Hard to believe but the perennially youthful, Danielle Harris has been in show business for over three decades. Although she is predominantly known for being one of horror’s reigning scream queens, she is a versatile actress who started her career at 10 years old on the soap opera, One Life to Live (1968).
After her big break she went on to star in a plethora of genres ranging from comedies (Roseanne (1988), Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead (1991), Growing Pains (1985) and The Wild Thornberrys (1998)) to dramas (Eerie, Indiana (1991), Free Willy (1993), ER (1994) and The West Wing (1999) and even action films like Marked for Death (1990), The Last Boy Scout (1991) and Daylight (1996).
Danielle was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to chat with us at Diabolique about her return to sitcoms with a guest spot on The Conners (2018), helming the upcoming horror flick, Sequel for Joe Dante and teaming up with her friend and fellow Rob Zombie alum, Scout Taylor-Compton for a podcast.
Welcome Back, Molly!
Diabolique: Hi, Danielle. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us at Diabolique. Let’s talk about your upcoming episode on The Conners. You are re-entering the Roseanne world after twenty-nine years reprising your role of Molly Tilden (former neighbor and childhood friend turned rival of Darlene Conner played by Sara Gilbert).
In the episode which aired last night, An Old Dog, New Tricks and a Ticket to Ride, Molly is a catalyst for Darlene who begins re-examining the choices she has made in her life. The scenes between the two characters were heartfelt and it seemed like you just eased back into the show. Was it challenging to re-establish a connection with Sara? Tell us what that was like returning to that particular role after being away from it for over two decades.
DH: I was watching the teasers when ABC first aired them and it really felt like no time had passed. I mean, our dialogue with one another and our banter is kind of exactly the same with a little bit of maturity. It definitely was a trip, I’ll tell you.
I kept re-watching that one little clip (a flashback to an earlier episode) trying to see what had changed. It was weird to see us as babies! You know, I just cut and dyed my hair because of quarantine because I couldn’t stand looking at myself anymore but up until right before the show, I had still had long, brown hair like Molly.
I thought that would have been so crazy cause not much has really changed in three decades. So, it was very easy to slip back into that. You know I haven’t done sitcoms or live TV or a multi-camera show since I left Roseanne. I was really scared about that.
The only good thing COVID brought to the table was there wasn’t a live audience except for the producers. So, I had a little less anxiety about trying to remember all of my stuff. I just wanted to do a really good job. It was a really great experience to come back. That’s for sure!
Time for a Change
Diabolique: What about the script made you decide that you wanted to appear in a network series again? The last time you were on a show was when you portrayed Rebecca Pearce on Bones in 2012.
DH: It was overdue for me. You know I could only do so many genre films where it becomes like another day at the office. This was much harder for me and much more challenging and exciting for me to come back and have to flex that part of my brain.
I’m a mom with two little kids now so my brain and my memory are not as sharp as when I was sixteen. So, it was a lot for me to process and I would get to work an hour early just to prepare and make sure that I got my revisions and my lines right.
I wanted to do a good job. I have always loved comedy but I just kind of fell into the horror world after 2007. I love what I do and it’s become my thing and I am super content in that world but this was a nice change.
I am hoping the network will see me on the show and say, “Hey, I remember her! Let’s bring her back into something.”
Diabolique: Like you said, for years you have been predominantly known for working in horror even though you started out on the soap opera, One Life to Live. Do you find that casting directors have preconceived notions of what you can do? In other words, do you feel that you have been typecast?
DH: I don’t think that the genre has anything to do with it. I think it has more to do with I am older and I have been around for a long time but I think I still play younger than I am in real life. So, I think it’s more like, “We’re not quite sure what to do with her. Do we buy her as a lawyer? She’s five feet tall!”
Where do we find her? Now, that I am a mom, I can play someone that’s been married or is married, I think there are more opportunities that will open up for me.
A lot has changed in the last 20 years for women on television so there are more chances for middle-aged women, which is essentially what I am. It used to be when you turned 30, you didn’t work that much anymore.
You were like, “Oh, shit. Well, now I could play grandma. There’s not much for me.” I think that has shifted and I’m happy that I am the age that I am. I am looking forward to playing the mom and being authentic to who I am in real life.
The Secret to Longevity in Hollywood
Diabolique: Since you did so well on The Conners, if your agent were to approach you with an offer for a network series would that be something that you would entertain at this point in your life?
