Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Very Candid Conversation With Sybil Danning

As a young teenage male, I discovered Sybil Danning in the 80s film They’re Playing with Fire. Danning played a college professor who seduces one of her students (Eric Brown) into helping her get the inheritance money from her in-laws. Sybil had loads of sex appeal, such that even before she seduced the student in the film, I had already been propelled to see more of her work. Luckily, she produced plenty of films with her in the 80s. Most of these films were done on small budgets and would cast her as an action heroine or villain. Some of the heroine roles she played were inspired by The Magnificent Seven such as the sci-fi Battle beyond the Stars or the medieval The Seven Magnificent Gladiators, where she played one of the seven warriors who defend a small village from evil conquerors. She would also play a rebellious prisoner leading a bunch of prisoners to rebel against Stella Stevens’ evil sadistic warden in Chained Heat. Villain roles include the werewolf queen in Howling II, a warden in Reform School Girls, a sorceress in Hercules and a drug lord in Jungle Warriors. Though Sybil was very tough and strong as a hero or villain, she never lost her femininity and sexuality.

During the 80s, Sybil accumulated a huge fan base that includes Rob Zombie and Dennis Miller. The base was big enough that several films that were only able to afford Sybil for a day or two would cast her and give her high billing and put her on the cover even though she would not be in the film very long. By the end of the 80s, Sybil would poke fun at the roles she played as the Amazon Queen in Amazon Women on the Moon, a film that contains a bunch of short comic vignettes. 

She then disappeared throughout the 90s only to return in 2007 in the Robert Rodriquez/Quentin Tarantino collaboration Grindhouse. In between the two films that Rodriquez and Tarantino directed are a series of trailers. One of them is a trailer directed by Rob Zombie called Werewolf Women of the SS, which features Sybil and Nicholas Cage. Zombie would go on to give her a bit part in Halloween. Since then, she has appeared in one of Patrick Swayze’s last films, Jump!, and worked on various things such as upcoming films, producing a music video and a video game.

In one of Sybil’s films, Malibu Express, private eye Darby Hinton’s initial thought of Sybil’s character as simply a sexy woman, only to find out there’s much more to her. I had a similar impression as Darby’s character when I began to look beyond Sybil’s career in the 80s. It turns out Sybil had done a lot of films in Europe before she arrived to America in the late 70s. She had been working long since the late 60s, starting off with German sex comedies such as French Pussycat and Naughty Nymphs, before being cast in big budget productions such as Bluebeard (starring Richard Burton as Bluebeard himself). Other big budget productions include The Prince and the Pauper (with Charlton Heston and Oliver Reed) and Airport 79: The Concorde (with George Kennedy and Robert Wagner). The most significant film she made during the 70s was Operation Thunderbolt, an Israeli film about the real-life hijacking of an Air France plane which is then sent to Entebbe, Uganda, where Israelis and other Jewish passengers are held hostage until certain Israeli political prisoners are freed. Sybil plays one of the German terrorists who hold the passengers hostage. The movie is a realistic portrayal of this harrowing event with its use of a multi-language track of people speaking English, Hebrew, French and German. It is recommended viewing and goes a long way to showing that Sybil can cut it in a completely different environment than the films she is most well known for. Another film that shows a serious side of Sybil is The Salamander, where Sybil plays a Mati Hari character. 

In this candid conversation, we talk about Sybil’s early film career in Europe, her 80s heyday and her comeback to the screen since 2007. I want to thank Sybil for taking the time out to do this interview.

Jeff Cramer: Okay, so how did you get started in the industry? 

Sybil Danning: Oh, by mistake.

JC: How was that? 

SD: Well I was working as a model and one day I get a phone call from the photographer who I had worked with, one of the photographers, and he said, “Sybil, I am sitting here with your picture scattered all over my desk and there is a director looking at them and he would like to have you for his movie to play Lorelei, the German fable.”

So I thought, “Okay, why not?” It was never in my plans to do anything with movies. No one in my family had encouraged me to go into the movie business or anything, so it was never my plan. I loved seeing movies, but it was not something where I said, “I have to be an actor.”

But when this opportunity came along, and I’m sure a lot of my fans who are going to hear this are going to say, “What a lucky duck! Everyone wants to be one, they don’t know how! ” And then I fall into it!

So that’s what it was, but it was a terrible experience. I went to Germany, sat on a cliff in November dressed only with a long like Lady Godiva, long, long wig covering my nude body as this character in the fable did. I was so sick. I went back, of course in those days, and just starting out there were no planes. I had to go by train. It was like an eight, nine hour train ride from the real cliff overlooking the Rhine River in Germany back to Austria.

I was – I remember very well – I was like laying on the floor of just the normal cabin, not even first class, and I had a high fever. I thought I was going to die. And when I got back to Austria, I said, “If that’s movie making, it ain’t for me.” And I went on and did my modeling. That’s comfortable. You don’t have to go through all that.

But then about eight, nine months later all of a sudden the No. 1 magazine in Germany, Stern, had me on two pages in their magazine sitting there over the Rhine River, and that of course triggered the next director to get in touch with me, and the next role. And before I knew it I said, “Okay! I’ll give it another try,” and agents were calling me.

And so that’s when I then moved from Austria to Germany, which Germany was kind of like big brother to Austria; we speak the same German language, and Germany just had a lot more work and a lot more going on. Austria only had like seven million people, and Germany at that time had maybe, I don’t know seventy, eighty million. So that was like the Hollywood of German speaking territories to go to if you wanted to work in movies.

And then I moved there and got an agent and started working in German movies, and then, because I spoke English, then some American movies came along, and they needed somebody that spoke English and I did a few American movies. And the rest is history.

JC: Actually I saw some of the very early German movies, because they became available on DVD recently.

SD: Oh dear! [laughter] 

French Pussycat Poster
JC: One of them is French Pussycat.

SD: Well I love that one. I really love that one. That was a very German movie with a German director, Hans Billian – I don’t even know if he’s still alive today – with, I think a pretty known producer in our business, Elio Romano. I know he went onto do other things, and I saw him later. He always looked fondly back on that movie. And it was a lot of fun.

Most of my fans don’t know that the early part of my career actually I did more comedies than anything else.

