This past summer, I was asked to do a Freddy’s Nightmares retrospective for Grave Face Records annual Halloween magazine. This assignment gave me the chance to talk with actress Liz Keifer, who played the dual role of Kim/Tania on a second season episode of the anthology series entitled Interior Loft. Keifer, best known for playing Blake Marler on Guiding Light, was an eclectic soap hopper, playing everything from the heroic best friend to misunderstood villainesses on a variety of shows (General Hospital, One Life to Live, The Young and the Restless, Days of our Lives) with zest and skill. She also brought her empathetic flair to a multitude of iconic nighttime programs like Full House and Married…with Children. During our conversation about her work on Nightmares, we dove into the psychological underpinnings of the character she played, a young author whose husband encourages her to record messages for a sexually oriented 1-800 number. It was a fascinating and important chat about the emotional truth of that role and how abusive that relationship reads now in a (hopefully) more enlightened age. Since only a portion of the chat was used for its original intent, I decided to reproduce the entirety of our heart-to-heart here for everyone’s enjoyment. It should give you much to think about, particularly in how genre work can provide a much deeper context to our lives than may be immediately apparent.
BGHF: Hi Liz! I am so excited to talk with you about this. What are your first thoughts when you revisit your experience working on Freddy’s Nightmares?
LK: I remember an intense two weeks of shooting. Wow! That was a lot. I remember the continuity people trying to keep track of who I was. Was I the character in the book? Who was I? …and all the different men who kept coming through…and the killing!
B: Ha! Your character certainly did some of that! Were you aware of the A Nightmare on Elm Street phenomenon at the time of filming?
L: No. I wasn’t. I was aware of the films. I had not seen them in the movie theaters. When did the films come out?
B: The first one was in the mid-80s. Then with the sequels in the late ’80s and early ’90s, they really took on a cultural momentum.
L: Yeah. I kind of missed that. I don’t know what was going on. I was off busy doing musicals or something!
B: Soaps! You were doing soap operas!
L: Yeah. I was doing soaps. (laughs) I was busy learning lines. So, I was not aware of the huge impact. I just remember the breakdown for the character. They were looking for a Michelle Pfeiffer type. They wanted somebody who could play a dual role. I was like – They are never going to cast me. I remember thinking that. But…I seemed to do that well throughout my twenties, playing the dual personality. The good girl-bad girl. I can go both places and I seem to have made a career out of playing a good girl who did bad things. (laughs) I got away with a lot.
B: Blake on Guiding Light always seemed to be messing up her relationships, sleeping with the wrong person…
L: Yeah… but with good intentions always. Like the nun (on General Hospital) who was psychotic…going crazy, falling in love with her brother!
B: Well…speaking as a very, very lapsed Catholic, I believe to be a nun, there has to be a little psychosis present, no matter what the circumstances!
L: (Laughing) This is a true. It really wasn’t a far stretch. So, no, back to your question I really wasn’t aware. I was just interested in the meatiness of the role.
B: Which there is plenty of! So, how did you approach the more sensitive aspects of the role? There is a lot going on there.
L: We all knew we were telling a story. It starts with that – plus I have to say, what the outside never sees, is the crew. There is always a huge crew there. And for the most part, most crews have been really supportive…and for some reason, I have been able to magnetize really great sets – sets where crew guys are almost protective of me. I’ve really been lucky that way. I do remember that there was this humorous game going on with this particular crew. I think it’s called clipping. I think that’s the name for it. It’s when you take the clothes pins that they use for their equipment, to clip wires together and that type of thing. It’s part of the tool kit for the crew, the camera guys…the sound guys. But the object was to clip people’s backs – to get the pins onto their wardrobe or their clothes without them knowing – to do it with a sense of stealth. During rehearsals, one day, they managed to put three of them on my back and I didn’t know! Nobody said anything. But after a while, I was feeling this kind of energy – like I’m in on a joke, but I don’t know what the joke is. It was this game to see how many clips that they could clip to the back of my sweater. That made me one of the crew! There is levity to that. I didn’t know that game existed. But from that point on, I did!! (laughs) Ever since then, I’ve been on the look-out for it! But that was my initiation! It was a bonding game. It is things like that that have always grounded sets with levity and humanity. We’re in it together and this is all a game! I have to say that is helpful to balance out those dark places. I do remember that I was game to go to those dark places. But after a while…it was not something I wanted to make a career of. It was super dark. That scene where I talk to him with him as he was being poisoned…where the character explains it, minute by minute. That was intense…and a little scary that I could just go there.
