A Conversation With Erika Eleniak

It’s been thirty years since E.T.:The Extra-Terrestrial changed the way Americans looked at Reese’s Pieces. In 1982 you couldn’t turn on the TV without seeing the little guy with the lit-up finger munching on those chocolate and peanut butter candies.

E.T. was everywhere. From Pizza Hut glasses to Atari video games and even lunch boxes. His stickers adorned everyone’s beloved Trapper Keeper (mine included) and I still recall all of the kids in 7th grade talking about him for months.

But even thirty years after its release the one thing I remember most about the movie, aside from wanting one of those cool flying bicycles, is the scene where Henry Thomas’ character Elliott saves the frogs in his science class from certain death and kisses his female classmate.

Quite fittingly, she was credited as the “Pretty Girl” in the movie and it was one of those moments during my own adolescence where I would have given anything to be able to change places with some other guy. That other guy being Henry Thomas.

E.T. : The Extra-Terrestrial introduced the movie world to Erika Eleniak. Since then, she’s been a Playboy Playmate, a Baywatch babe and a Beverly Hillbilly just to name a few of her accomplishments.

She’s fought off terrorists in Under Siege and even hunted vampires in Dracula 3000: Infinite Darkness. Most recently, she’s appeared in episodes of Desperate Housewives and CSI: Miami.

In this interview, Erika talks about her time working on E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, Baywatch and “Under Siege“. She also discusses her newest movie, “Meant To Be” which deals with a very controversial subject.

goJimmygo (gJg): Erika, when did you first start acting and how did your role in E.T. come about?

Erika Eleniak (EE): I first started acting when I was ten-years old. My earliest appearances included a play, some commercials and on a TV show.

Although E.T. was not my first acting role it was my first film role. I was twelve-years old and in the 7th Grade performing in an audition showcase when I was spotted by a talent scout for Steven Spielberg, who was seated in the audience. I later went to meet with Mr. Spielberg and he asked me if I wanted to be in his movie. I said, “Yes.”

gJg: What was the experience like working with Steven Spielberg?

EE: Working with Steven was wonderful. He was very playful with all of the kids and caring as well.

I remember when it was time for our on-screen kiss. He cleared the set and had private conversations with both Henry Thomas (Elliott) and myself to reassure us that it would be handled with care.

gJg: Did you ever expect the movie to become the phenomenon that it did?

EE: When I was cast for E.T. great care was taken with everyone to make sure that “E.T.” stayed a secret until it was time for its release. This was done to avoid the possibility of the film being ripped off before it’s release.

I was told that the name of the film was “A Boys Life” and that it was going to be about a boy and an alien. That’s all. I had no idea what to expect.

I still remember sitting with my Mom, Grandma and Sister in the Hollywood Dome Theater for the premiere and just being wide-eyed the whole time!

gJg: Are there any funny stories from being on the set that you’d like to share?

EE: I think the funniest memory I have is that Henry had told everyone that he was in a “Girl Hater’s Club”.

The other thing was that he was 10 years old and I was 12 so we were both pretty freaked out about having to do that kiss!

gJg: Did being part of such a big movie bring lots of offers for future films?

EE: I was very fortunate in that my Mom was the complete opposite of what a typical “stage mother” is. She made sure that I had a normal childhood and stayed in school. I had worked a couple of jobs a year on average but as far as getting roles based on E.T: there were none that I am aware of.

gJg: And then a few years later you were cast as Shauni McClain on “Baywatch”.

EE: Yes, I was cast in Baywatch right out of high school. I was 18 or 19 years old and one of the original cast members of the show when it was first aired on NBC.

This was the most conservative network at the time by the way.

gJg: I loved your role as Jordan Tate in “Under Siege”. Was there a reason why you didn’t appear in the sequel?

EE: “Under Siege” was a great film and a fantastic project to be a part of. The role of Jordan Tate was pure FUN to play. I am often asked why I was not cast in the sequel. From what I understand, they wanted to make a completely different theme and therefore a new cast.

gJg: What was it like working with Tommy Lee Jones in that movie?

EE: Working with Tommy Lee Jones was an honor for me. He is one of my favorite actors of all time. Watching him work with Gary Busey was also inspiring. They wrote, re-wrote, created, improvised. It was amazing to watch.

gJg: Have you made any lasting relationships with any of the cast from those movies?

EE: I have run into various actors I’ve worked with over the years and that is always cool but it’s very difficult to maintain relationships with us gypsies sometimes! We move around from town to town, working and traveling.

I’m kidding though, we are not gypsies. We all just have our own very different and busy lives.

gJg: What is the biggest question fans ask you the most?

EE: Most fans ask me what it was like working on Baywatch or what it was like to work with certain actors. That is the biggest question really: “What was it like working with…”

gJg: It seems that I am guilty of that too!

gJg: Out of all of the people you’ve worked with over the course of your career thus far, who would you say is the one person you’ve enjoyed working with the most and why?

EE: I have been fortunate in my career to meet and work with many fascinating and interesting people but, if I have to choose a favorite, it would have to be Cloris Leachman. She is a wild, wonderful woman! So full of Joy-for-Life and her spirit is as contagious as her laughter. (Ms. Leachman co-starred with Erika in The Beverly Hillbillies)

gJg: Finally, what can you tell me about your new film Meant To Be?

EE: My new film, “Meant To Be” looks at the very controversial topic of abortion and what happens to those involved in the process. It is a very interesting point of view of a “possibility” of what the consequences of having one “may be”.

I play a woman who previously had an abortion and later on goes on to have a child. After her child goes off to college she finds herself “mentoring” a young girl in the very same situation that she was faced with many years ago.

There’s also a young man in this story in search of his birth mother as well which takes on a very interesting twist.