Magazines + Newspapers


April 1983 – Volume 2 Number 11
Pages 22-23-24-25-26-27


As the world´s most photographed rock star, the strikingly seductive features of Deborah Harry are probably more famous [than] the platinum pile of singles and albums which vaulted her to international fame.

The sound and the style created by the 38-year-old singer and the quintet of musicians who perform under the name of Blondie are synonymous with such pop music trends as the new ´60´s beat, reggae and rap. Since their 1976 debut album, Blondie, such collections as Plastic Letters, Parallel Lines, Eat to the Beat (which was also released as a full-length video album), Autoamerican and The Hunter, have kept Harry in the media spotlight. Her solo effort Kookoo, film performances in Roadie and Union City, appearances on numerous TV shows and in commercials have further underscored her memorable position in the public´s psyche.

Last year, the 5′ 5″ beauty travelled to Canada to star in the cinema shocker, Videodrome (Prevue 47). Written and directed by David (Rabid, Scanners) Cronenberg, the film details the nightmare world of video entrepreneur Max Renn and his obsession with a brutally erotic, sadomasochistic TV show which he suspects might be real. Harry plays the sultry pop psychologist, Nicki Brand, who tempts Renn deeper into the bio-electronic horror.

Deaborah Harry talked about the controversial film from her Manhattan apartment where she lives with Blondie composer/guitarist Chris Stein. She is thoughtful, dedicated and sincere, occasionally allowing her understated sense of humur to surface in the conversation (“I think I´ve stayed young-looking because I´m basically lazy; my secret is I get up late and stayuplate!”). Nicknamed “The Punk Harlow,” she is every bit as cooly appealing in person as she is on stage.

PREVUE: Your new film is somewhat difficult to categorize. It´s a fantasy, a thriller, a black comedy, a surreal allegory and, possibly more to the point, a horror movie. Do you watch those kinds of films?

DEBBIE HARRY: Yeah, I do, and science fiction, too. That´s how I knew about David. He´s a very ethical filmmaker who has a unique philosophy which runs through all his pictures. I like that.

PREVUE: Do you like to be frightened, too?

DEBBIE HARRY: Oh, sure! Horror films scare me a lot, so I hide behind my hands, close my eyes, then peek trough my fingers.

PREVUE: What favourites have you peeked at?

HARRY: Psycho really scared me the first time I saw it. The Omen was good, the third one was nothing. I liked Halloween, but the sequel wasn´t as intense as the original. The Exorcist was frightening. I haven´t seen American Werewolf, Halloween III, Poltergeist and some of the more recent ones yet.

I really am a movie fan. I guess that comes from thinking visually. For example, when I get ideas, I see them as images, almost like a film. I develop them in my mind by picturing them, rather than creating them with words or feelings.

I don´t watch old, old movies, though, the acting techniques are sort of funny, dated. Not that modern films can´t be disappoiting, too. The studios have learned that lesson. I hope the powers in the movie industry will begin to support the independents who are making many of the better movies today.

PREVUE: Do you think new blood will emerge through video technology with its much less expensive production costs than regular film?

HARRY: Sure, but frankly I don´t like the way video looks compared to film. In fact, I object very highly to the way most video artists light their scenes. They´re too blaah!

PREVUE: Too natural?

HARRY: Flat, very flat!

PREVUE: When you´re filming, do you involve yourself in the lighting, suggesting keys and spots and back lights to createan ambiance that suits you?

HARRY: I don´t know enough about it. I was very lucky because Videodrome´s cinematographer did a beautiful job. But, in photo sessions or television or videotaping, I will make suggestions, or object to certain things I don´t like.

PREVUE: How did you make the connection with Videodrome?

HARRY: Cronenberg contacted me through my agent. I got together with the producers in New York, and later I went to Canada.

PREVUE: How did he describe the role of Nicki Brand?

HARRY: He wanted her to be like my rock´n´roll image: a public personality, independent, and sort of tough. It was kind of strange because he didn´t think I was right for the role. He wanted somebody like me, but he didn´t believe I´d be able to do it. Then, after I read for the part, he felt I could handle it.

PREVUE: What were your feelings?

HARRY: I wouldn´t have gone there if I didn´t think I could do it – or wanted to do it.

PREVUE: Did Cronenberg write the role with you in mind?

HARRY: I don´t think so.

PREVUE: Do you ever take a chance on something on something you´re not sure of?

HARRY: Oh, yes. In that way, I´m very much like Nicki Brand.

PREVUE: Were you apprehensive about the part in any way?

HARRY: Yes, I had the idea that I wanted to play someone more likeable, more heroic, than Nicki. You know what I mean? I didn´t want to start my film career with an anti-heroine. When I read the part, I thought “She´s sort of not nice.”

PREVUE: Nicki is a vivacious woman with a questionable character.

