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An underground icon of Hollywood b-movies, Phoebe Dollar is especially well-known for her roles in Jeff Leroy's films (Hell's Highway, Creepies, Unseen Evil 2...), in which she mixed with people like former pornstar Ron Jeremy or Motorhead's figure Lemmy Kilmister. Far more than just a way to pay the bills, this colourful start Phoebe made in the film industry is proudly claimed as an exciting artistic way of life. As charming as uncompromising, Phoebe tells us about the taking off of her career, with all the frankness of a genuine Southern girl.
Interview conducted by Nikita and the Nanarland Team in August 2008.
One of the reasons for interviewing you is that we know very little about you. Could you tell us about yourself, your career, and how you came to work in film?
I was born in 1972 in North Carolina. I'm an only child. My dad is a huge film buff, so most of our family time together was spent watching movies. That is where I developed my love for movies. For my first acting job, I was cast in a professional original play called "King of Honkey Tonk Heaven". After that, I moved to Wilmington N.C. because there were movies being made there. I did a lot of little things, like I show up for a sec in the movie The Crow with Brandon Lee. My scene is in the last big shoot-out when he's trying to get that last bad guy, and the bad guy grabs me to be his shield and throws me to Brandon. I was around Brandon a week before he died. That was a dark time. Anyway, after a while, I realized that you can only go so far in a small town because for the big parts they bring people from L.A . So that is why I came to L.A.
A bit uncredited part for Phoebe in The Crow (1994).
In L.A. I was very green. I auditioned some but I have a rebel streak that made it hard for me to deal with the people and attitudes. I was also not o.k. with SAG and their monopoly, and the way they controlled everything. So I pretty much said "fuck it" and really didn't care what happened. That's when things happen, when you don't care anymore. Ron Jeremy told Jeff Leroy to read me for his movie «Hell's Highway». So I met Jeff and gave a bad reading for the character Sarah and my best for Lucinda. I told him I would do the movie if I could play the devil. I wanted to play dark characters because I was bored with the 'nice girl', so Jeff gave me the chance. That began our working together and our great friendship. I love him. So I guess I owe my career so far to Ron and Jeff.
In several films, such as Hell's Highway or Goth, you were cast as villainesses of various sorts. Do you have a specific interest in these kinds of roles?
I do like playing dark roles. I became stereotyped for this type of roles. That has always been fine with me because I went after those roles. I like them because I can tap into my shadow and play them very real. What I bring to these characters is not acting: it's really a part of me that I can't express in real life, or I would be in prison. Kind of scary huh? Oh, but lots of fun.
The bulk of your filmography consists mostly of horror/sci-fi/gory/violent movies. Could you tell us about your interest for these genres? Would you consider yourself a « gothic » actress?
My interest in horror/sci-fi/gory/violence is: One, because you can play with your shadow. Two, you have no limitations on the imagination. With supernatural or any fantasy, anything goes. Three, the audience for these movies is very forgiving of a low budget and they will give it a fair chance if it is creative and unpredictable.
I don't consider myself a gothic actress, I've been cast as one because of the way I look, but I understand how it can look that way. I like gothic decor and music, but I'm not like the character Goth, although I did understand her.
You have a history of working with director Jeff Leroy. Could you tell us about your collaboration with him? How did you come to meet him? What is his approach to his work? How would you define him as a director?
I met Jeff, like I said, when I read for Hell's Highway. I asked him to make a movie together, so that's how we collaborated on Charlie's Death Wish. He and I work well together. He is my favourite director to act for because I know him so well, I know what he wants, plus we're great friends so we have fun working together and we hang out sometimes also. I learned everything about making movies from Jeff. His approach is to do everything himself pretty much, and to use what you have. He is a one-man moviemaker. His editing is great. As a director I would define him as a modern day Sam Peckinpah. A renegade. Always striving for each movie to be better than the last.
Jeff Leroy (and Phoebe in the background) during the shooting of Werewolf in a women's prison (2006).
Judging from several of your movies, you could be considered a B-movie actress. Would you be interested in integrating more mainstream productions or do you prefer, much like the Troma people, to remain a die-hard independent?
