Dream Girl: Interview with Actress Lisa Wilcox, discussing her memorable role as Alice Johnson in the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise
Editor’s Note: Our writer, Billy Stamper, had the pleasure to sit down with Elm Street child Lisa Wilcox from A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Master and A Nightmare on Elm Street 5 : The Dream Child. He talks to her about her memorable performance in the franchise, as well as her stage, film, and television career…plus so much more.
Billy Stamper: Hi, Lisa. It’s such a pleasure to be speaking with you, and I’m a big fan of your work. To begin, you made two of the most important Elm Street movies with Freddy Kruger. When you landed that role, had you seen the prior films in the series before filming?
Lisa Wilcox: Yes, I had seen all 3 (1-3) and was a big fan! Being a fan of horror and Sci-fi since I started watching a TV screen, it was quite exciting to audition for.
BS: You and Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger) were in many intense scenes together in both my personal favorite film in the franchise, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 : The Dream Master, as well as A Nightmare on Elm Street5: The Dream Child. Was there one you enjoyed more?
LW: Gosh. I’d say my favorite scenes in The Dream Master were the diner scenes, such as flying into the film screen and then entering the Crave Inn Diner. Also, “old” Alice and the fabulous pizza with talking meatballs. The way they aged the diner too was excellent. Then there is the big church scene for the final face down with Freddy. The moment of realization and putting the broken mirror to his face was poignant. Great memories – like it was yesterday! In The Dream Child, my favorite scene with Robert was in the asylum. He plays himself without the Freddy make up. So creepy to film that scene with a couple of 100 dirty crazy men surrounding me.
BS: Speaking of Robert, what was it like working with the horror legend?
LW: It was so much fun! Seeing the transformation of Robert to Freddy, and watching all that makeup get put on, was fascinating. Robert is also a wonderful raconteur, so we always had a great time — whether we were in the makeup trailer or on the set.
BS: Looking back, do you still love that you were a part of these movies and such a key character in the series?
LW: I am so proud to be a part of the series. I am thrilled to see them become essentially iconic and part of pop culture all over the world. Not bad for shy Alice and me, a gal from Missouri.
BS: When you starting working on Dream Child, did you find it easier to get into the role of Alice the second time around?
LW: For me, Alice had changed so much as person, from a daydreamer to a realist. It was like playing a whole new character. Alice now has no problem standing up for her beliefs. Like the scene with Dan’s parents when they ask her to consider giving up her baby. Hell no! The Alice in Dream Master would have succumbed to their pressure. So, to answer your question, I can’t say that it was easier to get into the role; it was just different.
BS: You’ve said before that your character Alice happens to be your favorite character in the series. Can you tell me a bit about why that is?
LW: I think the role of Alice was just beautifully written. Every actor dreams of playing a character with depth and character arcs. The Alice character had many arcs, and to see her metamorphose slowly, painfully, was fantastic to play and I believe to watch. Also, Alice was seriously me exactly when I was in grade school and junior high. I was very introverted and hid in my room engulfed with books. That is how I dealt with life — taken away by characters in novels like “Dracula” or the mystery series “Nancy Drew” or books like “Little House on the Prairie.”
I was such a dreamer and floated off to fantasy world with all those different characters. It was my favorite place to be. It was my safe place. Some summers when there was no school, I would read 2 books a day. If I took a break, I’d gaze outside my window and watch the beautiful boy neighbor Allen play with his soccer ball. We were the same age. I’d never dream of flirting with him. Too shy. Too insecure.
I feel that many who watched Dream Master could identify with Alice. Have we not all had a time growing up when not participating was the easiest route? When there is misery in our family and we can’t cope, we disappear into our room — our safe haven.
BS: Do you feel you would’ve been a completely different person, if you had never played her?
I can’t say I would’ve been a completely different person because Alice was me in a nut shell. I was that shy daydreamer who did eventually come to realize her power, her gifts, talent and find confidence because of amazing friends who came into my life. To play and visit this transformation that happened in my own life was truly amazing to do on film. The fact that so many people from all walks of life could identify with Alice has been exhilarating, and I am forever grateful to be that kind of role model as it were. The validation is nothing I dreamed of when I was that young girl.
BS: You have had such an incredible career, in movies as well as television. What’s been your favorite role throughout your career?
LW: Well, Alice for sure! Some other roles that I adored playing would have to be Yuta in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Such a tragic story filled with character arcs. Also a guest star role on Walker Texas Ranger. I was on an episode called ‘Saving Grace’ and got to play a nun, Sister Mary Grace. A beautiful story about salvation which aired at Christmas time.
On the lighter side, working with John Stamos early in his career — a sitcom called You Again with Jack Klugman. I was on an episode called, ‘Marry Me Little’. Oh, and then there was Valerie’s Family/Hogan’s Family with Valerie Harper and Jason Bateman. Well, it was a sitcom, but this particular episode was about a pretty girl from California at a new school. Rumors are spread about her that get out of hand. It was the first time I had to cry on camera…another story!
Then there is The Brady Bunch…Behind the Scenes. Are you kidding? To play Florence Henderson AND Carol Brady all in the same TV Movie? I can’t possibly select a very favorite…I could go on and on.
BS: Speaking of The Brady Bunch, that show has always been one of my favorites, and I love you made this movie. Can you tell me a bit more about what that experience was like for you?
