Interview with Diane Franklin – Part 1

Comments Off on Interview with Diane Franklin – Part 1 23 August 2017


Known for her roles in The Last American Virgin, Better Off Dead, and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Diane Franklin was one of the hottest stars from the 1980’s. Horror fans may also fondly recall her performances in Amityville II: The Possession and Terrorvision. Now, author of two novels, with hopefully more to come and a one day appearance on August 26th at Hollywood Blvd in Woodridge (see details below), Unrated Film had the honor to chat with Ms Franklin on the phone to discuss her filmography, her current work as an actress and as a novelist, and what it was like to be working in Hollywood during the glorious 1980’s. 

Unrated: How did you get started in the business? As a kid I remember seeing you in a Reese’s Peanut Butter cup commercial…

Diane Franklin: Yeah, yeah. 

Unrated: Did you get your start in commercials? 

DF: First of all, all of this information is in my first book (Diane Franklin: The Excellent Adventures of the Last American, French-Exchange Babe of the 80’s) so there is more detail on it but I actually started acting when I was around 10. I started modeling, I did modeling for a couple of years and then when I grew I started doing commercials. Commercials, oh my God, you can find them online. I did Pepsi, Coke…there was a big Coke campaign where I believe Fame was happening…I don’t think it was even Fame yet but it was the whole Broadway jumping around thing. Actually that may have been after I did The Last American Virgin possibly, I’d have to check my years but it was a big commercial. It’s funny, they asked for all these Broadway dancers and I didn’t…I mean I was a singer and I could sing and dance but not like that! I was one of the few people that they picked to be in this commercial (laughs). It also happened with this sugarless mint commercials where they hired these Broadway dancers and I thought, “Oh my Gosh, why are they hiring me?” I happened to go into the audition by accident with curly hair and BAM I got this commercial. They gave me the product and all these other actors are going, “Why is she getting this part?” And I’m like, “I don’t know!” I was just 16, I had no idea what was happening (laughs).

But anyways, commercials really gave me the experience and confidence to, you know it’s sort of like a training ground where when you are on set you learn not be nervous and memorize lines and you learn to wait around and you learn to bring your energy up when you need to. So I started doing commercials and in the meantime I was doing commercials at a regular public high school. I did all the school plays, you know like Guys and Dolls and King and I and you know all the plays you do in high school that the drama department wanted to do. I learned to sing, that was really fun and while that was all happening I also went to audition for a play. I did a play with JoBeth Williams who played my sister…

Unrated: Oh Poltergeist

DF: Yeah right! And she played my sister in a Thornton Wilder play at the McCarter Theatre and so I did a play there for a month. It was a huge theatre, gorgeous theatre. Then a got a soap opera in As the World Turns which I did a half year on that. I got to play an evil girl but I was so naive…I’ll never forget this, this is hilarious so the girl who I played opposite to se was the main girl on the show and I came in as her best friend and I was suppose to be the one who was mischievous, who hid all the birth control pills in my shoes. I was the girl who was like, “Let’s go party with the guys.” and getting her trouble but in real life she was much more advanced and sophisticated and worldly, more than I was. She had an adult boyfriend who was over 21 and it was funny us doing these scenes together because we were opposite.

All that experience really prepared me for when I got my first film, a big role when I was 19 in The Last American Virgin and that was such a…that to go from a…not even playing the best friend but to go immediately into a lead…the only film I ever did before that was an extra role in Endless Love

Unrated: I did not know that. 

DF: It was an amazing experience and I highly recommend any actor to do an extra job because it gets you to see how exciting it is to do films. It’s so, so exciting and it gets those nerves out. At least during that time you really couldn’t get on set where now more people are making films so it may be easier, maybe it’s not as nerve-wracking now as it was back then but it was definitely very exciting and so you kinda wanted to put yourself out there…I probably sound like I am Suzy Putterman right now (her role in Terrorvision). 

Unrated: (laughs) No, no not at all. This is so interesting, this is great. I never knew you did the Endless Love cameo

DF: I have so many good stories, I mean in my first book…the reason I wrote my first book was because I wanted…I as an actress wanted to show other actors who ask, “How did you do this?” or “How did that happen?” So what was really nice about my first book…let’s say people write gossip books or they write above the sophisticated and I wanted my experience and I wanted people who read the book to feel what was it like in the 80’s. I just wanted it to feel like if you were a young actor and you wanted to know what the life was like and if you never lived thru the 80’s, this is what the life was like. My perspective is always grateful, I am so happy to be here. I feel the girl from Long Island never left as I got older. I’m gonna tell you something: there’s so many actors and actresses who had the same experiences as I did but they may not…maybe their managers tell them not to express it but at my age, I want people to know that actors, for the most part at least while I was growing up, were very grateful and they worked very hard. The actual business wasn’t sleazy. The actual entertainment business was very legit, very professional but you couldn’t mess up. The people who worked in the business, who worked very hard earned it. The people who I grew up with and worked with like Elizabeth Shue who I call Lisa Shue and Lori Loughlin and Brooke Shields, we all had the same managers. She (Brooke Shields) was a little younger than me but we all were auditioning in New York. Gosh there was so many great people. Felice Schachter who was in Zapped

Unrated: Oh nice. 

