Interview: Diane Franklin (“The Last American Virgin” & “Better Off Dead…”)

I haven’t had the opportunity to do many interviews exclusively for this site, but when the opportunity to chat with Diane Franklin, one of my ’80s crushes, was offered up, I couldn’t resist taking a shot at doing the interview for NewsReviewsInterviews, and I couldn’t be more pleased that it panned out. Ms. Franklin – who is both well aware of and very comfortable with her status as an “’80s babe” – is in the midst of promoting her memoirs, The Excellent Adventures of the Last American, French-Exchange Babe of the 80s, and although she remained decidedly cagey about the specifics of certain anecdotes contained within its pages, she teased its contents more than enough to paint the book as a must-own for fans of films from that era.

News Reviews Interviews: So what inspired you to take stock of your career up to this point?

Diane Franklin: A good question! Well, you know, I worked mostly during the ‘80s. I am an ‘80s actress. And I know that a lot of people love reminiscing, going back to the ’80, and I was being recognized…well, I’ve been recognized throughout the years, but I think the biggest surprise is that people’s kids are now recognizing me as well. Which is flipping me out. [Laughs.] Seriously! I mean, wow, that’s, like, what a gift to have a career go through different decades! So when I started thinking about writing the book, I wrote it for several reasons, but that was one of them: people remembering me. I thought, “Well, okay, if they can still remember me, then maybe these stories I can tell might still be interesting.” And the cool thing is, I wrote this book by myself, just from my heart, and it is like nothing else you have ever read, I can guarantee. It’s just really cool. I wanted lots of pictures in it, I made chapters for every film I did – Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Better Off Dead…, The Last American Virgin, Amityville II, TerrorVision – and I wrote about everything. It’s a very real, raw book, but it’ll take you on an excellent journey. [Laughs.] It’s really fun.

NRI:As you were taking stock, were there any chapters that, as you were reflecting on the films, proved more revelatory than you expected as you looked back on those times?

DF: Oh, yeah. You know, I’ve to tell you, I had that feeling during all the chapters when I went back and wrote about the films, because I just stopped and really tried to… I thought, “If this is really a memoir, really a look back at my life, I want it to be real. I want it to be everything that hits me.” And I tried to write it from the point of view when I was growing up. When you read the book, it should feel like you’ve sat with me at Starbucks for a few hours, with me just talking about my lfie. Even the relationships with people and how I really felt about them. I talk about Brooke Shields and how she influenced my life, which is such an interesting thing that I don’t think people will expect. Or even just how I was so young-looking and was able to play the roles I did. The experiences I had…it was trippy. [Laughs.] And I think it’ll be trippy for people to read about them. It really will.

NRI: To look back at your career, I’d guess that most people’s first point of reference would probably be your role as Monique, the French foreign exchange student in Better Off Dead…

DF: Well, you know, it’s that movie, but I get recognized for several, and it always surprises me what people remember me for. But that particular one, that was just an amazing movie. Savage Steve Holland, who directed and wrote it, that was his baby. That was his first film. So we really bonded really well on that movie. But The Last American Virgin, that was my first feature film, so that was really amazing, too. It was just so different.

NRI: In fact, speaking of that film, I have to figure that, over the course of the years, you’ve had at least a few people come up to you and demand to know, “How could you do that to him?”

DF: Yes! Oh, I have a great story. I was at a signing convention, and this gentleman comes up and…I guess he’d gone down the line – we had the cast of The Last American Virgin there – and everyone was kind of looking at me, like, “Uh-oh, here comes this guy who’s gonna ask you this question…” And he comes up and says, “Oh, my gosh, you were so mean in this movie. My girlfriend would never be that mean!” And he really believed it! He was just on me. And I just looked him straight in the eye and said, “I’m sorry. I was wrong. I made a mistake. Really. It was my fault. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done it.” And he looked at me and said, “Thank you.” And he walked away. And I thought, “Closure!” [Laughs.] He got some closure. That’s all he wanted.

NRI: To prep for this interview, I headed over to Netflix, where – at least at the moment, anyway – the only two of your films that are available for streaming are Amityville II: The Possession and TerrorVision. That’s a hell of a double feature, let me tell you.