JC: Right. The other German film I saw was a comedy as well. The English title for it was called Naughty Nymphs. [To see a trailer for Naughty Nymphs, click here.] 

SD: [Laughter] Oh. Yes. Yes.

JC: But in both movies you’re playing the character who gets the guy to settle down. You’re not going to be some random conquest. 

SD: Yeah, exactly. I mean, I remember in French Pussycat, I make a bet with my girlfriend I can get this guy to marry me without going to bed with me, because he was sleeping with everybody else. That’s basically what the whole thing was. I think it was a good concept. It was a good story. And Michael Cromer – bless his soul, he’s no longer with us. He already died, died pretty young – he had on Rodeo Drive a store called MCM after his name, Michael C. Cromer. And what he did was he manufactured beautiful luggage like Luis Vuitton. So he was, he was a very well to do guy. That Porsche that we had in the movie was his Porsche. So we had a lot of nice production quality in there. And he just did it for the fun, and I did. And we got along very well. And I think our characters kind of had a pretty good synergy going. We had a lot of fun.

You remember there was one scene in there where I slap him?

JC: Yes. 

SD: I mean in Germany you really do method acting for real, but he didn’t know I was really going to reach out and give him a real hard slap. He thought I’d go easier. But then again, that was my character. And he gave a very good reaction to that.

JC: Yeah, you are constantly torturing Michael’s character and you’re calling all the shots. 

SD: And that’s really great, because you know what, I give so many interviews and I have to tell you I can’t remember when . . . or yes, years ago if you remember you probably know, it came out in cable here, Loves of the French, I think it was called French Pussycat or Loves of a French Pussycat. And I got very good reviews, excellent reviews. It came out on cable in the 80s at one time.

And I think there was one person that interviewed me for, at that time I think it was the TV Guide, because it was on cable, and, but since then no one has ever actually asked me about that movie. So I am really happy that you asked me about that one, because I happen to like it and remember it fondly, and just had a great time doing it.

JC: During that time, you got noticed by the Salzkind brothers (who later went on to do the Superman series), who first put you in the Richard Burton version of Bluebeard. 

SD: They also put me in both The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers.

JC: And The Prince and the Pauper

SD: That’s right.

JC: How did that come about? 

SD: Well, I had done a lot of movies for a German distributer, Cinerama. I made a lot of movies for them, and it just seemed like they just kept hiring and hiring me, and they were the distributors of those movies. They were Austrian movies, German movies, Italian-German co-productions, German-French, French-Italian, or sometimes one actor would be speaking English, the other Italian, the third French, because that was the way they financed the movies by doing co-productions.

But not that many actors were that good in English and Bluebeard just happened to be a movie that I fit right into and there were a lot of beautiful women in that movie, and it’s actually the only time I ever paid a prostitute. Prostitutes are always wonderful roles to play, because they, I don’t know, they’re just loved by everybody.

JC: Well, it wasn’t just being a prostitute, it was that you were the teacher of one of his wives. 

SD: That was Nathalie Delon, ex-wife of Alain Delon. And I was such a good teacher that I got so much into my teaching that I ended up being a very good teacher and getting physical. And then of course Richard comes in and chandeliers us to death. But I said at the time being chandeliered by Richard at least once a day would be nice.

Bluebeard was shot in Budapest and Hungary. We were at the studio there and it was really beautiful. Everything and, I remember coming into the, that was my first big studio movie. I came in and I said, “Oh my god, I’m in heaven. This is what I want. I’m going to Hollywood”, and it’s all because I came into this beautiful room. It was a huge makeup room with three makeup artists and an extra hair person.

You have to understand, German movies are like you shoot on location because that’s cheaper than the studio. You do your makeup in a bathroom if you’re lucky, or if you’re on location you comb your hair in a mirror and do your own makeup with the mirror hanging from a tree.

But here in Hungary, it was just beautiful. And I remember it so well. I remember my makeup girl was playing Neil Diamond, and I sat there and I said, I felt so good because I was pampered. I was taken care of. I was in a beautiful makeup room with lights and beautiful makeup and makeup artists and listening to Neil Diamond. That was, I said that’s what I want to do, and that was probably the first time where I said, “I really love this business. I’m going to Hollywood.” I made up my mind at that point.

Sybil on top of Nathalie Delon in Bluebeard

And it’s so funny about Bluebeard too. I’ve been like at conventions and I’ll have a young man come up to me and say, “Oh I really loved you in Bluebeard,” and I look at him and I’m thinking he’s so young. And I would say, “Were you like in diapers when you watched that movie?”

But young and old love that movie, and I loved playing that character.

Yeah, and then I did both The Three Musketeers and The Fourth Musketeers for the Salzkind brothers. I mean, that was an incredible experience too. We shot that in Spain when, I don’t know, it was like 95 degrees. We were outside of Madrid on our horsebacks and our heavy, heavy costumes, and I remember Charlton Heston being a wonderful gentleman and a just kind human being, because he was the star there and not even Geraldine Chaplin, who played the Queen, had an umbrella. I didn’t have an umbrella. He gave me his umbrella. I thought that was so sweet. He said, “You need it more than I do,” and he was just a wonderful, wonderful guy. Geraldine Chaplin and I, we became good friends and we would hang out in Madrid and go out and eat together and talk. So we had just a wonderful time, and that was a great movie to be on.

And then Prince and the Pauper was wonderful too. I mean what can I tell you? We shot that also in Budapest by the way and oh, Oliver Reed, I mean what a, what a character. What a character.

JC: Yes. That’s what I’ve heard. 

SD: Yeah, he died much too young too, unfortunately.

JC: Well, one of the movies you did, I believe it was before you came to America, was Operation Thunderbolt.

SD: Oh, now you’re talking about my favorite movie. Operation Thunderbolt is my all time favorite movie as an actor because it was really probably my first departure from doing sexy roles. You remember when Farrah Fawcett had to do Burning Bed to get away from her sexy hair blown look and sexiness to prove that she could do something totally contrary and just in character? That’s what it was like for me.

