In 1984, horror-loving teens around the globe began to clutch their covers a little tighter each night when ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ exploded onto the pop culture landscape. An instant commercial success, the film quickly became a worldwide phenomenon that would spawn seven sequels. 1988’s ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master’ would become one of the highest-grossing films in franchise history. Although the film featured a colorful cast with undeniable chemistry, the film’s true star was a young, fresh-faced actress from Missouri named Lisa Wilcox. In the role of Alice Johnson, she would become one of the strongest female characters ever to face off with the legendary Freddy Krueger and continues to inspire generations of fans decades after the film’s initial release.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg regarding her career. Armed with God-given acting chops, a Bachelor of Arts degree at UCLA, and a background in Grotowski, Lisa would go on to build an impressive resume. Throughout her career, the other characters she has played in her career run a whole gamut – “from nuns to prostitutes.” The best part is that she’s just getting warmed up!
Her latest film, ‘The Bloody Man,’ once again lets her play within the world of horror. This supernatural horror flick is best described as a nostalgic blend of some most impact horror films from the 80s with a modern edge. Think ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ meets ‘The Monster Squad,’ with a splash of ‘Stranger Things’ thrown in for an extra punch! Penned by Daniel and Casi Benedict and produced by Red Serial Films, the film tells of a young boy who, after the death of his mother, becomes obsessed with a comic book she gave him that ultimately summons the ancient monster found in its pages.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Lisa Wilcox to get an inside look at her fantastic career. In the interview, she offers insight into her early years as an up-and-coming actress, her evolution as an artist, and the lessons she’s learned along the way. Additionally, she gives us an inside look at her latest project, ‘The Bloody Man’, and what speaks to her about the material she takes on.
You made quite a career for yourself. How did you get involved with the arts?
It was all kind of an accident! I had intended to be a doctor; that was my plan. I’m originally from Missouri, and my Dad got offered a great job in California. So, we moved to Southern California, and I finished high school there. A friend asked if I wanted to go with him to an audition at an equity waiver theater in Newport Beach. Do you remember the actor Buddy Ebsen? He played Barnaby Jones and was supposed to play “The Tin Man” in ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ but he had a terrible reaction to the makeup. I got to meet him because I went with my friend.
I had never had acting classes or anything like that. He had asked me to go with him to the audition, so I did. I was sitting in the theater watching all of the auditions happen. A lady kept tapping me on the shoulder and said, “You’re auditioning, right?” I was like, “Oh, no. I’m just here with my friend. Hope he gets cast!” [laughs] It turns out she was the producer of the play. She was very persistent, so I finally said okay. So I got up and read. I ended up landing the lead role in Landford Wilson’s “The Hot L Baltimore.” I got awards and all that kind of stuff, so that’s when I really got bit by the bug. My friend, however, unfortunately, did not get cast for his role, darn it! [laughs] At least we were up for different parts! [laughs] It was quite an experience. Kelly McGillis’ mother directed me in this play, and she was a wonderful influence. That’s really where I got all of my acting lessons and learned how to memorize my lines and all of that because this play has about eight monologues in it and over 900 lines! That’s A LOT!
Talk about a trial by fire!
Oh, my gosh! Exactly! It was a wonderful experience. I was still finishing high school at the time, but I was also doing plays and having rehearsals every night. Then there were one or two months of weekends doing the performances, but I loved it! So I went on to UCLA to earn a Theater Arts degree.
You certainly hit the ground running, but when do you feel you came into your own and really hit your stride as an actress?
I think I hit my theater stride pretty much off the bat from being noticed for that very first play I did. As far as film work, I had done some commercials in college, which put me through college and paid for my apartment. Then, about 6 weeks after I graduated, I booked ‘General Hospital.’ That is quite a training ground because those cameras move at a lightning pace. You’ve really got to know your lines because you get one take, and then you move, move, move, move, move! I recently saw some of my work from ‘General Hospital’ on YouTube. I was like, “Yeah, girl! You’ve got it going!” [laughs] It’s so weird!