HARRY: She´s a seductress who works for the bad guys, though in the end, she redeems herself. I wasn´t sure if I wanted to get into that in my first major role. I would have preferred something lighter and more positive.

PREVUE: Then, what attracted you to Nicki Brand?

HARRY: She´s playful and adventurous. I liked that, so I accepted.

PREVUE: Another correlation with Debbie Harry?

HARRY: I think so. But there were differences, too. I like to try new things; I`m not afraid of what I don´t know about or have never done before.

PREVUE: So how did you prepare for Videodrome?

HARRY: Mostly, I talked with the director to learn how he wanted the character to be. Most of my concentration was on technique, working as an actress in film, rather than on stage.

PREVUE: Minimizing gestures and expressions for the big screen?

HARRY: Yes, I´m very interested in learning all this, and to continue, progressively, with diferent kinds of acting.

PREVUE: Are you nervous before you perform on stage?

HARRY: Sure, of course.

PREVUE: How about when you´re making a film, which is generally more demanding than stage work?

HARRY: It´s totally different, but I still get nervous.

PREVUE: How do you handle it?

HARRY: I shake a lot, sweat and go to the bathroom (Laughs). Seriously, the difference between performing live and working in front of a camera is that you can perfect what you do in film. You have the security of knowing that if you blow it, you can do it over again. Live, you can´t! But then, live you can work yourself up to an explosive pitch, then go out and give it everything you have – once! It´s a grand and luxurious way of performing.

PREVUE: How do you work up emotion or energy for a filmwithout an audience cheering you on?

HARRY: It´s a different form of concentration that´s sort of magical. I don´t know. You have a couple of run-throughs; you get the lighting right, the movement, then special things start to happen.

PREVUE: What happens when they don´t?

HARRY: You concentrate harder.

PREVUE: Are you good at that?

HARRY: Sometimes. Sometimes not. On Videodrome, there were surprises I wasn´t prepared for. I didn´t realize I was working with my emotions so heavily. Off-camera situations that ordinarily wouldn´t be serious were affecting me – stupid, little things! I didn´t think I was that sensitized. I was so turned on working in front of the camera that when filming stopped, everything had a much stronger effect on me than it normally would. I`m a pretty easy-going person. You have to be if you´re in the music business, rock´n´roll, anyway.

PREVUE: How did you make Debbie Harry mesh with Nicki Brand?

HARRY: Once I realized what was happening, I handled it. There were no wild, emotional outbursts on the set; instead, more like blind spots when you´re driving in traffic.

PREVUE: I suppose that´s what getting into character is all about. When did you really “find” Nicki Brand?

HARRY: Actually, toward the end of production.

PREVUE: Did the character stay with you off the set?

HARRY: I guess; Chris complained that I was being Nicki when I shouldn´t be.

PREVUE: Did Chris stay with you in Toronto?

HARRY: No, uh-uh! (Laughs) I´m very nervy.

PREVUE: James Woods was your co-star in Videodrome. Had you seen his films?

HARRY: Yes, I was excited about working with him. He´s a very energetic, thoughful actor who would make suggestions, and talk scenes over with me. When there were games played or tempers on the set, he was really helpful. I couldn´t have been luckier.

PREVUE: Did you have any rehearsal time with Woods?

HARRY: No, they were shooting before I got there, and Jimmy´s schedule was a lot heavier than mine.

PREVUE: What was it like working with Woods?

HARRY: Well, at the end of every take, he would make a really funny remark, usually something very dirty, like how irresistible his huge – I forget what he called it – was!

PREVUE: Was your first day on the set traumatic?

HARRY: Yeah, I was just, like uhhh! I didn´t use my energy well – you know what I mean. Show my wad.

PREVUE: Blow lines, retake scenes?

HARRY: Yes, but I didn´t have as much trouble performing in front of the camera as I did getting into off-camera stuff. Getting used to all those people – someone coming up to you suddenly and fixing your eyes, touching you, arranging your clothes and hair – is something I´m not used to. I´ve always done those things myself; during the film, they were doing everything. That´s quite different for me.

PREVUE: Isn´t it fun to be pampered?

HARRY: Yeah, sometimes. Sometimes not. There are times when you just don´t want to be disturbed. Many actresses – like Laura Hutton – have their own personal make-up people. You must have complete trust in those people, and a lot of understanding. It didn´t come overnight.

PREVUE: What was your most difficult dramatic scene?

HARRY: It took place in Max Renn´s living room. There was a lot of business, choreography, movement. Being a klutz, not being able to talk and move at the same time, I had difficulty doing it. I was a bit off that day in concentration. It´s hard to break the stage training of doing something once and that´s it! I really had to work to get it all down. I don´t remember the number of takes, but it was up in the twenties.