It was really a challenge because, I mean that character that I played, Halima, the German terrorist from the Revolutionary Cells Group literally goes down in history in that movie. And she was known to be very, very sadistic and Menahem Golan, that was the best thing he ever directed.

JC: And Klaus Kinski, of all people, is the one to tell you occasionally to cool it down. 

Klaus(left), Sybil(center) as terrorists in Operation Thunderbolt

SD: I am not only proud because of the role that I portrayed, but most people don’t know I was actually producer on that movie because I got all the money for it. Menahem came to Munich and they were all ready. There were two TV movies about Entebbe. One was being shot with Liz Taylor, and another was being shot with Charles Bronson.

Menahem comes and says, “Sybil, you’re going to play Halima,” and I said, “We’re so late. There’s like two other companies right now shooting.” And he’s said, “It doesn’t matter. I have the real story. I interviewed the survivors. You’re going to play the character. You have to wear dark glasses because they said she all the time wore dark glasses. She’s very sadistic, blah, blah, blah.” I said, “Okay.” He then asks who could play Wilfried Boese, my partner in crime literally. Immediately I said to him, “For me there’s only one guy, that’s Klaus Kinski.” He says, “You know Klaus?” I said, “Yeah.” And so he says, “Call him.”

So I called him up and, long story short, he didn’t even know anything about the raid in Entebbe and they say he doesn’t read newspapers and he doesn’t, and usually he doesn’t read the script until he has the role. His attitude was always, “Don’t send me the scripts, send me a check.”

So, he got a little uppity with me on the phone. He went, “An Israeli director? Who is he?” He then wanted this big sum of money, and Menahem thinks he’s totally crazy. And I said, “You know what, you call me back tomorrow. You talk to your agent, but you got to call me tomorrow, because if you don’t want to play it I’ll get somebody else.”

Oh, he called me first thing in the morning. He talked to his agent. His agent cleared him up a little bit, and he wanted to play it. So then I went to the distributor to get the money. Again it was Cinerama, it was a distributor that I was very good with and they listened to me and decided to put up the money, but not with Klaus Kinski. I said, “He is so right for it,” but they didn’t want him, because Klaus was known to be terrible. He had been travelling, doing a play, and he would like stop in the middle of the play and spit out at the audience if somebody was talking or making a remark or anything, and he was really just terrible.

And I put my hand in the fire and I said, “Look, I will be responsible for him, blah, blah, blah”. And they said, “Okay, you are,” and they made me responsible. So I went and I said, “They don’t want you, okay. The distributor doesn’t want you. You are a liability, so let me tell you something, I’m putting my hand in the fire, but if you don’t behave and I have a problem with you, not only will you not be paid, you’re only going to get paid when the movie is over anyhow. You don’t get paid anything until the movie is done, and if there is any problems, your ass is going to be sued.”

So he said, “No, no, no, it’s okay.” And I have to tell you something, he couldn’t have been kinder, nicer, more professional. He really was into it. He really was professional, and we were shooting sometimes 16, 18 hours. I mean there’s nobody in Israel to tell you when you have to stop as an actor, so we just shot. We wanted to get it done. And again, I was sicker than a dog, because in Entebbe, Benghazi, and Ben Gurion airports, all three airports from all those three countries we shot at the Ben Gurion airport, which is right on the Mediterranean, and it was December. It was freezing cold.

The story took place in hot weather. So we, as you know, a lot of it took place in the plane, so they were spritzing us with water, and then in between shots we’d have to go out and go into this trailer that we had. And in between was this ice cold wind, and inside we were actually perspiring, because it was hot and the doors were closed. It was very confined on the plane and it was really hot, and we were sweating, and then going out in the ice cold wind.

Oh, I was so sick. The doctor was there daily giving me penicillin and everything to keep me going. So I felt miserable and it kind of helped with the character, because I had pimples on my face because of my fever and just being really sick and wearing the clothes I wore, and flat shoes. So I was into that character and, as you know, we ended up being nominated for best foreign film from the Academy. And so I’m very, very proud of that.

And LA Times gave us, Klaus and me, a great review, and they said exactly what you know I had just mentioned. They said both Klaus and my characters were not caricatures. And my role was challenging for me.

Most recently, I was at a cocktail party two weeks ago and there was a gentleman here from the Knesset in Israel and he was, I was introduced to him, and he said, “Oh Sybil Danning, you know what, I just arrived yesterday from Israel and I watched Operation Thunderbolt in the hotel last night and now I’m meeting you in person,” because I had never met him, and he told me that there is talk of a remake.

So I don’t know who, when, what, or where, but he just told me, he went back to Israel, and he’s going to be back in May, and he wants to meet up with me. So I will see what he knows, what’s going on, and it will be interesting.

JC: Although one thing I want to say before we go to America, this kind of gave you a big warm-up because when you got to America you would be playing a great number of villains. 

SD: Well, you know that’s interesting that you said that, because I never really saw it that way.

JC: I mean, I know Halima was a more realistic villain than the later villains you played. 

SD: No, it’s interesting what you were saying, because I never thought of it that way. I can tell you one thing, that movie known as Operation Thunderbolt, the Israeli name is Mivtsa Yonatan, which means “Jonathan’s Mission.” But when I was in Hollywood and went to see people, producers, casting people, etcetera, when they asked me what I had done besides The Three Musketeers and Bluebeard and the other movie, Prince and the Pauper, that was the movie that was kind of like my business card. That was the movie that most people recognized me by, but unfortunately Operation Thunderbolt didn’t get a huge release. It was a very small release. So not a lot of people saw it.

What actually happened was I did Playboy and, strange enough, when I went in to see producers they said, “Oh, we saw your Playboy, fantastic.”

Sybil in Playboy


So I’m telling you the notoriety of having been on the cover and ten pages in Playboy actually got me more jobs than Operation Thunderbolt. But, I had a wonderful manager and he had seen, like you, my earlier movies. He was a huge fan. I had just done Battle beyond the Stars. [To see the trailer for Battle beyond the Stars, click here.] I was at the Toronto Film Festival, he was a journalist there. He interviewed me, and then he came to Los Angeles and he was doing a lot of things for me. He was putting me in magazines. He was referring me for roles. And I said, “You know what, why don’t you just do that? Why don’t you become my manager?”