You’ve worked with a lot of amazing people through the years. What projects had the most significant impact on you creatively?
I would say doing sitcom work with shows like “Mr. Belvedere” and “Valerie’s Family.” Valerie Harper was a fantastic person, and I admire her so much for her work on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and all that. Seeing how professionals like her worked really rubs off on you as long as you are open to observe. Bringing up “Valerie’s Family,” I did the episode where she got fired. It was completely unjust. You’d be at the grocery store and see the headlines all over “The Enquirer.” The headlines read “The Battle with Valerie” and things like that. It then became “Hogan’s Family.” Sandy Duncan replaced Valerie and was nothing like her, in my opinion. Anyway, at some point, I ran into Valerie. She said, “I’ve seen your face 100 times!” That was because they were watching the tapes that we did when we rehearsed. Anyway, just a fun side story!
Absolutely! She was a fixture of television for so many years. There weren’t a lot of stars like her at the time. What a compliment to your work that someone of her caliber noticed the work you were putting in. Where do you think your creative drive originated?
I think I was a natural at it just because I had initially got that play. With that said, of course, I honed my craft at UCLA. Even when I was going to college full-time, I studied Grotowski three nights a week!
Yeah! That’s a very intense skill to learn. It’s a very physical thing. You learn how to physicalize A character much more. For example, we had exercises where we would walk in a circle, and it would be like, “Okay, walk with your knees leading…” or “Walk with your head leading.” That doesn’t mean you’re leaning into it with your head. It’s a psychological game. This helps you when you look at a character. “Does this person lead with their hands? Feet? Hips?” I learned so much and even went to Poland for 6 weeks to work with other Grotowski groups and whatnot. I was very dedicated! [laughs] I was also doing plays at UCLA! That’s how I got an agent and manager. In the old days, that’s how you got an agent or manager — through theater!
What lessons did you learn early on in your career that continue to resonate?
Always know your lines. Hit your mark. Keep quiet. Feel out the situation on set. Some directors are very approachable, and some are not. You have to gauge all of the personalities. I have great experiences with all kinds of actors! I had one experience that wasn’t so great when I was on “Murder, She Wrote.” The director was blocking the scene, and a group of maybe seven of us was on set. I had a position like this. This other actress, a guest star like I was, said to me, “I’m taking that position. You can’t do this. [gestures] I’m doing that one!” I was like, “Umm, okay.” [laughs] So, I changed my position. I was more of the lead guest star, but anyway! If you ever see the episode “Murder On The 13th Floor,” you’ll have a little insight into that scene. I learned so much along the way, especially not to get nervous. You’re working with these massive stars! I’ve worked with George Clooney, Mark Hamill, Angela Lansbury, and so on. It’s like, “Okay. Be cool! Don’t freak out! Don’t be a fan! Be mellow!” [laughs]
Are there aspects of the craft you have come to love more over your career?
Yes! There are definitely new elements because I’m not an ingenue anymore, so I’m playing older roles. Those are so fun and juicy because now I get to be the bad girl! [laughs] I definitely got to play some bad girls as an ingenue like on “Star Trek,” “General Hospital,” and so on. I just did a film called ‘The House That Eats Flesh.” This character, she’s the mama! I wanted an eye patch and a big scar on my face. I wanted to have it look as scary as possible! [laughs] It was so much fun. I had scars on my hands and everything. I loved it!
It sounds like you’re having more fun than ever!
I am. I really am! Getting to be evil or ugly is really fun!
What are you looking for in the material you take on?
It definitely starts with a story. I want to make sure I am enjoying the story and that I’m not bored. It has to be exciting and worthwhile. As far as the roles themselves, I’m pretty much game for anything! Seriously, I’ve already played everything from nuns to prostitutes and everything in between. I love shooting on location as well. There is so much more to do! And, I’ve yet to play a vampire! That’s my dream because I’m a huge vampire freak! The first novel I read was Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula.’ You must stay on the dorm floor in the first year of college. While everyone else had posters of Bruce Springsteen or whatever, I had Bela Lugosi! [laughs] So, that’s my dream, along with a western!
