Heather Locklear: The Heather on the Hill
In 1996, Heather Locklear was starring on her third hit TV show, Melrose Place. She was married to her second rock star husband, Richie Sambora. And her first supporting role in a major motion picture, The First Wives Club, had been all but excised from the final cut. In the October 1996 issue of Movieline magazine, Stephen Rebello had a refreshingly open conversation with the TV star.
You’ve got to climb Mt. Everest to reach the Valley of the Dolls . . .
Why, as I’m on my way to interview Heather Locklear, is bad dialogue from Valley of the Dolls running through my head? Simply because had she not existed, someone like Dolls novelist Jacqueline Susann might well have invented Locklear as a heroine of a sexy showbiz novel. Even a thumbnail sketch of her life sounds distinctly Susann-esque: Quintessential California homecoming queen, blessed with considerable charm and less considerable acting skills, stars in two successful TV series; then, at an age when other actresses are playing mothers, becomes a full-on sex symbol in a third hit series. In real life, rumored to be surgically enhanced, our tawny beauty marries not one, but two bad-boy, wild-maned rock musicians. Get the picture? Even her very name, Heather Locklear, is a dichotomy: froth and steel, Hollywood and heartland, Glasgow and Goleta.
For those of you who pride yourselves on ignoring tamp and pop culture icons, Locklear is TV’s stylishly dark-rooted bitch goddess, first seen in “T.J. Hooker” and “Dynasty.” more recently credited with jolting “Melrose Place” back into the ratings. By turning that trick, Locklear jolted herself onto TV stardom’s top rung and saved herself from sliding back into the Grade-2 movies from whence she came (remember Return of the Swamp Thing?). Of late, she has made stabs at an A-level big-screen movie career. Though the first, The First Wives Club, has proved to be a disappointment for her, she’s already signed for another.
Arriving at the hilltop mansion Locklear shares with her second husband, Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora, I’m not quite sure what to expect: the high-style, manipulative Joan Crawford toughie she plays on weekly TV, or the multiple-personality basket case she lined in a recent TV movie. Happily, it’s neither. Locklear saunters barefoot out of her house to greet me at my car. She’s down-to-earth and friendly on sight, and–clad in bun-hugging gray workout briefs and a tight white halter lop–a fetching sight. Zero entourage. Zero altitude. Zero pretense. We’ve barely introduced ourselves when I’m hustled inside for a tour of her palatial digs. As I check out her miles of marble, glittery chandeliers and nose- bleed-high ceilings. I can’t help but blurt. “Jeez. Heather, you’re definitely rich–and probably spoiled, too.” She laughs merrily, sweeps out her arms, and gushes, “Isn’t it faaabulous? Rich? OK, maybe. But spoiled? I’ve only been spoiled for 17 years.”
She whirls me into a living room appointed with enough antique velvet, brocade and 24-karat Louis Quinze this and that to stock a Versailles fire sale. The vibe is so sinfully opulent. I toss out this query: “Which of the seven deadly sins gives you the most trouble?” She throws herself into one of the room’s bow ling alley-sized sofas, laughs, then says, “Lust! I’ve even got a framed Erté titled ‘Lust.’ I can’t say it’s the deadly sin that sets me in trouble, though, because, it’s more actually the sin that gets me excited. Very excited. Luckily, because I’m married, I also get really good jewelry out of it.
“Speaking of lust,” she says, jumping up. “I’ll show you something I bought Richie-who I miss terribly right now, but if he were here, he’d be talking about himself, and where would that leave me?” She scampers to a table, retrieves a book and hands it over. It’s an imported art volume of wildly erotic paintings of such things as AK-47-sized penises, watermelon breasts, and orgiastic contortions of every stripe.
“So,” I ask, “since you and your husband own this thing, have you used it to expand your repertoire?”
“Well, that’s always been great and I’ve always been great.” she purrs, “and it’s only gotten more so.” Her laughing eyes spell things out: We didn’t need a book, honey.
“Then you and Richie don’t, like some people we could mention, videotape yourselves doing the deed?” I needn’t make specific mention of that now-infamous home video of sexual triathletes Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee–Locklear’s ex-hubby–which was allegedly swiped from their in-home safe. Arching her brow playfully, Locklear shoots back, “Who says we haven’t? But at least we keep ours in an underground safe where no one else can get at it.”
“So, you, unlike that other celebrity wife, wouldn’t brag in print about your husband’s sexual prowess or the size of his charms?”
Locklear growls, “You mean his penis? I like it, I mean, I should hope I like it because I’m married to it for the rest of my life. But enough about my husband for right now: Let’s talk about me-me-me-me-ME!”