And then, so he’s the one who said to me, he said, “You know you have the beauty and the sexuality anyhow. I mean nobody’s going to look at you and say you look like a man, but what you should do because you are very good,” and he loved that movie. He said, “You should play strong characters and you should play action characters.”

JC: I mean, I mean so it was his idea, because I wasn’t sure if it was Battle beyond the Stars that started the character that, you know, during the 80s the kind of action heroine or action villain. 

SD: No. No. It was really my manager who was looking for those kinds of roles; talked to producers, directors, writers; had roles rewritten for me; suggested me for roles that were actually written for men. And, because there was a niche at that time and he said, “You fill that because there’s a lot of women out there that are beautiful and sexy and they play the romantic roles really well, but what you have is this inner strength and this capability of playing authority characters, and looking like a woman, and being sexy. That’s a very strong combination.”

Sybil as Saint-Exmin in Battle beyond the Stars


I do love Battle beyond the Stars very much because that was, I call it my first movie in America. Actually, I did a little one before, but it doesn’t really count. And I just did an interview with a journalist from Entertainment Weekly who is writing a book on Roger Corman with his blessing, and he has interviewed everyone from Martin Scorsese to John Landis, and I was very honored to be a part of his book and just did an interview for that. And I said that is really one of my favorite movies.

But back to what my manager said, I was doing like what Angelina Jolie does today, playing action heroines in Tomb Raider and Salt.

But when I was doing it, it was in the 80s and in the 80s, don’t forget, Gloria was the last great female role. That was in 1980 where a woman was actually picking up a gun and chasing somebody. And after that came Rambo and Commando and all the macho movies, because it was the Reagan Era and women didn’t do that in studio movies. So when Roger Corman and the likes filled that void with fantasy movies and women in strong roles, that was my time. That was my niche. I’m happy to say that if I can be a part of that, that’s what I want to do, and that’s why I want to keep playing strong characters, to keep being that role model.

JC: I like to jump to one of these strong characters. It’s in Julie Darling. The character is not an action heroine but you are the stepmother who must deal with the scheming, incestuous and homicidal stepdaughter Julie in Julie Darling. 

SD: Mmhmm. Yeah, that did very well. That’s a very popular one.

JC: Right. It was by the same guy who directed one of your biggest hits that same year, Chained Heat

SD: Lutz Schaarwaechter, yes. Nicholas, Paul Nicholas. [To see the trailer for collaboration between Sybil and Paul, Chained Heat, click here.]

JC: Right. 

SD: His American name is Paul Nicholas, but he’s really from Berlin, Germany. That’s why he did Julie Darling because – and that’s why they put me in there –because it was a German/Canadian co-production. 

JC: Nicholas made good use of you as an action heroine as a leading rebel prisoner but in Julie Darling, he made a very subtle use of your strength. In that scene where you and Julie are playing a chess game, you’re very protective of your child after Julie tried to kill him and let her know that she’s not going to ever touch your child. A very subtle way of telling Julie, “This means war.” 

SD: Exactly. Absolutely.

JC: Actually, I’ll tell you what I’ve come across on Amazon, what comes up as your most searched movie, is not one you played an action heroine or villain but the one where you played a seductive professor, They’re Playing With Fire

SD: Oh really? Really?

JC: Yeah, and that was the first film I actually saw you in, yes.

SD: Oh. That’s the first movie you saw? [To see the trailer of They’re Playing with Fire, click here.]

JC: Yes. 

SD: Really? And how old were you may I ask?

JC: [Laughter] I was, I was probably 17 or 18, and I have to admit I was hoping, with the exception of dealing with the killer in the movie and that whole inheritance scheming, I was hoping I would get a professor like you

SD: Uh huh. Well I think it’s not a great movie, but I think it worked. It had good production values, and it plays to the fantasy of young men. So I guess I dingle, dangle, prangled your transponders in there, huh?

JC: [Laughter] Yeah. 

SD: Kind of like Saint-Exmin from Battle beyond the Stars, right.

JC: Yes. Right. 

SD: The famous line in there. [To actually hear Sybil say the line itself, click here.] 

JC: Right, that line there. But, the whole idea of a sexy professor is a huge male fantasy. Hell, one of Van Halen’s biggest hits is “Hot for Teacher.”

SD: Exactly. Exactly. Yeah. And it was actually I think kind of a, I don’t want to say rip off, but it was just kind of a follow up to Sylvia Kristel’s movies.

JC: Yeah, the same guy, Eric Brown was seduced by Sylvia Kristel in Private Lessons

SD: I don’t know why, maybe he was just in a very bad state of mind at that time in his life or something. But Mr. Brown, young little Mr. Brown hated doing the sexy scenes. He didn’t want to do them. He felt totally uncomfortable doing them. He did not like doing them, and I think maybe because he was so against doing it that it came across as him being shy maybe. It worked.

JC: Yeah, I would say he looks awkward. Many people have commented on the first scene with you and him on the boat. You notice he’s carrying, he’s trying to carry on a conversation with you while you two are having sex in that scene. That’s really weird. In other words, the viewer can tell he’s uncomfortable. 

SD: Yeah.

JC: But I also I think some of the awkwardness does work in that case, because you’re about to get him into some dangerous territory. 

SD: Yeah. Yeah, well it, I mean whatever came across, he comes across okay, but I just, you know I just have to say that the good thing is that I was into the role because I think maybe not every actress could have felt good about doing that. Because when you have a partner that is totally not into it, that’s terrible.

JC: Yeah. 

SD: I mean, Nicole Kidman just did a movie with Clive Owen. She had a nude scene and she was just saying it was just so incredible, because Clive Owen is an incredible guy, incredible actor and very sexy guy, and she was just saying how, how inspiring he was, and how comfortable he made her feel. And felt good about it, and they were both into it. None of that happened in They’re Playing with Fire.

JC: Well, I thought you did have chemistry with Franco Nero in The Salamander

SD: Ah, ah, okay, that’s a jump now.

JC: That’s right. The Salamander is a different film than They’re Playing with Fire. Also, The Salamander was made two years before They’re Playing with Fire. But I figure we mention it here and go back in a little time, because we are on the subject of chemistry. It’s the one film where you have more of a traditional relationship. I think the chemistry between you and Franco did work in that. 