Your most recent role is in ‘The Bloody Man.’ What captivated you about this project?
Again, it’s story! I loved the story, and it’s got kids in it. This is only the second time I’ve played a mom. The first time that I kinda played a mom was “A Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child.” Of course, most of that is in a dream/nightmare thing! [laughs] Honestly, the director Daniel Benedict and his wife Casi are such lovely people. Daniel is so thoughtful, and he really is thinking through the specifics. It was a great pleasure to work with him. Casi kind of assistant directs too. They are just so great together!
I’m sure each film you are a part of has memorable moments. So what springs to mind when you think of your time on the “The Bloody Man” set?
My death scene! [laughs] You see, I don’t die very often in any of the jobs that I’ve done! [laughs] That stands out because it was a lot of fun! Working with the kids was so great. They were just so open and loving. It was a lovely experience working with them!
What is your process for bringing a new character from script to screen?
For me, the process starts with providing a backstory for your character. By that, I mean details down to where they grew up, how many siblings they may have, if they were an only child, if their parents were married or divorced, if they were raised by a single parent, and so on. I develop an entire background story for the character, which helps to ground me and make choices. I even consider if the character is a “cup half full” or “cup half empty” person. I even take into consideration what their favorite color might be. Those kinds of details enrich the material and help create the character. To me, it’s essential to take the time to create the world of each character. Then there is the process of memorizing lines! [laughs] It’s so funny because when I tell someone I booked a job, even my family, they don’t understand all of the work that an actor does to do a job!
What else is on the radar for you in 2022?
I have already shot four new films this year. I’m excited to have those edited and coming out in the coming year. I did a film last Fall called “Don’t Suck” with Jamie Kennedy. That should be out soon. Another film called “Mystery Spot,” came out recently as well. I had a lead role in that, and it premiered in London. I got nominated for Best Actress at the Buffalo Film Festival, which was very exciting. There is also a project called “Barbee Rehab” that I did with Tom Sizemore. Billboards are up for it here in Los Angeles, so that will be out soon! It’s a parody/comedy kind of thing. I also have the opportunity to work with Tom Sizemore again on a comedy called “Woods Witch,” which is also a comedy. I’m working on my comedy reel lately, which has been a lot of fun!
Your schedule is insane! I don’t know how you do it!
I’m close to the airport! Thank God! [laughs] Three of the projects I shot earlier this year did actually film in Los Angeles, but most of the time, things are filming elsewhere. I will be filming again in September; it’s kind of a warrior film, which I’m excited about. That’s shooting in Kentucky. There is so much on the plate. When the pandemic hit in 2020, I had seven films on the books to shoot that year. Then, of course, they all got pushed! Slowly but surely, those are all trickling back down, and I’m making up for lost time! That’s exactly what’s been happening for the last eight months. To me, each role I take on is just fun. That’s why I love acting so much. It’s the opportunity to play and make-believe. Make-believe is limitless!
I couldn’t sit down with you without asking about your iconic role as Alice in ‘A Nightmare On Elm Street 4.” What does this character mean to you?
It’s very special! I feel like the “Dream Master” script was so poignant and well written. It was written in such that there was actually a character arc, which is what us actors love. We want to see the characters we take on change and evolve. There is this character arc for Alice where she goes from a shy, timid, wallflower girl to a total badass! [laughs] I think it’s something that so many people can relate to because we are constantly evolving and changing in life. Hopefully, over time, we all get to a stronger place. We all go through hard times; in the film, Rick and I have lost our mother. Anyone can relate to that as a teenager or as an adult and say, “Yes, I’ve had those hard times too, but I fought, survived, and I’m a better person for it.” We’re also talking about a man haunting our dreams! [laughs] To me, that is representative of our struggles of fighting darkness, evil, or the demons within ourselves.
