“CHRISTINE” Revisited, Part Two: A Q&A with Alexandra PaulMovies/TV,News Lee Gambin
She was the other woman in Arnie Cunningham’s life, but no one got in between him and Chrisine. There was no room for Leigh Cabot, the all-American beauty and new girl in school, according to the ’58 Plymouth Fury who tried everything possible to remove this human love interest. Now, actress and activist Alexandra Paul spends some time with FANGORIA talking about first love, becoming a Stephen King fan and being number one competition for the monstrous machine Christine….
FANGORIA: How did you land the role of Leigh Cabot?
ALEXANDRA PAUL: I auditioned several times for John Carpenter and the producer, Richard Kobritz. I never met any of the cast until the first day of shooting.
FANGORIA: Did you see any of John Carpenter’s films prior to being cast in CHRISTINE?
PAUL: No, because I don’t like scary movies!
FANGORIA: Did you like the other Stephen King adaptations that had been made up to that point, such as CARRIE, THE SHINING and SALEM’S LOT?
PAUL: I had not yet read a Stephen King novel, because I thought they would be too scary! I am sure that FANGORIA readers must think I am such a wimp and they’d be right! I am! But once I was cast,I read CHRISTINE right away. I was so impressed with Stephen King’s writing, that I read several of his other books soon after.
I loved his book of very early short stories, particular the first story, which I think was called “Rage”. I then read his book of 4 novellas, DIFFERENT SEASONS, which has since become one of my all time favorite books! So now, thanks to being cast in CHRISTINE, I am a huge fan of Stephen King.
FANGORIA: When you read King’s novel, did you like Leigh Cabot? Did you think she was a likeable character?
PAUL: She seemed a lot like me!
FANGORIA: Was there anything from the book involving Leigh that was omitted from the screenplay that you wish had stayed?
PAUL: I am sorry, but since it was thirty years ago, I do not recall. I do think the screenplay did a good job with the book, although it could not capture the specificity of King’s writing. The movie itself captured that.
FANGORIA: The role calls for some physical endurance, most notably in the climax. Did you enjoy shooting that?
PAUL: I actually am not a fan of chase scenes. I like the dialogue scenes and the stuff exploring the relationships between the characters. But it was fun working with John Stockwell in those climactic chase sequences where Christine is trying to run us down. Although we shot nights which can be very hard; At 3 am, you start feeling nauseous because you are so tired.
In those final scenes in the garage, I was doing a lot of pretending. I would say to myself, “Okay, Alexandra, now the car is coming at you really fast. Back up and look scared,” which I like less as an actress than relating to a real person. But I was thrilled to be there every minute I was on set! It was my first feature film, so I was very grateful to be there no matter what time it was or what we were filming.
FANGORIA: What was the choking sequence like to shoot?
PAUL: It was only my second time at a drive-in, so that was neat. I was nervous about making out with Keith, who is the nicest guy in the world but I was only 19 and shy about all that. And because there was fake rain outside the car, it was freezing when the good Samaritan pulls me out to give me the Heimlich maneuver! And I was vegetarian, I don’t recall there being a veggie burger; it was 1983, after all, and vegetarians were few and far between, so I only ate the bun. John kept asking me to be more and more panicked about not being able to breathe. Those are my memories.
FANGORIA: What are your fondest memories of the cars and various models used to create Christine?
PAUL: There were 21 cars bought for the film, in various states of disrepair. The call sheet would list which Christines were to be used that shooting day: the cars that didn’t have a motor were in the garage scenes, and the trashed ones were used in the beginning of the movie. There was “Muscle Christine #1” , “Muscle Christine #2” and they did the chase sequences.
The best was the special effects team, which devised the body parts that generate back to new. I remember a Time magazine article snarkily reviewed the movie and wrote, “and that cheesy way the car grows back by running the camera backwards”. Well, it was not that way at all! The special effects team created rubbery car parts that they inflated during the scene. It was so clever and really hard to do to make it look just right. I thought it was awesome.
FANGORIA: I’ve always seen CHRISTINE as a film all about teenage love. It’s a film really about a deadly love triangle and how possession can turn ugly and sinister. What do these central themes mean to you in relation to the film?
PAUL: I think it is all about love! Isn’t that what everything is about in the end? Yes, CHRISTINE is about loves– the first love of a girl, of a dream. There is the friendship between Arnie and Dennis, the fraught relationship Arnie has with his parents, the car that saves him because restoring her gives his life meaning and he is so empowered that the new girl in school falls for him.
FANGORIA: Like most movie monsters, Christine herself just wants to be loved and yet she is presented as an unsympathetic entity hell bent on killing anyone who hurts Arnie or comes in between her and Arnie. What are your thoughts on this?
PAUL: I think every movie has to have love in it. Someone once told me that life is made up of one choice: To live in love or to live in fear. Trying to get love, and our fear of not getting it, in this sense movies reflect life! Also, I never hated that car, even though I have a line in the movie where I say “I hate this car.” I was pretty much in awe of her, in awe of all 21 incarnations of her.
It was movie magic how they made CHRISTINE, in my opinion. When I was a kid, though, I had 2 recurring dreams. One was me hiding behind a rock in our front garden in Connecticut, at night, while a pair of headlights comes down the road towards me. In the dream, I am always scared. I think that was CHRISTINE.
FANGORIA: What was it like working with a relatively young and fresh cast, most notably with John Stockwell and Keith Gordon?
PAUL: I was always slightly intimidated by John Stockwell, who now is a terrific screenwriter and successful director. Keith is the sweetest man ever, and was amazing as Arnie. Trying to get the right stage of Arnie’s metamorphosis in each scene, since we shoot out of order, was an acting challenge, and there was always discussion on how far into the change Arnie was, what he looked like at that time in terms of was his collar up or down, how cool was his hair, etc.
I met a very great friend on that set, Doug Warhit. We each went to each other’s weddings. Doug played Bemis, one of the boys who taunts Arnie in the beginning of the movie and he has a line about Leigh, “Have you seen the new girl? She looks smart but she has the body of a slut,” which I think is hilarious since I actually had the body of a gawky teen. I always thought Kelly Preston, who plays Roseanne, the blonde girl who has a crush on Dennis, was more like Leigh than I was. I also met and fell in love with Bill Ostrander, who played Buddy Repperton, and we dated for a couple years.
FANGORIA: What was the most valuable piece of information given to you by director John Carpenter?
PAUL: My most memorable experience with John was during a scene where I was supposed to cry and I couldn’t cry, so John takes me into his bus and, of course,I immediately start crying because I am so insecure. John told me later that he was totally freaked out by this young women so emotional in front of him that he didn’t know what to say, but what he did tell me was not to try to cry. Just do the scene without crying. I think it was the scene when I am talking to John Stockwell about how I am scared of Keith. I still hate how I did that scene.
FANGORIA: After thirty years, what does CHRISTINE mean to you?
PAUL: CHRISTINE reminds me how far I have come in this business- I have now starred in over 70 movies or television shows and am considered a veteran actress. A far cry from the 19 year old with wide eyes, big hair and a whispery voice that I was on my first feature. It tickles me that it is considered a classic, and I am proud to be associated with it.