SD: Well, we did three movies together. We did also Il giorno del Cobra…English title is The Day of the Cobra together, and we were actually in bed in that movie. And then we did, remember The Man with Bogart’s Face.

JC: The Man with Bogart’s Face. Yes. 

SD: So we were, you know we do, I think we do have a good chemistry. And I have to tell you, I think Tarantino is remaking Django now.

JC: Yes, he is doing Django. 

SD: When I saw the original Django in Europe, I fell in love with Franco Nero. I mean do you remember him walking –

JC: Yes, dragging the coffin through the mud. 

SD: – coffin through the mud at the opening. That was just an incredible scene, and his character. And I, oh to me he’s like a, you know like Mel Gibson was as Mad Max, a very, very interesting, sexy character.

So I fell in love with him at that time. Then when I was able to work with him, like I said three movies, I was, yeah, we had a chemistry. We definitely had a chemistry. We got along very well on and off the camera.

Franco and Sybil in The Salamander

JC: Right. I mean it kind of, it also worked in that ending where you two are having your Casablanca moment about where you two will love each other even though you two won’t be with each other in the end.

SD: Exactly. Yes. Where I have to go into exile in Switzerland.

JC: He’s going to take the high political position in Italy. 

SD: That’s another movie that I don’t think anybody has ever – except for when the movie came out of course – asked me about in the interviews. And thank you for asking me about that movie, because I loved that, and you know it was based on the famous Morris West book called The Salamander, and that’s the same writer that wrote The Shoes of the Fisherman that also, that Anthony Quinn was also in. I thank you for that, because like I said The Salamander and French Pussycat are two that I never get asked about, and I like them both for different reasons. So thank you for looking that up, because it never came out theatrically here. It only came out I believe on HBO.

JC: Yeah. Well also I think the subject about Italian politics would be a hard sell in America no matter how good the film is. 

SD: Yes. It was written by a wonderful writer, but like you said, and adapted from book, which is not easy, that’s based on a true story. I mean there was really almost this fascist coup takeover in the end of the 60s in Italy. So it was a very huge best seller in Europe. But I think in the states if it’s an Italian movie then it should be a mafia movie.

JC: OK, we’ll cut back to where we were. After They’re Playing with Fire, you were cast as Stirba, The Werewolf queen in Howling II

SD: Yes, one of my few horror movies, because I am not a victim. In most horror films, the girls are the victims. Someone would come to my manager for a victim and says, “Oh, we have this and she hasn’t played that role.” And he says, “Yeah, for a good reason. She doesn’t want to, and she is better at playing the killer, the queen, the whatever, the authoritarian person.”

Once in a while, somebody will make that mistake and will put me under the list of scream queens, but I’m not a scream queen. I’m a screen with an “N”, screen queen, but not a scream queen with an “M”, because those are the girls that are the victim and so that’s why I’ve done so few horror movies. People think that I’ve done a lot more horror movies than I have. Actually, if you want to really look at it, The Howling II is a horror movie, [To see the trailer, click here] and because of that movie, I’m invited to horror conventions, and because I am at horror conventions, everybody presumes I’ve done a lot of horror movies. Also, Christopher Lee was in there.

Sybil as Werewolf Queen in Howling II

JC: Right. 

SD: You know Christopher and I have done five movies.

JC: Yes, including The Salamander. Actually, there’s something I wanted to ask you about Howling II. There seems to be like two types of movies, because the first part of Howling II with Christopher, before we introduce your character, it seems like we’re going to go back to one of the old Hammer horror movies. Then when you come in it changes tone completely. 

SD: Well, excuse me. [Laughter]

JC: No, I mean… 

SD: I come on and it goes my way.

JC: I know. Absolutely. Was that all intentional? 

SD: No, not at all. There was never any intention. Not that I know of or ever heard of. No. I think Philippe Mora [the director], you know the story starts where it starts and then goes to the old country and just changes tone because that’s Philippe. Before it’s kind of like everything is down to earth. It’s down to earth, it’s normal people, it’s that happening.

But now you’re in this, now you’re in the werewolf country in Romania. So Philippe is a very visual director.

JC: Yeah, I really like Philippe's shots of all those statues in Romania. 

SD: So when he got there and he saw that, and this was shot at, this was all behind the Iron Curtain in the Czech Republic, and Czechoslovakia, in the country somewhere almost on the border of Austria. When he got there he just loved the atmosphere and the lighting became different. And then of course the most beautiful thing for any actors or director is to actually shoot in a castle when you’re in a castle, you know when it calls for a castle. And it was a real old castle that he was just wonderful in dressing with certain atmosphere, and lighting, and everything.

And yeah, and it becomes this whole other movie. It’s almost like you could say a little bit science fiction. Horror science fiction, right.

JC: Yeah. Well actually he goes into comedy as well, because there’s a little comic element in Howling II

SD: Especially at the end.

JC: Right. But while we’ll discuss the comedic role in Amazon Women on The Moon, I think there is a comedy element in some of your other works. It’s there in Battle beyond the Stars, and also one of the other movies you did, Jungle Warriors, a little bit. 

SD: Yeah.

JC: There is a little wink, like we’re on the joke. 

SD: I think it’s a sense of humor.

JC: Right. 

SD: I think definitely. I mean you can never, and you know a lot of people have trashed Howling II. You can’t compare it to Howling I. I mean I love Joe Dante. I know him personally. He’s an incredibly nice person. He’s a great director. Howling I was a classic. Howling II is on its own. It is what it is. It’s a, like you said, it’s a horror movie with a sense of humor and you have to take it for what it is. You cannot compare it at all.

And I think for what it is, it’s good. It doesn’t pretend to be anything else. It doesn’t pretend to be a sequel to Howling I or competing with Howling I. And even though Philippe directed Howling III, and that was, that was still successful too, but all the rest were not successful anymore, Howling II stands on its own.