I'm not interested in being a part of the mainstream. I will always remain a die-hard independent. For a friend I may work on something mainstream, but I will always make my movies independently. One thing I'm proud about with Charlie's Death Wish is that not one thing was changed in that movie to please someone else. I could not put my heart and soul into a project to have it later all twisted and changed by other people. I admire the independent filmmakers like Roger Corman. I like doing non-union movies, away from all that mess. Some actors are in core, that means you can do both union or non-union. Erik Estrada started that. SAG doesn't like its members doing that, of course. I like using musicians because they're not in SAG and they're great actors. Better than most actors. They're used to performing and they use themselves so that their performances are real. That's why I'm so excited about Sunset Society: I used mainly musicians and they kicked ass!!
What are the distribution opportunities for your movies? How do you consider the current state of the film market? How do low-budget companies work these days? How does one currently manage to stand apart from the crowd in the world of «B-cinema»? More globally, from your point of view as a performer, how would you describe the work on these productions?
Distribution is a joke!! They try to steal your movie!! Charlie's Death Wish was stolen. The company I went with domestically snuck it out to Germany when they had no rights there. Breaking the law of copyright infringement, the one I went with internationally, BRAIN DAMAGE, snuck it out domestically in a 6-pack of really bad movies. When busted on it, he said it was an accident. Yeah, right. He accidentally wrote the title on the box too. I worked for that company with Hell's Highway and Goth, so I thought I could trust him, but no: he is like all the rest, if not worse. Independent moviemakers get their movies stolen all the time and it's really sick: something should be done. To sue isn't the answer either, because it's so low-scale that unless the lawyer is a relative or a lifelong friend, he isn't going to put much into it. He knows he won't get much in return to make it worthwhile. These distributors know that, so they use that to their advantage and steal poor moviemakers' movies. Then they don't keep you up on statements or checks: if asked they say "Oh it's just not doing well"; meanwhile your movies are everywhere on amazon, net-flix, all these internet movie sites, but you don't see any money. So the lesson I learned was that if the upfront money is not the right amount for you, don't do it, don't count on backend money, you'll never see it!!!! Distribute it yourself, at least you'll know what you made.
I think the way you stand apart in the b-movie world is by making the movie good, even though it's low-budget. Good script, good acting, a good cameraman, director, editor etc. Using talent in all areas, even beyond the actors. Performing on these projects is so much fun. Everybody's equal and everyone helps out. There are no attitudes and people are there because they want to be, it's not for the money. Ha ha, it's like a party! I try to always make sure on my set that everyone is having fun. It's real easy-going and I don't work them too many hours, so that it stays fun the whole time. There is nothing like being on set shooting or acting. It's a high energy: that is addictive
What is your perception of contemporary horror films? What are your favourite films (old and new) in that genre, and in general?
Contemporary horror films are good to me if they are unpredictable or have a humour quality to them, even if the humour is subtle. I hate the horror movies where they have the actor take 30 mins to walk down the hall with this wide eyed look of suspense. To me that says "we don't have enough movie and this is time-filler". My favourite films in this genre are Natural Born Killers, The Devil's Rejects, Evil Dead, Zombie Honeymoon, Honeymoon Killers. My favourite movie of all time is Gone with the wind. I like off beat movies, underground movies and cult movies the best!
The thematic of killer women (sometimes played by yourself) is very present in your films. Would you call this a «feministic» or artistic statement?
The thematic "killer woman" in my movies is a strong woman statement. Of course it is extreme, but I feel more inclined to portray women not as victims but as strong women who can take care of things. I'm not a feminist, really: most of them have a hatred for men, I don't, I love men. I think strong females are sexy and a lot more fun to play than passive female roles.
Could you tell us about your experience as a writer on Charlie's Death Wish? Were you happy with the film? Did you write any other scripts? This film contains a tribute to Charles Bronson: is he a personal hero of yours? Who are your favourite actors?
I had Charlie's Death wish as a concept but I didn't write it. Jeff gave that credit, being nice. I started to write some of it but Jeff is so fast that he zipped through it before I could write 10 pages. I have not written any of the movies I've been in. Sunset Society is my first script. I'm very happy at how Charlie's Death wish turned out. Nothing was changed, it's exactly the way Jeff and I wanted. One distributor wanted me to change the music and of course I said "Hell, no!». I like working non-union because of the artistic freedom. I'm very flexible if I'm working on someone else's project because it's their vision, but for my own personal projects it's my vision and I want it to stay that way.