DF: Yes! You know, I’ve had the blessing in my career of being able to do so many different kinds of films. I went to a convention once – it was a horror convention – and I thought sure everyone was going to want to talk about Amityville II, but everybody came for TerrorVision! It was shocking. I was, like, “You’re not even old enough to rent a movie! How can you…where did you even find TerrorVision?” [Laughs.] These films have become cult classics.

NRI: I have to admit, I also write for the Onion AV Club, where we have a feature called Random Roles, and, man, I’d really love to talk to both Mary Woronov and Gerrit Graham for that. They’ve had some pretty diverse careers themselves.

DF: Oh, yeah. And having Mary Woronov play your mother…? How much better does it get? [Laughs.] I knew even then that she was amazing. I feel cool just having worked with her.

NRI: You also have a decidedly unique look in that film.

DF: Thank you, I think. [Laughs.] We put it together and…that was a pretty spontaneous thing, but another wonderful experience. Very Cyndi Lauper. I actually had two wigs on my head, just towering. It was pretty fantastic.

NRI: You mentioned Steve Holland a moment ago. Beyond Better Off Dead…, he also brought you in for How I Got Into College.

DF: He did. And I loved that role. Steve is a true-blue, awesome director. I guess directors like to work with the same people over and over again, but he’s so awesome that I called him up and said, “Steve, would you mind writing something for my book?” And he said, “Oh, okay, but it’ll probably take me a couple of weeks to get back with you.” He wrote me back the next day and sends it to me, saying, “I was so excited, I couldn’t wait to do it.” And he wrote me the most amazing forward. You’re not going to believe this. Better Off Dead… fans are gonna go crazy for my book. They’ll be really impressed, I think.

NRI: To jump back to Amityville II for a moment, that was pretty early in your career. In fact, which did you film first: that one or The Last American Virgin? Because I know they both came out in ’82, but…

DF: Yeah, Last American Virgin came out first, and then Amityville II was…well, it was my first horror film. That was an amazing experience, but you have to read about it in my book. It’s too delicious to talk about it here. [Laughs.] But I talk about everything: the nudity, the incest, and all that. That was…I was in New York at the time I got that script, and I had to make a split decision to do that film. It was a big deal.

NRI: I would think that the incest plotline would’ve been a little disconcerting.

DF: Interestingly, it was…well, certainly that subject matter is delicate, and I knew at the time that it was obviously…well, it was kind of odd to me, because I’m looking at a horror film, and I’m thinking, “What does this have to do with that? It’s a horror film. It’s supposed to be about the house and the ghost.” But I think it makes the movie stand out. I’d like to leave those wonderful details for the book, though. [Laughs.] It’s the intimacy of it that I think you’ll be engaged in. You’ll like it.

NRI: I’m curious about the film Second Time Lucky, though I admit my curiosity is more about the director (Michael Anderson) being so unlikely for a comedy and the fact that someone like Robert Morley was in the film.

DF: Yeah, the people that they got for that film were amazing. I mean, Robert Morley played God and Sir Robert Helpmann played the Devil! [Laughs.] Here’s a movie that no one’s seen. I’m serious! People are going to start renting the movie now and finally understand, but…this is a campy movie. It moves very, very slowly. In one respect it’s very Benny Hill and campy, but on the other hand, the script…well, you’re not renting it for the story content. [Laughs.] It’s a fun romp. But it’s similar to Virgin, in a way, because it’s got two tones. One minute you’re watching this kind of over-the-top, campy thing, this sex comedy, and then the next minute you’re watching this unbelievably beautifully shot, aesthetically gorgeous film. Michael Anderson directed it, who did Around the World in 80 Days. So the people working on this film were A-caliber. They were amazing. When I agreed to do this movie, it was because I was, like, “Oh, look at these people I’ll be working with!” But also the ability to… It’s sort of Adam and Eve, so let’s call a spade a spade: if you’re going to bare it all, this is the movie to do it in. [Laughs.] You’re not doing it right if you’re all clothed. But there’s time travel, and the characters I played were unbelievable. It was an actor’s dream. I do write about it in my book, and you really get a sense of my experience when you read it. It’s…different. But people who act for a living probably know what it’s like to be enticed by a film for the character you’re going to be playing.

NRI: When I mentioned on Facebook that I was going to be talking to you today, one of the first things I was asked was, “Oh, is she going to be in Bill & Ted 3?”

