Brinke Stevens Interview

Brinke Stevens is a woman of many talents. She's an actress, model, writer, producer and scientist! Born in San Diego, Brinke has spent most of her life in show biz.

Graduating from San Diego State University, Brinke went on to earn a masters degree in marine biology from Scripps Institute of Oceanography in La Jolla. For a time, she worked as a scientist for San Onofre Nuclear Power Station and National Marine Fisheries.

How she got from the world of science to the world of show biz, is the subject of our interview.

Q: You're probably the only scientist turned actress in all of Hollywood, aren't you?
A: As far as I know, I'm the only scientist - actress - writer -producer in Hollywood at the moment. It's sort of the split -brain approach I guess. In my early years I was a very quiet, shy, literate, and well educated girl. I loved the world of science and I was content to remain there, but fate had other plans for me. In the late 1970's, budget cut-backs made scientific jobs scarce. I had to resort to other avenues to make a living, and I gradually departed from a mind area to a more physical one, as a model. I discovered that with proper makeup and clothes, I also had a certain ability to project beauty. It represented a more complete picture of myself, not just a highly mental person who was locked up in a small lab with a microscope, but I also became a personality, as well. Modeling and acting really helped to draw me out, to make me more confident and self-assured, and a more well-rounded person. Even today I find myself looking at Hollywood through the eyes of a scientist, studying 'animal behavior' here. Admittedly, I sometimes feel like a Martian anthropologist.

Q: When did you first arrive in Hollywood?
A: I got my masters degree from Scripps Institute of Oceanography in the late 1970's. I'd planned to complete my PhD there, but I was kicked out of grad school for doing 'forbidden research' on dolphin communication. At that time, a thousand dolphins were being killed in tuna nets every day and the Navy, also based in San Diego, was using them in weaponry research. Nobody wanted to successfully 'talk' to dolphins because then they'd have to feel rather guilty about cold-bloodedly slaughtering them. I was warned up-front to cease and desist in my doctoral studies, but I persisted and was unceremoniously dismissed after two years. Armed with my masters, I worked for another two years in San Diego as an ecological consultant for a nuclear power plant. Then, that job ended because of budget cutbacks. I wasn't quite sure what I'd do next, so I accepted an offer of marriage from my childhood sweetheart, Dave Stevens, a comic artist and creator of 'The Rocketeer,' an upcoming Disney movie, and I moved up to Los Angeles. The marriage ended after six months, even though we'd been dating for seven years prior. Faced with a crisis, I fell back on modeling when I was unable to land another science job in L.A. The first thing I did was to buy an answering machine. Then I organized all of my San Diego modeling photos into a portfolio, opened the yellow pages and called every modeling agency and advertising agency in the greater Los Angeles area. I quickly landed some work modeling eye glasses, ski wear, jewelry, and so on. In those early days I also appeared in Playboy and Penthouse magazines, which paid very well and helped to generate a fan-following.

Q: When did you get into acting?
A: After my first year, I stumbled into doing extra work in films. I've probably appeared as an extra in over 100 movies. Around 1983, I got my first major speaking role in a Roger Corman film, "Slumber Party Massacre," as a victim of a psycho-killer. When I first arrived in Hollywood, I had absolutely no intention of becoming an actress. In a sense, my career chose me. I didn't choose it. Once I started landing major speaking roles in small films, I decided that I really enjoyed this sort of work and wanted to pursue it. I took a few acting workshops, but most of my training was 'informal,' taking place on the set as I was work. I closely studied and critiqued my own work, becoming my own worst critic and best teacher. I learned from watching myself and watching all the other movies I could get my hands on. Now I support myself as both an actress and a writer. Back in school, I'd always gotten good grades on term papers, and I was the editor of various school newspapers. I learned scriptwriting from books about the subject, and from writer friends who hired me to help them with their own projects. I've written and sold three scripts, the last one was produced in 1991, "Teenage Exorcist.' I starred in it too, in a role I'd deliberately written for myself.

