INTERVIEW: Suspiria's Jessica Harper talks with TV STORE ONLINE about Dario Argento, Woody Allen and cooking

She's a singer, songwriter, author and actress. She's worked with Woody Allen, Brian DePalma and Dario Argento. Chicago native, Jessica Harper has been a cult movie fan favorite over the course of her forty plus year career. After appearing in such films as SHOCK TREATMENT [1981], INSERTS [1974], MY FAVORITE YEAR [1982], PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE [1974], and SUSPIRIA [1977], Harper transitioned into television work to allow herself the availability to be close to home after the birth of her first child. This allowed Harper a Cable Ace Award for her work on the ground-breaking FOX comedy series, It's The Garry Shandling Show [1986-90]. From there, Harper continued her work on television appearing in everything from Crossing Jordan [2001-07], Ally McBeal [1997-2002], Chicago Hope [1994-2000], and HBO's Tales From The Crypt [1989-1996].

Over the years, Harper's remained HIGHLY active. She's written a slew of children's book, recorded children's music albums, done theater work, raised her family, and maintained a film acting career appearing in everything from Todd Haynes amazing SAFE [1995], to Steven Spielberg's MINORITY REPORT [2002].

Recently, Harper has been active on the internet with her fun cooking blog - The Crabby Cook. In December 2011, she released a new cook book The Crabby Cook Cookbook: Recipes and Rants.

TV STORE ONLINE:  What were you like you as a kid growing up in Chicago? 

HARPER:  I had five siblings. We spent a lot of time having food fights. 

TV STORE ONLINE:  Where does your interest in performing and music come from?

HARPER:  I saw BYE BYE BIRDIE [1963] when I was eleven and after that I believed that doing musical theater was likely to be the most fun profession I could pursue.

TV STORE ONLINE:  As a kid or young adult who were some of your direct music influences?

HARPER:  Harry Belafonte, Dionne Warwick and The Beatles...

TV STORE ONLINE:  Can you talk about your experience being directed by Woody Allen?

HARPER:  He's brilliant of course, and his collaboration with Gordon Willis, the Director Of Photography, yielded a gorgeous movie...I am very proud to have been a part of it...

TV STORE ONLINE:  Where do you think your character in STARDUST MEMORIES comes from?

HARPER:  Woody came to my house and snooped around looking for clues. He noticed I had a violin.  So he made me a violin player. He has a way of taking some of an actor's qualities and applying them to the characters they play, which lends the characters an exceptional realism.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Moving toward PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE... What was your first impression of the concept and what was it that convinced you to become involved with the project?

HARPER:  I needed no convincing: I was thrilled at the possibility of working with Brian DePalma, and singing a Paul Williams' score. I felt incredibly lucky to get that part.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Did you have any idea at the time that the film would become such a cult sensation thirty years later?

HARPER:  No, I didn't...You just never know what will become of a film. But it deserves its status; it's a wonderful movie.

TV STORE ONLINE:  How does it make you feel to be known as a "cult icon"? Is it something you have embraced?

HARPER:  I love it, because of my fondness for the movie. I love hearing from PHANTOM fans, and I do, a lot. 

TV STORE ONLINE:  Can you talk about the directorial differences between Dario Argento & Brian DePalma? Was working with one or the other more satisfying as a actress?

HARPER:  They were both great to work with. They were very supportive, and very skilled at getting good performances out of actors, which many directors are not.

TV STORE ONLINE:  How did you get involved with SUSPIRIA and Argento?

HARPER:  I met him in Los Angeles, and was very intrigued because his previous movies were so interesting and highly regarded in their genre. He'd seen PHANTOM and liked me in that, so it all worked out.

TV STORE ONLINE:  How was the overall experience working on that production? Are you comfortable with your performance in SUSPIRIA as being the work that you're most known for?

HARPER:  I loved working on SUSPIRIA. Dario was great, and I loved the whole crew, the Italian experience, and the quality of the movie. As with PHANTOM, I love that it has achieved such a cult status. People contact me more in reference to this film than to any others.

TV STORE ONLINE:  As an actress are you able to watch your own work in the aftermath?

HARPER:  I am very critical when I watch my work; it makes me somewhat uncomfortable, and miserable if I don't think I did well.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Going into SHOCK TREATMENT... At the time had you seen THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW [1975] prior to the project?

HARPER:  Of course...

TV STORE ONLINE:  Do you think SHOCK TREATMENT will become an even stronger cult film over more time?

HARPER:  Hard to say, but I'm told it has a lot more followers now than it did five years ago. I doubt it will surpass ROCKY HORROR in cult status, but it seems to be gaining some momentum. 

TV STORE ONLINE:  How did you become involved and cast on Fox's It's The Garry Shandling Show

HARPER:  The same way we actors always get a part... Meet and audition.

TV STORE ONLINE:  As an actress how do you approach a comedic role, for a show like that?

HARPER:  As the man once said, dying is easy, comedy is hard. 

TV STORE ONLINE:  Over the course of your career you seemed to transition into doing a larger bulk of television work vs. film work. Was that a conscious decision?

HARPER:  Well, doing the Shandling Show came at a time when I had a new baby, and there was no way I was going to take her on location. So doing television, which in that case was a day job in my home town, was what suited my life for many years. 

TV STORE ONLINE: How did you get involved with the producing and writing of children's programming like music and books? What was the inspiration?

HARPER:  My inspiration came from my two daughters. I'd always written songs, and when they were young, it became an exercise in expressing my connection to them. The books were a logical extension of the songs. In fact, some of them have text that is lifted directly from the songs.

TV STORE ONLINE:  On projects of that nature, as a creator, what's that process like for you and how long do you spend on them prior to their release?

HARPER:  The time those projects take varies greatly. A book can take a year, or two weeks. A song is the same. I just tinker with things till they seem finished. 

TV STORE ONLINE:  Where does your passion and interest in cooking come from?

HARPER:  I really don't know, but I suppose it's from an interest in being creative, as well as a desire to eat good food...

TV STORE ONLINE:  Are you a fan of the Food Network? 

HARPER:   I love to watch The Barefoot Contessa. That's about it. I watch her while I exercise. 
TV STORE ONLINE:  What was your motivation for releasing your cook book 'The Crabby Cook Cookbook?'

HARPER:  I thought it was high time there was a book that acknowledged that not everybody experiences the joy of cooking, that sometimes cooking for a family on a daily basis can be really irritating! This book, with 135 easy recipes, is for those people, crabby cooks like me! It's a collection of humor, survival tips and recipes, for the kitchen-challenged!

For more information on Jessica Harper, or read her cooking blog, and order her new book, The Crabby Cook Cookbook: Recipes and Rants - please visit her official website.

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