For almost 25 years, Cassandra Peterson has been mesmerizing audiences worldwide as Elvira, her alter-ego. Clad in a dangerously low-cut black dress, bouffant hairdo and a few pounds of make-up, and armed with undescribable assets, the Mistress of the Dark has gone from horror movie presenter, to movie star, to Hollywood legend.
The Concordian caught up with the woman behind the vamp vixen to discuss fame, career, charity… and Halloween.
The Concordian: How was the character of Elvira born?
Cassandra Peterson: I was an actress here in Hollywood, and I heard about an interview for a horror hosting job at a local television station. I went in and sort of got the job looking like myself. They hired me looking the way I do and they told me to come up with some kind of an outfit that looked spooky. I actually had this character that I was doing in The Groundlings, which is a popular L.A. comedy improv group that I was in; a character that’s sort of a silly valley-girl actress, and they wanted me to do that character, but wear some kind of a spooky outfit. The two of them didn’t really go together, which I was thinking was pretty bizarre, but it turned out that it worked out very well.
The Concordian: How would you describe the character of Elvira, what her makes so unique and special?
Cassandra Peterson: I don’t know … Well, she has all the elements of Halloween, and she has a dark side, a sexy side, but also a really fun and crazy side.
The Concordian: Why do you think she has been so popular for so long?
Cassandra Peterson: I think the humour is a real big reason why she’s so popular. I think that if she was just dark and spooky like somebody in the past, like maybe Vampira or something, it just doesn’t affect people as much. There are more dimensions to her; she has a dark side, as I said, and a humourous side. And it doesn’t hurt that Halloween comes along every year. People start thinking about Elvira because she has pretty much become an icon for Halloween.
The Concordian: What is a typical Halloween for Elvira?
Cassandra Peterson: Oh my God, there’s no typical Halloween! I’m always working, of course, for the last 25 years. For many Halloweens, I was at Knotts Berry Farm, which is the biggest Halloween venue in the world. I played there for 21 years doing a live show. One Halloween, I hosted the U2 Zoo Tour that they were doing live. I had a Halloween that I opened for Rob Zombie. There’s no typical Halloween; every year I’m somewhere. A couple of years ago I was ringing the opening bell for the New York stock exchange and I was being the Grand Marshal of the New York City Halloween parade. Every year there’s something different.
The Concordian: Even though you have landed acting jobs as Cassandra Peterson, your character of Elvira has brought you the most recognition. How does it feel to be most famous for a character, rather than for yourself?
Cassandra Peterson: It’s good! I like it because then the rest of my life can be fairly normal, so I love that part. And I don’t mind being famous for a character because, for me, I own the character 100 per cent. I’m not like Captain Kirk who works for the studio that owns his character. I own everything about Elvira, so whatever I fit into it and develop is mine, whereas anybody who has done Star Wars or Lord of the Rings or whatever cannot utilize their character in any way. So, for me, it’s become an entire business, my own life. It’s a lot different than just playing a role in a movie.
The Concordian: Every Halloween, the Elvira costumes is a top-seller. How does it feel to know that so many women want to dress up as Elvira?
Cassandra Peterson: Oh, that’s really great. I mean, it’s become so much of a standard. People really think of Elvira as the queen of Halloween. She’s become the symbol for the holiday, like Santa Claus is for Christmas. So I love the fact that she’s turned into an icon.
The Concordian: Are Cassandra Peterson and Elvira similar in any way?
Cassandra Peterson: I’m trying to be more like Elvira actually, because she has a lot more…what can you say in a newspaper… (laughs). She’s very courageous and outgoing, and stands up for what she believes in, even though it’s stupid. She really is a very independent woman and I really like that part of Elvira. I wish I could incorporate that into my personal life more.
The Concordian: In her movies, Elvira is famous for her hilarious one-liners. Do you have any personal favorites that you started using off the set?
