.
JC: Also, did you have an idea of what offbeat humor there would be in Better off Dead when you read the script. To this day I’ve still not seen a lot of the unique humor in Better off Dead in almost any other film.
DF: Oh, when we got the script, there was nothing out there like it. It made me so comfortable. I felt, “Where has this movie been?” When we read it, everybody laughed out loud. Whoever read the script thought it was hysterical and was so eager to be in it. Really, it’s interesting. I think it’s because Savage Steve just wrote from his heart.
JC: Just like Boaz Davidson wrote The Last American Virgin from personal experience.
DF: Yeah, it’s true, both of them made it from their own personal life.
Savage Steve just wrote what he thought was funny. And luckily – I think a lot of times, people, when they’re putting money into a film, they don’t trust their guts, sometimes. They think more than they connect to it. If you read something and it makes you laugh or it gives you a feeling, it’s legitimate; you know what I’m saying?
DF: It’s real. And the time that the script came out, I don’t know. I think Steve – everybody knew it was funny, but for somebody to take the chance on it was from the heart. It wasn’t from somebody saying, “Oh, yes, this humor has been established and it’s been proven, so we…” You know, like a horror film. You make a horror film, well, a horror film’s going to make money. But with this, it was like, “Well, I know I don’t know if it’s going to make money, but I still like it anyway,” and I’m so happy he was able to get that film done.
JC: Were you really pretty good at pitching?
DF: Oh, no. Me? No. No, no, no. It’s so funny. This is a bizarre thing. I throw so badly. Now, I’ve kind of learned (laughter). But I throw so badly. My husband would teach me. I’d throw a rock, and it’d go one foot. I didn’t grow up with a brother or something, so I would know, “Oh, this is how you throw,” cause they would throw with me, but luckily, I have a son, and now I have a better idea of how to throw a ball. [Laughter] It’s really funny when I did it for the movie, cause it was – If you look closely, you’ll see that the trajectory of my throwing goes down.
JC: Now, one thing that has really bothered me is John Cusack’s negative attitude towards the whole film.
DF: Yeah. I gotta tell you, that whole thing really surprised me. I have never heard anything from John that would have given me that impression. Steve told me that, and it’s just bizarre. He never said anything during the filming, so it was kind of bizarre thing to hear from him. Everyone got along so well during that shooting that I don’t know. I just never saw that coming.
JC: And later on, I saw in the book is that they asked you to sing at the National Anthem at Dodger Stadium. Was that a result of Monique’s character loving the Dodgers?
DF: You know, what was funny about that was I was at Dodger Stadium with my family. We were watching the game. They had this big board up that showed clips from movies. I thought, “That’s weird, wouldn’t they…” You’d think they would show, like, Better off Dead, because that is shot at Dodger Stadium. There was a guy who was kind of my manager at the time, or helping me sort of be my contact for any project that came up. I asked him. I said, “You know, do the people – do they ever do anything with Better off Dead, or would they want to put a clip on it or something? Would they ever want an autograph signing kind of thing?”
I just kind of thought it would be fun for people, because if they saw the movie and I was at Dodger Stadium – it would kind of be a fun venue for everyone to come and see me there. He said, “Well, I’ll call them and ask them,” so he called Dodger Stadium and he asked them if they were interested in me coming there and signing. They said, “Well, no, but would she like to come and sing the anthem?” (laughter) They didn’t even know if I could sing. He told me they wanted to talk to me, so I called them, and I said, “Of course, I would love to sing the anthem.”
First, they said, “Well, do you want to sing – we’re not sure if we want you to sing the French anthem or the Canadian anthem, actually, or the American anthem.” I thought, “Well, they must know about Better off Dead, then, if they wanted me to sing the Canadian anthem.” Even though it doesn’t really matter, I felt kind of funny singing the Canadian anthem, I thought. This is weird. Would I sing in a French accent? I am not Canadian.
It was kind of a bizarre kind of feeling to have when somebody asks you to sing the anthem. You want to kind of sing your own anthem. I wound up singing the American anthem, and what was unusual about that, was when they introduced me, I thought they were going to say, “And here’s Diane Franklin, from Better off Dead,” or, “Here’s Diane Franklin, from Bill & Ted or something.” And they wound up saying, “And here’s Diane Franklin” (laughter).
And I’m thinking, “Who knows Diane Franklin? Nobody knows who I am.” It was so funny. Then, the night I sang, Tom Hanks and – who else was in the audience? Some of the A-list directors came to watch the game as well. I thought, “Well, at least they knew who I am” (laughter). But isn’t that funny? I was thinking, “How would they even know?” So that’s what happened when I was singing.
JC: The box office results of Better off Dead are similar to Office Space. It was not a huge hit at the theater. I discovered it on HBO. That’s where I first saw it.