I like the way Charles Bronson took care of things himself in the Death Wish movies, so that's what I was imitating. He is a great actor, also. My favourite actors are dead ones. Marlon Brando, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Jean Harlow, Myrna Loy. My favourite living actors are Gary Oldman, Jack Nicholson, Harry Dean Staton, Steve Buscemi, Christian Bale, Juliette Lewis, Dominique Swaim, Rose McGowan, Heather Graham...
Could you tell us about Lorenzo Lamas' involvement in Alien 3000. Was it difficult for Jeff Leroy to hire such a high-profile actor? We suspect that his scenes were shot on a tight schedule, apart from the rest of the scenes, without him interfering with most of the rest of the cast. Is that correct?
Lorenzo Lamas' involvement in Alien 3000 was minimum. It wasn't hard to get him because at that particular time he wasn't getting much work. I'm sure he wasn't feeling good about his career doing that movie, but he was very cool and professional and acted like it was just as important as a bigger budget movie. You are correct about his shots being separate from every one else's, good call. He shot most of his stuff after we shot ours.
You co-starred several times with legendary porn actor Ron Jeremy. Is he a personal friend of yours? What kind of a person is he? IMDB actually lists your first credit as being Porn star: the legend of Ron Jeremy, though we suspect that this documentary only included footage of you on the set of Hell's Highway. Did you actually work on some of his other pictures? (no, we don't mean as an actress in adult movies, but behind the scenes on other productions, as a writer/production assistant/whatever. We're asking this because you seem to be professionally close)
Ron Jeremy is a personal friend: in fact he is like family. My father met him in New York when I was 6 years old. They had a mutual friend. He is a great person, his family and friends are the most important things to him. He is always very nice to his fans. He is real and genuine. I Have never worked on any of his adult movies, in fact I've never even seen any of his adult movies and I don't want to. I know the non-porn side of Ron. I like working with Ron on these B-movies because we're close. I wanted everyone to see that he can really carry out a full character, instead of dying in the first five mins of his scene, like in most of his mainstream movies. I wanted everyone to see how well he can act. That's all he wants to do. He loves acting.
One disappointing aspect of Werewolf in a women's prison is that you only appear for a few minutes, and don't have much to do. Did you make this cameo appearance as a friend of Jeff Leroy's?
I did it as a favour for Jeff. I really didn't want to be in it at all. That's not my type of movie. Even though I'm an actress, I won't do a part or a scene that I don't want to do. I can't compromise myself. That's why I've never done nudity. I didn't even want credit for that movie. Don't get me wrong, I think it's an entertaining movie for what it is, but that's only because Jeff put his touch on it and he has such a great sense of humour that he can make it work. Without Jeff that movie would have been horrible.
Phoebe, gutted in Werewolf in a Women's Prison (2006).
Could you tell us about your upcoming movie Sunset Society, also starring Lemmy Kilmister from Motörhead as the lead villain "Ace"? How did you approach your directing debut? What are your ambitions for the film?
Sunset Society is my sole baby. I produced it, wrote it, and directed it. I love directing and I wasn't sure I would. It's so exciting seeing what you once had in your head come to life with the actors. Lemmy is the funniest and sweetest guy ever. I let these guys improvise and what I got was amazing 'real' acting!! They are already performers, so letting them use themselves and just go with the scene is what makes this movie. I think everyone is also going to be amazed at the acting from Dizzy Reed. Tracii Guns is really good also, I got so lucky getting these guys. I think they had a good time and that was really important to me. I approached directing by just going off what I have learned from Jeff. I explained to the actors about their characters and then just let them go. It came to me pretty naturally. I'm editing now. That process is amazing, that is where the movie is really made. It's like putting a 100,000 pieces puzzle together. I love it ! I love everything about filmmaking. I think I will submit this movie to festivals. I may distribute it myself, but I will not give it to a distributor like I did before, unless the offer is too good to refuse. This movie will probably be obscure and hard to see. Through MySpace Sunset Society or youtube in my name, there might be away to get it. This movie is so special to me that even if I have just private screenings, that's o.k. with me. I can't let this go to just anyone so I will most likely handle it myself. I feel like this has potential to be a cult classic because of who's in it and its uniqueness.
One last, completely silly question: did you know that you look a bit like Ségolène Royal, who was a candidate in France's presidential election in 2007?
I didn't know I looked a little like Ms. Royal. A presidential candidate, wow.
Thanks a lot for your time.
Thank you for your interest in me and my work. I've enjoyed this interview. Take care!!