Nancy Allen broke out in the 1976 with her memorable role in Brian De Palma's CARRIE (1976). She was a charming, naturalistic, beautiful presence in high-profile films such as Spielberg's 1941 (1979), Robert Zemeckis's debut I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND (1978), and a further three films with De Palma (whom she also married in 1979) - HOME MOVIES (1980), DRESSED TO KILL (1980), and BLOW OUT (1981). Her career has also seen her work on such cult favorites as ROBOCOP (1987) and its sequels, POLTERGEIST III (1988), STRANGE INVADERS (1983), THE PHILADELPHIA EXPERIMENT (1984), Paul Bartel's NOT FOR PUBLICATION (1984), Abel Ferrara's THE GLADIATOR (1986), and Steven Soderbergh's OUT OF SIGHT (1998). In the second part of a two-part interview I spoke with Nancy about her experiences making the ROBOCOP series, THE GLADIATOR, NOT FOR PUBLICATION, POLTERGEIST III, and OUT OF SIGHT, and also her activism for cancer charities, and how she feels about her legacy.  

Part one of the interview. 
What was it like working with Paul Bartel on NOT FOR PUBLICATION?
I love him. He's so sweet. He had just done EATING RAOUL, which I had seen twice. I loved it. That's how sick I am! I sat down with him and he told me about how he had been sitting on this project for forever and how it was his passion piece, and how we were going to have singing and dancing and all this silly stuff. It was fun making the movie but needless to say the film turned out a little disappointing.

How was working with Abel Ferrara on THE GLADIATOR? 
I like him. I think he's a very hip and talented guy. I remember Ken Wahl and I went into Abel's trailer to discuss the movie and he said ''So, what are we going to do with this piece of shit?'' He was great. That for me encapsulates the whole experience! I wish I had been able to do something a little better with him because I do think he's really talented. 

Your father was a Police Lieutenant. Did that inform the way you approached playing Lewis in ROBOCOP? 
When I read the script I felt like I knew the territory. I felt pulled to it and I knew I could bring something to it based on my own life experience. I took away things like the relationship between partners and how important that is. My father died a few years later so it was great that he got to see me in the film. Making ROBOCOP was a great way to honor him.

I remember when we shot the scene where Peter and I are chasing the bad guys in the car. I was driving and Peter is shooting at the bad guys, and we had a bit of a disagreement. Peter said ''You should give me your gun in the scene. '' I said ''No. A police officer never gives up his gun under any circumstance. '' Peter said ''You need to call up your father and ask him. '' I was absolutely certain I was right, but when I spoke to my father it turned out I was absolutely wrong. He said ''Of course. Under those circumstances you'd have to give up your gun!'' I hated that Peter was right!

What was your first reaction to the script? 
As soon as I got the script I called my agent and said ''They're going to change this title, right?'' I thought it was the stupidest, cheesiest title. I said ''OK, I'll look at a few pages. '' I picked it up and I couldn't put it down. I had never read anything like this before. It was unique and really smart. It was funny in the kind of way that I like. It's very emotional in places. It really touched on so much - the humor, the humanity, the political landscape at that time. It really was way ahead of its time in many, many ways. So I asked ''Who's directing it?'' And they said Paul Verhoeven. I had seen SOLDIER OF ORANGE (1977), and I knew this guy was really really good. I desperately wanted to do the movie. 

How was working with Verhoeven? 
I adore him. He's like a mad genius. He did something wonderful. He brought on Jost Vacano, who had done DAS BOOT (1981), as the cinematographer. He rigged this kind of Steadicam with a Gyro on it, and they lit it with these big banks of fluorescent lighting which gave the film the right look. On DAS BOOT that camera was able to follow everybody everywhere on the submarine. It gave you a lot of freedom to play out a scene. Paul wasn't used to some of the American things like the sound guys wanting to wire the actors. He would walk on the set and say ''Why are we not shooting? What are we waiting for?'' Paul is like someone like Steven Soderbergh. Whether you like the film their films or not, you can see them in the film. He's very passionate. He's very specific and yet he wants to see more. There could be four actors on the set and he would act out every role like a crazy person. He'd be jumping around and grabbing things from the ceiling. Then he'd say ''But don't copy me. I can't act. '' There are subtle things that he did in those quiet moments between Peter and I that really touched the heart of the matter that could have been easily lost.

Did you enjoy working with Peter Weller? 
We had a good time. We started shooting the Murphy and Lewis scenes first, so everything was kind of cool. And then it was the day of the arrival of the Robocop suit. He was meant to get it two weeks before we started shooting the film, to rehearse in, but he didn't. Ten hours later I thought ''Either they're shutting us down or we're going to be here for the next ten years shooting this movie. '' I think acting in that suit was a little challenging for him, and he went 'in' a little bit. I always called him Murphy. I never bought into this whole ''Call me Robo'' thing. I just felt my character wouldn't do that. We had a good working relationship and I have a lot of respect for him, and the discipline it took for him to do what he did was amazing. 

It must have been helpful for you as an actress to have such a strong actor inside the Robocop suit to act opposite. 
You couldn't really see his face with the helmet he had on, but you could see his eyes through the slit and the challenge was to do my best to connect with him, however barely.

