Exclusive Interview: Eileen Dietz
May 19, 2008, 14:35
Like most of her contemporaries, Eileen Dietz began her path to
becoming an actress by attending acting schools and performing wherever she
could. She landed roles in some early
drive-in movie fare prior to being cast in William Friedkin's THE
EXORCIST. She followed this up with ROAD
MOVIE, guest spots on "Korg: 70,000 B.C.", "Planet of the Apes" and "Barnaby
Jones" and the made-for-TV movie HELTER SKELTER about the Manson murders. She also appeared in THE CLONUS HORROR, the
film that critics blamed Michael Bay on ripping off when he made THE ISLAND.
Dietz has also accumulated a good number of stage credits, including
LYSISTRATA, STEAMBATH, MADRE, THE BALCONY, and AFTER THE FALL.
House of Horrors spoke with her recently regarding her most famous
film, THE EXORCIST, as it approaches it's 35th anniversary.
Jonathan Stryker: What were your
first impressions of the cinema when you were growing up?
Eileen Dietz: I went to see a lot of foreign films when I
was a kid. My parents took me to see
Ingmar Bergman's WILD STRAWBERRIES, SUMMER WITH MONIKA, you name it. Just amazing.
And I always liked horror films.
I saw things like Roman Polanski's THE L-SHAPED ROOM and PSYCHO. There's also a Susan Strasberg movie that
nobody seems to know anything about and it's called THE SCREAM OF FEAR. And it totally affected my life. I have to go see if I can find it.
Jonathan Stryker: Oh, my
God…that's one of those movies that came out on VHS in the 80's and it's hard
to find now.
Eileen Dietz: Yeah, I haven't seen it in many years.
Jonathan Stryker: I remember
RCA/Columbia put that one out. I never
saw it, but I'm familiar with the title.
You should look it up on Half.com or Ebay. Sometimes they have DVD-R's of the films that
are not yet on DVD but were on VHS.
Eileen Dietz: It's one of those really weird ones that I always remember. And of course I watched a lot on TV. I saw all the Universal horror films like
FRANKENSTEIN and DRACULA. But for as
long as I can remember I always loved the horror films. (Mock
laughter) And I don't know why.
Jonathan Stryker: I became
interested in horror films in 1981 when I saw BURNT OFFERINGS on NBC and later
Eileen Dietz: HALLOWEEN is a very scary film. And it still holds up today, it's very
Jonathan Stryker: For me, it's the PSYCHO of its generation. Rob Zombie's version – I loved that one, too. Very different take on it, but I enjoyed it
Eileen Dietz: I heard a dirty rumor that they are looking
to remake THE EXORCIST! I mean, come
on. That's sacred ground.
Jonathan Stryker: It wouldn't surprise me in the slightest. I mean, they're remaking just about
everything now. PSYCHO has been done,
THE HAUNTING, THE OMEN…
Eileen Dietz: Have you seen the new version of THE
Jonathan Stryker: No. Have you?
Eileen Dietz: Yes.
It doesn't work. Number one, you
already know the whole story. Mia Farrow
was really good in it. She played Mrs. Baylock,
the character originated by Billie Whitelaw in the Richard Donner film. The original was so scary. But, the remake isn't scary at all, and the
little kid doesn't do much but grin!
Jonathan Stryker: How did you
come to be an actress?
Eileen Dietz: I know that this is a weird story. A traumatic event occurred in my life when I
was five, and I swear one day I woke up when I was eight years-old, and I just
didn't remember the past three years of my life.
Jonathan Stryker: Are you
Eileen Dietz: Yeah. When
I was eight, I decided that I wanted to become an actress. I was born in Manhattan,
and then my parents moved me out to Long Island. When I was a teenager, they took me to go
into New York City
to take classes at an acting school. And
then I bounced around to different schools and did summer stock, and I also
went to the same school that Adrienne Barbeau went to. I really set out to go and conquer New York, you know what
I mean? When I was young, I was very
androgynous, you know, very much a tomboy.