OK, fine, I inquire what she’s been reading of late, and she guiltily confesses she’s been perusing an unauthorized Heather Locklear biography. “This morning, as I was looking through this junk.” she explains, “this book was saying stuff like that I had gone out with Christopher Atkins, which I never did. There’s some really weird stuff in this book, stuff that is so not true. Sometimes, they get a little bit right, then build onto it and get it all wrong. However, when I got to what critics in the Boston Globe or the Herald, whatever, actually said about me, like how I’m always ‘very nice’ and all, but that they think I suck, I went, ‘Uggh, that’s the real thing.’ Let’s face it, 20,000 nice things can be said about you and though you appreciate and really need the nice, you remember the knocks instead.”
Well, journalistic dissing of her acting chops aside, how might she assess herself on screen?
“I’ve just always thought I had a winning personality and that was all that mattered,” she answers. “I mean, look, I watched the first TV things I did. Even today, I watch “Melrose Place’ and I think: I suck. Half the time, I can’t even see my performance because I’m busy looking at my roots or going, ‘Shouldn’t they use another couple of filters on me right about now?'”
Would she agree with the millions of “‘Melrose Place”-niks who find her sexy? “Well,” she reminds me, “Teri Hatcher is the most downloaded image on the Internet, not me. Look, it’s even hard for me to go to auditions for roles where it’s supposed to be a sexy girl in high heels and shorts. I usually go, ‘Guys, I’ll be sexy in a pair of tight pants and thick-heeled shoes so that I can stand up, walk and not be so nervous.’ Auditions are always gross, weird and awkward–I’m usually just so grateful when those damn things are over. If I saw someone like Sharon Stone coming out from a reading as I was going in, it would psych me out so bad, I’d probably cry, have to head home and send a message: ‘I can’t make the audition.'”
Say it isn’t so. The babe who sexed up black roots and power suits, the doll who once jiggled and jogged through her own workout video, is actually insecure about her looks? “My looks?” she repeats, laughing at herself. “Now, to remind myself I can look good, I keep many flattering pictures of myself around the house. Come see.”
She leads me down a hail for a private viewing of a couple of framed portraits. In them, she’s wearing a bodysuit under a net skirt, sporting a chopped, Courtney Love-style wig and copping a fuck-all attitude. “Notice I keep these in a dark area near the bathroom,” she points out, cracking up. Leaning in for a closer look, she comments, “Check out those lines around the eyes, would you? And these pictures were taken something like four years ago.” She’s laying it on a bit thick, of course; I’m standing up close and she looks aces.
Somehow this seems just the moment to bring up the twin subjects of her signature black roots and the persistent rumors that she’s had plastic surgery. “I have to tell everybody,” she replies, throwing up her arms to address the world. “I know I have roots. Don’t you dare try and act like you think I don’t know I have roots. I didn’t mean to make it a style. They just sort of happened. It was not a plan. But I think that phase is going out now, so I’ll just have to get less lazy and, though it’s a drag to get them done, see my hairdresser more often. Happy now?”
Back in the living room, I ask exactly how much cosmetic surgery she has had or might be willing to undergo, whether out of vanity or out of desire to extend her career. “I certainly have no problem with it,” she declares. “It seems 45 is when things really start to change; when it gets to the age where it starts looking not real good, it’s time to do something. It does cross my mind every once in a while. Let’s put it this way: I hope there’s more depth to me by the time I’m older, but if I have to choose between Richie waking up one morning and saying to me, ‘Gee, you’re a fascinating woman’ or ‘Gee, you look sexy and fantastic,’ I’ll go for hearing him tell me I look sexy and fantastic. So, I hope I’m just lovely-to-look-at as I age. But just in case I’m not, I’ll go there, believe me.”
Locklear is so refreshingly loose, I ask if she’s ever been in therapy. “Absolutely,” she answers, straight up. “I go to a therapist every once in a while. My therapist’s attitude is that when I need to feel grounded or something, I’ll go to her. I don’t need an appointment every week.” Locklear heartily agrees with me when I say that it’s often relationship trouble that sends people to a shrink. Knowing that she has been unusually resistant to talking about either of her marriages, I ask whether her marriage to Sambora has made therapy seem less crucial. “I’m like, the happiest girl now,” she says, glowing. “In my old marriage, I didn’t put myself first. I was always taking care of someone else first. It finally became like, ‘Well, what about what I need?’ My relationship with Richie is the best, best, best thing I’ve ever touched in my life. Richie gives me depth and emotional security, and I give him sunshine, the birds and the bees and the flowers.”
