Dragon Con Spotlight: Ronee Blakley
From "Elm Street" to Peachtree Street: the legendary actress and musician graces Dragon Con 2019
For many Dragon Con attendees, Ronee Blakley is best-known for her role as Marge Thompson in Wes Craven's horror classic "Nightmare On Elm Street." But the 1984 film is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg of her craft.
As a musician, she's performed with Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Hoyt Axton and released ten albums of her own compositions. She was nominated for an Academy Award for her 1975 performance in "Nashville." She's worked with some of the best directors in the history of modern filmmaking - including Robert Altman, Walter Hill and Wim Wenders. As a writer, she continues to create songs and poems on a daily basis.
To preview her appearance at Dragon Con, INsite spoke with the effusive actor at length from her home in California.
As a longtime fan, I'm personally excited that you're coming to Dragon Con. When I first saw the guest list, I knew exactly who I wanted to speak with - so thanks for your time today.
Thank you very much! I'm just delighted that I'm invited.
Let's talk about the convention experience. When I think of you, I don't even consider the horror connection. I recall your music and your collaborations with Altman, Hill, Dylan and Cohen. Then eventually it dawns on me that, oh yeah, you were also in the archetype of 'slasher-style' horror films.
I've been involved in a number of different projects, that's for sure. And I'm still working on new music. I've put out about ten albums and I was just on the phone with a [music] publisher today, actually.
But the typical convention fan may not be as clued into your history. The big cons are centered on the hot topics of the moment as well as the best of the classics. But you transcend both worlds. Horror fans obviously approach you because of "Nightmare On Elm Street" and there are some of us who still have your first album on Elektra, for example.
That's true and you could say I have a minor part in a new film as well because I'm in the Scorsese Dylan film ["Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story"] that just came out. So that's my current thing. But I do wish somebody would put me in one of the big blockbusters. I mean, doesn't somebody need a granny?
You'd be the hippest granny on earth, without a doubt. That could be your superpower. But for now, you'll be in town to represent your already-impressive canon of work while greeting a surreal parade of folks.
Well, each person who comes up has a story and I love it very much. It means a lot to me, and probably more every year. It's a little surreal because sometimes they're in costumes from movies that I've never seen. But it's fun and the people at the other tables, we all become friends. It makes us like a little family when we hang out together.
Sometimes we see the same fans, too. They'll often come to more than one show. Sometimes the costumes are just fabulous. It's almost like it's Halloween no matter what time of the year it is.
They often work all year on those costumes.
Yes they do! And they spend a lot of money. Thousands of dollars go into those costumes so that's fun. At first, maybe ten or fifteen years ago, I was frightened to come to a convention. I didn't know what it would be like, I didn't know if I'd feel a fool and be embarrassed and what-not. But now I love to go. I started going, learned how to do it a bit and got comfortable with it.
It's interesting to observe the interactions between the fans and the guests. The fans have waited for that moment for perhaps years and it's heartwarming to see their reactions when they have an audience with one of their favorite personalities.
Those moments make us feel fantastic because it lifts us up - and who doesn't like that every once in a while?
How does it feel to know that you've touched a generation or two who may not even know that you have such a rich musical and theatrical history?
Well it depends. A lot of times, they don't usually know about all that. I do take one Bob Dylan picture and a couple from "Nashville" to have at the table. But it's changing a bit. Last time, I had several fans from the other films, but for a convention it's definitely leaning toward "Nightmare On Elm Street."
That must be a little refreshing for you in some ways because they aren't all coming up with 'What's it like to work with Robert Altman?' questions.
To me, it's special no matter what movie or project they liked best. Sometimes they'll come up with a "Nashville" [soundtrack] album or even a Ronee Blakley album, but a lot of them may not remember me from that because they weren't born yet!
You're transcending generations even with "Nightmare" because that was 1984.
That's true. Maybe half the crowd wasn't even born yet when that was first released. So they're on second and third generation of seeing it. So to them, I'm Nancy's mom. And that's fine too. I love that.
What was that film experience like for you? The so-called "slasher" films hadn't been done to death at that point; the genre was still working in a new territory of sorts.
Even from the beginning it was unusual. You know, people sometimes think it's an insult to call a movie a "slasher" movie and I don't want to insult my film. But is it a violent film. It is bloody. I kinda get faint at the sight of blood myself. I had trouble watching when Tina goes out in that body bag, you know? But finally, about ten years ago in Chicago, Heather [Langencamp], Amanda [Wyss] and I were watching it at an outdoor event with all the fans watching also. People were shouting out the lines and we had a bottle of red wine and were just having a blast. So I was finally able to watch the body bag being dragged out, sitting next to Amanda. But it's still scary to me.
What was your initial reaction to it?
I showed it to my mother ahead of time. I took her to Palm Springs and showed her the script and said, 'I know this is an unusual movie, but I think it's going to be a hit and I'm going to do it.' So I got mom's approval like a good daughter. I thought Wes wrote a brilliant script and he was also brilliant at directing and casting. He was like a youth whisperer. He had that ability to talk to kids and get through and not be viewed as an outsider. May he rest in peace. I was just fortunate to be cast. At the time we never had any idea there'd be things like these festivals and conventions going on. We never could have predicted or imagined it. I think a lot of it has to do with production and a good deal has to do with [fellow Dragon Con guest] Robert England. He created a character that is timeless and a billion dollar industry that sprang up around the films. But there was no way we could have imagined any of that at the very beginning except to know that it was a unique. All I know is that I knew it was going to be a hit before we shot a foot of film.
When you watched it with the crowd in Chicago it became much more of a communal experience rather than a solitary, frightening experience if you'd viewed it alone. You'd obviously seen it before by that point.
The first time I saw it was in Times Square and I had to hide my eyes all the time. I went by myself and I remember there was a Colonel Sanders restaurant next door to the theater. So there were all these paper bags rattling because everybody went in with their bag of chicken. There were screams and laughter and the bags were rattling - and everybody loved it! I think it went to number one at some point. But it was exciting to watch it by myself in the theater, in the dark. There's nothing like that. It's a unique thing to watch your film. It's exciting - or it can be.
Do you enjoy watching yourself in a movie? I've talked to a lot of actors who do their best to avoid ever watching the final product.
(Laughs) Well, I do if I'm any good in it!
Dragon Con runs August 29 through September 2. For more information visit dragoncon.org.