Southern Charm: Interview with Caroline Williams, discussing her “Texas” roots, the role that made her an icon, and her successful career in the genre.
Editor’s Note: Our writer, Billy Stamper, had the pleasure to sit down with a horror icon and beloved scream queen Caroline Williams. Her breakout role in the genre, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, made her a legend. And she has continued to dazzle with memorable roles in a string of horror films, including Leprechaun 3, Stepfather 2, Hatchet 3, and Sharknado 4.
Billy Stamper: Hi, Caroline! Thanks for chatting with me. I’m a big fan. I wanted to start by asking why you wanted to become an actress?
Caroline Williams: Well, I always had a bit of interest, but it wasn’t really all encompassing. And it wasn’t until I started working for a television commercial company in Houston, Texas. They did a lot of TV commercials for the Mexican market.
It involved a lot of travel and fun, so one day one of the partners needed a voice over and said: “Hey, why don’t you do it, you have a cool voice. You have a cool voice, why don’t you do it.” So I did it and thought, “Wow I could this, this could be fun.”
And of course, the market in Houston at the time was still relatively limited. There were still a lot of runaway productions. The film Urban Cowboy had shown up in town and shot in Houston. Various other movies were coming and going. A couple of agencies had popped up and I thought, “What the hell, give it a shot and see what happens.” And it took off.
BS: I hear your audition to Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 was intense. Can you tell when how you prepared yourself for that audition?
CW: Yeah, it was a bit of a risk. I feel if you want to stand out, you have to do something. I’ve heard directors say before that they know the minute you come into the room if they like you — if they see you in the part or not. So I just ran into the room screaming and gave a very physical, intense performance. I thought, “This is what it calls for in the script,” and that’s what I did. That’s how I went into the room.
BS: What drew you to working on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2? Was the horror genre something you wanted to be in?
CW: It wasn’t just the appeal of horror for me…it was a love of acting. You know, I had done my first movie for Louis Malle, a movie called Alamo Bay with Ed Harris and Amy Madigan. I loved the experience. It was amazing. And soon after that, I did a film for director Matthew Robbins, The Legend of Billie Jean. I was hooked on performing.
BS: The Legend of Billie Jean is one of my favorite movies! I grew up watching that movie all the time. Helen Slater was perfect in that film, as was the entire cast.
CW: Yeah, it still holds up to this day. It got a Blu-ray release a few years ago. And I watched it again for the first time in years. I just thought, “Wow, except for the absence of cell phones, you could drop that movie down anywhere in America today and it would still work. It would fly, and audiences would dig it.” I just loved seeing it again…it was such a wonderful trip down memory lane. All those actors those terrific actors, it was such a beautifully cast movie. Every actor worked, every actor made their role sing truly. And Helen Slater — just, what a beauty, I mean really.
BS: Let’s not forget a totally awesome soundtrack with some of the best music of the 80s! Ok, back to TCM 2…
CW: That was simply opportunity knocking. I had been working a lot in Houston and started working a lot in Dallas. I told myself if I did well in Dallas, I could move to L.A. Then Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 showed up. That was essentially an L.A. funded and based movie, although I found out later that Tobe (Writer/Director Tobe Hooper) and Kit (Writer/Director Kit Carson) wanted someone from Texas in that role.
It was a fantastic opportunity, and I knew that we had something special when the movie opened up so soon after it wrapped. There was a very little lag time. It hit theaters at the end of August. We wrapped on July 4th, and it was in the theaters by the end of August — which is a spectacular turn around. So within 3 weeks, I had moved to L.A. That was just a breakneck speed for something like that.
BS: It’s amazing to think that the film was put out so quickly after filming. What would you say is the most extreme scene you had to film in your horror career?
CW: The most extreme scene I had to film, I would say almost certainly was in Leprechaun 3, with all those prosthetics. I had never really worked with prosthetics before. It was a brand new experience for me. I had to have a full body cast. I had to full life mask cast of my head, so they could build the dummy to make me blow up. I had to have all these attachments — lips, ears, nose, the boobs, the butt. There were so many prosthetics to wear that were fully functional, but either blew up with air or blew up with liquid. It was so unique, and I had never worked with anything like that. Nor have I since.
At the time, I thought to myself, “God, this is going to be so claustrophobic.” I was worried about being under all these layers. But it was actually, oddly, very comforting — being in a cocoon of some kind, being able to exercise those prosthetics. Having an entire team of guys working these giant hypodermics and hydroelectric, and all kinds of things behind me. It was an incredibly unique experience to be choreographed in a very specific way.
I had to work and animate that makeup…you had to bring it to life. You got to use your body language. It was a whole dance, a whole choreography. It took all day long. I had a new appreciation for what Warwick (Warwick Davis) had to go through. Because he was literally in costume from head to toe and in the entire works. Hotter than hell. And the role is a very physical one as Leprechaun. He was always moving and rolling and jumping and diving.
Warwick Davis didn’t have a double, it was a rare occasion to bring a double in for him. God, what a champ that guy was. He was like an athlete. It was very stunning. Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) brings Warwick to mind. They are both little people, but they are incredibly physical. They’ve had wonderful training. They’re wonderful actors — visceral, emotional actors, with these wonderful voices and wonderful training and gestures. Their screen personas are so definitive…really extraordinary performers.
