Q&A with Lesleh Donaldson
How were you cast in the movie Happy Birthday to Me?
I auditioned for the casting director and then that led to an audition for J Lee Thompson, It was pretty painless only one or two auditions and they liked me enough to cast me.
I read a revised third draft script from April 1980 that is online. It has your confrontation with Mrs. Patterson and her dog Winston, but the strangling scene in the car is missing. Do you remember whether the strangling scene was in the script that you read or was it added later?
You know I don’t remember. I think it might have been what we worked out on the set at the time of shooting.
Do you remember how many days that it took to shoot your scenes?
The opening scene took two or three days, I think. I came back for about a week to do the ending and then another day for the scene with Jack Blum. So I would say about 10 days in all.Back to Top
I thought you were great in the strangling scene in the car. As an actress, how do you prepare for a scene in which your character is fighting for her life?
Well I just put myself into the frame of mind What if this were really happening to me now. Also your adrenalin is going full throttle because it’s a movie and you have to deliver the goods.
Do you remember how the strangling scene was shot? How many takes did they need for the scene? I’ve read that J. Lee Thompson was very efficient and had everything planned out in his head.
Yes he was very efficient as a director. They shot through the windows and then when I was in the back seat they shot from the front seat, I think it works because you get a claustrophobic feeling along with the character.
I also thought that you were very effective at showing Bernadette’s fear after she escapes from the car. Do you remember preparing for that scene?
Well like I said I just put myself into what if mode, it’s weird because I would be laughing and joking with the crew between takes and then when it was time to shoot I was ready to go, Youth, being nervous and green all helped I guess.
Do you remember how the model for Bernadette’s head in Alfred’s workshop was created?
They molded my head in plaster of paris, kind of scary as your whole head is covered in the stuff with only two straws up your nose so you can breathe. Yikes!
Do you remember the shooting of the final scene at the birthday party? How long did it take to have your makeup applied? Also, how long did you have to stay in the makeup for the shoot?
Yes I remember the shooting of that scene vividly. Like I said it took about a week to shoot and we would get into makeup early in the morning for about 3 -4 hours and then we would have to stay in the makeup all day long. We ate lunch in the makeup, kind of gruesome and after a couple of days; it kind of made us physically sick. It was fun though I remember taking a walk around the block with Richard Rebiere and we freaked out a couple of passers by.
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You were only in the final scene with Melissa Sue Anderson. How was your working relationship with her? Did Melissa or any of the other cast members watch the shooting of your scenes at the beginning of the movie? Were you aware of or had seen any of Melissa’s work in Little House on the Prairie or her other acting appearances?
Yes I was aware of her previous work and her level of success as a television actress. The only scenes I had with her were the ending scenes and the scene where Jacks character shows them my head. She was never on set when she didn’t need to be. She also kept pretty much to herself, she was a shy person as I recall.
Did you see Happy Birthday to Me when it came out at the theaters? (I saw the film when it came out in 1981) Have you kept in touch with any of the cast members?
I did not see it in the theatres, unfortunately. And I have only reconnected with the others courtesy of facebook.
You have a very impressive resume of television, film, and theater work. Which medium do you prefer to work in?
Well I like both mediums really; they are so different and challenging in their own ways that it’s great to work in both. I love the live theatre experience as the response is so immediate but I also like to be on a film set. There is no greater place to be.
Thank you, Lesleh for trying to remember things that happened thirty years ago. I really appreciate it.
You're welcome, my pleasure.
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