Diane as Monique with John Cusack as Lane and Scooter Stevens as Badger from Better Off Dead
DF: Oh wow!! It just goes to show that if a film doesn’t have great distribution, it doesn’t get number one ratings, that word of mouth is what it is. If you like a film, you pass it on, people will see it, and that’s how it stays alive.
JC: Even the first Austin Powers didn’t do much at the box office, initially, and then it was rediscovered. It found its audience.
DF: “It’s not a number one film, oh, I guess it’s not as good.” That’s not necessarily true. How many movies that have a great distribution but cannot live up to how big people make it out to be? People make big deals of films that aren’t so good. Then, there are little films that are magical and awesome and more people need to see them. If it’s a good film, it will live on and people will pass the word on.
JC: You did work with Steve, though, on How I Got into College. Did he ever ask you for One Crazy Summer? For instance, did he ask you for the Demi Moore role?
DF: Oh, you know, that was, I guess I heard it was set up before, like it was something John and Demi were set to do. But I was actually in that movie at the end. I was the last shot. They cut it. They cut it for time (laughter) but it was actually in that movie, too, which was very cool to see. He always thinks of me and it’s so nice. He tries to put me in everything he did, which is really good.
JC: Okay. The next one is I notice you went for another different thing in TerrorVision, playing a punker, you know?
Diane(far right) as a punkette
DF: Mm-hmm. That was a lot of fun, because I always like to play really fun, different characters. That was really funny to play. Also, one would never think I would get cast in the role like that. You think, “Oh, the girl that, you know, the ingénue, or someone evil to play a punk, punk rocker.” I thought it was a great thing for me to do as an actress. It was such a fun character to play. I have to say if my career has taken a sort of unusual turn in the 80s, it was because a lot of actors choose their projects based on the project – if it’s a good project, they want to be part of it. I see that now. I understand that.
But for me, I chose projects based on characters that I wanted to play. I think that, perhaps, whether that has helped my career or hurt my career was the characters I played. In Summer Girl, I played this crazy, schizophrenic girl, and it was so much fun. So the roles I’ve played throughout my career were always characters in things that interested me, as opposed to maybe an incredible project but a very maybe non-descript or kind of thankless character, you know what I’m saying?
JC: You were in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, as the princess. I thought it was interesting because I know Bill and Ted was a very popular movie, but because your role is not as big as the previous roles we were discussing, that this is the movie you get the most fan mail from.
Diane with Bill and Ted
DF: Right. Bill and Ted’s the one that has the most international recognition out of all my films. So it does go to show, you would do a role in something, and you could get huge recognition from a small part in a big film.
I’ve been so fortunate in my career. I have not told anyone about my life and my personal anything, cause a lot of people – if they see me, I want them to see me for an actress and for what I have done in my life. I didn’t want them to see me as someone… as who I dated, or the clothes I wore, and I think a lot of times, anyone who knows who I am has actually seen my work. That’s what’s very cool about having this book right now, because I know whoever asks for it has actually seen what I’ve done.
JC: Now, after Bill and Ted, this would be when you would retire from the screen. Actually, I didn’t hear anything from you until the book came out. So what happened during the time? My first question is what made you decide to leave?
DF: Well, for that, you should read the book or tell people to read the book, but I will say that my career was in the 80s. That was the hub of it. But now, as my kids have gotten a little older, I thought I still was getting recognized a lot.
I thought, “Well, if people are still remembering me, maybe this is a time where I can bring back these awesome memories for people and share a back story.” What happened, too, was so many actresses were coming up with these stories of their lives that were so sad. They had these hard lives. I thought, “You know, it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s important for people to know you can act for your career, you can do that, but your life doesn’t have to be about rehab or drugs.” It’s not to say that’s something that is terrible, I just felt like there’s another story.
You don’t have to have a life like that. Maybe has to do with the fact that I started so young that I had some perspective. I wanted this book to reflect my personality as well. When you read it, I want it to feel like you sat down with me and had a whole conversation, like we’re sitting at Starbucks and talking for a few hours, just telling you what’s going on. So you can tell me what you think about it, but I think it really reflects where I’m coming from.
JC: For me, I certainly got a lot of information. As I prepared this interview, in back of my mind, I was thinking, “How do I do this without really trying to spoil the book for anyone?” because there was a lot of detail and there’s a lot of stuff that I would’ve asked if I hadn’t read the book.
DF: Right, exactly. This book that I’m selling right now is a collector’s book. I’m working on a published book, something maybe through Amazon. This book is something obviously I made personally. I did it so that it could be first-hand, my cadence, photographs in it, put them through the book and make it feel like you got to know me. Then, with the published version, I will have totally different pictures. This is a labor of love that I have here.