DH: Oh, hell, yeah! I didn’t need a script to know that I wanted to return to The Conners. When my agent called and said, “They want to put a pin on you for Molly,” I was like, “Wait, what? They’re bringing my Molly back?”
I was very excited. Sitcoms are a different beast. It’s really rewarding. I was nervous and I had a lot of anxiety about it, I walked away feeling, “Phew, that’s over!” and also, “Oh, my God! I’m so excited to watch it!”
I couldn’t wait to sit down and finally watch something with my kids on TV. They’ve never seen me in anything so we got together, hopped on the couch and watched the episode as a family.
They didn’t see the second episode. I didn’t want them to know that I died. They don’t understand that yet.
It was funny because I didn’t know that was my backstory until the third day of filming and Sara told me. I was like, “Wow. Even though I’m not doing horror movies, I still find a way to die on film.”
I think fans are going to freak out because they think, “Uh-oh. The bitch is back,” and that my character is going to cause trouble and that’s not what the story is. I think they are going to be very pleasantly surprised.
Diabolique: Let’s change the subject for a moment. Like Jodie Foster, you were a child actor. Was it hard for you to grow up on screen? So many prominent young stars fade away after a period of time. What do you attribute your success to?
DH: I didn’t have a problem with drugs, I guess? I didn’t get caught up in the wrong crowd. I had a lot of really great examples and people looking out for me on set. Making movies and productions sort of saved my life, it gave me structure and discipline.
It did the opposite for some other people. I loved the art of work more than being an “actress.” I was never like, “I want to be an actress!” So, I just sort of did my own thing.
Even now, my friends are like, “You’re on what?” I don’t run around talking about what shows I am working on.
Like a Boss
Diabolique: Congratulations on getting back in the director’s seat with Sequel for Joe Dante. Were you attracted to James Moran’s script about final girls because you know quite a bit about the subject?
DH: Well, listen, I had been trying to find a female forward final girl script for a few years. I knew I wanted to work with Renfield Productions, Joe Dante and Mark Alan for a while. They were looking for something for me.
I read a couple of things and kept reading stuff through agents. They sent this (Sequel) to me and I thought, “Oh, my God! This is my script!” Of course, they knew right away that I would direct it.
If anyone knows how to do it, it’s going to be me. I get to cast the roles and it’s going to be hard not being in it though, that’s for sure. You know there are so many of the girls I would like to play but I enjoy being on the other side of the camera almost more than being in front of it. I’m excited to get started on that.
Diabolique: Are you in pre-production now?
DH: We just finished the rewrite of the third act. So, now we’re getting into the casting process. We’re not going to film until third quarter probably September-ish.
Diabolique: You have other exciting projects on the horizon as well. Without giving any critical plot information away, can you give us a few teasers on The Host App and Dr. Gift?
DH: The Host App was brought to me by my friend, Matt Passmore. There was a female director and an actress fell out at the last minute, they called me and I stepped in. It’s a movie about life, death and quarantine…what we were all living at the time.
The script is pretty smart. It’s two people in a house. There is a lot of intense and heavy dialogue dealing with lifestyles. It’s dark but I like that. I like that dark stuff every once in a while.
Dr. Gift doesn’t start filming until July. They approached me and the character was very similar to what I played in The Host App. I wanted to do the movie but I didn’t want to do that kind of role again.
I asked if I could do another part and they said yes. So, I play a lead singer in a band, a rockstar, super fun, kind of crazy. Maybe a little like Molly Tilden in the old days.
I try to mix it up with a heavy role, a fun role, I try to keep a nice balance.
A Little Something for the Fans
Diabolique: Will you be making any personal appearances in the future?
DH: I have Days of the Dead in Chicago coming up which is actually this weekend as well as all of the Monster-Manias…
I have a Patreon where I have been doing commentary stuff out of my house called, CommenTERROR. I’m just creating content with my friends. We’re making things for fans who are stuck at home.
Scout Taylor-Compton and I are about to get a podcast going because we have a fun, bantering relationship. We just did a photo shoot with each other this weekend.
Our intent is to announce that very soon. We may get a Patreon going as well to get the fans involved.
Diabolique: Have you named the podcast yet?
DH: No, we haven’t, so if you think of anything, let me know!
If you didn’t get the chance to catch Danielle in The Conners, current episodes are streaming online at abc.com.