DF: I know, right? Alex Winter told me that they were thinking of doing it, and I told him, “If you do, keep me in mind.” [Laughs.] I don’t know if I’ll be playing the babe for them this time, but we’ll see. They know I’m around. But I’d think they’d probably pitch the idea of new babes for them again, just to keep them fresh. But Kimberley LaBelle (Princess Elizabeth) – she’s Kim Kates now – and I, we were talking about it, and we’d obviously be into it if they are. And, you know, there’s also been talk about a Last American Virgin remake with Brent Ratner, and I told Boaz Davidson, who directed the original, that if they decide to make it as a sequel, they should put me in it. I think fans of the original would truly go crazy if I was in it. So we’ll see. It’s interesting.

NRI: People don’t necessarily discuss your TV work as much, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that you were in a two-part Matlock episode. Very impressive.

DF: [Laughs.] I was in a two-part Matlock, I was in Murder, She Wrote, Charles in Charge… I also did this one Movie of the Week called Summer Girl, where I played this evil, schizophrenic babysitter. Every time that movie is on, people recognize me and come up to me and…they think I’m really evil. Which is kind of funny to think that anyone would think that’s what I’m really like. I’m not really crazy. Oh, sure, I seduced the guy, kidnapped the kids, drugged the mother and threw her off a cliff. But I’m really nice! [Laughs.]

NRI: Also, I believe one of those kids was David Faustino, who went on to be Bud Bundy on Married with Children.

DF: Oh, you are awesome! Yes, you’re right on. That was a great series. I feel honored that I got to work with him early in his career.

NRI: You stepped away from the spotlight just as the ‘90s began. Was that by your choice or, as happens sometimes, did the choice get made for you?

DF: No, you know, what I did was change my career to have a family. I wanted to be around to raise my kids. To me, that’s the biggest, greatest role to ever have, to be able to actually be with your kids and raise them. Now, interestingly, since they’ve gotten a little older – my daughter’s 16 and my son is 13 – being able to come out with this book is great because my daughter is actually a filmmaker. She writes, directs, acts in, and edits her own films. And I’ve been acting in her stuff. So if you go to YouTube and go to “My Better Half” and “Humanize,” you will see trailers for movies she’s done. She’s 16, but one of her movies was already shown at the Los Angeles Film Festival under the Future Filmmakers banner. So that’s pretty cool, huh? No one has seen “My Better Half” yet, but it’s a half-hour film, and we’re gonna be sending it to film festivals. Keep your eye out for her. Her name is Olivia DeLaurentis. It’s a famous last name, but she’s not related, except distantly, but everyone will remember it. Just giving you a head’s up. [Laughs.]

NRI: Is it weird having teenagers, knowing that you’ve got a notable coming-of-age film in your back catalog?

DF: Oh, I actually have a great story about that, but…my kids, they’re used to me being recognized. But my favorite story is that my son, when he was maybe 11 or so, he came downstairs when I was cooking, and he said, “Mom, there’s this girl on TV, and she really looks so much like you.” I just went, “Oh, my gosh, Nick, what is it?” And I run upstairs to the TV, and it’s Last American Virgin, and my daughter’s going, “Nick, Mom’s gonna be naked! Don’t look! Don’t look!” [Laughs.] So they’re turning away from the TV, and I’m thinking, “I’m betting there aren’t a lot of moms experiencing this moment…” Thankfully, it was on VH-1, so it was the edited version! But they know and they’re proud of me. They’re just kind of, like, “Mom, that’s your thing.” It’s there and they know about it, but I’m really just Mom to them.

NRI: You’ve done several conventions and signings in recent years. Is it fun to interact with people who’ve grown up with your work?

DF: Yeah, it’s interesting. I started doing conventions because…well, actually, it started because my daughter had a crush on Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords. When she met him when she was 13, her heart stopped. [Laughs.] But it made her feel so good, and she was just so happy to talk to him that I thought, “You know, this is a giving-back.” I definitely thought it would be nice to meet people, but people have just been so thoughtful and nice and very touched when they meet me, because it’s going back in time. They’re getting a chance to reminisce, and…I guess the films I’ve done have affected them. So it makes me really happy to put a smile on their face and to give them the same thrill that my daughter got when she met Jemaine. So it’s great. I do conventions occasionally and I’ve traveled across the country, but I haven’t done too many, so I look forward to doing some more.

