Caroline Williams dishes on what it was like to be an original horror icon and what's going on now
Caroline Williams loves being part of the horror fan circuit. When she got her start in acting, horror films were just becoming a legitimate genre of filmmaking, but when she landed the role of radio DJ Vanita "Stretch" Brock in the comedy horror classic Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, she never knew she would forever be considered to be being a scream queen.
The native Texan got her professional acting start in by performing in an industrial film, but soon after she landed a role in Smile from 1975. In the '80s she starred in Alamo Bay and The Legend of Billie Jean and in 1989 she got the call to audition for Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.
She went on to get roles in other horror films Stepfather II, Halloween II, Hatchet 3, Sharknado 4 and Sharknado 6.
Of course, she did much more than horror, including Days of Thunder, How the Grinch Stole Christmas and a lot of TV including Murder, She Wrote, ER, Suddenly Susan, Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, The District and Grey's Anatomy.
Caroline Williams spoke with Michelle Tompkins for Stars and Celebs the new home of The Celebrity Cafe about her early life, how she landed the role in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, what she thinks of horror festivals and comic con events, what she is working on now and much more.
Thanks to Jimmy Star for his help setting this up.
Michelle Tompkins: Let's start at the beginning. Where are you originally from?
Caroline Williams: Born in Littlerock, Arkansas. Intermediate stop in Jackson, Mississippi. Most of my life until 1986 in Houston, Texas and I still have a lot of family and friends in Texas. I go back to Austin-- I go back at least once a year and I'll usually drive down to Houston to see family and friends. But Austin, it still feels like home even though I've been in California as long as I have.
Michelle Tompkins: Are you in Los Angeles area now?
Caroline Williams: I am. I've been here since '86. I moved here when the movie opened and got an agent and started my life here and I've been here ever since.
Michelle Tompkins: Let's go back in time a little bit earlier. Tell me about your childhood, please.
Caroline Williams: Because I was born in 1957, that time of life in America was so very different than it is now. You didn't have smother mothers. You didn't have anybody supervising you. I hit the door at 7:30 in the morning to go find all my friends and I didn't come home till the street lights came on during the summer. The school year ended Memorial Day weekend and started after Labor Day so you had this long stretch of time. I mean it was straight out of To Kill a Mockingbird. I even looked like that kid. I had the little bowl haircut. I had a great time. It was a perfect childhood. It really was.
Caroline Williams talks about her acting origins
Michelle Tompkins: Were you always interested in acting?
Caroline Williams: It never crossed my mind because growing up in the South there were no studios there. I didn't see my first stage play— and it wasn't even a stage play. I would go to see ballet recitals that my big sister was in. So I only got an idea of what show business might be like from those experiences. It wasn't until I moved to Houston that I went to plays and going to see bands and getting an idea of what entertainment business might be like. By the time I started taking acting classes, it was about 1982-83 and everything kicked in remarkably fast for me. Within six months, I had my first film role.
Michelle Tompkins: And what was your first professional paid acting gig?
Caroline Williams: My first professional paid acting gig was an industrial film. God, I can't remember what the product or the service was but it was an industrial film and I remembered I got paid $85 for the day and that was huge. And everybody, the members of the cast we waited and waited and waited and waited for our checks to show up in the mail and they never showed up. I went to the guy's office which was housed in his home and I knocked on the fucking door. I walked in and I said, ‘Where's my god damn money?’ I didn't leave until he handed me cash. Didn't take a check. I took cash. And that sort of launched me on the realities of what show business can occasionally be like [laughter].
Michelle Tompkins: That's one way to get your money because sometimes it's hard to claim it [laughter].
Caroline Williams: One of the things that I've learned about show business that started with that experience is that as an actor you let people treat you badly they will continue to do so for as long as they can. And I see it even today that actors will remain silent. You know the #MeToo Movement is foundationed on this very premise. The idea and the confidence that a perpetrator to have for their victim is they will say nothing. And that runs through everything. It taught me a valuable lesson. It taught me to stand up for myself and not put up with any shit.
Michelle Tompkins: Well, tell me a little bit about being in Alamo Bay. What was your character?
