The public at large was introduced to Kelli Maroney as an evil nymphet on the daytime drama Ryan's Hope. With one of the most diverse portfolios in the entertainment industry, Kelli made her film debut in the 1982 Universal comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Ms. Maroney has become a staple of cult cinema. Her company, Badass Cheerleader Productions, references her role as Samantha, a machine gun-wielding high school student in the MGM sci-fi feature Night of the Comet. If you're into '80s horror flicks, you've probably seen her in the low-budget epic Chopping Mall, where she battled sentient robotic security guards. She's also appeared in numerous TV shows, including One Life to Live, Entertainment Tonight, HBO's True Blood, Chicago Hope and Murder, She Wrote. We at Retro Injection were thrilled when Kelli agreed to do the following interview.
You've lived almost your entire life in show business. It's a tall order, but would you tell us about your favorite projects?
All of them are my favorite! Each for a different reason. Ryan's Hope was my conservatory school, Slayground, my first film, Fast Times, my first trip to Los Angeles, Night of the Comet, one of my most heartfelt experiences in film, etc. My favorite character to date is Merry/Meridith in Face Down, a Showtime film I did with Joe Mantegna, Peter Riegert, and Adam Ant. I played a schizophrenic and it was an amazing experience.
What was it like appearing on the cover of People magazine?
Well, that was a time when People was featuring all kinds of Daytime stars. Soaps were hot. There was an influx of a lot of "sexy" young characters being cast at the time to appeal to the kids on summer break. So, it's not as big of a deal as you'd think, actually. I was glad I was chosen to be one of the featured young players, of course. Not bad for my first job ever, I thought! But really, if they hadn't featured me it would have been kind of a slight since they were doing all the other young actors.
You perform at The Magic Castle in Hollywood, a private club which is home to some of the best working magicians in the world. What was your catalyst for starting a career in magic? What's your signature effect?
I don't perform at the Magic Castle! That is the cream of the Magic crop! My now husband, then boyfriend, was a magician member and wrote for their magazine. I thought being "the girlfriend" was lame, so I auditioned to become a magician member. It took me three auditions before they passed me--these magicians, mostly men, practice from the time they are children! They're not about to allow anyone in as a magician member just because they're a known actress and dating a magician. When my husband interviewed the magicians I wanted them to be able to talk in front of me, and I knew that a magician never reveals their secrets to a "muggle."
In 1984's Night of the Comet, you pack some serious heat: a Smith and Wesson Model 19, and a MAC-10 submachine gun! In real life, you know how to handle a variety of firearms. Could you give us some background on your training and abilities?
We were trained for the MAC-10 at a shooting range by professionals. Other than that, it was just the gun wranglers on set for each project. I had an affinity for it, and there came a time when they'd show up on set, see it was me, and say, "She knows already. We have time for a long lunch instead."
While your character Samantha in Night of the Comet was based on the '80s “valley girl” stereotype, the writing and development smartly plays you as a compassionate and strong-willed woman. What personal experiences did you draw upon to make Samantha sympathetic and likable?
Every character is an extension of the actor playing them. You just pull out the parts of you that fit the character--they just naturally come forward. You put yourself in the story and discover what you'd feel and what would cause you to do the things the character does.
Both Night of the Comet and Chopping Mall utilized L.A.'s Sherman Oaks Galleria, the ultimate '80s mall. What was it like filming in the iconic location?
Well, it was just a mall at the time and hardly iconic. NOW it's an iconic location. The current Galleria is nothing like the old one and probably not destined for icon status in the future.
You portrayed a woman with schizophrenia on the 1997 Showtime original film noir entry Face Down, written and directed by Thom Eberhardt. You'd worked with him on Night of the Comet, and he wrote the Face Down role with you in mind. How did you prepare for the part?
I only had a few days with the script. I still had to audition because the producers had to choose me. Thom wasn't going to force me on them if they wanted someone else. So, luckily, they chose me and I hopped on a plane to Toronto. I took it scene by scene. Thom and I would talk about the work in the morning and then I worked with a coach to build my confidence. I firmly believe in always having a coach. Not only for acting, but for everything that is important.
Around 2006, you took a short hiatus from the spotlight. What brought you back?
Everyone started telling me about all the stuff there was about my films on the internet and also the TV I'd done. I couldn't believe it, and it sort of woke me back up to who I really am. Shortly before that I'd been in a terrible car accident and that sort of started me thinking about my life and what I really wanted to do with it, since I was reminded that tomorrow isn't promised to any of us. We better live every moment we can! So, hearing about all the love those films were getting helped me to decide that I was kidding myself if I thought I was anything besides an actor and a "lifer" in the industry.
What can we expect from the podcast you co-host?
It's a show that Jerry McCarty started about 9 years ago. Then around 7 years ago I began co-hosting. I'd been on the program to discuss Fast Times and we worked very well together and people responded, so he asked me to stay on. It's largely interviews with actors he loved throughout his life, like Mary Ann on Gilligan's Island, Cissy on Family Affair, etc. and musicians, as well. Gary Marshall was on, and Carl Gottlieb, too. Mindy Sterling, and some improvisers and present day actors and comedians, and then some behind the scenes people, like Foley artists, casting directors, you name it. It's called Rick's Martini Bar and you can listen to it for free on iTunes.
Live theater was your first love, and you're still active in it. How do you feel your background in Shakespearean productions and improv prepared you for your diverse roles?
Everything you learn feeds into each other in all sorts of ways to create a craft. I think the most crucial training for film was really being on the soap everyday. It taught consistency and preparedness and those things are super important on a low-budget film set.
You're in pre-production for a 2019 project entitled To Avenge. What are you at liberty to say about it?
Ha-ha, nothing much, really. Except it's a brutal revenge story and I play an extremely wealthy, super-bitchy, ice-cold mother. I also have Exorcism at 60,000 Feet about to be released. It's a comedy-horror along the lines of The Exorcist meets Snakes On A Plane meets Airplane! with an ensemble cast including, besides myself, Lance Henrikson, Bill Mosely, Adrienne Barbeau, Bail Ling, and quite a few other great, well-known actors. The humor is just plain wrong and it should be a lot of fun for people. I hope so, anyway!