Philippe and I, we offered to do a special when MGM sold it to Sony and MGM didn’t care because they were selling it, and when I called and I said, “The director and I would love to do a special for our fans. We'll do it for free. We want to do it.” They said, “Oh, we already did all the DVDs, and, but if we bring I and II out in the future, we’ll get back to you.” Maybe when they do Blu-ray maybe we could do something. I don’t know. We’ll see. But yeah, we’re sorry that we couldn’t do a special on it.

JC: Speaking of one other franchise besides The Howling, I understand that you were the original Octopussy for the James Bond movie. 

SD: Well, I went to see [producer of the Bond series] Albert Broccoli and when I got back my agent said no, that Broccoli felt that I was too strong and it was, he felt that my character, my personality was too strong to be in there with Roger Moore. And later on I met Roger Moore; we got along very well. So I think that was baloney.

I can tone it down as I have to, and I would have loved to play in that movie. But Maud Adams is a dear friend of mine and I’m happy she got to play Octopussy.

But the old James Bond movies with Sean Connery, I should have been in one of those because there the villains were wonderful and strong and sexy. Nobody worried about any woman upstaging or being too strong for Connery. And I think it was a mistake not to do it with Roger Moore too, because he is what he is. He is Bond, so let the villain be strong. That makes the movie all the better if you ask me. But that was a problem.

JC: Around that time, several films like Reform School Girls bill you high in the credits and feature you on the cover and yet you are not in that very long. 


Reform School Girls DVD Cover

SD: Well, you know what, that has a couple of reasons. I also did a Sybil Danning’s Adventure Video where I did wraparounds for movies that were unsellable and I did the wraparounds and they were sellable, and then the producers got back complaints that, “Oh, Sybil’s all over the box and she in there two minutes in the front and two minutes in the end,” and they complained. [To see one of the wraparounds, click here.]

What they do is they give me a role that I like and they pay me money I have to have for using my name to sell the movie. But they don’t, they don’t extend it because the longer you shoot the more money you get paid.

So that’s the way it works and it’s unfortunate, but in those days that’s what they did. They put a great role in there and they say, “Okay Sybil,come in, we can, this is, we can give you that money and we’ll shoot you off in two days” And they shoot me off and then they put my name everywhere to sell it.

But the fans have to suffer for it. And it’s too bad.

And in the movie like Reform School Girls, what happened was, again, my manager had offered me for that role. He knew of it, and they actually said, “Well you know we don’t have enough money to pay Sybil for that role.” So my manager actually told them, “Why don’t you go to New World and tell them that Sybil would be interested, could be interested if the money is right for the role of the warden?” It was written the way it was written.

And so luckily the producers came back and called my manager and said “Oh, they’d love to have her in there,” and so I got the role.

JC: I loved the whole thing of you reading from the Bible to the inmates. 

SD: Well, as we’re in there, I said to my manager how cool would it be if Wendy (O. Williams, a co-star in Reform School Girls) and I had a real cat fight, because I mean we are these contrary characters and it would really pay off. And I also thought if the director would want, he could even have her kill me off. I mean that’s okay, because it’s kind of like in Chained Heat, you have to go against the authority. So if they kill me that’s okay, but I think it would be really cool and the fans would love that.

And the director, Tom DeSimone said, “Okay, I’m going to go ask, and came back and said, ‘No, Wendy doesn’t want to do it, and she wants to do what she contracted for. That wasn’t in her contract.’” Whatever, she didn’t want to do it, and I think she was silly and stupid not to do it. But she didn’t want to do it, so we didn’t do it. And I wouldn’t have asked for more money or anything. I would have just liked to have some kind of a payoff between her and me and have it in a great cat fight.

JC: Well actually it’s interesting. I wanted to mention something about Wendy Williams. This also relates to one of my previous interviews. I interviewed Greg Smith, the guy who had played bass with Wendy Williams. He actually is playing on the title track of Reform School Girls. 

SD: Really?

JC: Yeah. He went on to play with other people like Alice Cooper and, currently he’s now playing with Ted Nugent. But he told me, his story of Wendy was that when he said he was going to leave the band, she started crying like a little girl, begging him not to leave. 

SD: I can believe that. Yeah, sometimes people that put up a front like she did, they just do it sometimes because inside they’re really insecure, and that showed that she had a soft heart. I never saw that. She was pretty harsh around the set.

We actually worked out together in the same gym and I saw her there after we shot and I would say, “Oh hi Wendy,” and she was, “Oh, hey yo!” That was the extent of it, and she was gone.

JC: Why do you think that they casted her? I mean she certainly still had the physical fit to play a juvenile delinquent, but just looking at the face you can tell it’s not 17 or 18. 

SD: I think DeSimone just liked her for who she was. She was a character, and it worked.

JC: Yeah, it did. Let’s talk about Amazon Women on the Moon

SD: John Landis and Robert Weiss, who was actually my director, called me in to Universal for Amazon Women on the Moon. I went in with my manager and I was just called in. They didn’t say for what role. They just said that Robert Weiss would like to see me for a role in that movie, and it was described to us it’s like a Kentucky Fried Movie and I didn’t have a role. I mean I didn’t have script or anything.

So we just went in for the meeting and we come in and my manager says, “Okay, Sybil Danning’s here to see Robert Weiss”, and we’re sitting down. And my manager, great as he was – he could read upside down. He was walking back and forth and he was interested what was on that secretary’s desk. And what he read was, there were pages there for another shoot in the movie and it said Queen of the Amazons.

And he had already asked when we came in, he said, “What is Ms. Danning going to be reading for?” And she said, “It’s the role of the President’s,” [Laughter] “the role of the President’s wife.” So when he saw what he read on the desk he said, “Could we have those pages for Sybil to read?” She said, “Well, I’d have to ask, or you’d have to ask Mr. Weiss when she goes in, because we’re not shooting this yet. We’re shooting this sequence with the President.”

So okay, I’m called in and I go in alone of course without my manager, and I sit down and I, and he said, so, and I, I really was already into that role, and I sat down and he said, “Oh it’s so nice to meet you Sybil.” And I said, “And I’m your Queen of the Amazon.” And he laughed. He says, “You know what, we’re going to do that.” I said, “I know, and you’re doing it next, and I want to be your queen.” He says, “You know what, you would make a great queen. Yes. You’re queen. You’re the Queen, Queen Lara.” So that’s how that happened.