Q: Why have you been so successful in horror films?
A: Ever since I was a little girl, I've been fascinated with horror and science fiction. Actually, I never felt like I belonged here. For a while, I suspected that aliens had dropped me off, and sooner or later, they'd return for me. It was a very natural thing for me to gravitate towards fantasy movies in my acting career. Those are the kinds of films that truly excite me on a deep level. As an actress, I started out playing victims in slasher movies, mainly, it was due to the fact that a lot of such projects were being made in the mid 1980's and they all required a bevy of pretty young girls to portray victims. For whatever reasons, I excelled at screaming and looking terrified, so I soon acquired a good reputation for that sort of specialty. Later, I landed lots of roles as a vampire (Transylvania Twist, Dark Romances), or one who gets possessed by an evil spirit (Spirits, Teenage Exorcist), or insane woman who kills others (Grandmother's House, Haunting Fear). Producers now love to hire me for dual roles in the same film, because I'm adept at playing both a helpless, innocent victim and also a frightening monster! I guess my new specialty is transforming from 'normal' to 'terrifying' in just mere seconds. It's earned me the reigning title of "Scream Queen."

Q: You also did some music videos.
A: Since my mother had the foresight to enroll me in dance classes at age four, I still pursue dancing on a professional level. I've appeared in music videos for The Time, Saga, Helix, Linda Ronstadt, The Turtles, The Weather Girls and many others. It's more like a modeling assignment than a movie job, because such shoots generally only take a day or two. Unfortunately, due to the 'topical' nature of these videos, most of them play for a few months and then vanish from the mass awareness.

Q: Is Brinke your real name?
A: I was born as Charlene Elizabeth Brinkman, but I always hated the name. It sounds like some pre-Raphaelite poet. In school, the kids all called me 'Brink' for short. When I married Dave Stevens in 1980, I changed my name to Brinke Stevens. I've always thought that someday mothers would follow my lead and name their daughters Brinke. But, as it turns out, a food company in Canada has come out with Brink cookies and Brinky candy bars. Not exactly what I had in mind.

Q: Does the “casting couch” still exist?
A: In my early years in Hollywood, I encountered the casting couch problem a number of times, mostly from low-budget producers who wanted some extra perks for their efforts. It was a totally alien concept to me, so I wasted a lot of time arguing with these men, and not getting the job, as a result. Once, I spent one and half hours with a sleazy producer engaged in a hot debate about sexual politics. He tried to tell me it was a sound business practice, but I failed to get his point and kept questioning him further about it. Eventually, we both gave up in frustration. I went home in tears and he swore I'd never work in this town again. Oddly enough, I've been doing just fine, and I've never heard his name since then.

Q: How has your career been affected by the power of theatrical agencies like CAA (Creative Artists Agency)?
A: Any actor will tell you that agents are the 'weak link' in the film industry. Nobody likes their agents, and every actor is always searching for a better one. Presently, I don't have an agent, although I do have a personal manager. Last year, I conducted an all out search for a good agency, starting at the top of the list, like CAA and William Morris. After the first 13 rejections, I gave up. In every case, the response was the same. 'Sorry, we aren't accepting any new clients. We're just concentrating on our top money makers, and you don't happen to fall into that category.' Since I've been doing mostly independent films as opposed to major studio productions, I find that I really don't need an agent to get me work. All of the independent filmmakers know me, and I'm often offered parts without even auditioning for them. I much prefer doing it that way, although when I finally do make a transition into bigger budget films, I'll definitely need a good agency behind me, just to help me get the auditions.

Q: As a co-producer, what does your job entail?
A: Last year, I got my first opportunity to be a co-producer. A director, whom I'd worked with previously on two fantasy movies, wanted to do a video documentary about the making of horror movies. He supplied the money, and I did all of the organization work, including hosting, booking interviews, editing and marketing. We created a video series called 'Shock Cinema.' The big advantage of co-producing is getting a royalty check periodically. After that, a producer approached me about a fantasy film 'Dr. Psychedelia.' A London-based writer had penned the script with me in mind for the lead actress. But they are having trouble getting it financed, so I quickly ascended to the role of co-producer. I've spent four months lining up business meetings with everyone I know, attempting to secure funding for this project. So far, nobody has committed to doing it. One of the roles of being a co-producer is being able to handle rejection.

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