Dude. Actress Diane Franklin is to acting as Maxwell House is to coffee.
Let’s face it – there are certain staples we just have to have in the house such as pizza and junk food. And what goes best with junk food? Horror films!
You’ll remember Diane Franklin from the 80’s films Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, The Last American Virgin, Better Off Dead and Amityville II: The Possession. Upcoming, Diane can be seen in Clay Zombies, Waking Nightmare and Secret Film Project.
Dope, right? Did you know Diane does a mean French accent? Huh, huh, HUH?!
I am so psyched to bring you this interview with Diane Franklin because she has a lot to offer when it comes to show business and life lessons.
You’re an iconic 80’s star who is now an iconic horror film star. At what point did this shift in your career happen? How did it happen?
First, thank you for recognizing that I am an iconic 80s star. (I do not take this for granted!) Back in the 80s, if you put me in a room full of other actors, I’d most likely be cast as the archetype of the ingenue. So, I leaned into this, whether it was comedy, drama or horror. Lucky for me, ingenues were given lead roles during this time. Stories focused on “teen” stories, and, for the first time, real teenagers got to play teen roles.
So, I worked for many years, but when I hit my late 20s, I was told, by other actresses, that getting work in TV or film would be very difficult. Unless you had the financial power to make your own show, lead roles would shrink in size, and well-known actors would now compete to play “the mom.”
This is when I thought it would be a good time to shift my focus on my personal life.
I wanted to experience marriage, and have a family, and grow as a person. I didn’t think about going back to acting. I wanted to feel what life was like living without it. And it was during this time I grew emotionally, and my archetype had changed.
So, that brings me to the how I discovered the horror genre. I started acting again to help my daughter with her film making. She made comedies, so after acting in a few roles for her I thought, “what about drama?” Where are the good dramatic roles for older woman? And then it hit me…HORROR! Horror delves into the psychology of people and what a perfect place to explore new archetypes! The minute I realized this it was like I opened a door. I was being offered roles. I do not know where this will lead, I just know it will allow me to explore and challenge myself in very cool ways.
You started in the entertainment field when you were 10 years old. Who’s idea was it for you to get into show business? Since you were a child, who handled the business aspect of your career? Did you understand that you were getting paid?
I started modeling at the age of 10, but I knew I wanted to act from the age of four. I remember watching a television show called, THAT GIRL, which starred Marlo Thomas, who played a NY actress with dreams of becoming a star. She was funny, independent, and had bubbly energy. She also was a brunette, in a sea of blond TV actresses. I identified with her, and I think that is what gave me the idea of becoming an actress. From that point on, I didn’t give up asking my parents if they could help me, until they found me an agent, at the age of 10. More details of this are in my first book: Diane Franklin: The Excellent Adventures of the Last American, French-Exchange, Babe of the 80s.
When I started acting my father handled my finances, but he wanted me to learn how to handle my own money. He told me, “If you are going to be an actor, you need to learn to save money because you never know when you will get your next job. You need to plan ahead.” I remember at age 12 he showed me my bank register and said pointedly, “This is all the money you made.” I don’t remember how much it was, but I know I was shocked. I told him I wanted to save it to go to college. My family could not have afforded for me to go to college at this time, so I knew if I wanted to go, I better start saving. Then I started making a lot of money doing commercials, and a soap opera, got incorporated before I turned 18. That’s when I had to learn to do my own taxes!
As a child model and actor, did you have any formal training, ie acting, singing, dancing lessons? If yes, do you remember with whom or anything that you learned? Share a story. If no, then how’d you learn to act?
Agents and Managers discouraged acting lessons for children in the 1970s. What was recommended was singing and dance lessons. I studied ballet from age 4 to 12, and opera from 13 to 17. Although I did not realize it at the time, ballet and opera were the core of my discipline training. Ballet taught me body control, which helps me create characters, and hold still for the camera, and opera taught me voice control, which not only helped me sing, but also taught me breath control, projection and speak in different languages.
At one point you studied the Meisner technique. What prompted you to go that route as opposed to the Stanislavski Method or other acting techniques? Which acting technique(s) do you suggest actors to learn?
In my early 20’s I started to look for an acting teacher. Even though I had worked in the business for years without training, I knew that as I got older my roles would get more complex, and I wanted to know how to handle it. I also knew that as I got older, I’d be up against actors who were training all the years I was working. I didn’t want to lose a role, because I didn’t know what they knew, or what a director was talking about. But finding a trustworthy acting coach was not easy. I found myself meeting teachers who were manipulative, psychologically dangerous, and just plain creepy. If you are a person who needs validation, or gives over control easily, ask a friend to help you. No matter how BADLY you want to be an actor…if you feel it is unsafe, it is unsafe. If someone demands your money, stay away. Trust your gut. Walk out.
