Dee Wallace: From “E.T.” To “The Lords Of Salem”

Dee Wallace with then child star Drew Barrymore in the classic E.T.
(Photo courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment.)

Having worked on nearly 100 films, Dee Wallace is familiar to many moviegoers, particularly genre buffs who remember her from The Howling, Cujo and Critters and have seen her recently in The House Of The Devil and Rob Zombie’s Halloween. Her most famous role is as Elliott’s mother Mary in Steven Spielberg’s beloved, family-friendly fantasy film E.T., which recently received its Blu-ray release. I spoke with Wallace for MSN Movies about E.T. and how 1982 was a monumental year for sci-fi and fantasy films. She also shared her thoughts with A.D.D. about acting with green screen, changes in Hollywood thinking and working with Rob Zombie.

How much creative control did the filmmakers have over E.T. at the time? Was there a lot of studio interference?
I wish I could answer that question. I wasn’t involved in any of that. My instinct would tell me that they probably left Steven alone more than they interfered. He had had two really great successes. Raiders Of The Lost Ark had just come out. Working with Steven, I would think that he set up with less studio interference than more.

How do you feel about a lot of the CGI work you’ve done recently? Do you find it more challenging as an actor?
Sure, it’s more challenging. Acting is a lot about reacting and the connection that you have with the other actor. With CGI and green screen you have to imagine that, but that means it’s even harder to throw your energy out towards something that’s not there. It’s a real talent. People don’t appreciate enough actors that work a lot with green screen.

It seems like a lot of movies today have a lot more plot lines, especially as younger people can multitask and juggle more ideas. Some movies seem to have multiple endings and toss in many different elements to keep people interested.
I think what you have here is a problematic lack of agreement between studios and creative people. The studios always want more blood, more gore and more sex, and the creative people know that you don’t need all that. But there is a prevalent belief in a lot of the studio system and a lot of the people that are releasing films that you need all that crap for people to actually want to see the film.

You made an appearance in Ti West’s The House Of The Devil, which is a very understated throwback to classic ’70s horror movies. Most of the film is driven by suspense and dark shadows.
I love it. Didn’t you like it?

I did. At first I thought, “Nothing’s going on,” but the suspense got to me and made me wait for the big ending.
Exactly. That’s a good horror film for you.

Wallace about to get a lesson in furry fear in The Howling. I wonder if it’s a generational thing. Will kids today get into classic films we love the way that we did because the pacing a lot of movies today is much faster?
But then the pacing in E.T. isn’t slow at all. It builds and builds and builds and builds, and that’s why when they take off on those bikes, your heart soars with them.

You can partially credit that to the character development building throughout the film.
Yeah, oh my God, character development, where has it ever gone? Now we say, “Hi, here are six characters, let’s see how fast we can kill them all.”

What projects do you have coming up?
I just finished Hansel & Gretel, and I am coming out in Rob Zombie’s The Lords Of Salem. I play witches in both of them. Lords of Salem is a new update on the witches of Salem and how they come into present day. It has a lot of his original music in it. He wrote the part for me, and it’s a real departure from his style. I think you’re going to love it.

A terrorized Wallace faces down the rabid Cujo.
Another reason why I am a cat person.

How do you feel about working with a horror director as brutal as Rob Zombie?
When I’m doing it I love it, and when I watch it I turn away.

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