Friday, 16 March 2018

One of the best Carrie Fisher interviews you’ll ever read, from 1977

Carrie Fisher in a Star Wars photo shoot from 1977

The three young stars of Star Wars were almost unknown when the film came out. But suddenly, everyone wanted to talk to them. A 1977 interview with Carrie Fisher, by Guy Flatley, reveals many of the qualities we came to know and love about the actress who was Princess Leia.

These days, film star interviews rarely produce revelations. The star will generally be ensconced in a hotel room while a queue of journalists troop in for their few minutes of predictable questions and well-rehearsed answers, as a PR person stands by with an eye on the clock.

But 40 years ago, things were different. When journalist Guy Flatley interviewed 20-year-old Carrie Fisher, just as Star Wars was about to be unleashed on the world, he visited her apartment for a lengthy conversation. He got a tour of the place and was briefly introduced to the actor Griffin Dunne, who, according to Fisher, was staying there after his apartment was burgled. 

Some time in 1977 or 1978, I clipped this article 
– headlined "Has this girl got star quality" – out of the British magazine Woman’s Own. Another Star Wars fan tells me the piece appeared in abridged form in the New York Times of May 20, 1977, and in the Chicago Tribune of August 14, 1977.

Today, we know of Fisher’s experience of mental illness and substance abuse. We’ve read her own, more serious recollections of how insecure she was back in the 1970s. Inevitably, we will re-read an early interview in the light of that knowledge.

Back then, I suspect readers might have just been focused on the humour – the kind of wise-cracking, neurotic attitude that was evidenced in that year’s Best Picture Oscar winner, Annie Hall. (In fact, it’s no surprise that Fisher was to turn up in a Woody Allen film, Hannah and Her Sisters, within a decade.) She says herself that “all the interviews I’ve read make me sound so snide, so fashionably sardonic”.

But however you read it, this piece is a valuable record of Fisher at the age of 20. 

Here are some highlights:

Carrie Fisher on her looks

The published interview starts with Fisher saying: “I’ve always had a problem about the way I look.” It then goes on to judge her looks, calling her a “petite charmer with a pert nose, mischievous dark eyes, chestnut hair, modest cleavage”. (It seems particularly dated, this opening paragraph in which a man analyses an actress’s looks before getting to her character.) 

Shortly afterwards, she tells the interviewer that she’s run out of Star Wars T-shirts to give away, but adds: “I do have some posters, showing me with those thunder thighs and big boobs flying everywhere. But I’d say they are slightly misleading.” 

Carrie Fisher on Debbie Reynolds and her parents’ divorce

Sid Fisher and
Debbie Reynolds
While Carrie Fisher was pretty much unknown as an actress before Star Wars, the private lives of her parents had been thoroughly raked over in print. Her mother, of course, was the movie star Debbie Reynolds, and her father Eddie Fisher had left them to marry Elizabeth Taylor. 

Fisher says: “I was 18 months old when my parents’ marriage broke up, so I really can’t recall what it was like. I don’t know what was so special about it – everyone gets a divorce, only not in front of the whole world.

“For me, it’s been like a completely exaggerated version of what happens in any small town, when everybody will come up to you and say, ‘Hey, aren’t you so-and-so’s little girl? You look just like him. How is your ma these days?’. Except I get it from people that I don’t even know.” 

Carrie Fisher’s early life and dating

Carrie Fisher circa 1977

This is one of the lines in the interview that might have come from one of her books:

“My body went to Hollywood High School, but I don’t really remember much about it.”

She goes on: “I didn’t date much, though. I did date two guys named Rick, very briefly. I just liked the name. You can go out into the street and scream, ‘Rick’, and you’ll be amazed at how many people will turn around.”

Fisher tells how she was part of her mother’s night club act for three summers from the age of 13. Later, she dropped out of school to join her mother on the road, taking a part in the chorus of the musical Irene.

Despite her obvious intelligence, but Carrie Fisher didn’t finish school. In the interview, she tells how she left school early to join her mother on the road, taking a part in the chorus of the musical Irene. “I dropped my courses one by one. Maths was the first to go,” she says. (I’m guessing she said “Math was the first to go” and it was Anglicised to maths in the UK publication.) 

Carrie Fisher on Princess Leia: “She wasn’t an alcoholic or a prostitute”

Carrie Fisher as
Leia, 1977

“The thing that was terrific about Princess Leia was that she wasn’t a damsel in distress. Some people think of her as mean, but I think of her as self-sufficient. The girl was not an alcoholic and she was not a prostitute. She was not just a normal, sophisticated young woman,” Fisher says.

Did anyone really think Leia was mean? I’ve not really come across people who felt that way, but maybe Leia’s self-sufficiency was too much for some people.

We learn in this interview that Fisher admires director Robert Altman and would have liked to be in his film Three Women.

But that said, she doesn’t seem to care about making “important” dramatic films.

“I don’t want to play rape victims, act in car-chase movies or films that deal with social problems and give solutions. I want to make entertaining movies,” she says. 

Carrie Fisher sends up interviews

Carrie Fisher in
1977, in Come Back,
Little Sheba
“It is not always easy to tell when Carrie is on the level or when she is indulging in the fine art of the leg-pull,” Flatley writes. 

At one point, she mocks the idea of drawing close to the interviewer and telling all about her tragic childhood.

But there’s also a sense that she really does feel vulnerable in the situation, complaining that “the interviewer doesn’t have to reveal one single thing about himself”.

She adds: “He can hate you five minutes after he enters the room, and you may not even suspect it. It’s scary. I’m going to become a journalist one day and get my revenge.

“I know I’m getting a reputation for being flip with interviews. When I was younger, they called me precocious, but now I’m too old for that, they either write that I’m a little glib or a little pretentious – and tonight, ladies and gentlemen, I’ve managed to be glib and pretentious, so I’m really proud of myself.”

After suggesting vulnerability, she goes on to invite gossip. Giving the journalist a tour of the apartment, she pats her stomach as says of one room: “It was actually intended as a darkroom but we’re going to use it as a nursery when the kid comes.”

It reads as though it must have been exhausting to keep up with Fisher’s changes in tone, from almost-confessional to sending up the whole process.

As we all came to know, there was really no one like her.

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