A few months ago actress Patricia Quinn was waiting behind a giant movie screen in the middle of a circus ring. At the request of circus impresario Gerry Cottle Jnr she’d come to one of the UK’s largest and oldest circus’s to introduce a late night screening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, for Quinn who played Magenta in the film, finding herself in a circus brought a smile to her face as she remembered where her Rocky Horror journey started.
In 1973 Quinn’s agent had called her and said, ‘There’s something upstairs at The Royal Court they’d like you to audition for’, the actress pressed her agent for more information. ‘You have to sing some sort of rock and roll song and it’s something do with a circus or something,’ the agent replied.
It began as a three week theatrical production almost 40 years ago and it has become a worldwide entertainment phenomenon with both the theatrical and the film version of The Rocky Horror Show continually growing in popularity and being discovered by new audiences. Quinn played the role of Magenta in the original stage production and reprised the role for the film version. Today Patricia Quinn is Patricia, Lady Stephens through her marriage to fellow actor the late Sir Robert Stephens. OUTinPerth spoke to her from her home in London’s Primrose Hill.
‘I actually turned the film down’ says Quinn who left the stage production after its short run to play suffragette Christabel Pankhurst in a BBC TV series. The Producers took Quinn out to lunch to persuade her to join the film’s cast. When the producers mentioned that the opening of the film would be different to the play revealing that the Usherette who walks through the theatre singing the song Science Fiction would be dropped, the meeting headed in the wrong direction.
Quinn recalls, ‘I said to them ‘So I’m not singing Science Fiction?” because that’s the only reason I took the part in the first place, not for Magenta, but for that song. The usherette sings that and then I become Magenta, she doubles up… they said “no, it won’t work”, so I said, “Well I’m sorry then, I don’t want to do this film’.”
The producers managed to talk her round though and soon Quinn rejoined most of the original stage cast for the filming. While American actors Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick took the roles of Brad and Janet, Tim Curry continued as Frank n Furter, Little Nell carried as Columbia and the show’s creator Richard O’Brien remained as Riff Raff. Quinn is full of praise for Director Jim Sharman who stuck with the original cast despite interest from more established names.
‘Mick Jagger was interested in Frank’, says Quinn ‘Bowie loved Frank, they all wanted to be Frank and he [Sharman] stuck to his guns and said “No, I want Tim Curry”, also me and Nell who’d never made films, I have nothing but admiration.’
With the less famous cast attached the films budget was reduced. At the beginning of filming Quinn and Australian cast mate Little Nell were given instructions on how to catch the bus to the studio, as the tight budget didn’t allow for a car to be sent for the actors. Quinn laughs as she tells us that the pair spent the rest of the day chanting ‘No Car, No Film’ on the set until arrangements were made for the actors to share.
Quinn recalls that it was on one of these shared car trips to the set she found out what had happened to her favourite song. ‘I was sitting in the car with Richard and Tim, one day Tim said “Oh, by the way who’s singing Science Fiction?’ and that’s when Richard said, “Oh, me”, that’s when the shit hit the fan. I said, “Oh you! Whatever you are…Bastard!’ While Quinn was furious that her favourite song from the show had been reassigned she says that O’Brien has since told her that it wasn’t his choice.
While the film version has O’Brien singing the opening tune, Quinn’s did however end up being the iconic lips that sing the song over the opening credits. After the film was finished Director Jim Sharman invited her back to film the opening sequence. ‘He got in touch with me and said there was no money left in the pot, there was no money left for the mouth and would I come out to Estree… I never got anything.’ Quinn is grateful though that she ended up being the arguably the most famous lips in cinema history, ‘I love it’, she laughs, ‘Patricia Quinn is to lips what Elle McPherson is to the body.”
Quinn’s work outside of Rocky Horror has included guest spots in well know television programs including The Professionals, Minder, Doctor Who and The Bill, where she tells us she portrayed a lesbian axe murderess. As well as regular appearances on stage and screen. Quinn often returns to the world of Rocky Horror appearing at fan conventions, screenings and live performances. For the 21st anniversary of the production she reprised the role of Magenta, an experience Quinn found very different from the show’s original run.
‘We were upstairs at the Royal Court for three weeks and by the time that finished I’d had enough, “Thanks, all very jolly.” Magenta’s much bigger on screen than she is on the stage… when you’re playing Magenta on stage [in the original production] for me that was quite boring…because when we first began nobody used to talk to us. To do Rocky Horror twenty one years later it was like entering a football stadium, you have to fight the audience and it’s exhausting.
‘Rocky Horror was being made while we were rehearsing’, recounts Quinn, ‘It was like “Bring in another song Richard, it’s too short.”Touch a Touch Me came in overnight. Julie Covington [the original Janet} said “I’m not singing this, this is disgusting.” I mean she was really very shocked by that song. He [Richard O’Brien] and Richard Hartley had done it the night before and brought it in…Eddie’s Teddy came in the next day. Because the show was too short, when people don’t talk to it and there’s no interval the show’s one hour, one hour twenty minutes, but when people talk to it, it goes forever.’
Later this year Quinn can be seen in Rob Zombie’s new film Lords of Salem. Quinn admits at first she didn’t know of the White Zombie lead singers music and film directing career. On receiving the offer she recalls, ‘I said “What’s it about? Who is He?” and then everyone of thirty and under, and a little bit over said, “Oh God, Oh God, you’ve got to do that!” so in came all the tapes of House of a Thousand Corpses and suddenly [White Zombie] music was playing.’
After Quinn finished filming her big scene the Director came on to the set wearing a classic Rocky Horror T-shirt, ‘He came in with a Rocky Horror t-shirt on which is from the stage show and it’s quite unusual to have that t-shirt because it’s the girl with the hoop earring and the black hair, a lot of people have everything but they don’t have that one. Rob Zombie’s collection of t-shirts is quite fantastic actually.’
The Rocky Horror Picture Show will be screening at Movies by Burswood on February 17 to raise money for Perth Inner City Youth Services.