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Who better than to kick off your Halloween celebration than the Mistress of Dark herself, the one and only Elvira! Actress and comedienne Cassandra Peterson, the woman behind the bewitching black dress and the scary, sexy and sassy attitude, took some time to chat with us about how she landed the role that made her a household name, fills us in on her latest projects and dishes about her experiences on RuPaul’s Drag Race and her affinity for drag queens. And, since Halloween’s right around the corner, she lets us in on her favorite candy treat! We promise our interview won’t give you unpleasant dreams!
Socialite Life: First off, I have to ask. Is there a painting of you aging in an attic somewhere?
Elvira: (Laughs) No, but I should get one! No there isn’t, I don’t know what it is! My outfit is very forgiving…sort of! (Laughs)
SL: I’ve seen photos of you as your alter ego, Cassandra, and you still look fantastic.
Elvira: Thank you. You know, I don’t know what that is – I have no idea!
SL: You’ve become sort of synonymous with Halloween, what have you been up to lately?
Elvira: Well, I’ve been working on a bunch of projects. I got involved with a huge convention – it’s going to be kind of the new pop culture convention – it’s probably going to end up being one of the biggest in the world. It’s called Comikaze – it’s called Stan Lee’s Comikaze now – and I’m part owner of that. I’m also working on an independent horror film festival that I just got done with called Elvira’s Horror Hunt. I’m also out there pitching television shows – I have one that’s making the rounds right now and pitching another film. During Halloween, I make appearances all over the country and I head up to Seattle and then Portland. I’m going to be going to Australia soon and then England, so it’s pretty busy right around now. That’s a long answer, huh?
SL: I saw that you’ve even got your own wine now. How did that come about?
Elvira: Well, I do a lot of merchandising. Over the years, I’ve had my own beer, called Elvira’s Night Brew, and I had my own perfume and all kinds of things. Now I’ve got an Elvira wine (Elvira’s Macabrenet) and an Elvira soda pop – I’m moving into the beverage world!
SL: That’s great! So, how does it feel to have so many people dress up like you for Halloween?
Elvira: You always have a good time when you’re dressed as Elvira, I gotta say! It feels fantastic! I mean, I love it, it’s very flattering…well, of course, it depends on the person who’s doing it. I see a lot of truck driver types doing it and..yeah, not so flattering! But I’m always happy when people dress up as me because I know they’re buying my costume! (You can too, on Elvira’s website!) My favorite things to see, which I consider the sincerest form of flattery, is people tattooing Elvira on themselves. At first, I was kind of shocked, but now I see people by the hundreds literally with Elvira tattoos. That really is the sincerest form of flattery in my book.
SL: Do you get people who ask for your autograph on their body and then they get that inked?
Elvira: Yeah, a lot of them. I actually got one this morning, who a really fabulous Elvira tattoo on the whole entire side of his body and I signed it and he sent me the pictures of him getting my signature tattooed in across it.
SL: Since I’ve been such a fan of yours, I’ve always wanted to know more about how you got started. I know you were a member of The Groundlings. How did improv help you in your career and with the development of characters like Elvira?
Elvira: The improv – learning to improvise is absolutely invaluable. I think in any career, especially, of course, if you’re going to be in the limelight and be an actress, celebrity, whatever – it’s invaluable. Even if you’re a person who has to speak in front of people – I actually talked my doctor and my lawyer into taking classes with The Groundlings years ago. (Laughs) They both said, “It was the best thing I ever did!” I did not have the character (of Elvira) developed in The Groundlings but I did have a character that the director of the local television show where I ended up – KHJ – saw me and really liked this character I was doing, which was just sort of a goofy Valley Girl actress and he encouraged me to do that character for the audition – and I did – and I got the audition that way. I also improvised – they gave me a really bad script and I kind of just took off in a different direction because I didn’t see how you could be good reading a really crappy script. So I just went off and improvised and that’s definitely how I got the part. And, after that, I had to come up with the look – and a friend of mine who was an artist drew a picture of what he thought I should look like…so I certainly wouldn’t be doing Elvira now if it wasn’t for The Groundlings and my improvisational background.
SL: Did you work with John Paragon (best known as Jambi from Pee Wee’s Playhouse) when you were with (legendary LA-based improv group) The Groundlings?
Elvira: When I was in the Groundlings, Phil Hartman, John Paragon and Paul Reubens (a/k/a Pee Wee Herman) were the guys I looked up to. They were my heroes. I worshiped them and became, I feel, like family with all of them. In fact, we spent every Christmas and Thanksgiving and New Year’s together for 20 years. So, John Paragon became my writing partner and he was in Groundlings before I got in there and later, on Movie Macabre, he became my writing partner. We wrote everything together. We wrote the Elvira, Mistress of the Dark movie. we wrote a pilot for CBS called The Elvira Show and we wrote my second movie, Elvira’s Haunted Hills, together. After 21 years, we dissolved our working relationship, but we’re still great friends. And Paul Reubens and Phil Hartman helped me out immensely too. They made all kinds of appearances on my TV show and helped me write things – and Paul actually sang back-up on one of my albums. I remember we recorded it standing in my bathtub because the sound in there was awesome. It was called “Elvira and the Vitones” – it was John Paragon and Paul Reubens. It was really a family.
SL: I’ve love Elvira, Mistress of the Dark and I’ve seen it at least a hundred times – and I’m definitely not the only one. Are you surprised that the movie is still a beloved cult classic?