DF: We all worked and auditioned together. Some stayed in the business and some didn’t. The thing that I found interesting that I couldn’t say until today is when we were younger we were all…I wouldn’t say competing necessarily but we were all trying to get work at the same time. So when we would go on auditions, we wouldn’t be able to spend time with each other because when you are done with the audition you just leave, you don’t spend time with the other people. It was more competitive then as it is now because there were less jobs. But on the other hand you could say it is more competitive now because anybody could be in a role, the casting can be so varied. But anyways, when I go to these conventions it’s great because I get to see all these actors I auditioned with and get to tell them how much I loved their career, or I loved your work in this, or “What have you been doing?” 

Unrated: That’s cool. 

DF: Anyways go on. We are only on your first one! 

Unrated: That’s ok. Actually you brought up conventions: how do you like the convention scene? 

DF: Ok, here’s the scoop about the conventions. Before I started conventions, conventions were supposedly the graveyard for actors. It was a place where actors went when they had nothing else going and that was it. When I started going to conventions, I didn’t even think I was going to be acting again. My thought was I knew I had a lot of people recognize me and I really felt like, well people love nostalgia. The reason I started was because my daughter was a big fan of Jemaine Clement who was in Flight of the Concords and she loved this guy so much that we met him at an event like an HBO party and she took her picture with him and it went on her wall and it was like, it made her life. And when I saw that I went like, “Ya know what? I wonder if I take a picture with someone does this bring them fond memories?” Wether of their childhood, the films, whatever. So it started when I went to this convention with this feeling of “Let’s just see how this happens.” What’s funny as there is an actor named Scotty Schwartz who was in A Christmas Story and Scotty’s dad worked as a guy who sold old pictures of actors. I went to his store by total accident and I asked him if he sold pictures of actors who are…alive. (laughs) So Scotty connected me to the Hollywood Show and that was my first convention and I wanna say that was like maybe…five, six, or seven years ago. I went and had such a good experience and people were so nice. That particular type of convention attracts more collectors and so my agent contacted me later and asked if I would like to do more conventions. There are all types of conventions: horror conventions, sci-fi conventions, and there are Comic-Cons…so yeah slowly I started going to them. I had written a book, my first book, in 2012 and so I thought I could go to these conventions and maybe sell my book. I had such a great time meeting everybody. It didn’t go to my head, I like meeting people and I felt very honored that people would even remember me. People may have recognized me sometimes but I wasn’t a “name” so I always felt really grateful. I didn’t have a publicist and wasn’t that savvy. When you are an independent film actress you are on your own unless you hire a publicist and you are obviously paying someone who can put your name out somewhere. To me, that was never the type of fans I wanted. I always wanted fans who remembered me because I did something that was memorable. So I was lucky when people would come up to me and be like, “Oh my Gosh, I saw you in this film and it changed my life.” I went to the conventions and I had such a great time and had a great attitude that I started telling other people around me who are actors to go to these conventions because it is so much fun, it’s a blast. Suddenly, these actors all started going and then the Comic-Cons started to hit and they started to bring in the…not Grateful Dead…

Unrated: The Walking Dead

DF: (laughs) There’s a flip. The Walking Dead. So all of a sudden it has become a huge money maker and now you are getting actors who are not only from say Green Acres if anyone remembers that show but you are now getting people from say Dexter and shows that are contemporary, say like The Simpsons. All these actors have started coming out and started to do it and they never, ever, ever would have done this say…15 years ago. They would be snubbing it. So what I have been doing now is going and recommending my friends. For instance, I will be doing a convention in November and it’s this week long…80’s party at the Dominican Republic. 

Unrated: That sounds awesome. 

DF: It’s like amazing! They are going to have 80’s bands and 80’s actors. How I found out was that Deborah Foreman is a Facebook friend of mine and we have never met in person. But we are Facebook friends and have tried to get together and it just hasn’t happened but because of that I contacted her and she mentioned this 80’s In the Sand and I was like “Oh My God, I would love to meet you there” because she is going and there’s going to be all these 80’s bands like Berlin and Flock of Seagulls and so she got me in. So I asked her if I could bring Amanda Wyss and Curtis Armstrong and she said, “Let’s ask them!” So I connected her with those guys and they are coming. Anthony Michael Hall will be there, Andrew McCarthy,it’s going to be so much fun. It’s a week long at the Dominican Republic. If you are interested, it’s not that expensive. It’s in Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. So it’s going to be a blast, it’s a week long event. In November. 

Unrated: That’s like my whole childhood right there. Everyone you mentioned I grew up with, watching their films. 