So how did I find a reputable acting coach? Word of mouth from other actors. In the 80s there was no internet. I could not do the research and read reviews like actors can do today. So, research, ask professionals, and read reviews.
Because, I felt, at the time, I did not have a lot of life experience, I went with a technique that was based on having a strong imagination. I was told that Sanford Meisner’s technique was based on your imagination, “What if…?” which is why I decided to try an introductory summer course at the DW/Brown Studio, in Santa Monica. I graduated from the two-year Meisner program, and my confidence and expertise sky-rocketed. My performances reached a higher level, I started directing and took it a step further by finishing my college degree, becoming a credentialed acting teacher, Artist in Residence, and drama specialist.
What life lessons did you take with you as a child to your adulthood?
My parents were immigrants who lived through WWII. They were older, kind of like being raised by your grandparents. They listened to me, spent time with me, and really loved me. I was a very free spirited, happy child, who loved to sing and dance around the house. My mother would see this and say to me “Never lose your happiness.” I think this is such a great thing to say, because so many people in life try to take your happiness away.
My father told me “Be tolerant of others.” which I think he said because he lived during WWII. For me, I live by Bill and Ted’s “be excellent to each other!”
Since back in the day you were known for your black hair and curls, did you make a conscience decision that in the future you would dye your hair so your look stayed consistent with what people are used to?
I do dye my hair, but I have had to dye it since I was 20, because I got a shock of grey hair from screaming every day for three months when shooting AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION. And yes, I do maintain a recognizable look, because I have seen so many dark-haired actresses go blond. Unless it was just temporary for a role, I would feel so disappointed, like, “Their dark hair isn’t pretty enough? Or good enough?” So, I wear my hair dark and curly, not only to bring back fond memories for fans, but also to represent those who look like me.
You’ve done horror conventions such as NJ Horror Con in Atlantic City, horror fests such as Screamfest Horror Film Festival, etc. Were you INVITED to participate in such events or did your team reach out to see if they would have you? Did you ever attend a horror convention / fest as a fan (not as an actress)? What was it like for your very first convention as an actress?
The first signing convention I was invited to was a celebrity convention, and I have to say, I was in shock. I couldn’t believe people wanted my autograph! Then I looked around the room, and saw it was filled with actors I grew up watching on TV when I was a kid, and I wanted their autograph. That’s when I realized… signing conventions are about revisiting youth. The experience was so positive I decided to do it again.
The time I was invited to my first Horror Convention, I have to admit I was scared. I didn’t know what to expect. I made a promise to myself to give it a try, but if it got weird, I was out. Well, to my surprise, it was EXCELLENT! It’s like being in a Halloween store: high energy, people dressed in costume, fun music, and a party atmosphere. It’s the one place where adults can be creative with costume, hair and make-up. It is really an artist community, which is why the people who run it and attend are sooo nice! In fact, my biggest selling photo was not from my horror films, but instead from the comedy, Better Off Dead! People at horror conventions have a sense of humor. Far from scary! It’s very fun!
You appear to be in great shape! What is your exercise and food routine?
Thank you! At 58, although I am aging, I physically feel like I am 20! Before the pandemic, I would to the gym, or kick box, but now during quarantine, I work out at home. I do sit ups, push-ups, and run on an elliptical every day. I also eat healthy: oatmeal or eggs, fruit, coffee and a fresh green drink for breakfast. Lunch a soup or salad. For dinner I’ll have a protein, (like chicken, turkey or fish,) a carb like pasta, rice or yam, and vegetables. But the key to staying trim is to eat dinner before 6pm. (and that means eat nothing until breakfast.) Of course, that isn’t always possible! But if you want to lose or maintain your weight, at least you know it works. Also, I drink almond milk, instead of milk. I have found that by cutting out dairy, I stopped getting sick. I also take Fish Oil capsules, Vitamin D and Apple Cider Vinegar pills once daily.
At this point in your career, do you still have to audition for roles, or are they just offered to you? Which role was the first one that was offered to you without an audition? What was going through your mind at that point?
In my late twenties I was offered my first role without auditioning. It was for television series, Murder She Wrote, with Angela Lansbury. Although, it was incredible to be offered a role on such a prestigious show, I couldn’t believe a show of that stature would take this chance. That’s when it hit me! When you are offered roles, you’ve paid your dues. You’ve proven you work in a professional manner, are reliable, and can bring it!
