Given her incredible work with child performers in E.T., Cujo, The New Lassie, and more, it should come as no surprise that Dee Wallace was one herself. But how did she first get started in showbiz?
“Oh, I was born!” Dee, 70, exclusively told Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now. “Seriously, when I was four, my family was extremely poor. I looked like Shirley Temple and needed to help them make money.” The Kansas City, KS, native went from modeling and appearances as the “Dell Comic Queen” to 1970s TV guest spots and Hollywood success. Today, she said, “I go from family films to horror films and everything in between!”
Now, Dee can be seen in two new Lifetime Christmas movies, Every Other Holiday and Jingle Belle. When she’s not working, Dee enjoys spending lots of time with actress-filmmaker Gabrielle Stone, 30, her daughter with her second husband and frequent co-star, Christopher Stone. We talked to Dee about motherhood, how she overcame Christopher’s passing, and the stories behind her most famous roles — scroll down to read our exclusive Q&A interview with Dee!
It seems like you’re busier than ever these days. What projects do you have coming up?
There’s Jingle Belle and Every Other Holiday, a beautiful movie I really love. And I just finished filming a zombie movie, 3 From Hell. It’s the two sides of Dee Wallace!
And your most famous role is in a family meets-space-alien film. Did any funny things happen on the set of E.T.?
We worked on Halloween, so the entire crew was supposed to dress up. Steven [Spielberg] walked in dressed exactly as the kids dressed E.T. in the movie, with the hat and pearls, and the kids just lost it. He was in their hearts forever at that moment.
What’s your favorite E.T. memory?
Absolutely, hands down, the connection with the kids. We really were a family. I didn’t feel I had to take care of Robert [MacNaughton], but I felt a lot of responsibility with Henry [Thomas] and especially Drew [Barrymore].
After playing his mom, how did you feel watching Henry play the dad role in his hit Netflix show The Haunting of Hill House?
Very proud. Now I’m playing grandma roles! Time marches on. It’s great — and weird! Henry’s such a pure, real actor, and I’m happy he’s continuing to do great things. We had a real connection that the boys and I still have. You probably don’t hear this from most actors, but I love working with kids and dogs. [Laughs]
Even the dogs that played Cujo? Did you ever feel you were in real danger?
I didn’t! They were so incredibly well trained, and their tails were wagging all the time because it was a big game for them. The only time I wigged out a bit was when [Cujo] was supposed to have died on top of me. The dog had been put under, but not all the way, so I had a 140-pound St. Bernard on top of me and I was in a hysterical state, bench pressing this dog that’s growling! [Laughs]
Have you had any other crazy experiences in show business?
People don’t know the power of an actor’s adrenaline. Being told, “Don’t worry, Dee, you can’t break the glass” during Cujo was a great example. I hit [the car window] three times and the glass broke!
Speaking of big breaks, what was it like working with Dudley Moore in 10?
That was life-changing. One of the “grandest day[s] of my youth,” to quote a line from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The cast and crew would hang together, and I loved Dudley. We danced on tabletops in Mexico!
Today you act and do personal healing. When did you realize you had a gift for it?
I would get “messages” as a little girl, but we all just thought it was imagination. One time I woke my mom up and said, “Something is wrong at Grandma’s house.” God love my mother, she got up in the middle of the night and we went over there because we couldn’t get her on the phone. The cat had gotten on the stove and turned on the gas.
Wow. What is the work you do today?
I started studying with a man named Charles Conrad. He taught us a technique where you get your energy very, very high so you surpass your mental mind. I was doing it in my acting, but when my husband, Chris, died suddenly [of a heart attack in 1995], I dropped to my knees and said, “I don’t want to be a victim, I just want a way to heal.”
Within seconds I got a very clear message. I took it into my acting studio at the time and [students’] lives started changing, their careers started taking off and here I am now with clients all over the world.
You seem like a positive, strong person…
My father was an alcoholic and committed suicide when I was a senior in high school. I learned pretty early that I was strong enough to handle that and still be happy.
Do you have any regrets?
I certainly regret that I lost my husband at an early age. Chris and I were true soulmates, he’s Gabrielle’s daddy. It was up to me to pick myself up and keep creating the joyful girl who was born in Kansas City.
How did you get yourself and your daughter through it?
Love. I loved myself and my kid enough to rise up and take her through it. I think that’s why we’re best friends now. We’ve been through the downest downs and the highest ups together. She’s an actress writer-director, and I’m very proud of her. If you know the people around you love you unconditionally and will be there, you can get through anything.
Do you have a special someone now?
The guy I’m with now I’ve been with for five years. My [third ex-husband] Skip and I are very good friends and he’s still very much a stepfather in Gabby’s life.
What’s your greatest life lesson?
It’s always up to you to keep creating who you are. You can get hurt or rejected, but ultimately you’re the only one who can do that to yourself. That’s the biggest lesson I teach in my healing. You get to choose how to react, keep re-creating yourself and move on so that you like life.
Any advice you can pass on at age 70?
No matter what age you are, keep asking what you want to do, create and give. As long as you’re doing that, you live until you die.
For more on Dee Wallace, pick up the latest issue of Closer Weekly, on newsstands now — and be sure to sign up for our newsletter for more exclusive news!