Leaping lizards, it’s Aileen Quinn, the adorable little girl who starred as the cartoon orphan come to life in the 1982 film “Annie.” As the title character Miss Quinn sang and tap-danced her way into our hearts. One look at her in that frizzy orange wig (yup, that clown fro was a fake) and you can’t help but start singing that song about the sun and how it’s bound to come out tomorrow.
Even as a full-grown woman, Miss Quinn is still adorable some three decades later. I caught up with her at The Hollywood Show, where she spent hours signing autographs from an endless line of adoring fans. On a break, she discussed her recent move from New York to L.A. and her new band Aileen Quinn & The Leapin’ Lizards.
Question: How old were you when you made “Annie”?
Answer: People get this wrong all the time, so I’m glad to clear this up. I was 9, and I turned 10 during the filming. My mom just sent me a picture she found online of my birthday on set. I got a “Gorilla Gram” that John Huston had ordered — a guy in a gorilla suit who threw little stuffed gorillas at me and sang me a song.
Remember when that was popular in the ‘80s? To get singing birthday grams? Fun. That was my 10th birthday.
Q: Was that your greatest birthday ever?
A: Pretty darn good. I even had a cake of myself on it. Which was a little strange but wonderful.
Q: When you have a cake with yourself on it, what part do you cut first?
A: I let them cut it. [laughs] It was on the set, so the producers were in charge.
Q: Is it amazing to you that people still love something you did when you were 9 years old?
A: Incredible. A lot of people still tell me today that it got them through a rough time in their lives. Some of them were adopted as well, so they could identify with the character. It made them say, “I’m important. I’m special.”
Q: What was it like to reunite with Tim Curry at this show?
A: It’s amazing. When I was making the film as a kid, I had no idea what caliber of actors I was working with. Tim Curry, Albert Finney, Carol Burnett. Now that I see Tim’s range, and now that I’ve finally seen “Rocky Horror” — wow! It’s really amazing he has such range. He’s so talented.
Q: What’s the most common thing fans ask you about?
A: They ask about the hair. “Is it real? Was it a wig?” Don’t wanna burst the bubble, but you can figure out the answer: It was a wig! They ask about the dogs, especially little kids. Little kids want to know if I still play with “Sandy.” I tell them he’s “on the farm.” [laughs] He’s running in a beautiful field.
Q: He would be how old at this point?
A: That’s not possible for dogs. [laughs] I really got along with the dog. He was a sweet otter hound mix. Very gentle spirit. Beautiful dog.
Q: Was interacting with the dogs the best part of making “Annie”?
A: Everything was the best part. I was so lucky. Albert Finney and Ann [Reinking] were like almost real parents of mine. They were so cute to me on the set. They protected me and the dogs. It was a very “family” set.
Q: Everyone knows you as Annie. Was it hard to continue as an actress after playing such a beloved character?
A: Yes and no. We will see what happens with film and TV now that I’m living in L.A. But in the Broadway world? No. They very much embraced me.
I’ve done so many different roles. I’ve done everything from playing Harpo Marx in the play “A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine” to playing Annette in “Saturday Night Fever.” I’ve been pretty blessed in musical theater. We’ll see what happens in Hollywood now that I’m living here.
Q: What made you decide to move to Hollywood now?
A: To get back into film and TV. I started doing a few films in New York, because they are filming more and more in New York these days. I said, “You know what? I really want to do TV.” Which is a lot like the theater.
I’m used to being very disciplined as a theater actress, so the long days on TV sets are perfect for me. We’ll see.
Q: At the same time, you have a band and are making music.
A: I do! I’m still vocalizing every day, doing my Broadway thing. The band is called The Leapin’ Lizards. Appropriately, we’re rockabilly, swing and blues. Really fun. Very fun live. We play all around L.A.
The songs are all originals written by myself and two of my band members. My drummer is the co-band leader. The band is like a family. Our first album is called “Spin Me” and it’s on our website: AileenQuinnAndTheLeapinLizards.com.