As nerve-wracking as auditions are, they keep you on your toes. I believe, if you take them seriously, they will make you a better actor. I tell my students, “When you have an audition, make believe they told you that you got the part already. Now just go in, have fun, and do the performance.”
Since then, I have been offered roles, but also do audition when necessary. I feel I am one of the lucky ones to get this opportunity. My favorite, is to be hired by a filmmaker, who knows and loves my past work. I am honored and grateful to have left an impression on them and that they wish to work with me today.
How important (or not important) is social media for actors? Does your Twitter handle have an ’80’ after your name because you’re known from the 80s?
In the 80s, all we had, to show who we were, was a black and white headshot. So today I’m thrilled with social media. I chose DianeFranklin80 for my Twitter handle, because I thought this would give the new generation a way to remember me, and be fun for fans of the 80s as well. I think the best handle I have ActressDianeFranklin on Instagram. I can’t tell you how helpful this handle has been. For those who do not know me, it explains what I do. And my word choice is not today’s vernacular. I use Actress, as opposed to Actor, which speaks to my 80s old school audience. I want to travel back in time and have fun with my fans! My social media reflects me.
What’s the difference between making horror movies vs. comedies? Do you have a preference?
Shooting a horror film is not scary, but acting in scenes is intense. Actors and crew are serious, prepping, creating the mood, putting on special effects make-up. The director usually sets a somber tone. It’s very exciting to shoot. I recommend every actor should do at least one horror film. It’s good training, you will learn a lot!
Working on a comedy is very fun, but comedy is serious business. Meaning, even though everyone is just having a good time, you’re still on a schedule. A good comedy director keeps things moving and focused, while keeping the mood light and fun on set. Actors play their parts real. The best comic performances are sincere and earnest. (Even if the cast and crew bursts out laughing.) I recommend students study improvisation. Your confidence in comedy performing will blossom.
For me it’s all about the character I’m playing; I like challenging roles. I do have my bucket list though: Sci-fi, Action, Vampire film and a regular on a series.
How did you meet your screenwriter husband Ray DeLaurentis? Your children Olivia and Nicholas are also part of the entertainment world. Did you have any fears that you and Ray would be out of work and couldn’t pay your bills? What were your thoughts when your kids told you they also wanted to be a part of show business?
I met my husband at an audition for a show called St. Elsewhere. He was a writer on the show, walking through the waiting room. It was love at first sight. And though, Ray is a freelance writer, and I was an actress, I have never had any fears about paying bills. Ray has a huge heart, is devoted, hilarious and brilliant! I believe in him, and he can do anything he put his mind to. We also trust each other, and have similar core values. We passed this onto our kids. We always told them to pursue what they love, and now our son and daughter are pursuing their creative careers with success. Do what you love, and the money will come.
What advice do you have for actors who want to get into horror films?
You’ve picked a great genre. There will always be horror films. Horror is understood all over the world, (unlike comedy, which is regional… unless you fall down…then everybody laughs.) Horror allows us to process the world around us. Horror also is fun! We allow ourselves to be scared, because we know it’s make-believe.
My one piece of advice for actors who choose to do horror…if you have to scream, use your head voice, not your chest voice. If you scream from your chest, you’ll lose your voice in a day!
Anything else you’d like to say?
There is always something you can be doing to improve your acting,…work on movement and voice, take an on-line acting class, join NYCastings, make it happen, find an agent, do theater, write your own material, contact filmmakers you admire, find a way, work on monologues, learn the Alexander technique, get a scene partner, play an instrument, study peoples voices, practice different voices, analyze films, don’t make excuses, get enough sleep, stay away from negative people, study people, learn dialects, change your lifestyle, practice martial arts, dance, or exercise, find friends who understand and support you, be in the moment, fall in love, break up, fall in love again, take odd jobs, experience life, wait tables, deliver pizzas, drive uber, learn a language, recite poetry, recite Shakespeare, go after it, nobody wants it as bad as you do, so don’t expect others to understand, learn archetypes, eat healthy, learn psychology, go to therapy, don’t give up, breathe from your diaphragm, why do you need permission from others to do what you love? Be brave, be patient with yourself, be kind to yourself, acting is not one job, it’s a way of life, use your imagination, stay loose, be flexible, improvise, show don’t tell, be real…And if this sounds exhausting, scary or crazy to you…then stop. Do it as a hobby, or move on, or be something else. Being an actor is not for everyone… only for the lucky few.