BS: Working with Warwick Davis dressed up as a leprechaun had to have been so groovy?
CW: It was mostly a funny experience. He is an incredibly fun man. You know how the Brits are, they’ve got that incredibly dry sense of humor. Then add to that, you have Brian Trenchard-Smith (Director) who’s English yet Aussie and has spent so much of his career down under. Between the two of them, well I should say the whole cast were an incredibly fun group of people. I had the time of my life on that film. Which was good, because I had read for a role in Apollo 13.
CW: Yeah, every single person I knew in my life was working on that movie — as crew or cast. I was the only one out of our group that wasn’t hired. So there was some compensation going into Leprechaun 3 that was 180 degrees out of phase. It was a strange confluence of events. I didn’t get the one role that I had thought would be so important to me.
Now, all these years later, I realize the value of Leprechaun 3 on the convention circuit especially — and the dedication of fans. More particularly, because Leprechaun 3 has far more enthusiastic devoted and very public fans than Apollo 13. That’s obviously a great movie, but there aren’t people standing in line to get their Apollo 13 things signed, you know.
BS: That’s such a great point. Horror fans are the best! So let’s talk about your role on another horror film, Stepfather 2, one of my all-time favorite horror films. Can you tell me about working on that film?
CW: Good taste! Well, you know that screenwriter never wrote another screenplay after that film. Which is incomprehensible to me. But that was his first and only screenplay, and Jeff Burr executed so perfectly. Of course, to this day, the movie still has legs, and was a great experience.
BS: You have such an amazing career. I especially liked your role in Sharknado 4.
CW: Anthony Ferrante really knows how to keep the action moving. The fact that Anthony C. Ferrante has created an incredible franchise for the Sci-fi channel and for summer shark week film. He’s a creative genius, He also scores the movie, and he also creates a lot of the songs for the series. So he’s a multi-talented guy, bringing this incredible game to this theme.
Each film gets more accessible, gets a better and bigger audience, and goes into heavy rotation fully for a month. I felt very special that he wanted to set up Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. He’s a big fan of Tobe Hooper and the film. He knew it was the 30th anniversary of the film, so he wanted to do a solid parody or satire on the movie. He had thought, since chainsaws are at the very heart of battling the Sharknado, who better than Stretch and her chainsaw family to be a part of the chainsaw experience and take on the power of the Sharknado with Ian Ziering.
We did not have to travel. We took our action to Sable Ranch, a historic movie ranch out in the Santa Clarita. It is a wonderland out there. They have a variety of sets — from a prehistoric dinosaur village, to a sleepy little Mexican town from the Mexican revolution, to a swamp, to anything you can think of. They threw in a lot more practical effects into this episode though then they used in the previous Sharknado films. So we got the full treatment.
One of the more delightful things were the actors, the other actors who comprised the chainsaw family. But I got to work with the incredible Ian Ziering, who is part heartthrob, part Hercules and part straight man to the Sharknado. Ian just brings it. He’s got zest, he’s got the personality that you’ll love. It was a barn burner of a day. We went 12 to 14 hours, from morning until dusk. We had the time of our lives. I loved every second of it.
I also created my own costume. So everything you see is completely authentic to the character, because that’s how I see the character 30 years later. And yes, I get to draw down on the Sharknados, which was such a blast.
BS: Such a great role! Now, going back, can you tell me what in your memory sticks out the most filming the legendary horror film Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2?
CW: You know, people ask me that a lot. The minute I hear the question, so much comes rushing back at me. It’s almost like an entire life flashing before your eyes. I can tell you there has been no experience before or since that can match.
What a magical experience it was to make that movie. I felt like a kid — the way I grew up as a child in Arkansas, Mississippi, and Texas when I young. You know, I ran and played in the woods, and my friends and I would run and play until it became dark. There was a freedom to my childhood that I got to live again as this adult character in this movie.
Each day was an unparalleled joy. There wasn’t a challenge I wasn’t eager to take on. There wasn’t an hour of action that I wasn’t willing to completely fulfill. There wasn’t a moment on camera with an actor — whether it was Bill Moseley, or Jim Siedow, or Bill Johnson, or my beloved Lou Perryman, who was such a treasure, and Dennis Hopper. There just hasn’t been an experience since that matches it.
I loved the action, I loved the physicality, I loved the quieter moments. If there’s any specific remembering, it’s probably the education in film technique that I got from Dennis Hopper. He taught me more in our moments together on camera — it was revelatory. I didn’t realize how little I knew until I got in front of the camera with him. Because he very effectively directed me in camera technique, and I just felt like I uncovered a giant barrel full of gold. With little tips and little technical instructions I use to this day.
BS: I can’t imagine many better people to learn from. Dennis Hopper is a remarkable actor, may he rest in peace. How did you feel working with him in your first big role?
CW: I felt very special to have that opportunity. It leveled up my game.
BS: That’s a wild ride Caroline, a ride as a viewer I’ve always loved. Thank you so much for taking the time with me for this interview. It was totally awesome.
CW: You’re welcome, Dude. I absolutely loved it!