Her sunniness is appealing, but I remind Locklear that this Doris Day bit doesn’t jibe with her wedding two rockers back-to-back. She asserts, “People think that it was really quick that I got married to Richie after my divorce [from Tommy Lee], but I was divorced in the marriage years earlier. You know how it is when you’re divorced in your head?” Sure I do, but what I want to know is whether her fondness for rock’s bad boys is maybe an attraction to rough sex. “There’s a side of me that’s all about making people happy, doing the right thing,” she answers. “But I think there’s a rebellious side, too. I’m not saying I want to live in dangerous waters forever, but I think that’s truly the whole idea of what attracts me: a little bit of danger. Whether [such] guys are actually dangerous or not, it’s the perception that they are that is attractive. Richie isn’t dangerous. Not like the other one. That was dangerous.”
So dangerous that, as I’ve heard, before she finally dumped Lee, she might have had to dial 911? “No, no,” she insists. “I never did. Never, never, never.” After a moment, she says, quietly, “I just knew [the Tommy Lee relationship] was never going to work from the day I got married. I was calm at my wedding [but] all the time I was going, ‘This is a mistake.’ It wasn’t the wisest choice. I stayed with it as much as I could, but from the day I got married, I began thinking, ‘I’m getting out of this.'” If that’s true, why did she take years getting out of it? “I’ve got to take the blame. There were two people involved. [That marriage] brought me many learning lessons about myself, of knowing what I will put up with and what I won’t. I know much more about myself now, so that I can’t put the blame on someone else. It was a strengthening period for me. Going through all that was a grounding, opening-my-eyes kind of experience.”
Has she reacted to the public spectacle Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson Lee have often made of their private lives? “I definitely have a reaction to it,” she says. “I went, ‘Oh, my God, that’s the person I used to care for.’ I can’t believe that that was someone I was with. But he really wasn’t like that when I was with him.” She goes quiet for a few moments, then concludes, “All that experience I went through for a reason. It brought me to Richie. I asked him to marry me. Sensitivity and understanding of women is what makes a man a man. I have that in him. I have the man. I love his intelligence, his talent, his guts, his gentleness. If I go on, I’m gonna get even more pathetic here. But, to me, monogamy and marriage are the sexiest things in the world.”
Switching gears, Locklear confesses a fear she had been harboring about our chat. “I was really worried that all you wanted to talk to me about was The First Wives Club, because if you did, we’d have been here, like, five minutes.” She’s referring to the about-to-be-released, all-star comedy in which she plays the trophy wife for whom James Naughton dumps Stockard Channing. She says, “The first and only line I ever said on ‘CHIPS’ was ‘Please make them stop!’ and I think I have a little less than that in this movie. I mean, this interview is longer than my role in The First Wives Club.” Before we talk about how she feels now that her teensy role has all but disappeared on the cutting room floor, I ask what her greatest joy was in making the film. “You’ve got to know, I’ve watched everything Goldie Hawn’s ever done and I think she’s soooo great,” Locklear enthuses. “When she came up to me on the set, said hello and kissed me on the cheek, I swear to God, I was like, ‘Can I have another one?’ I tried not to be pathetic and slobbering on her, but if I was going to be in the movie longer than a scene or two, it’s only because they caught me on camera gawking at Goldie Hawn. They were like, “Heather, take your eyes off Goldie.'”
The latest word, however, is that Locklear’s cameo is all but MIA. “When I heard that Kathie Lee Gifford and Ivana Trump were in the film, I went, ‘Maybe it’s all worked out for the better,'” she philosophizes on barely surviving the final cut. “I have no choice but to think that way. Everybody’s been telling me, ‘Kevin Costner was cut out of The Big Chill.’ and I’m like ‘Oh, great–and how many more years did it take for him to make it?'”
Has Locklear hatched a five-year career plan to make the jump to the big screen? “No, I’m more a five-minute-plan girl,” she quips. Still, 40 or 50 does await her if she stays in show business. What might she do? “Well, 40 or 50 is hardly old and Linda Evans and Joan Collins had careers then,” she says of her onetime “Dynasty” costars. “But it is scary. On the other hand Angie Dickinson is very happening. I saw her at a Journey concert, bobbing her head and having a great time. She’s a Libra, like I am, and they’re the most fun. But every career has these slumps, like where you do a movie that just doesn’t happen. I think of Meryl Streep and the time she had to move back here to Los Angeles again just to gel good work, which is so disgusting. You just have to learn from these careers.”
