If Laura Mulvey ever decided to write about cars, she’d have a field day with John Carpenter’s 1983 Stephen King adaptation Christine. Forget cinema’s “male gaze,” [how’s that for a reference, fellow film nerds?] she’d need to term the phrase “car gaze” as the film completely, and unabashedly, fetishes every single inch of the beautiful red 1958 Plymouth Fury named Christine. The camera lingers on her every curve and shiny texture. It’s quite a thing to behold. And who better to play the female equivalent of this fetishistic gaze in the film than the stunningly beautiful, and equally talented, Alexandra Paul. Only 19 years old at the time of filming, Paul handles the “second female lead” role of Leigh like a seasoned veteran and gives horror fans a reason to hope for poor Christine’s destruction.
On the heels of the intended March 12 release date for Twilight Time’s Limited Edition Blu-ray of Christine*, FEARnet sat down with the actress to discuss making out, playing second fiddle to a car, and the possibility of another Baywatch reunion.
*All 3,000 units sold out in the pre-order window.
Having watched Christine again this morning and I’m kind of struck by how, especially for someone in one of their first big roles, you do a lot of making out in this movie.
[Laughs] Yeah, it was my second movie. I’d done a TV movie before that. I remember being nervous at the scene in the drive-in, but Keith is such a nice guy that he made me feel more comfortable.
Now I’m just an old hand at it. I feel disappointed if I don’t get to kiss a guy in a movie. [Laughs]
How was it working with Keith throughout the film?
Oh, he was fantastic. You know, he’s such a nice man. He’s one of the nicest people I know. He’s really lovely, and he had so much experience. He did such a good job. Actually, Keith worked really closely with John Carpenter because it was complicated getting the arc of his character since we were shooting out of sequence. I wasn’t a part of that.
Also, the primary relationship of Arnie is really with Christine, not with Leigh so, in a way, I was not the female lead. I was the second female lead. And that is why I hate that car! [Laughs]
You’d read the script before you started so you already knew that you were going to be playing second fiddle to a car.
Yeah, although you don’t really realize it as much when you’re reading your script because the car is just a car. She doesn’t have lines, so it doesn’t seem that way until, of course, you shoot it and then you realize that the car is the star of the film.
I’d go as far to say that she’s the star of the film, even over Keith.
Yeah, for sure. I mean, she runs the show. As any good woman should. [Laughs]
I’m not sure if you know this, but Twilight Time’s limited edition Blu-ray sold out in pre-orders in a matter of hours. Are you surprised that the fan base is still so rabid for this film, even after several decades?
You read my mind because that’s what I was going to say. When you’re making the movie, especially when you’re 19 like I was, you don’t think about the future at all. In fact, I couldn’t even imagine that I would be around at 49, approaching 50.
No, I had no idea. I didn’t think about it like that. Basically, when you’re an actor working on a part, while you’re shooting it you’re thinking just of what’s coming up for the next scene or the next day.
Christine is totally a “car movie.” Even the way the camera moves completely fetishizes the car. Were you into cars at all before you decided to do the film?
I am not into cars and the only cars I’m into are ones that are electric, and only because they’re emission-free.
I was not into cars and I had never read a Stephen King book or seen a Stephen King movie before I started this movie. After I was cast, and before we started shooting, I read the book Christine and I was really surprised at how good of a writer he was. It was a really good book.
I had a recurring dream when I was kid and it recurred for years. It was me crouching behind a big rock in front of our house (I grew up in the country) and down the road were these two headlights coming at me and I was scared. Now I just figure that was a pre-cursor to Christine for me.
I never saw the car. I just saw the headlights, and I woke up before anything bad happened. It was just that fear of the car coming towards me, so I was able to conjure that up pretty easily when we had to shoot those scenes.
When I was on the set, though, I was really fascinated with all the cars that they had on the set. There were 21 Christine cars in different states of disrepair. On the call sheet you’d see which Christine cars were being used: Muscle Car 1, Muscle Car 2, and things like that. They ended up destroying all but three of them during the filming.
After you did Christine, you went on to act in a bunch of genre projects. What is it about horror that pulls you in?
I’d actually like to do more. I don’t watch horror because I’m still as wimpy as I was when I was 19, but I really love the fans because they’re so loyal. I especially like it when there’s humor with horror. That’s the thing about horror fans; they run the gamut and they appreciate all the different areas of horror.
When you read horror scripts, do you do it through your hands while clenching your teeth?
[Laughs] When I read a script for an audition or something, or if it’s not for when I’m actually cast, I skip through all the action parts with the killing and gore. I just look to see who died at the end. [Laughs]
Did working on Christine help prepare you for the rest of your career?
My career has gone through ups and downs so I think I was really lucky in that I came to Hollywood when I was 18, I had been cast in a TV movie [Paper Dolls], in which I starred, that was one of the top five TV movies of that year, and then I was cast in Christine. I was really on a roll.
Did it prepare me? I feel very fortunate. John Carpenter was wonderful and my co-stars were wonderful and I had such a good experience. When you’re that young, you don’t realize how luck you are. I just took it as, “Oh, I got a part. Good!” I didn’t even understand John Carpenter’s place in Hollywood then, at all, because I didn’t watch those kinds of movies and I didn’t see a lot of movies when I was growing up.
What’s your favorite memory of the movie, on or off screen?
I fell in love when I was on that movie with William Ostrander, who plays Buddy Repperton.
I think every woman fell in love with him by watching Christine.
[Laughs] Because he’s a bad boy. It’s funny because normally I don’t go for that. My husband is the straightest, sweetest, most wonderful, blondest guy.
Yeah, Bill was the love of my life before I met my husband so that was an important relationship for me. I felt very grateful for that.
And, then, I also dated for several years Barry Tubb, who played a football player in the film, but you never see his face. So those are two people from that movie that were important to me in my life.
I just have to know: Will we ever see another Baywatch reunion?
Yes! I am working with several of my Baywatch co-stars on this thing we have called The B Team. We’re getting together to do something that doesn’t really have to do with Baywatch, but it does happen to include about eight of us Baywatch people.
Is David Hasselhoff going to be involved at all?
Yeah, David will be involved. I talked to him this morning. We’re very excited.
You can see Alexandra Paul as “Leigh” in Christine. The Limited Edition Blu-ray from Twilight Time sold out of all 3,000 units during the pre-order window so your best bet at this point might be finding one on eBay.