Caroline Williams: It was the very first professional movie I was ever in and it was so high level. And I was so terrified. It was directed by Louis Malle who was an internationally well-known artist. I mean he wasn't just a director. He was cherished. He was responsible for Le Monde, Atlantic City, Ascenseur pour l'échafaud. He was cherished. He was revered. And he was very, very French. So the way he made movies differed completely from the way everybody else made movies.
One standout memory was a played a barmaid that had been the lover of Ed Harris character in the film. And Ed Harris, of course, is now with Amy Madigan who he married during the course of production on the movie. I had never met such big stars. Louis Malle was married to Candice Bergan then and she was a very big star too. It was hopelessly intimidating. I was scared out of my fucking mind. And I did manage to make it through.
The standout memory I have of that set is instead of smoking up the set with just your average smudge pot which is what they used then, he would use frankincense and myrrh which he had burned in the centers of the Catholic church where he was brought up in Paris. And he so loved the smell and he also loved the look of the smoke. It was a dark black smoke and it really registered on film. It wouldn't be until many, many years later I would have my first trip to Paris and I would smell that again and that sense memory came back for me. I realized our set smelled like a French cathedral. It smelled like Notre Dame. So that's one of my best memories of that movie and of Louis Malle. He was such an incredible man.
Michelle Tompkins: Where did you film?
Caroline Williams: We shot down in Corpus Christi. I had to travel down there and stay for a couple of weeks. My part wasn't big as far as dialogue went or action or plot but it was fairly definitive and I was always a presence in that bar setting. And the bar setting was sort of the center of that little community. It was based on a fishing community in a conflict with the Vietnamese fishermen that had begun to settle the Gulf Coast area. And they basically followed their own sorts of rules and it was about that conflict. It was based on an Access Monthly magazine article. It was extraordinary.
It was an unusual cast, it was very diverse; we had a lot of Asians and then we had a lot of Americans. And there was an enormous language gap so it ended up being a bit of clanish kind of film company which I was unaccustomed to. Well, I mean I hadn't done a film before but I was used to my little films out of Houston, Texas, which was overwhelmingly white and Hispanic. So that was a bit of an unusual.
Caroline Williams talks about Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
Michelle Tompkins: How did you hear about the role in Texas Chainsaw Massacre?
Caroline Williams: My agent was called. There was a large casting session. The film company had begun in New York and LA auditioning actors and actresses for the various parts. But for Stretch's part, they were very exclusive to the New York and LA areas. And they read a ton of big names, much bigger names than me. But Toby wanted a Texas actress. He really wanted a Texas actress for that role. He was getting a lot of grief from Canon Films about it because they wanted someone that was going to be a little more recognizable to audiences.
It's a very famous, funny casting story. I showed up in Austin where they were set up in pre-production. And when it was my turn to go in a read, I had noticed everybody was coming and going from the room. It was incredibly quiet and the script called for a lot of action, and a lot of sound, and a lot of screaming, and a lot of, ‘They live on fear. They live on fear.’ Which was the only dialogue in the whole scene. I thought to myself, ‘You know what? I'm going to follow the action as true to the script. I'm going to do what the script says.’ Which was she comes pounding down a long hallway to the door of the ice house, where she's going to hide herself, and she bursts into the icehouse and slams the door and then she grabs a weapon and she's ready, right?
So I ran screaming down the hallway, I burst into the audition room. I pull the chairs out from under Tobe and Kit. I pile the chairs in front of that door and I back into a corner saying, ‘They live on fear. They live on fear.’ And Tobe and Kit didn't have any place to sit at that particular point. I pulled the chairs literally out from under them. And they just slowly walked towards me while I was saying, ‘They live on fear.’ And then they just kind of looked at each other. And I think they were looking for that moment. And that was that.
Michelle Tompkins: Much of your work tends to actually be in the horror genre, what draws you to that?
Caroline Williams: It's not as much being drawn to, as once I established myself in the sequel to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre as directed by Tobe Hooper. At that moment, it was like being ushered into a very exclusive club. the fanbase for horror has always been gigantic, it has not always been respected for its loyalty or its dollars by the film business.