As I’m doing this published book, I’ll be able to offer it through the website, and also put it up through Amazon. I was considering going to a publisher, but, again, something really funny happened where somebody said to me, “Oh, look at Molly Ringwald’s book.” It was a book about Molly Ringwald’s makeup tips. I thought, “Look at it, here you go, you have a career as an actress, and someone asks you to write a book that has nothing to do with who you are.”
So one of the reasons why I kind of have backed off and haven’t been so aggressive about going to a publisher yet is I felt like I think I’m telling the audiences what they want to hear, what they want to know. I don’t think it’s some superfluous kind of book on hair tips, something that I’m not an expert on. So I want them to hear what my take on things are.
JC: One thing that isn’t in the book is your pet chicken. I only found out about the chicken when you had to postpone our interview on our original date because you had to rush your pet chicken to the hospital.
DF: Yes. Okay, here’s the story. I have a lot of animals. We love animals. Cat, dog, three chinchillas, two rabbits and five exotic chickens. It’s not that we have a farm or anything, it’s just my daughter was obsessed with chickens at a young age. The conversation started with, “Are you crazy? We’re not getting a chicken, no way. Chickens breach the line of pets. They’re not hamsters, you know. Chicken is a whole different thing.” She wrote papers about it. She knew all the facts about – so, finally, she wanted a chicken. She knew all the kinds of chickens, so we got these exotic chickens. Well, what she did was she then wrote three 300-page books on chickens – she wrote the Star Wars of chickens. She wrote these amazing stories. Trilogy. Trilogy of chicken books.
Then, when she started making films at 12 years old, she made this film called The Adventures of Lass (laughter), and put one of the chickens in the movie. The whole story – it’s sort of like a Little House on the Prairie parody. This film actually won an award at an international student film festival. The chickens are not for laying, they’re pets. So we’ve had these chickens for probably four or five years. One of the chickens is not looking so good. This is the chicken that we use in my daughter’s film. It is probably the best chicken actor in America (laughter). But, it’s not looking too good, so we have to have the vet come take a look. The guy says, “I think you really need to bring this chicken to the hospital. We need to get X-rays.” I’m like, “Oh, my gosh.” So we go take X-rays and we find out, well, it might have a respiratory problem. It’s okay. It’s not contagious, but let’s bring it in.
So we wound up having to put the chicken in an oxygen tank (laughter). So my daughter and I were like, “Maybe the chicken has four days to live, we’re not sure. We’re clear.” So me and my daughter, my son comes and visits the chicken at the vet. The chicken’s looking at us like, “Why are you looking at me? What’s going on?” The chicken looked healthy, but was sick, I guess. Finally, after a couple of days of antibiotics, the chicken is now awesome. Back at home. In the chicken pen, eating like crazy, looking very angry, like, “Why did you put me there? What’s the deal?”
This is just the tip of what we have as a family life. We just always have something going on, and it is awesome and this is great. I have a very pretty eclectic family life. It’s hysterical. The animals are part of the wonderful mayhem that we have. Besides the mayhem, I may be getting back into acting.
DF: Yes. You’re the first person to hear that fact. Nobody, even the website or my Facebook page – doesn’t even know. This week, I’m meeting with a manager that I know very, very well. We’re going to discuss some things. With the book, it might be kind of interesting. So we’ll see, maybe I can get some work coming up. I haven’t done this yet. Over the years, this is the first time I’m going to be contacting someone regarding some moving maybe back into the film business, so we’ll see. Doing some –
JC: I guess the whole Brett Ratner thing – him mentioning you, that day – certainly had to have been encouraging.
DF: Yeah. It’s exciting, because I feels like it’s the right time to try to do something again. Again, everything I’ve done since I stopped acting has always been sort of “Can I fit it into my schedule?” Now, we’re sort of going, “Okay, well, you know, if I get work and I’m taken away to do something, I, you know, my kids are a little bit older now, so we can work it out a little bit better.” We’ll see.
JC: And I guess any last words you would say to everybody? For everyone that’s obviously remembered you all this time, because we say, it’s been about 20 years since you last acted and you’re still remembered, you know?
DF: Well, I have to say, first of all, that I don’t take for granted that people remember me. It really means a lot to me, and I feel very lucky and very blessed to be remembered, but also, I feel so happy that I was able to make people happy in whatever acting I did. If it made them feel good or inspire them or if they’re attracted to me, that’s awesome. I just am glad that I was able to give to people, in the past, at least a great memory of the 80s, that they can look at me and remember that time and bring back really positive and good things for them.
I think, right now, the way things are, people need to be surrounded by upbeat things. If I remind them about the 80s, and I remind them about the fun times and how cool and upbeat it was, then they can always revisit that and feel good and get themselves having an upbeat feeling going into the world. You don’t have to think of all the negativity. Think about the fun you can be having and the fun you’ve had in the past. I hope that I’ve given back as much as they’re giving me as far as just remembering me.
Again, go to her Facebook page or her website: http://www.dianefranklin80sbook.com/ to order the book.