LW: Are you kidding? I watched The Brady Bunch, like we all did back then. If you told me I’d one day play Carol Brady/Florence Henderson, I’d have looked at you like you were crazy. But then, it happened. To clarify, I did the FOX TV movie, The Brady Bunch…Behind the Scenes. For a while, FOX did several of these “behind the scenes” types of TV movies. Anyway, there is a longer story, but I will cut to the chase.
I was the last person on the casting director’s list of appointments to audition for this role. It was 5 pm on a Friday. I auditioned on camera and left. The one note the director had when I auditioned was do the Carol Brady laugh and say, “Oh, Mike.” I left the office, driving back home, and my manager calls me on my cell phone. Yes, my cell phone was the brick-sized kind. He says to me, “I don’t know what you did in there, but you got the role.”
BS: I love that. Now I’m hoping you can tell me a bit about Fear Clinic (the original series on FEARNet), a role that had you reuniting with Robert Englund. What a unique experience that must have been.
LW: It was surreal. My nemesis is now smartly dressed, handsome. AND I’m his go to sexy, smart nurse. Hysterical! As usual, we had great rapport working together. Easy, old hat.
BS: Ok, switching gears a bit. This is a question I’ve been curious about for some time. You’re on the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” Monopoly Board. How cool is that?!
LW: OH my land! I was at an Autograph convention, and a fan brought it to my table to sign. I had no idea such a thing had been made, or that I was on it as a property! I am listed as the assassin. It was my first realization that, in fact, that is actually what I was. I saw Yuta in a different way…which may be why I got the part. Anyway, yes, I was completely blown away and honored.
I ended up purchasing a few from the manufacturer…there were only a few left to buy. Apparently only 50,000 were produced. I say only because, before I even knew about it, they were almost all gone. I kept one for myself, and my kids (now grown) had a blast landing on the Yuta property.
BS: That’s so great. Getting back to your impressive career, you are also a stage actress. How different is performing in the theater versus on film? Do you have a preference?
LW: I can’t say that I have a preference. The difference though is like night and day. They are soooo different as far as performing. Creating the character and what not are the same though. Performing live, as in a play, is a roller coaster. The highs are so high. The high of the unpredictability — of how the production will go each time — changes every single performance. In film, there’s no unpredictability. You can always do a retake, you can try another choice or action.
Soap Operas, however, are the most like plays. Rarely is there a retake. Do it and done. Have to say I am so happy that my initial training was theater and Soaps. Once you do those, you are prepared for anything! Except for the brutality that can come along with filming on location. We actors actually do film in environments that are brutal with no CGI!
BS: Out of every play you’ve done, what’s been your best memory?
LW: For sure “The HOT’L BALTIMORE” by Lanford Wilson. Well, another would be M*A*S*H, but that is another story. I will never forget the director, Joan McGillis. I played the lead and had almost 800 lines in this play. I was 16 years old. Now, learning this vast amount of material, rehearsing every night after school…it was a big load — something like 7 monologues too.
Joan had me running around, doing cartwheels, jumping jacks while saying my lines – especially the monologues. She taught me how to memorize. She taught me so much. In the meantime, her daughter, award winning Kelly McGillis, was off at Juilliard and went on to the famous films Witness, Top Gun, etc. Thank you Joan! You inspired me, and you are the reason I decided to become a professional actress.
BS: Do you find working in horror films nowadays more fun or less fun, due to special effects being more CGI these days?
LW: So far, I find them equally fun! I haven’t actually had a lot special effects affecting the roles I’ve played — even in the Elm Street series. I will never forget the one gruesome 12 hour day I had to be Freddy-faced in Dream Child. Uck! It was not fun to look in the mirror that day, nor to wear that stuff. I applaud Robert! However, it was a blast and fascinating to do the old age makeup in Dream Master. The true art of it must be appreciated.
Brilliant artists! It took 3 tries and different experiments to get it right before we finally filmed it. The process was so cool, and then of course, the effective result! Time in the makeup chair is long and tedious, but I have to say I didn’t mind it. Of course it wasn’t a daily grind, like what Robert went through. Now, a new scenario, 2015. They put marker dots on my arm, we film, and then they add a deformity later with CGI. Wow!
BS: Finally, if you were offered a role in another installment of Elm Street, would you take the role?
LW: Absolutely! Don’t we want to know what happened to Alice without Dan? A single mother or remarried? And what about Jacob? Alice’s father who got sober? The friends that did survive in Dream Child? Oh, and Freddy…does he actually finally, really die as a person or live on in our dreams?
BS: Lisa, you’ve been so great. This has been amazing. Is there anything else you’d like to mention before I let you go?
LW: I left acting for a long time. I married and had 2 beautiful boys who are now 24 and 20 years old. They are amazing. Also, I started a company with Tuesday Knight called Toebrights, and we had an amazing run for 8 years.
I have done several film projects during that time due to young teenagers who grew up loving the Nightmare films. They grew up and became writers, journalists, actors, producers, and directors. I am ever so grateful for them reaching out and sending their scripts. So I’m back to acting full time again as of 2018, and the filming schedule is getting full. My agent is thrilled that she can submit me again for TV, etc. OH! And I finally really joined social media, not just Facebook!