|Nancy Allen in "Robocop"|
When movie actors -- even successful ones -- take two years off work, they can't usually be too picky with roles on their return. Often, they are relegated to playing supporting characters in offbeat pictures until word gets around that they're back in circulation.
Nancy Allen, who took a couple years off recently, isn't a very good example of that out-of-sight-out-of-mind syndrome. The star of such films as "Dressed to Kill" and "Blow Out" has made a career out of playing in quirky and, sometimes, downright goofy movies. Her latest -- "Robocop" -- is no exception. Many national critics are doing back flips in praise of the uproariously funny and exceedingly violent motion picture, in which Allen plays a tough street cop who comes to the aid of a half-man, half-robot cop with an identity crisis.
"I love this movie," Allen said during a telephone interview from Denver. "It turned out even beyond my expectations of it. When I first read the script, I thought, 'Oh, my God, I've never read or seen anything like this before.' For me, it was a real page-turner and I thought this could be a terrific picture."
The role of Officer Lewis was a real departure for Allen, though, since it required her to get her long, curly hair trimmed very short, and to lose most of her trademark femininity. In the past, she's usually played females who depended on men to save them from peril.
This time, however, her character is as tough as any man. And it meant she had to work hard to be convincing.
"I trained with Gary Combs, who was our stunt coordinator. He taught me how to throw a punch and things like that. And I'd never held a gun before, so I went on the range a few times and he taught me how to load and unload a gun and to fire it without closing my eyes too tightly and covering my ears," she explained, laughing. "I was a little bit afraid.
"But you know, I trained as a dancer, so I tend to move in a very graceful and feminine manner. And I had to really try and shake that for the part, so I a few friends -- guys who I know that are considered to be very macho -- and observed their behavior, how they held their hands, their heads, how they walked. I figured I couldn't really go too far in that direction. And, somehow, the farther I went the more it would balance out."
"Robocop" marks the first time Allen -- the daughter of a New York City policeman -- has played the part of a police officer. Usually, she plays someone on the other side of the law, or at least someone whose reputation is in question. She was a devious conspirator in "Carrie," a high class hooker in "Dressed to Kill" and a sleazy tabloid reporter in the science fiction comedy "Strange Invaders." Other Allen films include "1941," "I Wanna Hold Your Hand," "The Buddy System," "The Philadelphia Experiment," "Home Movies" and "The Fury."
The latter two pictures, along with "Dressed to Kill," "Carrie" and "Blow Out," were directed by Allen's ex-husband, Brian De Palma. Her two-year "hiatus," as she refers to it, was a direct result of the marital break-up, Allen said, during which she finally made the move from her native New York to Los Angeles. The movies Allen made with De Palma were often criticized as being too violent. It's an association that continues to follow her in "Robocop," which was initially slapped with an X-rating for excessive violence by the the Motion Picture Association of America's Rating Board. It had to be edited to get the current R-rating.
Allen makes no bones about being sensitive to such criticism of films she's made, but she stands firmly behind them.
"I did a lot of comedies" in the '70s, the former commercial actress said. "But the films that were most successful were 'Dressed to Kill' and 'Blow Out,' and those had a couple gruesome murders in them. And I don't consider 'Carrie' violent. It's a horror movie, and as we get exposed to more (violence) through the media, I think films have been forced to become more graphic. We see blood and guts on the news today, don't we?
"I didn't consider the violence gratuitous. I thought that it was appropriate to the material. I think they were movies I'm very proud to be part of."
Humor, she said, is an integral part of such movies. "I'm always looking to sneak a little humor into everything. Unfortunately, there was no real place for it in my stuff with Peter (Weller, the star of 'Robocop')."
Although her character in the film is strong and individualistic, she remains little more than a reactor to Weller's robot cop. Still, Allen, who just finished a starring role in the upcoming "Poltergeist III," said she's optimistic about the outlook for better-written female roles.
"I think it's getting better. I do think there's probably a shortage of roles for adults, although that's getting better, too," she noted. "But I think it's getting better as more women become involved in producing their own material and developing stuff. As more women are put into executive positions such as writers and directors, we're seeing a change.
"I'd definitely like to produce, but I have no interest in directing," she continued. "I have a piece of material that I've been working at on and off for the last couple of years. I optioned a book called 'Getting Away with Murder.' There were studios that were interested in developing it, but you're always in a better position when you develop it and walk in with script in hand and say, 'Here's the finished script' and present them with a package." Allen described the project as film noir.