Cassandra Peterson: I do, and I use them a lot. I like to say to people “Hey, don’t get your panties in a bunch”. Also, one of my favorite lines, is “If I want your opinion, I’ll beat it out of you”. I use that quite a bit with my daughter (laugh).
The Concordian: What does your daughter think of the whole Elvira thing?
Cassandra Peterson: She’s sort of over it at this point. She’s eleven and she’s really like, “Oh God, mom!” She just wishes I would act more normal most of the time.
The Concordian: Do you think she would ever borrow your outfit for Halloween?
Cassandra Peterson: I don’t think so! She’s being Anakin Skywalker this Halloween and last year she was Harry Potter, so not, at this point, anyway. She hasn’t hit puberty yet, so we’ll see if this changes. At this point she’s the ultra not-girlie-girl. If she would be as Elvira, she would just die of embarrassment.
The Concordian: Many people are not aware of this, but you are highly involved in humanitary causes such as PETA and gay rights. How important is it for you to get use your fame to help those causes?
Cassandra Peterson: I think it’s the only reason to use your fame. That’s one of the main reasons someone should be famous, just because you can be a spokesperson and pull so much attention to yourself that you can then shine a light on various causes and things that need to be fixed. I think it’s the duty of every celebrity to use their fame to help people, so to me it’s ultra-important. Of course, you make a living doing it too, but you know that’s not as important.
The Concordian: Given the state of today’s movie industry, would you ever see yourself hosting a show similar to “Elvira’s Movie Macabre”, in which you presented and commented on horror flicks?
Cassandra Peterson: Yeah, I see myself doing it all the time, but it’s really hard now to get the films. That’s the problem, in this market, to get a hold of these films. Many are owned by big studios. It used to be really inexpensive, but now it’s so expensive. It basically stands in the way of continuing to do that type of show.
The Concordian: What are some of your upcoming projects?
Cassandra Peterson: I’ve got a lot of things on the back-burner. I’ve got a lot of merchandise that will be out next year. One of which is a new slot machine; a really cutting-edge technology slot machine. It’s the first time they’ve used TGI on a slot machine, so it’s great. There’s gonna be a little computer-generated image of Elvira telling you what to do and how to do it on the slot machine, so I’m looking forward to that coming out next year. I’ve also got several projects going for television. I have one with Jim Henson Productions for an animated Halloween special, I have one for the Clear channel which is a new gay channel here in the United States. I’m doing a sitcom for them. I have one reality show for the people that do American Idol. I’m working on all three of those projects right now and also I’m pitching another Elvira movie. I’m really looking forward to this, but it’s such a long process to get that going.
The Concordian: What would you like to do in your third Elvira movie?
Cassandra Peterson: In the third Elvira movie, my actual plan is to reinvent the entire legend of Halloween. Not really use real information, but reinvent the legend of Halloween with, of course, Elvira as the queen of Halloween. I’m so excited about that project I can’t wait.
The Concordian: You’ve been dressing up as Elvira for nearly 25 years. How long would you like to keep Elvira around?
Cassandra Peterson: At this point, I’m just positive that Elvira can continue without me playing her. I mean I’d love to play Elvira until I’m 100 but I like keeping her the way she is, and I think that Elvira can completely continue in animation, or with other actresses playing her. Just like Batman: Look how many people have played that character. I don’t see why you couldn’t have an Elvira movie and have Angelina Jolie playing the lead. I think Elvira has become enough of a character that you don’t necessarily need me to play her. It’s like, I hate to drop this bad news on you, but there is no real Santa Claus. It’s sort of like that, you know?
The Concordian: When it’s all over, and you ditch your black dress and wig, what would you like Elvira to be remembered for?
Cassandra Peterson: As sappy as it sounds, just as bringing a lot of laughter and happiness into the lives of people. I love it when I go places and I see people smile and laugh and say, “Oh, I loved this”, and, “This cheered me up”. I get letters from people living with horrible life-threatening diseases that say, “I watch your movie, and it makes me laugh so much.” I know that sounds sappy, but, I tell you, I would like to be remembered by people who think of Elvira as being fun.