DK: So to answer your question, conventions are fun but on top of it my daughter Olivia is a film maker, her name is Olivia De Laurentiis and she started doing some films when she was really young. Whenever she did a film I said, “If you need someone like Mom or something, I’ll do it.” So I started acting again for her as I figured I was done. I knew my time was in the 80’s so I was grateful for that. I didn’t expect anything to happen. But once I started acting in her films, I wanted to help her. She writes, directs, acts and edits her films and they are comedies and they are awesome. After I did some work for her, if you wanted to see her most recent work she’s on a web series called Sugar Babies and it’s on youtube. And it is hil-arious! She and her writing partner – oh my gosh – brilliant writing, brilliant acting and just so funny. I am biased but I’m not biased (laughs). Look up Sugar Babies and type in “Barely Legal comedy” because if you write “barely legal” you’ll probably get porn (laughs). She and her partner are trying to sell this as a series. She just turned 21 and she’s like the next generation of…me. She’s so much more talented than me, I can’t even begin to put into words. If you take anything from this, don’t buy my books and just watch her show. 

So I started doing podcasts and interviews like this and I get asked, “What would you like to do now?” I want to do dramatic acting. I would like to do some horror or sci-fi. So people hear these interviews and they started sending me some scripts and because of that I am doing four films, all which are coming out next year which is crazy. 

The first film which I just did the premiere for in Pittsburgh is called The Final Interview and that is almost like an art film. It’s like a long episode of Tales From the Crypt about a guy whose about to go to the electric chair and my ex husband is interviewing him before he dies. He’s a failing journalist and I play his ex-wife whose the show director. It’s kind of shot like a play, done in real time and it’s totally griping. It’s like an alpha-male war because you don’t know whose worse: this serial killer or my ex-husband. So I just flew to Pittsburgh for the premiere. I did another film called Waking Nightmare and that’s going to come out next year, it’s a thriller and I am so scary…it’s unbelievable. It’s really frightening. The story is about my daughter who commits murders in her sleep. My daughter is played by Shelley Regner and she’s in the Pitch Perfect movies. Jamison Newlander who was in The Lost Boys plays my husband and he’s wonderful. David Naughton who was in Dr. Pepper commercials and..

Unrated: An American Werewolf in London.

DF: American Werewolf in London, incredible actor and he plays the doctor in the film. I don’t know if it will go to theaters or just direct to video, I am not sure. And then, I just did this which brings me back to my second film after The Last American Virgin, I did an Amityville film. 

Unrated: Yes, that was one of my questions, I wanted to ask you about The Haunting in Long Island

DK: Yes! (gasps) How did you know that?!? 

Unrated: I did my research. 

DK: Thank you! Seriously, nowadays everyone knows about these films so early and it’s like, how can you be surprising to these people when everyone knows? For those that do not know, I was in the second Amitytville film and that was based on the real murders, which were the DeFao murders. In 1974 there were real murders that happened in Long Island where a young guy in his mid-20’s murdered his entire family and this really happened. He went to jail and is still in jail and his name is Ronnie DeFao. Amityville Horror, the first film, was based on the people moving into the house that was haunted but Amityville II was based on the actual murders. I played Patricia Montelli, they had to make up a name because it had to do with rights, no one wanted to pay the rights but I actually played the daughter who gets murdered in the film. It was a horror film with a haunted house but there was also an exorcism with the boy but the movie was split in half due to rights. But what happened was the director of the new film, The Haunting in Long Island…he loved Amityville II, he adored it. He wanted to do this film and have me in it but it was my convention agent who connected us. It was great timing. When he offered me this role I went crazy. I loved it. I now play the mother, whereas I had played the daughter –  I now play Rutanya Alda’s role. I still had to audition because the director wanted me but the producer didn’t know and the casting people didn’t know. So I auditioned and I killed it. I just killed it. Everyone in the room was crying and the director said, “You’re it.” I didn’t believe until seriously…when I finished the film, I couldn’t believe it. I wanted the role so badly, I was so ready to take this part on. It was a dream. It was a dream come true. And the film is amazing. When we were doing the film, we all looked at each other and were like, “This is unbelievable!” It’s scary, there’s special effects, there’s incredible character dynamics, it’s based on reality. I researched my character and made it real. You know we die, right? Sorry to give it away. 

Unrated: (laughs) No, no it’s ok. 

DF: I have to say I like it better than the first (Amityville II). The director said he would love to put it out next October. I think it will be in theaters. I might be a huge break for me in work – I might start working a lot more. I also did a small comedy that’s coming out next year called Wally Got Wasted which is like Weekend at Bernie’s. I did a cameo in it, it’s a remake of the 80’s film. But hopefully things may get bigger and with the resurgence of the conventions, I am very fortunate. I can’t even fathom this. They are talking about doing a remake of Bill and Ted, I know Brett Ratner had the rights or at least he did have the rights to The Last American Virgin so you never know when these films come back if I will be in them so we’ll see, right? 

And that seems like the perfect spot to end the first part of our interview with Diane Franklin. Part II of our interview will be posted very soon. 

Please make sure you come see her this Saturday at 2 pm for a special screening of Better Off Dead at:

Hollywood Blvd

1001 West 75th Street

Woodridge, IL



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