Did you miss Verhoeven on the sequels? 
That's a gross understatement! ROBOCOP 2 (1990) was the worst experience of my life. Irvin Kershner didn't like me, and he made that apparent, moment by moment, day by day. It was torture. He was awful. In my opinion we had a great script that he destroyed. Everything that was in the script that had humor or heart he pulled out. The only reason I did ROBOCOP 3 (1993) was because the character had such a big fanbase and you feel sort of loyal to the character. I really feel bad for Fred Dekker in a way because I came onto the film after such a terrible experience on the second film and I was very guarded and really not looking forward to doing it. I guess the only vindication that I have is that he said it was a big mistake to bump me off in a recent article! They made it a PG, which wasn't what it was. You couldn't make the original ROBOCOP today. It's so incredibly violent and bloody. I was in and out on ROBOCOP 3. It was just about showing up. I had fifteen days on it and I tried to make lemonade out of lemons. 

How was the experience of making POLTERGEIST III? 
Shooting in Chicago was terrific. It's a beautiful city and the locations were fantastic. I enjoyed working with Heather, Lara Flynn Boyle and Zelda Rubinstein. It was challenging physically. It was a difficult shoot due to the fact that Gary Sherman, the director, designed the special effects to be shot on set. That was a brilliant concept but not very practical. We worked with doubles and had to rehearse many of the moves so that we could be in sync. The other difficulty was that we were wet for a good portion of the film. Not fun. That said, a lot of people like the film, and in the end that's what really matters.

How did you get cast in Soderbergh's OUT OF SIGHT? 
I got a call from my agent and he said ''There's this movie, and it's a small part, and you're probably not interested. It's a Steven Soderbergh picture. '' I told him ''Steven Soderbergh? I'm there. I don't care what it is! What do I have to do?'' I really just thought he was amazing. I went and they put me on tape, and I did my thing, and I was cast. I was so excited. He would always be standing next to the camera, and I loved that, because to me that is where all the action is. There was this great intimacy and immediacy. There are always two people I look at after I do a scene. The director, of course, but also the camera operator because you want to know what they saw. It was a fairly loose set. He cast it well and then just let the actors do their job. I had a very good experience working with him. He wrote in some extra stuff, such as a little exchange between Albert Brooks and me at the bottom of the stairs. I thought it would never make it into the movie. You're going to start looking at the relationship between two new characters at the end of the movie? But it stayed in. George Clooney couldn't have been nicer, he was so welcoming. The actors were a great bunch of guys. I came on at the end of the picture and they had all bonded, but I connected with them right away. 

Had you had much interaction with Albert Brooks prior to the movie? 
No. I had met him many years before at a Thanksgiving with Steven Spielberg and Amy Irving in 1976. He was friendly with people in our social group and I would see him from time to time, but I didn't really know him. But I'm a big fan of his. 

How did you get involved with cancer activism? 
I worked with Wendie Jo Sperber on I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND and 1941, and we became very close. She was diagnosed with cancer in the late 90s, and a few years later she had this notion of opening a Healing Center. She first contacted me to be a celebrity golfer in a fundraiser she was doing. That was fun. About six months later she called me and told me that she had found this perfect place for the Healing Center and wanted me to come over and see it. She asked me to help and I said yes, and I had no idea it was going to be life transforming for me. We began, and it was her, her sister, her cousin, who is a licenced clinical social worker, and me. We started by contacting everyone we knew for donations. Then she wanted me to teach the yoga class, which I did. It developed from there and we brainstormed about what else we could do. We talked about guided imagery and all the different modalities and all of the complimentary and alternative healing practices. In 2001 they didn't really have any data or any evidence that these practices were effective. It was fun, and having lost both my brothers I was trying to heal myself probably. I felt really good working with Wendie, and it was exciting, working with all these people who were creative in a different way. Being in their presence, I had this same internal, creative feeling that I got on movies, but just in a different environment. It got to the point where I didn't feel good about the acting I was doing and I was missing the work I was doing at the Center. I said to my manager ''Here is the list of people I want to work with. When they call I am ready to go to work. '' People like Stephen Frears and Woody Allen are on that list. I must admit I do miss that magical feeling of being on a set sometimes. 

How do you feel about your legacy? 
I feel pretty good about it. I feel better about the work now than I did years ago. I was very critical of myself. Now I feel proud of the work. I spent some time with Piper Laurie recently and we talked about CARRIE. I did an interview with Keith Gordon for the Australian Blu-ray release of BLOW OUT, which has become this new phenomenon. Who knew that years later we would still be talking about these films? You just don't expect it. I was talking with someone the other day about all the movies I didn't get and was really disappointed about at the time. Where did those films go? I feel fortunate that I worked with the directors that I worked with and on the films that I did. I look back and I think ''I could have done that better''. I'm too much of a perfectionist.

I'd like to do one more thing that is a good piece of work, only because as you live your life you have a richer perspective and a bigger depth to your being, and it might be fun to touch on those things. I love film noir and I would love to do a film like that at some point. Right after we finished BLOW OUT somebody gave Brian a book called Getting Away with Murder. It was set up a couple of times and it almost got made, but it fell through. That's the way it happens sometimes. After STRANGE INVADERS, Bill Condon and I developed a script. We worked on it for a while. Walter Coblenz was interested. Gary Lucchesi put us together. We met with Kevin Costner, who wasn't hot yet. The studio didn't want to make the picture with Kevin, and it all kind of fizzled. That was a big disappointment. You had two guys and two girls, and it was set around a newspaper. The wife of the older reporter seduced the younger cub reporter, who was having a relationship with another female reporter on the paper. What I loved about the piece, and about film noir in general, is that it's about human beings, and everybody, like I said, has that shadow side and nobody is as exactly as they appear to be. I love that line from CHINATOWN where John Huston says '' ... most people never have to face the fact that at the right time and the right place, they're capable of anything. ''
Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2016. All rights reserved.

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