Especially, back the '70s when the original was done, it was considered horror of that nature. The horror that Tobe Hooper essentially recreated in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, that was considered to be pornography. They showed that move in porn barns and drive-ins. It didn't go into regular movie theaters. By the time Chainsaw II came around 13 years later, it had gotten marginally more respectable but was still not considered genuine movie making or filmmaking of any particular skill. So it marginalized me but included me all at the same time. And there was a real push and pull in the beginning parts of my career because there were a lot of casting people that just didn't want to see horror actresses.
I did manage to break into a lot of guest starring roles on television, very standard roles. I even did Murder She Wrote two times. So, that gave me a little bit more acceptability when it came to television movies and things like that. But when Stepfather II came around for casting, when Leprechaun 3 came around for casting, I was at the top of the choice list simply because I worked for Tobe Hooper. And what the film community knew that the studio and network executives didn't know is what a gigantic viewership these movies had and the actual remarkably sophisticated filmmaking skill that making such movies required.
I don't think it was until Tobe did Poltergeist and Steven Spielberg waved his magic wand over that movie that people began to respect the genre a lot, lot more.
Michelle Tompkins: What kind of reaction do you get from people on your playing Stretch?
Caroline Williams: The devotion to that character has been so extraordinary, partly because she was an action figure, partly because she was sexy and she did have a measure of sexuality, and she did get her flirt on with Leatherface and the saw. There's a remarkable devotion to that character.
I actually went so far as to invest in having the costume recreated for future photo opportunities because she is so cherished and because people do want to have her photo taken, not with Caroline Williams, but with Stretch, with Vanita Brock. They really love the character to this day. I am pretty popular on the convention circuit where that character is concerned, even though I've done a host of other movies and done some pretty vivid characters besides, everyone who's sufficiently invested to my role in Hatchet 3 basically bringing forward the Stretch character, bringing her into the present day, finding her way while they're playing head banging music, but doing something serious and substantial, exploring the range of urban and rural myths, swamp myths from Louisiana. And that was a great role. And it definitely was a bit of an enhancement on the Stretch role.
Michelle Tompkins: Do you attend many comic-cons or horror events?
Caroline Williams: All the time. Those are the bread and butter for actors like me. Whenever you go to any of the conventions or film festivals or anything like that, that's just a celebration of the genre. And when you get there, it's not just fans who are there. Most fans would love to be filmmakers, actors, producers. They're tattoo artists; they're sculptors; they're costume designers; they're special effects makeup people. You get the full spectrum of what filmmaking has to offer at these various places like the—and it's a great place to inspire. Some of the best filmmakers that I've ever met got their start going to conventions and checking out the scene, and making connections, and finding people who might put them to work and help them find work. So, it's a family. It's a gigantic family.
And, of course, we dominate the film business now. We're finally getting the respect that we should have been due a long time ago. But we're getting it now. And I think the box office reflects it. And I even think the awards shows themselves. I can't have imagined that Toni Collette is not going to get nominated slated for the film that she did this year whose name completely escapes my mind [laughter], It will come to me in the middle of a different question [laughter].
Oh, Hereditary. Exactly. I mean, she was incredible in that film. And it wouldn't surprise me at all if she got nominated.
Michelle Tompkins: What's it about? I haven't seen it yet and I like horror films.
Caroline Williams: It's about the legacy left behind by a cruel mother. So it's one of those mother roles that isn't, ‘Oh, I'm so caring. I'm sobbing because my child is missing.’ Oh, no, it's something else entirely. Yeah, worth multiple watching. The scripting was great. There were so many elements of the film that I wanted to revisit more than once, the cinematography, the performances by the child actors. It truly is an amazing, amazing, piece of movie making.
Caroline Williams on her latest projects
Michelle Tompkins: What are you working on right now?
Caroline Williams: Just finished a movie up in Bakersfield where I had the time of my life. And I've told anybody who will listen, it was as reflective of my experience on Chainsaw two as anything I've done since. There was more action, adventure, weaponry, stunt fighting, knife throwing. There is virtually nothing left out of this movie action wise that I have always wanted to do that I didn't get to do with my partner in crime, Felissa Rice. Felissa, the star of Sleep Away Camp, also an 80s fan favorite. The two of us have been friends for the last two, three years. And we really inspire one another a lot. She's been moving heavily into production. She used to work for Carol Co. as VP of development, and she went to NYU and took courses in film and theater. So her background really prepared her to move fully into production. She also likes to act in the productions that she puts up. She's affiliated with a terrific company called Entertainment Factory.