Sybil as Queen Lara in Amazon Women on the Moon

JC: You have been working very steady throughout the 70s and 80s. By the 90s you stopped, and it wouldn’t be till the 21st century Rob Zombie called you back. Why did you stop acting for a while? 

SD: Well I had an accident in the gym. I injured my back. I had surgery and I decided to heal and take some time off, and that’s what I did. Then I was asked by Chiller Theater, to come to the theater, because I had never done that memorabilia show, and I thought, “Okay, I’ll do that.” That will be nice to see my fans. And when my fans came, oh my god, it was a three-day convention, you know in New Jersey.

My fans came with buckets, bags, suitcases, carriers, tubes with posters in them, pictures, and magazines, and you name it, and every single one of them was saying – and these are the two things that stayed in my mind –, “When are you going to go back on screen? When are you going to do another movie? When are you going to do another Woman in Prison movie? When are you going to do another Howling?”

And I was listening, and I said, “You know, if you guys want me back, I will do my damndest to do that.” So I thought if my fans still want me, as long as they want me I’m going to keep working, because I love my work. The only thing I don’t want is people to say, “No, I don’t like her the way she looks, or she’s not doing the right roles anymore. I don’t like her in those roles.” That’s why I’ve been turning down mother roles.

When I worked on Werewolf Women of the SS, which was in that Tarantino movie and then with Rob Zombie on Halloween, that’s a hard act to follow. [See the faux trailer of Werewolf Women of the SS, directed by Rob Zombie, by clicking here.]

I mean after that I only did one other movie because I really liked it, but after that I said to myself, “Wow, where do I go from here? I have to have either really incredible scripts or really incredible director I want to work with, or an incredible role. ” I mean, something has to make sense, because like I said, where do you go from Tarantino and Zombie?

JC: Although Rob did manage to cast you as a victim for the first time in Halloween, because you get killed by the young Michael Myers as a nurse. 

SD: Well, you know what, that was a floozy, because when I went in for Werewolf Women of the SS for the fittings, I saw the pictures up on the wall and I said, “Wow, is this the cast of” – because it said Howling, Halloween, and they said, “Yep,” and I said, “Wow, lots of characters. ” And so when we were shooting on the last day I said to Rob, I said, “I’d love to be in Halloween.” He says, “It’s all cast.” I said, “I know. It looked like it.” He said, “Let me think about it.“

And then in the evening he knocked on my trailer and I opened the door and he said, “I got a role for you.” And he said, “It’s not a big role.” And I said, “Rob, whatever you want me to play, I’ll play,” and I meant it. That was the first time where I said I don’t care what I play. I would have played an ant, because I really wanted to work with him.

And he said, “It’s a small role, but it’s an important role, because you’re the last one that little Mike Myers kills.” So there, there you go. And he said, “But she is nasty.” She is nasty, and so I said, “Okay. That’s fine, I can be killed. I’ve died before. So that’s all right. ”

JC: So what, what have you been doing since you worked with Rob Zombie? 

SD: Well I did another film, I don’t know if you saw that one or not, Virus X.

JC: No, I didn’t see it, but I’m familiar with it because actually I’m facebook friends with one of the actors in it, Joe Zaso. 

SD: Oh, yes. Yes. He’s a great actor. He was in there. So did he tell you anything?

JC: Well yeah, he was posting on his facebook wall when he was starting to shoot the project. So, I am aware of the film. 

SD: Yeah. Well, I really like the script a lot, and I like, I met the director, and Ryan Stevens Harris was the writer and the director, and I really liked it. And he had won an award for cinematography before, so I was happy about that. And I liked the fact that I was the villain in that movie. So, and they offered me the villain.

JC: Okay, then that was enough to get you, playing the villain? 

SD: Yeah, but it also was written very well. They . . . it turned out a little bit different from what the screenplay was, but I guess that was all the director’s choice, choices he made. But I, like I said, I did it because I liked the screenplay and I met with the director, and Domiziano Arcangeli was one of the producers, and he was the lead in there, Jerron. He played kind of like my right hand killer guy.

So it was fun. It was fun doing. It really was. And Lionsgate brought that out to video.

JC: Actually there is something I just remembered. You did, you did work with Patrick Swayze on his last movie. 

SD: I did. I worked on Jump! And if you go to my website, you can go where the pictures are, there is a trailer of Jump! there [or click here.] 

JC: Now was Patrick, I mean because I know he passed away, but Patrick, how was he during that? 


Sybil and Patrick Swayze


SD: He was totally normal, but he didn’t really get very ill until probably a year later after he shot the movie when I started hearing, because the movie was completed. We were both invited to the Cannes Film Festival and he could not make it. So I went alone to the Cannes Film Festival, and then they had a big premier in Austria and he didn’t come to that. So a year later he was ill.

But during the shoot, he looked great, and you’ll see him in the trailer. He looked great. He sounded great. He was really into his role. He loved the role. No, everything was fine on the shoot. Absolutely. There was, no one would have ever thought that, I mean maybe he had no symptoms at that time.

He certainly didn’t tell anyone or let anyone know, or no, he was, when he wasn’t on set he was partying with everybody and having a good time. Yeah.

JC: Okay. 

SD: I’m glad I was able to work with him, because we all fell in love with him, I think men and women, in Dirty Dancing, but my favorite role of his was really Ghost. I think he was just so wonderful. And that showed his other side. I mean he had that kickass sexy side, and then his very sensitive side you saw in Ghost.

JC: So what have you been doing after Virus and Jump!?

SD: Well I, I don’t know if you saw it, but you can, it’s on YouTube. I produced a music video and starred in it called “The Other Side”, and the other side is a single by the heavy metal band The Last Vegas.

And Chad Cherry, the lead singer and I were friends before and he just called me and asked, “Do you want to do this?” I said, “Yeah, let’s do it.” So it was just, it was one of those things, we had wanted to do something together for a long time, and I liked his idea. I liked the song. I liked the music, “The Other Side”, and it’s basically, it came out, it premiered on November 1 last year for Halloween, because it has a horror theme.

So I won’t say anything more. You got to see it [by clicking here.] I think you’ll like it, and we’re talking, we’re going to be talking in the summer about his next video, and I’m going to be directing that.

