Starlog - May 1983 - Page 50-51
Why would a rock star and international sex symbol go out on a limb to portray an S&M character in a film by David Cronenberg? Because it's "too important a movie."
By LISA ROBINSON
Rock star Deborah Harry chose David Cronenberg's Videodrome for her first major film role because, she says, "I thought it was really hip, and smart. Of all the movies that are out about television and video, I thought this was the best."
While Debbie says she's a fan of Cronenberg's previous work (Scanners, Rabid), and that she would love to do another film with him, she readily admits that, at first, she was concerned about the violence in Videodrome.
"I knew I had to make a transition with my audience," she says, "and at first, I thought I should establish a more easy, positive image than just jump into this. I was concerned about how I ended up in the movie, how masochistic I was to be, and what would happen to me physically.
"But after thinking about it, I just couldn't pass it up. It's too important a movie."
As lead singer for the top rock group Blondie, Debbie recorded six albums and four number one singles with the band in the past six years and has been considered something of an international sex symbol. Yet, she confesses that she was "shy" about the several nude scenes in Videodrome.
"At first, I really hesitated," she recalls, smiling. "Then, I thought it would be much worse if I couldn't do it and everybody had to say, 'Now dear, take your robe off....' We had a closed set, not that many people were around, and so I just did it. And after I was naked, I felt much better."
Debbie, who portrays a psychologist/radio personality in the disturbing film about television and mind control, has given serious thought to the character she plays. "Nikki was a little bit ambiguous," says Debbie, "she was mysterious. She did what she was hired to do. But what happened with the film was that it changed a lot in the editing, and the finished version is even more ambiguous than what we originally shot. As such, you never really know whether I'm actually a real person or in Jimmy's [co-star James Woods] mind or a video image. It could be interpreted on both levels; they tell him that I was never there, that I was just planted in his brain."
Debbie feels that while Nikki was hired for the Videodrome program, she was also attracted to the sex and violence of it because, "I think that a lot of psychologists and psychiatrists want to know about all the stuff on a personal level. They want to feel it and do it. There are people in the field who do that. She was one of them. She tried everything - every emotional, physical situation - that she could."
As for TV and mind control, Debbie says, "I think it is possible to project things from the TV. Obviously, there's a certain amount of mind control involved with TV, but I don't know if that could make you bio-mechanical. I was talking to Bob Mark's, the astrologer, and he said that, since they've cracked the genetic code and they can clone, anything is possible.
"I do know that some people can't live without watching television. And," she smiles, "I always wondered if perhaps the moon landing was done in a studio..."
How difficult was it for Debbie to make the transition from rock star to movie star?
"Well, don't forget, I had done some sort of underground type movies before with Amos Poe," she says, "but yes, I guess this was my first 'real' movie. I found everyone working on it to be much slower, much straighter, than they are in rock and roll. It wasn't as depraved.
"And," she laughs, "they were all afraid that I was going to be some kind of looney tune wild woman, and I think they were surprised that I turned out to be so... gentle. So easy to talk to, they said.
"But it was a big challenge for me. I had to concentrate, and it's a totally different pacing. It's more intellectual, and going for the smallest movement and detail. Acting in a movie is like being a technician."
"Of course, David [Cronenberg] molds his characters. He tells you in no uncertain terms exactly what he wants. He's a very good director, and a very clear thinker. He knows exactly how he wants his characters to look, he has everything very carefully thought out in advance."
Debbie, who's a big fan of both science-fiction and horror movies (she lists Them and The Mask as among her favorites, as well as "all the Japanese ones"), says she's "totally thrilled" with her performance in Videodrome.
"It's a kind of an adventure film," she says, "but it's a tease about McLuhan and TV, and that's why I like it. All in all, I don't think I could have done anything better and I shouldn't have been so concerned. I thought I would be turned off by some things, I thought I would be displeased by my acting or the way I sounded, but I'm not. I'm really pleased with all of it.
"Now, I just want to work, and do any kind of part that comes along."
In addition to continuing a film career, Debbie plans to pursue recording projects as well as collaborative music and video work with Blondie songwriter/guitarist Chris Stein (whom Debbie calls "my partner in crime").
Among those projects is an animated film due out this spring titled Rock and Rule. "Originally, it was called Drats! They approached us to do music for it, and the girl character is modeled after my character in Blondie.
"We gave them some songs, and they'd give us back pictures, then we'd write something more, and it went back and forth like that. We worked very closely with them, and they based a lot of the girl's attitudes and some of her stance on me. It's very good; much better than American Pop."
As far as straight dramatic roles are concerned, Debbie says, "I see Videodrome as my 'big test'. I was up for a lot of parts this past year, but for various reasons - image, inexperience - I didn't get them. Now, I think if I get another part, it will be because of something someone sees and likes, in this motion picture.
"I don't think it will be a problem for me to do both music and films," she says. "I do both things, and I hope I get recognized for, and can be successful at both. Performing in front of the camera is a new adventure for me, it's a new, and much more intellectual, process. Music is more of the moment, more spiritual; it's an event."
But Videodrome, she stresses, "makes you think. It's not just entertainment, which is true of Cronenberg's work; he always does that. Audiences will come away from it thinking all kinds of things. They'll think it's funny, or silly, or they'll be scared to death. People have told me that most of all, it really got to them, they thought about it the next day."
And Debbie's own thoughts about the "message" of Videodrome?
"Don't watch TV," she said, laughing.
LISA ROBINSON is the nationally known rock reporter with a weekly New York Post column and a syndicated column appearing in papers nationwide.