Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Actress Stella Stevens on The Nutty Professor (1963)


The legendary Stella Stevens (The Poseidon Adventure, Too Late Blues) talks with TV STORE ONLINE about working with the great Jerry Lewis in the 1963 Paramount Studios comedy classic, The Nutty Professor.

TV STORE ONLINE: How did you get involved in the project that became the film, The Nutty Professor (1963)?

STELLA STEVENS: I was under contract at Paramount Studios. So I was there on the lot every day, and they thought that I would be just perfect for the role for Stella Payne.  When I read the script for the first time I noticed that the name of my character was Stella Payne.  So I went to Jerry and asked him if he could change the character’s name cause I didn’t want to be know as a “pain”.  So Jerry was very nice and he changed the name from Stella Payne to Stella Purdy for me. Which I really appreciated [laughing].

TV STORE ONLINE: How was it working with Jerry Lewis as an actor and then  director?

STELLA STEVENS: It’s so much fun working with Jerry. He was always trying to make me laugh.  I had so much fun on that set, and I think he enjoyed working with me too. As the director, it couldn’t haven’t been better.  He walked in early, and he was the last one to leave each night.  He knew what he wanted this film to be clearly, and being a director is what he was supposed to be doing.  He lived and breathed to make movies.  For me, I couldn’t believe it.  I was working at Paramount and I was working with the best in the business, Jerry Lewis.   He’s one of the best director’s I ever worked with in my career.  The thing about it was the way he conducted himself on the set.

People wanted to do the best they could for him. He made people feel special.  That’s why The Nutty Professor is a classic. It’s because everyone that worked on that movie put in more effort then they normally would have I think.

TV STORE ONLINE:  So when you first read the script for the film, did you have a immediate sense of just how special and unique a project like this was for the time in Hollywood?

STELLA STEVENS:   Well, yes.   There’s never been anything like it made since.  It was very good.  Jerry was so wonderful.  At this point, he already knew how to make a good movie.   So as actors, we all tried to make the characters he created something special and wonderful, and I think that’s why the film has stood the test of time. It’s because of Jerry Lewis the writer and director.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Isn’t there a natural tendency as an actor to want to try and please the director as well?

STELLA STEVENS: Of course. I was always trying to make Jerry laugh.  I’ve always enjoyed trying to make people laugh, even if I was at the expense of the joke.  So I think he liked that, and you can see me being a dumbo on some of the DVD outtakes for the film.  I think Jerry took advantage of me many times by asking me to do a scene over and over cause he was using me to make others laugh [laughing].  But as long as everyone was laughing I was alright with it [laughing].  You never knew what he was going to do, but it was always something that would make you or others laugh.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Early on in the film prior to the arrival of the Buddy Love character does Stella Purdy have an actual romantic interest in the professor character?

STELLA STEVENS: l think she liked him.  I think she liked him cause he noticed her in the way that young girls like to be noticed by someone.  But I don’t think she thought of him as a possible love interest.  I think she thought he was a good teacher.  But obviously, he liked her and I think that made her interested in him in some way. It was a very natural thing.

TV STORE ONLINE:  One thing I really like about your performance and your character is how she’s so sexy, but you’re not playing it as sexy.  Is that just natural?

 STELLA STEVENS:  I can’t help it!  It’s just me[laughing].

TV STORE ONLINE:  So who was the better kisser? Professor Kelp or Buddy Love?

STELLA STEVENS:  Maybe Buddy Love.  He was really out to get it [laughing].

TV STORE ONLINE:  Didn’t Jerry take a lot of time to actually teach you about filmmaking cause you were interested in being a director yourself one day?

STELLA STEVENS:  Oh yes, certainly.  He was so wonderful.   He allowed me to just really hang out and observe as much as I wanted.  He was directing a lot of people, so if I ever had any questions about anything I’d just go to him and he’d take the time to explain how this or that works.  He took the time to teach me how to direct a movie, and Walt Kelley, the cinematographer taught me all about lighting.

He was really great, cause he would always talk to everyone on the set.  He’d take the time to stop and talk to whoever wanted to talk to him, he always made you feel very much at home on his set.

TV STORE ONLINE:  So with the depth and emotion that resides in a film like The Nutty Professor was it a film ahead of it’s time considering the type of films that were being made in Hollywood at the time?

STELLA STEVENS:  Well yeah, but I also think that it was also perfect for that time too.  It’s a film that still holds up, so I’m so very proud to have been a part of it.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Would you have ever made a sequel to The Nutty Professor had the chance came about?

STELLA STEVENS:  Yes.  I’d make that movie now if he’s put me in it.  It would be fun to do another movie with Jerry.  It’s been a long time since we made the first one, so I can’t imagine what it would be about, or how it would be done, but I’m certainly ready to go again. It would be fun [laughing].

Interview Conducted By: Justin Bozung
Please visit the official website of Stella Stevens here.