One thing I love to see is how the cast of the “Nightmare On Elm Street” franchise has become such a family. That has to be a wonderful thing to be a part of!
It really is a very unique dynamic! I will say that I’ve been a horror fan since I was a little girl and a fan of “A Nightmare On Elm Street” long before I was a part of the franchise! I was so nervous the day before filming to meet Robert Englund. It goes back to what I said earlier about keeping your composure on set around these huge stars! [laughs] I was like, “Okay. Be cool. Just chill!” Meanwhile, on the inside, I was going, “Ohhhh my God! It’s Robert Englund!” [laughs] Meeting him in the makeup trailer had such a big impact on me. Seeing his body language change when he had the makeup applied was cool. You asked me about the actors who had influenced me. Robert Englund is, for sure, one of them. He’s a very talented actor, and his work speaks to that. Robert loves the conventions and meeting everyone who loves this iconic character. He loves it even more when you bring up his other work. He loves that appreciation and loves to talk about those roles.
I met Heather [Langenkamp] and Amanda [Wyss] a few years later. I would see them at conventions, and they were really tight because they had done the first “Nightmare” together and had become very good friends. I would look at them with envy and feel like I was the stepchild if you know what I mean! [laughs] Then, at one convention, we all went to dinner and hit it off. Now, we are like this! [crosses fingers tightly] Amanda is one of my very best friends, as is Heather. We are so tight! That goes for the cast members of “Nightmare 4” as well. It’s so special because you typically don’t stay in touch once a project is complete. Even with the plays that I did, where we were together for months and, when it’s over, you never see those people again. It’s very rare to keep in touch with anyone. It was interesting with “Nightmare 4′ because, as I like to say, Annette Benson put together a great cast but also created lifelong friendships! The bonding and believability of our friendships when you watch the film is genuine. It’s really genuine, and I think this shines through and continues to flourish through the years. Toy Newkirk had moved to New York for about ten years, but we continued to stay in touch. She lived with me for a year when she moved back to LA! Brooke Theiss, my eldest son, and her son were the same age, so we would go bowling together and things like that! Tuesday [Knight] and I had a business together for ten years. We can’t forget Robert and his wife, who are such amazing people. He’s like my Uncle Robert! [laughs] It’s a very unusual dynamic, and I feel ever so grateful for it as these people are like family to me!
We’ve covered a lot of ground today. What’s the best lesson we can take from your journey?
If you have a dream, go for it! There is no harm in trying to achieve those dreams; you’ll beat yourself up if you don’t try. You don’t want to be fifty or sixty years old saying, “Darn. I had that opportunity, and I should’ve gone for it. I saw that now, at almost sixty years old; GO FOR IT!
I know you aren’t afraid to use your platform to raise awareness. So what can we help shine a light on?
There is a great way to support charities we can all be a part of. We all use Amazon these days, right? There is something called Amazon Smile, where you can select a charity, and a percentage of everything you purchase goes to the charity of your choice. The organization that I choose is NAMI (National Alliance For Mental Illness). A member of my family was diagnosed with schizophrenia about fifteen years ago or so. I took the NAMI course to learn more about it. It’s a free course, and they give you so much information! The problem we are facing is how people treat those with mental illness. The courses really help you open your eyes to the situation. So, definitely support NAMI. Another cool thing is that Amazon Smile will send you updates frequently to show you how much that organization received through your purchases. It really adds up, and these organizations need all the support they can get!
Awesome! Thanks so much for your time today, Lisa! I appreciate it, and I can’t wait until we cross paths again!
Thank you, Jason. It’s my pleasure! Talk to you again soon!
Wild Eye Releasing will release ‘The Bloody Man’ digitally on July 12th, 2002. Follow the continuing adventures of Lisa Wilcox via her official website, www.lisaewilcox.com. Connect with her through social media via Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.