Click over, children! All are welcome! All welcome! Quint interviews Zelda Rubinstein!!!!
Published at: Oct. 2, 2007, 5:53 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with an interview that really brought my geek out.
I’m often asked what the first film I saw was. I don’t have an answer to that. The first film I remember seeing in the theater was the ‘80s re-release of SONG OF THE SOUTH, but I’m told my first theatrical experience was PETE’S DRAGON, a film I still love to this day.
But my very, very first movie memory is POLTERGEIST. I must have been around 3 years old. I remember falling asleep in my babysitter’s lap. I don’t remember why mom wasn’t home, but she was a single mother with two jobs for most of my childhood, so it could be as simple as working late at her 9-5.
Anyway, I remember waking up just as the coffins were coming out of the ground at the end of the movie. I vividly remember those great ILM skeletons and the fear emanating from my babysitter. It must have just started playing on HBO.
It’s long been one of my favorite movies and when the chance to interview Zelda Rubinstein for the 25th Anniversary DVD and limited theatrical re-release came around, I pounced on it. I had some work to do to arrange a one-on-one, but it happened and you’ll see the results below.
She’s got a lot of fire in her (and more than a little flirt, too) and she absolutely isn’t afraid to speak honestly about her life and her life’s experiences. Her honest opinion of Tobe Hooper might surprise you and her recollections of Steven Spielberg’s involvement in the film are really something.
I hope you dig the interview!
Zelda Rubinstein: Hey Eric, how are you?
Quint: I’m doing very well and it’s a pleasure to talk to you, I’ve been a big fan for a long time.
Zelda Rubinstein: What city are you in?
Quint: I’m in Austin, Texas.
Zelda Rubinstein: That’s a good music town.
Quint: Yeah, big music town and a big movie town, too. What about you, are you in LA?
Zelda Rubinstein: I’m in LA and it’s a little chilly and it’s very cloudy today. It’s not a pretty day.
Quint: Well, it’s definitely not chilly in Austin.
Zelda Rubinstein: Oh I’m sure. I know, I have my handprints outside of a theater in San Antonio and that’s pretty close by and I know it’s a pretty area, though.
Quint: Definitely. I moved here when I was really young and of course my impression of Texas was that it was going to be all desert and cactuses and cowboys. We flew in and I thought we were going into the wrong city, because there was nothing but green hills and big lakes and water everywhere. That definitely surprised me.
I guess the first question that I have is when did you first start wanting to act?
Zelda Rubinstein: Early in February of 1980 I woke up in the morning, and I don’t know what the epiphany was that had occurred overnight, but I woke up realizing I was an artist and I did not know what my discipline would be. And being impetuous and feeling strongly about it, I went into work where I was working at the professional blood bank and I gave my boss notice. I worked out those two weeks and at the end of the two weeks I still had no idea what I was doing and everything just sort of fell into place.
Suddenly I was working within two weeks after I had quit my last job in medicine. I was working as a regular on THE FLINTSTONES and that’s because of this unusual vocal instrument that I have. So I was working with the big boys right away… Mel Blanc… Charles Nelson Reilly, Henry Gordon, Paul Reubens… Paul went on to become Pee Wee Herman and he played my brother. Charles Nelson Reilly was my dad. Ruta Lee was mom… Frank Welker was the dog “Rockjaw” and it was clear to me that I would be using my voice.
Quint: That’s cool.
Zelda Rubinstein: Yeah, and then I got a commercial with the late George Burns and then I got POLTERGEIST 1 and my career was launched in a very fancy way. It was like it being shot out of a cannon.
Quint: POLTERGEIST really struck a chord with audiences and Tangina is such an iconic character. The way you portray her and the fact that the lines that you had are still quoted, I think, speaks to how well that movie has resonated with audiences.
Zelda Rubinstein: Yeah. It was a very well received. I am so glad to have had an opportunity to do a role that’s right in the middle of a major film with a great opening line and a great closing line and anybody who had been given the role would have had their career made. It was a career making role.
Quint: Where you approached for it or did you have to win it in auditions?
Zelda Rubinstein: I won it. I auditioned and was screen tested I think four times and when I went in, I worked only six days and everything I said or didn’t say was on the screen.
It was an amazing experience. Then I didn’t hear a thing for a whole year and I didn’t even know if the movie was ever going to have a life and then I got a phone call to do some voice work on it and then I realized it was going to happen and I was invited to a screening for cast and crew and I almost had to be carried out of there because I had realized how it would change my life.
Quint: So the realization came after you saw it? Was there any indication while you were filming it that it was going to capture lighting in a bottle?
Zelda Rubinstein: I only worked six days and I had no contact with anybody for a year, so I had no idea. And it was a very shocking thing for me. I had done a few other little things and of course I was still doing the FLINTSTONES…
It wasn’t all good, the ramifications, I mean, it cost me a very happy fourteen year relationship, because neither one of us knew how to handle this. Of course, since we’re older now and more experienced in life, we could have made it work, but it didn’t and we’re still excellent friends, but we both moved on. I’m quite content with the fellow in my life.