Elvira: Thank you! Yeah, I’m happy that it still holds up. It’s funny how many movies I see that I used to worship and then I go to see them again and show my daughter and I watch them and think, Oh my God! What was I seeing in that movie? But I’m happy to say that I think the Elvira movie really does hold up and is as good today as it was when it came out. I’m very proud of that movie. I think it…it reminds me of The Wizard of Oz or something! (Laughs) It’s one of those classics, but a little sick and twisted.
SL: One of our favorite scenes in the movie is at the end when you show off your tassel twirling talents!
Elvira: Yeah, people didn’t realize I was so talented until they saw that. Tassel twirling is something I learned when I was 14 years old. It’s so bizarre – when other kids were practicing piano, I was standing in front of the mirror learning how to twirl tassels on my boobs! It came in very handy when I was a go-go dancer and later a showgirl. It also happened to come in handy when I was making the movie. I was like. “Hey! I have this special talent, let’s use it!” And so many people ask if I have little motors in there or if it was special effects and I’m like no! It’s just me doing my thing!
SL: I’m so jealous that you’ve been a judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race – what was that experience like for you?
Elvira: Oh, God! It was fantastic. I love the show first of all. I love RuPaul and I’ve known him for a long, long time, so getting the chance to be a judge on there was one of my dreams and I had a blast! I’m actually judging again on that show that’s coming up soon, RuPaul’s All-Stars Drag Race. I tell you, I could work on that show every week. I loved it. I was sort of raised by wild drag queens and it just feels like home to me over there! (Laughs) I sort of consider myself a drag queen. I really feel like a female drag queen.
SL: Was that what attracted you to the show?
Elvira: Well, I mean, honestly, from the time I was 14, drag queens taught me everything I know. They taught me how to dress and walk and put my makeup on and do my hair and I just hung out with not just drag queens but gay men my whole life and I really was so influenced by them – and I ended up being Elvira. I think it’s really cool now that drag queens are dressing up as Elvira. I mean, oh my God, it’s coming full circle!
SL: I remember you had two drag queens on your reality show, The Search for the Next Elvira.
Elvira: Yes. Christian Greenia and Patterson (Lundquist) – and Christian works with me – he was the “Manvira” who was super catty (laughs). He is one of the best Elvira drag queens – I think he is the best that there is because not only can he make himself look better than me – which is really sad, when a man can look better than you – but he knows every nuance, every way I move, every facial expression and every line from everything I’ve ever done. When I can’t remember something, I call him and he can reel off whole scenes from my movies.
SL: You scared a lot of people when the reality show was launched. Do you have any plans to retire Elvira?
Elvira: No, I don’t really and that’s the funny thing about that show. It really wasn’t meant to replace me, it was meant to have additional Elviras that I could send out to shopping malls across the country and do kind of the lower-scale Elvira appearances but the name The Search for More Elviras didn’t really cut it, so the network insisted on The Search for the Next Elvira which was a little bit catchier but confusing to people. But no, I always have plans to retire, but then I never do! I was going to retire every milestone, every birthday and I just keep going. I don’t now how long it’s going to last – it’s scaring me! But you know, I do try to stay in shape and look good, so that’s kind of a side benefit. I have a feeling that if I quit being Elvira, the next time you’d see me, I’d weigh 300 pounds! (Laughs)
SL: Do you have any beauty tips you can share – I’d love to know how you stay looking so great!
Elvira: Well, you know, I do live a pretty healthy lifestyle. I was a vegetarian for 13 years, but unfortunately, I kind of fell off the wagon. I eat a mostly vegetarian diet and I do work out 5-7 days a week. I walk, I spin and I do yoga. I stay pretty active. I think that and the mostly vegetarian diet is pretty much what keeps me going. That and a little vodka! (Laughs)
SL: You’ve pretty much done everything. Is there something you haven’t done yet that you still want to do?
Elvira: Hmmm…my major thing that I want to do is an animated feature of Elvira and move Elvira into being an animated character – so I don’t have to play her anymore! And, although he doesn’t know it yet, Tim Burton’s going to be doing the film! (Laughs) He’ll be surprised when he finds out!
SL: Elvira and Tim Burton would be a match made in heaven!
Elvira: That would be awesome, wouldn’t it? I actually worked with him when I did a little part in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. I almost hired him as the director for Mistress of the Dark and Pee Wee hired him out from under me – a little rivalry going there – so the last time I saw him was, God, between 25 and 30 years ago. I just got to see him the other night (at the Frankenweenie premiere) and catch up and that was really cool – and Frankenweenie was awesome! It’s really not a kid’s movie. It’s my favorite thing he’s done since Edward Scissorhands, it’s kind of like a beautiful fairy tale.
SL: I saw you on the VH-1 documentary about rock groupies and learned some things I never knew about you. You’ve had such an extensive career and you’ve pretty much done it all. Would you ever consider writing your memoirs?
Elvira: Yes. (Laughs) You know, I have been trying to do that for so many years. It’s insane. I always think I’m going to get this chunk of time to do it and then I never do. I did start out writing it the first of the year, and that lasted a couple of months and then I went astray on other projects. That is something I really want to do but I don’t feel like I have enough time to do it. I guess you just have to make time. When you’re writing, you just have to sit down and write.
SL: Do you have a special message for your fans?
This article was originally published on October 17, 2012.