I had people tell me that I was funny-looking and wouldn't make it as an
actress. The popular actresses at the
time were very buxom and had big boobs and I was constantly told that I wasn't good
enough and wouldn't make it. That really
made me a lot stronger and the desire to show everyone that I could do it was
what drove me. In fact, my father was in
the photography business. He decided
that the way that he was going to get me to not
want to be an actress was by sending me off to the Eileen Ford modeling agency
in New York. When I went in there I was surrounded by beautiful
girls who were five-foot-nine, and thought, "What's that got to do with
me??" So, that just made me more
Jonathan Stryker: THE EXORCIST
is unquestionably your best-known film.
How did you get the role of the white-faced demon?
Eileen Dietz: I was doing a play by Joyce Carol Oates
called ONTOLOGICAL PROOF OF MY EXISTENCE, which means that there is no proof to
your existence. But it was a wonderful
little play about a runaway who comes to New
York looking for love, meets a pimp who locks her in
a basement, and falls in love with the pimp, even though he brings her people
to love. She basically does anything
that he wants her to. It's very Joyce
Jonathan Stryker: Yes, she wrote
one of my favorite short stories called "Where Have You Been, Where Are You
Going?" which was loosely based upon the killer Charles Schmid, aka the Pied
Piper of Tucson. It provided the basis for Joyce Chopra's
SMOOTH TALK with Laura Dern.
Eileen Dietz: So, an agent saw me in the play, signed me,
and sent me a casting notice saying that they were looking for somebody about
the same size as Linda Blair to play a principal part in this movie. There is a misconception out there that I was
hired to be her stunt double. I never
did extra work in my life, so I got the part of playing the demon in the
film. And then my sister wrote a book
called "Fifty Cents for Your Soul" which, in the first five chapters, she
describes how I got the part.
Jonathan Stryker: What was your
reaction to the hype surrounding the release of the film?
Eileen Dietz: (thinks
for a moment) Wow. That's a good
Jonathan Stryker: Were you
shocked by the reactions that people had to the film? Surprised by them?
Eileen Dietz: Oh, I was very surprised by it. I mean, we had seen the movie, and it seemed
fine. But, all of the height, it was
really quite surprising. And I was young
then. I must admit that I was a little
put off that people were getting sick, having seizures, and having all these
really violent reactions to the film. There's
a great line in a new movie I did called SIN-JIN SMYTH. It stars Jonathan Davis (from Korn) as the
Devil, and he has a great line in it where he says, "You know, I'm really God's
helper. Because I keep all the bad
people away from heaven."
Jonathan Stryker: I had read
that people were getting sick during the scenes where Linda was having all of
the hospital tests done on her and so forth.
Did you find that to be what upset people the most?
Eileen Dietz: I actually found people to react so violently
to both the hospital scenes and the demonic scenes. I think the reason why any film succeeds as
well as any film does is the audience's ability to identify with the characters
in the film. In this case, a lot of
people probably identified with and felt a connection to Ellen Burstyn's
character because they themselves are parents and something terrible is
happening to her child. I think the
reason why the film succeeds so well is because Billy Friedkin really made the
audience believe that this is possible, that this is something that really
could happen. He made it in a very
realistic way. So many horror films
which are made today are so out there,
you know, they are so far out and over-the-top that you just can't take them
seriously. But, in this particular case,
the overall end result was a movie that really made the whole notion of being
possessed by the devil one that was completely plausible. I'm writing a book for the 35th anniversary
of the release of THE EXORCIST. I have
one chapter on how the novel (by William Peter Blatty) affected people. And, the youngest age that I've heard about
were five year-old kids who were really freaked out. They honestly thought that demons were under
Jonathan Stryker: Have you
watched THE EXORCIST with an audience?
Eileen Dietz: Only at my house. On a 115" screen.
Jonathan Stryker: Oh, wow. How would you describe that experience?
(smiling devilishly) Fun!
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