Gone South: How Canada Invented Hollywood
At: Edmonton International Film Festival
When: Monday at 7 p.m., Tuesday at 4 p.m.
Where: City Centre Landmark Theatre
EDMONTON - Standing in an undone dress and high heels beside a teacup, Shannon Tweed got me in a bit of trouble a few decades ago — but more on that later.
Tweed, who was born in St. John’s and raised in Saskatoon, is one of the feature interviews in the new film Gone South: How Canada Invented Hollywood, showing as part of the Edmonton International Film Festival (7 p.m. Monday and 4 p.m. Tuesday at Landmark’s City Centre theatres). The 1982 Playboy Playmate of the Year spent years in B-level erotic thrillers and guest-starring on American soaps and TV shows from Dukes of Hazzard to Murder, She Wrote. Tweed agreed to become Mrs. Gene Simmons after dating the old romantic for no fewer than 28 years, the proposal and marriage becoming ratings fodder for their seven-season reality show, Family Jewels. Since its cancellation, she and her daughter now star on W Network’s unscripted Shannon & Sophie, mother and daughter often switching typical roles. Sophie doesn’t drink, for example, and teases her mom about her cocktail dresses.
I spoke to Tweed from her home in Los Angeles.
Q: You always seem to have a quick comeback on TV. Were there funny people in your life all along?
A: When you spend half your life frozen, you have to have a sense of humour. If you’re growing up in Newfoundland you’re either frozen or wet. My dad was pretty funny. But drinkers are funny.
Q: Uh, sometimes ...
A: Well, and then they become mean. No, he never did. But people in my life always went for the humour. We didn’t always have rich times, but there was always humour, especially on my dad’s part.
Q: We’re talking because of the documentary Gone South, showing at EIFF. Can you talk about Canadians down south?
A: You always feel good when they make good, and embarrassed when they do bad. Like, send Bieber home. Naw, he’s fine. You’re always proud of where you come from, but it’s not just Canadians who do it.
Q: Did you hear a lot of about Rob Ford down there? Did that affect people’s idea of a Canadian?
A: The thing with Americans is they’re really not taught a lot about us, so when you get a Rob Ford making a lot of noise it’s embarrassing because we’re just getting to a point where they’re kind of getting to know us. Now you just backed us up a century. But it’s not like Americans don’t have idiots, too.
Q: You had a strange entry into America. The idea of a mainstream show like Thrill of a Lifetime helping a nice young woman into Playboy. It seems impossible in 2014.
A: I don’t know if that’s impossible now. That was just a reality show before its time. Everything I do I’ve done before everyone was ready for it. Now Playboy’s, like, ho hum. Back then, everybody disowned me, nobody was my friend anymore — people were embarrassed to do lingerie catalogues. But I was like, I’m not going to stand here and be a waitress for the rest of my life. I had to make a move; I was already 24.
Q: I wasn’t sure I wanted to tell you this, but I got in trouble in Grade 7 for having a certain fold-out photo of you in my locker. I got yelled at by a French teacher.
A: (Laughs) I’ve heard that before — that’s funny. But even in movies, they called them erotic movies and there was, like, no sex. But now every A-class movie star is naked all the time. Everything on Game of Thrones is naked, from Daenerys to her dragons. When I did it, they called me a porno star, but I never did porn.
Q: But how do you feel now about taking off your clothes on camera back then?
A: Well, you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t now. But then, you were damned if you did. What was my alternative? I’m a six-foot blond model nobody wants to stand next to, ever. The male movie stars were all too short. Same with the female stars. I had to make my own small pond and live in there — it was the best I could do. I loved doing TV. I was on Fantasy fricking Island! (Laughs) I worked with John Ritter once every two years. I loved the sitcoms in front of a live audience. You’d rehearse for two weeks like a little family. It was a cross between theatre and film.
Q: You’re still in it, unscripted.
A: Well, I was quietly retiring and my husband said there was a reality show going to be filming in our home. I thought, OK.
Q: Gene has said why he needs you is he has to be accountable to you. You tamed him.
A: I didn’t make him do anything he didn’t want to do, obviously. It took him 28 years. You can’t make people change. That’s not to say I didn’t give an ultimatum. (Laughs) It was the day my daughter went into college. I said, “This is where I get off unless the train is changing directions because I’ve been on this ride too long.” He realized I was right and he was being selfish.
Q: It takes boys a long time to grow up.
A: It does. And I realized he wasn’t doing anything to me, he was just being himself. Most boys aren’t doing it to hurt anybody, they’re just being boys. I raised one. I know what their minds are like.
Q: He’s accountable to you. How does it work the other way?
A: He gave me two beautiful children, he’s a great provider, when he’s around. He’s been on the road a long, long time, and I raised the kids pretty much by myself. I didn’t have to dip into my savings, and they’re really good kids so I have nothing to complain about. And when I do have something to complain about I take it up with him.
Q: And you get to do it on TV.
A: Be careful what you wish for, sir. You sure you want a reality show?
Q: Do you still go to KISS shows?
A: Whenever the stage changes. It’s kind of wholesome in a way, it’s a non-generational thing. They’re not sexually explicit. It’s a cartoonish show — it’s safe to bring your kids and grown-ups love it.
Q: It’s interesting the way they’re setting KISS up as a genre rather than a band. They don’t have to be in it forever.
A: Just get new ones!
Q: I was ready to razz them for the new guys in the old makeup, but they were so good live.
A: If it was the real band, it wouldn’t sound as good because they’re actually not physically capable.
Q: Thank you so much, Shannon. You’ve been on my mind for a long time.
A: Well thanks for buying the fold-out!
Q: Uh, I think I ripped it off from my dad but ...
A: Well, thank him!
Q: OK, I gotta go, I’m blushing ...