In her next feature flick, Locklear’s the girlfriend of Charlie Sheen in Money Talks, which she calls “a buddy-action-comedy in which I’m ‘the girl,’ not the ‘buddy.'” Meaning she’s the girl who stays behind while the boys get to do all the cool stuff? “Well. I’ve been sent a couple of new script drafts since the original one, but I haven’t read the newest one,” she admits. “I’ll read it today. Hey, maybe I’m, like, not in it anymore? Anyway, I think I still play Charlie’s fiancée. My character’s father has lots and lots of money and Charlie and Chris Tucker go off and do buddy-action stuff, but Charlie’s got to show up on time for our wedding to make me ‘respectable.’ See, I’m a little bit of a slut in the movie, which is going to be soooo hard for me, I just may have to do a lot of research. Hmmm, let’s see. Just before I start the movie, Richie’s going to be gone for two weeks…” She makes a playful face as if imagining exactly how much slut research she can cram into two weeks, then lets rip a playfully lascivious laugh.
How can she be shooting a feature while doing episodes of “Melrose Place”? Any truth to the story that producer Aaron Spelling rearranged the entire season’s filming to accommodate her? “I think they moved around everyone’s schedule to let Jack Wagner play a game of golf,” she laughs. “They’re really so nice and accommodating to all of us on the show if these scheduling things come up.” She adds, “I can guarantee you I won’t be cut out of this movie because I’m going to stay so close to Charlie in every single shot that they’d have to edit us both to cut me out.” She mentions that she and Sheen first met 12 or so years ago when the actor visited friends on The Return of the Swamp Thing set. Any sparks? “I wasn’t wearing a cheerleader’s outfit,” she says, “so he didn’t come on to me even a little bit.”
A Sheen epic is one thing, but if a top filmmaker gave her a shot at being front and center in an all-out sexy movie, a Basic instinct, say, would she do it? “Sharon Stone is awesome; she represents a real movie star to me. I know her from when she did a ‘T.J. Hooker’ episode and she was great. In Basic Instinct, the way she did everything was just great. You know what, though? I wouldn’t like to be naked on top of someone stabbing him with an ice pick. I’d have been too inhibited and scared to do the weird things in it. Anyway, I wouldn’t do nudity because my husband would die.” After a beat, she adds, “My father would die, too.”
Does it miff her that movie moneymen clamor for a Stone or a Demi Moore to bare their all for the camera, but don’t ask the same of a Michael Douglas or a Mel Gibson, who’ve only shown off their rear ends? “Hey, I went to Striptease saying, ‘Demi better show her breasts because I came here to see ’em,'” she admits, chuckling. “But this stuff is changing. Women are sexual creatures too, and if male stars are going to show their bodies in a movie, I say it better be someone like Kevin Costner. Drop trousers now, Kevin!” She considers this a moment, then amends her opinion. “Let me correct something. I’m married, so I don’t really care to see Kevin Costners penis at this point. Although, if he wants to show it, I won’t close my eyes.”
If not in a Basic Instinct, then are there any dream roles at which she would have loved to have had a shot? “I’d love to remake Lady Sings the Blues,” she quips, “except that I can’t sing. But seriously, it’s not as if my agents were calling me with great stuff that they turned down for me.” Oh no? I’ve heard she’s turned down a couple of high-visibility television movies, plus a couple of movie comedies opposite two well-known male stars trying to make the transition from TV to films. She won’t confirm the specifics, but concedes. “When ‘Melrose’ got really big, J was dying to do a certain TV movie, but I had just had a divorce and had just gotten married. I turned stuff down, yes, but I’m actually glad at this point. I had to be with my husband; we really needed to make that connection. As for the features you mentioned, at this point, I don’t want to be seen in connection with TV people, no. I have such a TV stereotype following me that I don’t think people really want to see me jump right from TV to being the main person in a movie. I think being on ‘Melrose Place’ and getting the opportunity to do some small roles in films is cool. Even the things you see the ‘Friends’ people doing now? There’s nothing wrong with that, but for me that’s too big a leap. Maybe people will cut me some slack if I come up in little things.”
All in all, Locklear seems to have tempered her career ambitions with a refreshing dose of realism. Since she seems so content, I ask her for her idea of heaven. “You go up and stay with God and there are lots of flowers, birds, bees,” she says, staring out at the spectacular view outside her windows and adding: “You know, I almost think I’m already there. If only Richie were here and our house were a little higher.”
Stephen Rebello interviewed Richard Tyler for the September issue of Movieline.