B: You have a very calm, serene quality in that scene. You made a very interesting choice to perform those moments with a chilling matter-of-factness.
L: Oh, just make it like…oh look what’s happening right now. Hmm…
B: Like the character was taking notes for the next novel!
L: This is going to happen. That is going to happen. As if it were nothing more than an experiment for me…like he was some sort of insect that I was experimenting on. That was kind of the feel of it. Yeah, you know, it was intense. It was intense.
B: It was almost like a 3 person play, each act of the episode. Did you spend a lot of time rehearsing with other actors to achieve that intimacy?
L: There was just the regular amount of time – which would be that day, the day of shooting. So, it certainly wasn’t like other projects, like theater projects where there would be six weeks of rehearsal. Film is like that. I had the different characters mapped out. I had a timeline in my head, a very strong sense of life and the work and everything. It’s important that you come to the table with the arc of where you’re going and that you keep track of your character, be mindful of where she’s going. They were very helpful with that, too. You just did it scene by scene…so it was the day of rehearsal type of thing. I guess I am so used to soap operas where there is no time, so any time that I get more than a couple of shots at it, I’m thinking that I’m indulging.
B: Interesting. Was there any one that you used as inspiration for Tania?
L: No. There was nobody that I can think of. If there was, I don’t remember. I just think that it was so far from me that I looked at it as an opportunity to play the flip side of the coin. It wasn’t who I was! Usually I’m the Midwestern “You’re so cute, stay that way!” type. When I grew up, everyone was telling me to stay cute. So, I think it was just the opportunity to play the shadow side of that. Let me be something that’s not cute! In a way, it might have been therapeutic, at the time. I was awfully young when I was doing that.
B: That’s the wonderful thing about the arts…you get to work those things out.
L: True! You get to play these little sub personalities. They’re maybe just a little part of you, but you get to expand them. They get to take over. They get to direct us. It’s kind of fun. It is fun! You know it’s not real. When I watched it now, I was a little – oof! – the lingerie and all that! It was a little creepy. And the 976 number. The fact that husband wanted me to do that to make money…I see where it just messed with her psyche…that he would want her to do that. I can’t…that is nobody that I would like to be married to.
B: Exactly! I found him questionable even in that beginning moment. He is totally uninterested in her, sexually, until she pretends to be someone else – a seductive stranger inviting him for a romp.
L: I saw that, too! It kind of filled me with rage. Wait a second! She comes down and makes it like it’s this clever surprise. Oh, my god! He thought it was somebody else! I guess she’s got some issues to work out, too! Yeah, that was really not a good foundation for a healthy marriage, I’d say.
B: Hence, Freddy was able to intervene with her…in whatever mystical and mysterious way that the producers and writers decide that he intervenes on the show!
L: True! It was an opening to intervene. That’s what it was! That’s what I thought. Here’s the opening for him to invade with that poison. They were open for it! This was not an empowering scenario for the woman.
B: Not at all! It kind of gave me Basic Instinct vibes – I checked the dates and this episode was done a number of years before that, though. You were ahead of the curve on that show!
L: Yeah! I was tapping into something else!
B: Is it surprising to you that all these years later that people like myself are still interested in this show and your work on it?
L: Yes…and no. I have found that I have been part of some shows that have just been iconic. I did an episode of Full House that, to this day, still makes my kids the most popular kids on campus. I was on this one episode where I kissed everybody. I was Jesse’s girlfriend…I was everybody’s girlfriend. So, I seemed to have hit on some shows that are now hitting the next wave of pop culture. There’s an obsession with it. My daughter is in her early 20s and she’s obsessed with ‘80s movies. I forget that they didn’t grow up with that. So, for them, they are seeing it with brand new eyes. So, I don’t know. I think that everything has its way of coming around. I’m curious what the Freddy’s Nightmares segment might find in it. Why is that its intriguing for you?