NRI: To wrap up, what does the future hold for you? You’ve been working with your daughter, obviously, but have you considering trying to get back out there in a bigger fashion now that your kids are older?

DF: Absolutely. I think the thing for me right now is…I feel that my book is awesome, it’s cool, and it’s a good expression of the fact that, let’s be honest, I will be remembered as an ‘80s babe no matter what I do in the future. I’ll have been one of the teenage babes of that time, and to me that’s a gift. I mean, I just love that. So any acting roles that I do now…I’ll be playing the mom now, or different roles that I wouldn’t have played then, but the cool thing will be for the people who know my past. I think they’ll get the biggest kick out of it. I’ve got a manager, I don’t know if anyone’s interested in representation for me, but…it’s basically been word-of-mouth, work-wise, when anything’s come up. I’ve talked to Steve Holland, so maybe there’ll be something in something he’s doing that he’ll put me in. So, you know, I’m putting it out there that I’m available, and if something comes along, that’s great. And if not, I’m loving doing the stuff with my kids, spending time with my family, and doing conventions. We’ll just see what happens!

NRI: Well, Steve Holland has done a lot of work for the Disney Channel. It’s another chance to find your way into the hearts of a new generation of teens.

DF: That’s right! [Laughs.] And that’s another thing about the conventions, actually. The biggest surprise is that it’s not just people from the decade where I grew up but, as I mentioned, their children are recognizing me. I don’t take it for granted that people are renting videos and watching movies on Netflix or Amazon and watching them over and over. It’s amazing that I’m getting a new audience, and hopefully I’ll bring them into watching my daughter’s work, too.

Also, I want to mention something else really quickly: I recently hosted my own radio show, believe it or not, called “Babes of the ‘80s.” It’s on Cult Radio A-Go-Go!, an online radio station, and I was able to bring in a lot of actresses that I worked with in my films to appear on the show. Amanda Wyss is on the show, along with Elizabeth Daily, Winnie Freeman, Kimmy Robertson, and Kim LaBelle, now Kim Kates, and we go back and talk about working together. It’s a great show, so…you should listen! [Laughs.]

(copyright@Cult Radio A-Go-Go!)

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7 Responses to Interview: Diane Franklin (“The Last American Virgin” & “Better Off Dead…”)

  1. RoyBatty says:

    Thanks so much for this interview, and thank you, Diane for staying so down to earth and signing my Home Depot apron back in 2005 (which I still have, even though, thank God, I no longer work there). Looking forward to the book. Cheers!

  2. Diane Franklin says:

    Roy! That is hysterical! Were all outside doing wood work with our kids? Regardless, thank you so much for your comment! Best Wishes!! Diane

  3. This is Terry DuFoe of;

    Diane Franklin asked me to post the reply below for her:

    Please tell the author I LOVE it! 

    xo, Diane

  4. Matt says:

    Phenomenal interview, Will. Loved reading this!

  5. RWGibson13 says:

    You know, since…well, since it first came out…it’s been kind of expected for cinema types to dump on “The Last American Virgin.”

    But speaking as a male geek from the ’70s/’80s, that final scene will be one I take to my grave. There have been a TON of “you done me wrong” scenes written for teenaged women actresses throughout my lifetime to play – and adult actresses for that matter – but similar serious scenes for teenaged male actors?

    Lawrence Monoson and Boaz Davidson just knocked that scene out of the stadium and if they never do anything else onscreen in their lifetimes, my young self will forever remember their names.

    And as for Miss Franklin: you are gorgeous, in body and soul. Not my first crush, but right up there with Mary Woronov and Farrah.

    RWG (yeah, so I was a horny dog…sue me :-)

  6. Steve Sarinana says:

    Thank you for this interview. Diane Franklin was definitely my first crush. I saw Last American Virgin when it first came out, I was 12. I have seen most of her movies and still to this day no matter how many times I’ve seen them still get that butterfly feeling in my stomach. Reading this interview made me feel that without a doubt she is a real down to earth person, a very beautiful woman inside and out. I look forward to her book and perhaps be fortunate enough to have her sign it.

  7. carl ochoa says:

    LOVE your characters and who you are. Thanks for all you have done to bring laughter and joy into my life over and over. I will check out the radio show. Smiles and hugs and good vibes out to you. Namaste.

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