PREVUE: During the making of Blade Runner, Sean Young said that director Ridley Scott could manipulate her emotions with his conversations. Did Cronenberg work that way with you?

HARRY: No, altough I think he did that to Jimmy, who had to play a wider range of emotions.

PREVUE: How did you manage not to be uncomfortable during your nude scenes?

HARRY: They were done very tastefully, not quite as blatant as they seem in the script. I´m not that shy either. I don´t have that much to show, and I´m not a prude. I guess I´m just your basic nudist.

PREVUE: Isn´t there a difference between taking off your clothes in the woods and working naked in front of a camera?

HARRY: I don´t know, I guess it depends on the person. I was naked in a love scene, so it seemed very natural. It wasn´t a big turn-off; it was very relaxed. Jimmy was delicate and considerate. He wasn´t upsetting in any way, but as polite and professional as possible.

PREVUE: Are you an exhibitionist?

HARRY: Probably, but I´m not a flasher. (Laughs)

PREVUE: As an ex-Playboy bunny and public performer, you´re used to exploiting your physicality.

HARRY: Sure, that made the nude scenes easier for me than it would have been for a lot of other actresses.

PREVUE: Is it difficult to feel beautiful or sexy under hot lights and a camera crew?

HARRY: Sometimes, but there´s not that much explicit sex in the film. Even after the shower scene – which I believe has been cut – I had a towel on. I was told there would be no frontal nudity in the movie. Nothing like what Elizabeth McGovern did in Ragtime. I didn´t want to do that. Remember, I didn´t say I wouldn´t, I just didn´t. (Laughs)

PREVUE: What would it take?

HARRY: The right script, of course. I just wanted to start out a bit slow. You know what I mean? I didn´t want to show everything in the first film.

PREVUE: First dates can be like that. Did you ever get the giggles during a nude scene, and not be able to say your lines?

HARRY: Yeah, some of that. But we had a good time even when it got a little hectic towards the end. Finally, everyone said I should do a comedy with David.

PREVUE: If you could reshoot the film, what would you do differently?

HARRY: I did the best I could at the time. But, if I went into knowing what I do now, I´d probably do it better.

PREVUE: Videodrome is about fantasies. Tell me one of yours.

HARRY: I´m involved in using my fantasies, so I´d rather not talk about them. But, coming up with Blondie was a big fantasy once, being that girl, being in a rock group and singing on stage.

PREVUE: Do you think your fans will accept you more in Videodrome than they did in Union City?

HARRY: I don´t know. Union City wasn´t really a kid´s film. It´s a strange little sleeper art film, not a picture that would get broad-rangig praise. The original story was written by Cornell Woolrich 40 years ago, a downbeat mystery, a psychodrama. I think a lot of people were surprised that I made such a low-key film. I was criticized for not doing some big, splashy production, but, personally, I got very good reviews! I was shocked!

PREVUE: Your fans were shocked, too. It was anything but commercial.

HARRY: That´s why I did it. I wanted a part that wouldn´t put me under the microscope.

PREVUE: Still, Union City did not get good reviews. Does criticism hurt you?

HARRY: Depends on who the critic is. For instance, there are music criticsI respect, who are more sane, not just bitchy or out for revenge. I take a rap better if it´s sincere.

PREVUE: Videodrome will gets its share of criticism. It´s very controversial.

HARRY: Oh yeah, some people will be turned off by the violence, the sci-fi plot, and the bio-mechanical aspects of it.

PREVUE: Did those elements appeal to you when you took the job?

HARRY: Yes. The story is perfect for the times. I think that everybody who likes this kind of film will flip out for it.

PREVUE: Do you have any advice for TV addicts?

HARRY: TV addicts? (Laughs) Keep watching!

PREVUE: What was the most surprising aspect about making Videodrome?

HARRY: My ass hurt! Sitting around waiting to shoot a scene can be tougher than you think!

PREVUE: I´ll buy that. From another viewpoint, were there any lines you couldn´t say or scenes that wouldn´t play that you asked to have changed?

HARRY: Sometimes. Not very often.

PREVUE: Was that because of your inexperience in film?

HARRY: No, I think it´s because the script was well written. David must have it re-written ten times, because it was really honed down, right to the point.

PREVUE: Did you agree with Cronenberg´s dialogue and behaviour for a woman?

HARRY: That is difficult to say. Nicki doesn´t carry the story; she doesn´t have enough screen time to make a difference.

PREVUE: Did Cronenberg exploit your sex symbol image to create especially erotic scenes?

HARRY: Yeah. Nicki has to be attractive enough to seduce her victim. Let´s say she can make things happen. I can´t wait to hear what people say about the character.

PREVUE: Is it gratifying or embarrassing or funny to be considered a sex symbol?

HARRY: Mostly flattering; sometimes, it´s very silly. It just means that you´re attractive to people.

PREVUE: Can you make it happen?