JC: Okay. I understand that you have a book coming out. 

SD: Oh my. Yes. Well, I’m working on my memoirs, but that I’ve kind of put aside because I actually said there’s so much still to come. The ending to that is far in advance, but it never hurts to start because it’s just so much work writing a book, and I’m doing that. But my wonderful editor-in-chief, who is my editor-in-chief on my memoir, said to me, “Sybil, you know what you do, set that aside for a moment and do a picture book.” He said, “That’s something you should get out now.” So I’m working on a picture book.

And my editor-in-chief is none other than Marshall Perrill. He is a wonderful novelist. He wrote, well he did a few Elvis books. He’s done a few Steve McQueen books. He’s done many other celebrities too. He likes sports and entertainment celebrities.

He, right now, his book is called Steve McQueen: Portrait of an American Rebel is, he’s producing that and with Jeremy Renner as the star. And he has another book which he’s producer on, which is an Elvis Presley book, and the book was called Elvis – Still Taking Care of Business. The movie is going to be called Fame and Fortune and he’s producing that.

So I have a very, very wonderful, he’s my guru, I’m very fortunate to have him and he is pushing me to do this picture book, which will have all the mini pictures in there from, from so much that has been going on in my life. I mean everything from Sophia Lauren’s cookbook when I met up with her for lunch in her villa in Rome, or having dinner with Carlo Ponti, or meeting up with Henry Kissinger and him, me sending him Operation Thunderbolt, he wanted to see it.

Sybil and Sophie Loren

So from that to that to my pinup pictures of earlier, to just so many pictures that I have from so many years of doing everything that I’m doing. I can finally put those pictures in there because memoirs, as you know, hardly has pictures, because it’s very expensive to put pictures in those books. So, this will be a picture book.

And I don’t know when I will have it finished. I’m supposed to have it finished now. So I am working on it, but there’s just never enough time to do everything, but I am taking it very seriously and I’m working on that.

I have Ruger in the works. Now Ruger is a character that I own and my partner, Les Thomas, he is my partner in this project, and he is right now working on putting the Ruger thing together. It’s going to be a video game, a first-person shooter game.

Les is a specialist in that. I mean he was just recently called a key analyst and producer in the global gaming industry by Cloud Computing Journal and, he just attended the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. So he is developing this video game, and it’s going to be probably a Cloud thing because we both feel that if we start out it being a Cloud game, not only, but we want to start out as a Cloud, then fans all over the world can play it because it’s just easier access for them. We want to have everyone have access to it. So I’m very excited about that.

And he is also right now in negotiations, can’t tell you now, but we’ll have to do a follow up with an illustrator who is interested in doing a Ruger comic book. So it will be the Ruger video game, comic book, and I am now talking to some possibilities for doing Ruger as a movie. I was either thinking movie or TV series, but I’d rather go as a movie because we can always then spin her off later on. So I’m very excited about that.

So someday I’ll be playing a grandma, someday, and I’ll be –

JC: A grandmother, really? Sybil, you said in this interview you’ve turned down mother roles. 

SD: Yeah. But someday I’ll be playing a grandma with a 12 gauge shotgun that ...

JC: That’s true, you couldn’t be any grandmother. 

SD: ...that Ruger gives her, and she’ll be defending the ranch. So whatever it is. It doesn’t end until the fat lady sings.

JC: Right, you’re also not Jessica Fletcher either.

SD: That’s right. And then you know me, I do, I did The Howling II, and I did Operation Thunderbolt, so I am kind of doing the same thing now. I’m doing Ruger the video game, the comic book, and the movie. And also I am doing something very serious that I am very excited about. I guess I can give the title, our title right now is Solidarity and it’s basically on Lech Wałęsa, who was the leader of solidarity and instigator of democracy in Europe, and he won the Nobel Peace Prize.

He fought in Poland against the Russians and a wonderful political love story. And my partner in that, Bill Chartoff, he was producer on Rocky.

JC: I’ve seen the name before. 

SD: Raging Bull, The Right Stuff, and he also did most recently The Mechanic with Jason Statham.

JC: Yes.

SD: Yeah. So, he’s my partner on that. So we’re at the beginning stages of putting that together right now, and I’m very excited about that. And I will also play a role in there. There is a role, her name is Anna. She’s actually a ship worker, and she worked very closely together with Lech Wałęsa in fighting the Russians and fighting the police. They were both incarcerated together. I like that role because she’s also a shipyard worker with men, and she’s also discriminated against. So, she’s a fighter right there with him.

So this is something I really love and look forward to doing. I think right now another movie with someone winning the Nobel Prize for Peace, he really deserved it. I think President Obama needs to live up to his word. So yeah, I’m really excited about that. And I also have in the works a woman in prison movie.

JC: Oh really? 

SD: Yes. I know, I knew that would wake you up. Solidarity puts you a little bit to sleep again. Oh, it’s like The Salamander. Something about those folks over there.

JC: Now, Sybil, I asked you about The Salamander and Operation Thunderbolt.

 SD: Well I have a woman in prison that I’m working on, okay. And I have a vampire movie I’m working on. So the vampire movie I’m very excited about. So the prison movie I’m working on the financing right now, and likewise on the vampire movie we’re working around on the script right now, but we have a wonderful story and everything. The vampire movie is going to be very exciting as well. And it’s time for a woman in prison movie.

Then I have my websites: I have SybilDanning.net, I have Twitter.com/sybildanning, Facebook.com/sybildanning, and then I also have MySpace.com/sybildanning. Very important, it’s new and we haven’t done anything with it but the fans can go there and follow up on my Ruger. We have a separate Ruger page, which is sybildanningsruger.com.

 JC: Okay. 

SD: Okay? Yeah, so thank you.

 JC: Thanks. 

SD: This was great. I really enjoyed this interview with you Jeff.

JC: Thank you. 

SD: It was a great interview and you’ve had interesting and different questions, and I really enjoyed that. So thank you for all the work.

JC: Thanks, Sybil.

2 comments:

Yithian said...

Found the link on the IMDB Howling II forum. Great interview.

JR said...

Great interview, thanks