Quint: I’ve experienced that too, where there’s something that should be a really happy thing and it just turns around on you in ways you don’t expect.
Zelda Rubinstein: Right, but in the end everything sort of works out. Since then, of course, I’ve done many features, lots of television, lots of voiceover work, several series and commercials… stage. I’ve done them all and I’ve learned. It’s a good thing I’m a quick learner…
Quint: Sounds like you still like the process and you still like to work.
Zelda Rubinstein: Oh and I do work. I have lots of stuff coming up.
Quint: Yeah, I really enjoyed your bit in BEHIND THE MASK. That was very fun.
Zelda Rubinstein: Yeah! I’m very self-conscious about being shot from behind, but I survived. I didn’t in the film, but I do in real life.
Quint: And Richard Kelly just came to Austin to show the final cut of SOUTHLAND TALES and…
Zelda Rubinstein: Did you see it?
Quint: I did.
Zelda Rubinstein: That’s going to be an interesting project. I saw it before it was re-edited for Cannes, because I went and it was up for the Palme d’Or and I had another film at the market, which has come out all over Europe and Asia, but not the USA. That’s called CAGES and that was directed by Graham Streeter. In fact, I’m doing Graham’s next film called NORMAL FOLK and it’s got that title because he shoots in Normal, Illinois and it’s about adult autism.
Quint: That sounds real interesting.
Zelda Rubinstein: It is and I’m happy to be a part of it and I die in the film so I don’t have to spend next winter in Illinois and that thrills me.
Quint: That’s great! I think it’s very fascinating that… You hear about remakes all the time and how everybody is always remaking things and I’ve always been a big proponent for re-releasing instead, like what they did with THE EXORCIST, for example, they re-released that five years ago and it was a huge success and I’m really glad that they are doing something similar with POLTERGEIST and letting it play for an audience again.
Zelda Rubinstein: Yeah, but it’s only playing for one night as I understand it and that’s October 4th and I plan on going to whatever theater is closer, but I can’t go (in town), because people recognize me wherever I go due to my short stature and this peculiar vocal instrument, but I’m going to go again. What the hell? What the heck, I should say…
Quint: There’s a movie theater in Austin, called the Alamo Drafthouse and it’s a world famous theater where they serve food and beer while you watch the movie and they play lots of retrospective stuff and there’s lots of vintage films and drive in type things… just great stuff and a movie that you did is actually one of the more popular films that have ever run on these series and that’s a film called ANGUISH and we are big fans of that movie down here and…
Zelda Rubinstein: I loved doing that film. It was shot in Barcelona and Bigas Luna was the director and he was a very fine director and it was my first European film… my first movie shot abroad and in Europe. I really liked that and I’ve done a film in Singapore for seven weeks and I loved that. That’s the one that’s currently in release all over Europe and Asia, but not in the USA… I don’t know why, maybe some political thing… I was the only Caucasian lady in that. I loved it and I just adored it. The kids in it were bigger than I was...
Quint: Oh yeah?
Zelda Rubinstein: Yeah… I run into that a lot. I’m about the size of a nine year old and when they get a little older and they get a little bolder, I kind of have to tough them up.
Quint: Put them in their place.
Zelda Rubinstein: Well, just to save my behind. What else can I tell you?
Quint: I don’t know if I have too many other questions, but I did want to ask you if you were at all interested in coming out and showing Anguish at the Alamo or if there’s any other film that you have that you would like to show for an audience.
Zelda Rubinstein: I would love to. I can not do anything until after the 20th of October. The 19th and 20th is when I’m doing my cabaret.
Quint: Oh? You do a cabaret?
Zelda Rubinstein: Yeah, I’ve talked about it so much today and don’t know if I’ve talked you about it…
Quint: Nope, not yet.
Zelda Rubinstein: About five years ago, I was asked by a friend of mine, who is a director/producer/actor… a triple threat… and he said “You know, I’d love to do a documentary on you, but there’s no one to play you… How about a retrospective? But what I’d like for you to do is to do cabarets, where you can sing songs that are appropriate to support the scene and the story can tell…” I am a story teller and “so pick the three greatest influences in your life and develop cabarets around those.”
Well these are the three greatest influences, except for my nuclear family and I’ve survived all of them. The first was about being little, the second influence was about being very adventurous, and the third was about the influence of the most peculiar men in my life… in my soup, in my bed, in my life… and very much against all odds, because either by their absence, because I never had a date until I was twenty six, until their presence and I had a lot of boyfriends. I live with the man I want to live with and I’m very, very happy and this is a relationship going on 12 years and we are very content and he is a very good person, not in the business. He’s also considerably younger than I am, so all the advantages are mine.