HARRY: Yeah, it´s something you can turn on and off, but not totally. You can make it low key or high key, as long as it works for you.

PREVUE: Isn´t that acting?

HARRY: Of course. Everybody does it, like acting nice or polite.

PREVUE: Who do you think is a sex symbol?

HARRY: Faye Dunaway and Raquel Welch are both sex symbols, each in different way. Matt Dillon´s real cute. Franics Coppola is sexy, too. He´s got that intensity. The people I really like are fun to be with; they have a good sense of humour.

PREVUE: What do you think is your sexiest feature?

HARRY: People have said my mouth, my eyes. I think it´s my eyes.

PREVUE: Do you ever feel exposed or even violated by a camera lense that reveals everything, every hair, every pore, and shows it 50 feet high on a movie screen?

HARRY: That doesn´t really bother me. But, bringing my emotions so close to the surface took some getting used to. Not that I object to being so opened up, it was just such a surprise that I was – without even knowing it.

PREVUE: Videodrome sounds like a real learning experience. What´s the next step in your acting career?

HARRY: It depends on this effort. I feel filmmakers are waiting to see how I do with this movie before they approach me with something else.

PREVUE: Your movie career goals?

HARRY: To get more experience and use it. I´m a performer and this is a challenge for me.

PREVUE: How do you improve your acting ability?

HARRY: Working, observing, reading.

PREVUE: Are you in an acting class at the moment?

HARRY: No. I had some independent coaching, but I don´t know if I´d like to go to a class. It would be strange because other students would be put off being in a class with me. I´m really established, and that might intimidate some people.

PREVUE: Will you continue with your singing career and Blondie?

HARRY: We just finished touring with a new album. Chris and I also put together a big photo book on our travels that really gets behind the scenes with the band.

PREVUE: When are you going back into the studio?

HARRY: I don´t know. Probably in the next few months.

PREVUE: Will you do another solo album?

HARRY: Things are up in the air on that project.

PREVUE: How about another video album?

HARRY: I´m really interested in that. I´ve been studying what´s happening on video, and I think it´s very important to the music business, especially since touring is getting a bit too expensive. I´m planning to be very definitely involved with video in whatever I do next. Did you see the videos that went with the Kookoo album?

PREVUE: The Giger collaborations? They were terrific!

HARRY: Yeah, it´s an obvious way to go. Seems to be the direction the industry´s moving toward, anyway.

PREVUE: Your responsible for popularizing musical trends. What do you predict for the future?

HARRY: Chant-rock is very interesting. Michael Jackson´s is sort of like that. I think much of today´s music is based on Talking Heads´ and Devo´s treatments.

PREVUE: Will music continue along New Wave lines?

HARRY: Either that or back to a heavy metal-psychedelic thing.

PREVUE: Do you have a plan for yourself and Blondie?

HARRY: I´ m thinking about it now. A lot of what people believe is happening in music depends on what´s being heard on radio, and that certainly doesn´t reflect what musicians are playing. Blondie was lucky enough to play pop music when DJ´s were willing to take a little chance in their programming. Still, there´s a lot of music around that doesn´t get heard, like abstract rock-jazz, James Brown material, funk that´s really nice that you don´t hear much. You know my rap song? Rapture? That stuff has been around for a long time. I guess it´s the same way with underground filmmakers, too.

PREVUE: If someone gave you $30 million to make a film, underground or otherwise, what would it be?

HARRY: I´ve always wanted to do a mad scientist movie like Frankenstein, or possibly a remake of Alphaville. Maybe a comedy, too.

PREVUE: Have you had many film offers?

HARRY: No, I haven´t. I wish I had more. I keep getting scripts to rock´n´roll films. But I really don´t want them. I never really saw a rock´n´roll film I liked.

PREVUE: How about The Idolmaker?

HARRY: No. I liked Bette Midler in The Rose, but I didn´t enjoy the script – it was horrible.

PREVUE: Then why don´t you create a property for yourself?

HARRY: Because I don´t want to make a film based on music. I want a script that will establish me as an actress. Being a singer in a movie won´t do it.

PREVUE: That´s why you accepted Union City and Videodrome. Will the role you´re looking for resemble Debbie Harry in any way?

HARRY: It doesn´t have to be part of me, but it must be a role I´d understand, perhaps a character like some person I´ve known.

PREVUE: What about the definitve Marilyn Monroe biofilm?

HARRY: God, I wouldn´t want to go near it. It´s been done too much, and never right.

PREVUE: How about playing yourself in The Debbie Harry Story?

HARRY: (Laughs) Not enough plot.

PREVUE: Maybe a futuristic adventure like Star Wars?

HARRY: Hey, that´s something – I´d do the sequel to Barbarella. That would be the ultimate Debbie Harry epic.

Show More

Related Articles

Check Also
Back to top button