Killer Rose is Thelma and Louise meets Reservoir Dogs. It's a very Tarantino-esque romp across the arid desert of Bakersfield. And the two of us really bounce sparks off of one another. We have a tremendous chemistry. The movie will likely go to prequel and sequel. It looks like a million bucks. Our director, Ricky Bird, is a grindhouse fiend. The guy cut his teeth on those films and it shows. We had a tremendous camera crew, tremendous lighting.
Our co-stars are top of the line. We had Dave Sheridan, Tom Haley, Ricky Dean Logan, Nicole Cingalia, Gabrielle Stone who is an absolute fox, and incredibly smart and funny. Rick Stevens, Lionel Washington, we just had the most incredible, Tracy Lear, Skylar Lear, they were brother and sister and quite remarkable from Kentucky. We had the time of our lives in this film. I cannot wait for people to see it.
The next movie I have coming out, likely going to multiplatform is called Green Light. It was written and produced by Eric Engel as you put me in contracted. His director that he put in charge of this production is Graham Denman, who is a remarkable talent and had the time of my life on this one too with the difference being while it has plenty of horror elements that the fans will love, it's essentially a noir, a neo-noir thriller. It stars Chris Browning and Trace Williamson, Victor Turpin, and Nicole Shipley, and we absolutely had a tremendous time on this one. It's far more psychological and it goes a lot deeper than simple action. It's a really tight psychological thriller that I think people are going to love.
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Michelle Tompkins: Where can people see these movies?
Caroline Williams: We are waiting to get a release date literally any day on Green Light. I'm literally waiting for somebody to call me and tell me when it's going to be. Killer Rose probably won't be until spring, end of this year or spring, and we will likely be launching into a prequel to Killer Rose in the next couple of months. So we're waiting to see how that one goes. Other than that just having an amazing, great time doing the stuff that I love to do and we've got the end of the Sharknado series coming up. I was one of the stars of Sharknado 4. Sharknado 6 is going to be on the SYFY channel on the 19th, and I'll be appearing on the red carpet and live-tweeting that screening in the heart of Hollywood so I'm really excited to be back with my Sharknado family and reconnect with everyone. Anthony C. Ferrante most of all. Rent by Scotty Mullen, it was remarkable, and that's going to be the time of our lives. So lots of good, fun stuff going on.
Michelle Tompkins: Is there anything you'd like to add about your personal life?
Caroline Williams: Well, you know, got divorced not long ago, my kids are grown, I'm on my own, and I'm having the time of my life. So that's where it is for me right now.
Michelle Tompkins: That sounds like a good way to be. You sound happy.
Caroline Williams: You know I am. I am. It's almost like a rebirth. I never dreamt that, you know they say there aren't any second acts, well you know there are second acts and there are third acts, and I feel like I'm in my third. So life is good, life is good.
Michelle Tompkins: What do you like to do for fun?
Caroline Williams: I love to go out to hear live music. I love metal, I love rock and roll. I've got a lot of friends that are in the music business, they make sure that I get in to see everything that I want to see. I love to go to movies. I love to hang out with friends, go to parties. I love all the events that I get invited to. There are plenty of premiers, and red carpets, and screenings that I get to participate in. I'm having the time of my life. I feel like a kid. I feel like I'm a teenager, but I get to be in Hollywood now [laughter].
Caroline Williams opens up on her passion projects
Michelle Tompkins: You're in the right place for it then, that's good. What are you watching these days?
Caroline Williams: Well, I wasn't watching right now. Before I started talking to you I was listening to Danzig. Rumor has it Glenn Danzig is going to be directing a horror film, and of course, I had a little part opposite Octavia Spencer who won the Oscar for The Help. The two of us got to play opposite one another in Halloween 2 for Rob Zombie. So if there's a rock star out there directing horror I want to be a part of that. I have a tendency to get sucked into those English shows, Downton Abbey and Poldark, and all those crazy ass English shows.