I think it’s important that I talk about how this came about, because when a man gets involved with me, he takes on the same nasty societal opinions that I’ve had to endure all of my life, such as less is less, basically. They don’t buy it, I don’t buy it, so I’ve had an amazing variety of men in my life. I’ve had an amazing variety of friends. Of course I have my very best friend, with whom I live, and we have a more elaborate relationship.
I’m doing these cabarets with my musical director, Brian Miller, who is just the most marvelous person to work with… this is the last of the autobiographical cabarets I do, third in the trilogy, and from this my friend will be able to extrapolate what he needs to do a retrospective. It’s a lot of work to do a cabaret and it’s at a very fine supper club in LA called the Gardenia, in Hollywood, and that’s owned by a magnificent person called Tommy Rolla.
The next one that I do, I believe, will be more political. I am a political animal and I stay away from any Texas administration…
Quint: Well most people in Austin try to stay away from Texas administrations, too.
Zelda Rubinstein: I’m a very liberal lady. I’m color blind, gender blind… I don’t care so much about those things, but I do care how masses of people are being brutally manipulated by that man in office and that’s how I feel. I can’t wait until he’s gone. I can’t wait.
Quint: I think you just described most of the country, even people who supported him through both elections… I think most people are ready for him to leave now. He’s pissed off just about everybody in both parties.
Zelda Rubinstein: Yeah, he has pissed off everybody. No kidding! What else can we talk about? You seem like a very fine, interesting man.
Quint: Thank you. There’s lots of questions that I have, but it’s all stuff that I’m worried that you are always asked…
Zelda Rubinstein: You can ask. I’ll talk to you, I rather like you.
Quint: Well, thank you.
Zelda Rubinstein: What do you need to know?
Quint: There’s one thing that I’m really curious about. Being an Austinite I’ve run into Tobe Hooper and I’ve talked to him at length about his work on POLTERGEIST and I brought up the big rumor that Spielberg came in to direct it and kind of took over. Tobe was very adamant that he directed the film.
Zelda Rubinstein: I can tell you that Steven directed all six days I was there. I only worked six days on the film and Steven was there. Tobe set up the shots and Steven made the adjustments.
You’re not going to hear that from Tobe Hooper, you’ll hear it from Zelda, because that was my honest to God experience. I’m not a fan of Tobe Hooper.
Quint: You’re not?
Zelda Rubinstein: No, I’m not, because I feel he allowed… I don’t know how to say this… he allowed some unacceptable chemical agents into his work.
I felt that immediately. I felt that when I first interviewed for the job. Steven was there, Tobe was there, two casting people from MGM were there and I felt at that time Tobe was only partially there.
Quint: I think that because Spielberg had a hand in the creation of the story, that that probably led him to be protective of it, so it’s probably a good thing that he was there to kind of protect it.
Zelda Rubinstein: You are right on that, honey, and he also was very protective with me. He kept me under cover so thoroughly, because I think he wanted… there was not another female in the business who was a little lady that could handle the kind of material that was necessary to do this. I don’t know who my competition was, but I finally got the job after being screen tested, I think four times. I’m grateful I got the job, otherwise I would be under some street lamp.
Quint: What is fascinating about the role, to me, is that it doesn’t… It’s not like they dwell on your size or that they make it a “look at how different this is.” With your character, it really doesn’t matter all that much.
Zelda Rubinstein: There wasn’t very much gratuitousness in this at all. They were very content six working days, then I didn’t hear for a whole year and didn’t even know if the film was mount until a year later when I was asked to do some looping, like when my heels where heard walking across to floor. I’m not a southern lady, but accents come easily to me. It was an experience and still remains a good experience for me.
Quint: Where the sequels lesser experiences for you?
Zelda Rubinstein: They were of longer duration and I liked doing the third one. I didn’t particularly enjoy the second one. I felt the late director Brian Gibson… my feelings were that he didn’t like me and he didn’t want to use me in the film, but he sort of had to, so I don’t know. Whatever happened, he’s not alive to state his views or defend himself, so I don’t want to bury him once more. You are fun to talk to, sir. I like talking to you and I hope that we run into each other if we are ever in the same city. I would like that. Please make yourself known.
Quint: I certainly will. Let’s see if we can make this Alamo Drafthouse thing, they will treat you very well.
Zelda Rubinstein: Well that would be just fine as long as it’s after the 20th of October and if you find yourself in LA, you can reach me through my management.
Quint: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me and I definitely appreciate it.
Zelda Rubinstein: Alrighty.
And there you have it.
You can check out this site to see if POLTERGEIST is coming to a theater near you this Thursday.
Hope you enjoyed the chat with Ms. Rubinstein. Hope that ANGUISH screening at the Alamo happens. As you can tell by now she isn’t afraid to speak her mind, so I’m sure the Q&A will be fantastic!
Got more in the works! Keep ‘em peeled this week for some more good interviews!