- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 16, 2016

CHAMPAIGN-URBANA, ILLINOIS | Nancy Allen redefined what it was to be a femme fatale in films like “Dressed to Kill” and “Blow Out,” the latter of which will be screening at Ebertfest Saturday evening in a glorious 35mm print.

The 1981 film, starring Miss Allen and John Travolta, is a loose remake of Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 mystery “Blow-Up,” in which a photographer may or not have captured a murder on film. The remake has Mr. Travolta as a sound engineer who possibly has recorded something similar.

“John and I came through [Chicago] on a press junket for ‘Blow Out,’ and [Ebert] interviewed us and it was wonderful,” Miss Allen told The Washington Times of meeting the festival’s namesake in the early ‘80s. “I was a fan of his.”

Miss Allen continued reading Ebert’s reviews right up until his death in 2013. She said she was always curious “what did Roger write about” a particular film.

“He was probably among two or three critics I always wanted to know what did they think about it,” she said. “It was really a great privilege to meet him, and of course I met Gene Siskel at the same time.”

Ebert’s widow Chaz will introduce the film Saturday evening at the Virginia Theatre here in Ebert’s hometown. Following the screening, Miss Allen will partake in a question-and-answer session.

“Blow Out” was one of four films Miss Allen starred in for then-husband Brian De Palma, whom she married after appearing as the high school bully in his film “Carrie,” which was based on Stephen King’s first novel.

“We just haven’t crossed paths in many years — you’d think we would have,” Miss Allen said of her ex-husband. “At this point it’s like life moves on.”

In Mr. De Palma’s “Dressed to Kill,” “Blow Out” and “Home Movies,” Miss Allen effectively redefined the notion of the femme fatale for the post-Hitchcock generation — someone who is intelligent and sexy but whose motives were likely less than savory.

“I don’t think about it in the global sense of where it fits into film history,” Miss Allen said of the schematic she played in those films. “It was really about who is this person, how do I approach this, how do I connect it to some emotional experiences of my own?”

After she and Mr. De Palma divorced in 1984, many wrote Miss Allen off as just another ingénue favored by an older male director. But a chance encounter with a script about a half-man, half-machine cop of the future allowed her to redefine her own onscreen presence in her late thirties.

“I remember when I heard they’d cast someone else, my first thought was no, no, no, that’s wrong,” Miss Allen said of Officer Anne Lewis, the tough-yet-feminine cop who is paired with the resurrected titular avenger Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) in “RoboCop.”

However, the actress originally cast dropped out, so Miss Allen was called in as a last-minute replacement.

“You can really feel it on set when it’s going to be powerful and a good movie,” she said.

The film was the first in English by Dutch director Paul Verhoeven. Miss Allen smiled recalling how the screenwriters had to help Mr. Verhoeven with the script’s humor, which was partly lost in translation.

“His enthusiasm and passion for the work really infused the set with everything you see,” Miss Allen said of the director also known for “Total Recall” and “Basic Instinct.”

In a key scene late in the film, Mr. Weller removes the RoboCop mask to reveal he still has a human face beneath the metal visage. He then says of his family, “I can feel them, but I can’t remember them.” Mr. Verhoeven took issue with Mr. Weller’s rather bombastic reading on set.

“Paul said it’s really more internal and quiet,” Miss Allen said. “And you see it in the movie; it’s so powerful and goes right to the quick,” she recalled of the somber, far more contemplative way Mr. Weller reads the line in the final film.

Miss Allen would play Officer Lewis in two sequels, drawing her legions of fans not only from male admirers but women as well.

“I’ve had many young women write to me and say, ‘Wow, a woman can do that or a woman can be that,’” she said of the admiration for her character. “It really had a strong impact on their thoughts about maturing and become a woman.”

As she has aged, Miss Allen, now 65, has had to transition away from femmes fatale and police officers into more mature roles — ever a problem for actresses of any age, let alone in her demographic.

“When you’ve lived some life and you get to a certain point when you know who you are and you have confidence in yourself, you want to be able to convey that,” she said. “And I think that was reflective of my own process of maturing.”

However, more mature adults are typically discarded in youth-obsessed Hollywood.

“When you’re at almost the most powerful place in your life and you’re [gaining] understanding — and I’m sure it’s true for men too — you’re disregarded in a way,” she said. “And I know it’s true with writers in Hollywood too. Ageism is very prevalent in all areas.”

Miss Allen encourages female filmmakers to go out and make a film and worry about selling it later, adding that the directors she started working out with practiced “guerilla” style moviemaking without thinking about sales, grosses or awards.

“Just keep shooting, keep doing, keep going on in the hope that you can break through. Make something that’s of value,” she said.

She also advises young women who come to Hollywood to pursue a showbiz career to avoid the party lifestyle and not to “sell yourself out.”

“Don’t listen to the no’s, just do the next indicated action,” she said. “Because if I had listened to the no’s along the way, I never would have made my first movie.”

Miss Allen hasn’t appeared in a film or on TV since 2008, opting to put the bulk of her energies into weSPARK, an organization that brings awareness to breast cancer advocacy and treatment. Miss Allen started the program with fellow actress Wendy Jo Sperber, who died of the illness in 2005.

“It’s become a passion for me and something I’ve been dedicated to,” Miss Allen said. “This is why we have services for family and friends. It affects everybody.”

She still has an agent and a manager and reads scripts from time to time, but feels her energies are better put into women’s cancer awareness. However, she smiled and said “if the check’s too big to turn down” she would be back on a film set briskly.

After making “Dressed to Kill,” Miss Allen famously quipped, “There’s nothing more uncomfortable than wearing black lingerie.” When asked if she still feels the same way about dark-colored undergarments these days, the actress laughed gleefully.

“I think that some things never change,” she said. “I think that black lingerie or any lingerie has a certain effect on men that you cannot explain. It’s all good.”

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