Michelle Tompkins: I'm watching Call the Midwife right now so I understand the draw.
Caroline Williams: Listen, I mean part of it is instructional because that's how I've learned an English accent. I just copy everything that they do.
I'm the big movie buff. I love all the PBS Masterpiece Theater things. I've watched endless numbers of movies now that Hitchcock's birthday's come around. I'm walking back into all the Hitchcock movies that I've recorded over time. Probably I've got a dozen of them. I'm also exploring the Universal monsters again. The original Universal monsters, Wolfman, Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Invisible Man. I love those things and my older son does too. And so I sent away on Amazon and got the entire collection on DVD. So we're having a great time watching those. And the original Frankenstein, which is the first horror film, that I recall, ever seeing.
Michelle Tompkins: That was a good one. It's sad too. I mean, I always remember the little girl. He was just trying to be kind, but he was not quite capable.
Caroline Williams: I never believed that he drowned her. I never believed that he necessarily threw her-- he didn't do it maliciously. He didn't know, you know?
Michelle Tompkins: Of course, he didn't know. Of course, he didn't know. I mean, oh, God, so sad [laughter]. Is there any charity work that you'd like to mention?
Caroline Williams: My older son is Autistic and his school career and vocational career were so successful with the Help Group here in LA. The Help Group is affiliated with UCLA and educational treatment protocols. And they're on the cutting-edge of Autism research and development for whatever kind of behavioral therapies and help can be given for children and adults with Autism. And the Help Group is my thing. They gave so much to me and my family. We make it our goal to give as much back to the Help Group as we possibly can. So I'm always getting the word out on the Help Group. Not only for charitable donations, but to parents with children with Autism who are looking for an educational, and vocational, and behavioral environment where their children can thrive. So the Help Group is where it's at for me, baby.
Michelle Tompkins: Well, we light a blue light for Autism awareness as well. What are your social media handles?
Caroline Williams: All of them are the same. WilliCaroline, spelled W-I-L-L-I-C-A-R-O-L-I-N-E. WilliCaroline on Twitter and Instagram. On Facebook, I'm simply Caroline Williams, but I'm at my limit all the time. Facebook is not as efficient as Instagram and Twitter.
Michelle Tompkins: Now, are there any artistic interests that you want people to know about you?
Caroline Williams: Well, one of the things that I'm exploring and enjoying so much came from one of my musical friends. A bass player named Allen Roberts. He's with a band called Life of Agony. It's one of the finest bands you will ever hear, they're extraordinary. But he creates and draws these extraordinary comic book coloring books. And the fans and the artists who go and color in and create from these coloring books, they're creating the most extraordinary works of art. And they're very horror and scary oriented.
I am enjoying, in my own childlike way, learning to draw. I'm kind of learning to draw through Allen Roberts class. And it's one of the most fun things I've ever done. The hours just disappear. The next thing you know, I started at 3:00 PM and now it's 6:00 PM. And oh, my God, I only made it through one page, you know? It's the most fun that I've ever had. I feel it's fantastic. It's a great artistic outlet.
Michelle Tompkins: It sounds like fun. Now, what's next for you?
Caroline Williams: I'm waiting to find out, like I said, whether we're going to start shooting the prequel to Killer Rose. There are always various offers and scripts that come my way, but I generally don't talk about any of them.
Michelle Tompkins: Sensible [laughter], you don't want to jinx anything.
Caroline Williams: Well, and plus, I mean, I turn down far more than I accept. I mean, there are a lot of people that want to-- that have projects but you've got-- I always think in terms of what have I never done before? And do they have the financing for this? And if there's no financing in place, there's really not a movie. And even though, supposedly, my commitment will help bring in dollars, it's a little speculative. My greatest interest lies in television that's already on the air. I love television. And movies that are funded. Where there's something in place.
Michelle Tompkins: What would you like to say to your fans?
Caroline Williams: Be ready for Green Light, we're going to be showing up in front of you pretty soon.
Caroline Willams can be seen in the upcoming Killer Rose and Green Light and be followed here.