B: I’ve always looked at horror as reflecting the times we are living in and I think there is so much diversity in it. As a gay man and a self-described feminist, that is so important to me. Despite an abundance of inadequacies, horror still has such strong female characters. Even with Kim/Tania in your episode. She kind of turns the tide and winds up being the one who revels in revenge and vengeance. It may be twisted in a way, but it’s still powerful.
L: Yes! it is twisted, but it’s a part of her that is taking over to protect her. She’s realized that what has happened to her – what her husband did to her – isn’t right. This was not right what happened. What you were supporting and suggesting and pushing me/her to do. It was like she was restoring a sense of justice – restoring her autonomy. It is a female comeuppance. Because it does make you cringe. I was cringing when I watched that relationship. It was like, “Oh, god!” And at the time, I didn’t know anything about relationships – so probably everything around me was dysfunctional. So, I was probably just like, yeah, yeah, yeah…this is it! It was a reflection of what you’ll accept and now the narrative is completely different! Thank god! Like my daughter would go, “That’s just crazy!!”
B: And she would be right.
L: Yeah! She would be right. In fact, when watching it I was like, “God, I hope my kids don’t see this!” I just forgot how creepy that part of it was. Then I was looking at it as this meaty role. I just got to play something completely different. It’s very interesting about how we change.
B: It is. I have a technical question now. There was some glass exploding in one of the bathroom scenes you are in. Do you recall how that was done to keep you safe?
L: Oh, there’s always stunt men. I was looking at that scene, too. I don’t even think I was there. I think they pulled me out when the glass was breaking. And there is a way that they shoot that kind of stuff. I’ve always found that fascinating. I love that stuff! That stuff is so much fun. I love the behind the scenes info – how they make the illusion happen. They make it look like I’m in it, but I’m not. It’s just a long shot. So, I don’t recall ever feeling in danger. It was a good crew. There is always some sort of stunt guy that protects you and it was probably special glass, too. Sugar glass…nothing that would cut you.
B: But you have cut your teeth on a strong variety of roles throughout your careers, a true testament to your talent.
L: Thank you. It was fun. I enjoyed playing different types of roles. I was very fearless about playing comedy. With Married…with Children, I was like, “I’ll go there!” I loved playing. I’m very good at looking at the tone of a show and I can match it. I can go big and I can go quiet. I find that very interesting, It’s just like playing different notes on a piano to me. I can go there!
B: Speaking of going there, Rising Storm, your big action film opus, is now available for viewing on YouTube.
L: It is? No kidding! Yeah. (laughs) That was going to make me a movie star. That was a lot of fun. June Chadwick, who played my sister, was just lovely. My character in that was Blaise March. I saw her as a cross between Goldie Hawn and Sigourney Weaver. That was where I was going with that. I just loved that – walking around with a machine gun! I had to run down a flight of stairs and, at the bottom of the stairs, I had to shoot this shotgun. I had to shoot a lock off. They basically said, “Just come down and shoot at it. Then we’ll cut and put in the special effects. That’ll be the shot of the lock being blown off, so don’t worry about it!” So, I came running down, pumped the gun and I shot at the lock and I blew it right off. I did it without any special effects! They couldn’t believe it. So, that was fun! I thought I was pretty bad-ass.
B: I have to agree with that assessment. I could never do that.
L: I had never done any work with guns before. So, I thought, “Oh, wow! I must be good at this! So, don’t give me a real one! I might like it!”
B: That’s what I think is so great about genre films…even as an exploitative genre, they have so much to offer women. Where else can someone play a bad-ass neurosurgeon with a vigilante fetish or a nuclear scientist-fashion model who saves the world? They are silly, but so powerful in their own way, as well.
L: I love that perspective. That’s great!
Speaking of great…you can always keep up with Liz’s amazing life and further ventures (including career coaching) at https://www.lizkeifer.com/.
Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!