(This interview was originally published October 12, 2010 on the now-retired Kickin' it Old School blog. It is one installment in an incredible series of interviews we are republishing on Rediscover the '80s for posterity and your enjoyment. These are more than just interviews in a way; they are more like '80s timelines or oral histories on their respective subject matters. Please keep in mind the original date because some content could be specific to the time of the interview, though the majority should be timeless and totally rad.)
When the opportunity presented itself to ask a few questions to someone who contributed to the awesomeness of the '80s, I will continue to share those answers with you right here. Again, lucky for me (and hopefully you), I do get to share a little more awesomeness with you. For this issue, that awesomeness is Joyce Hyser Robinson. I had the privilege of an interview with the gorgeous actress who I will always remember for her starring role in the 1985 film Just One of the Guys. I fully admit that it is one of my favorite teen comedies of the '80s. I did not see it in the theater, but saw it dozens of times on cable TV and since then have owned it on both VHS and DVD. I remember raving about it to friends back then when it seemed many had not even heard of the movie, but it has unexpectedly gained popularity and almost a cult status over the years.
The greatness of Just One of the Guys has a lot to do with the performance of Joyce Hyser as “Terri Griffith” and the chemistry of the entire cast. After feeling she is a victim of gender discrimination, the “aspiring journalist learns the hard way that there’s more to being a dude than just stuffing a tube sock down your pants” when she decides to pose as a boy at a different school to prove her point. The story has some holes (and probably couldn't be made today), but if you suspend your disbelief for a little while you will surely be entertained by a well-meaning funny film that deals with some real issues. The movie was nominated for Young Artists Awards including Best Family Motion Picture and (for Joyce Hyser) Best Starring Performance By a Young Actress. Here is the trailer for Just One of the Guys…
Now on to the interview with Joyce Hyser which begins with several questions about Just One of the Guys…
Q: What was your initial take on the film? Did you see it as just a teen comedy or making a deeper more important statement on sexism/feminism and social status.
Joyce: Although it may be cloaked in a silly teenage romp I was ABSOLUTELY drawn to this project because of its subversive gender identity messages (for both young women, and young men). The film actually operates on so many different levels and deals with so many teenage issues from homophobia to the pressure that is put on kids to conform to a certain ideal, that it always surprised me that at the time of its release it was not really judged for the sum of all its parts. I always did get a good laugh over one criticism that I saw repeatedly, and that was that I was not really “believable as a guy.” Really? Are you kidding? I WASN’T a guy. I was never meant to be a guy. I was always just a girl in high school PRETENDING to be a guy. It was a fine line I had to play, because I was supposed to be a teenage girl, not an actress playing the part of a boy.
I had my questions about the script when I first read it, but as soon as I met Lisa [Gottlieb, the director] and we started talking about the character and her ideas for the film I knew we had the opportunity to make a movie that had a little more gravitas than your normal teen comedy. The film is definitely dated, but it’s chockfull of interesting subtext that resonates to this day.
Q: Do you remember the audition process for the role of Terri Griffith? You were gorgeous, yet someone thought you could pull off playing the role of a boy. You were in your mid-20s and playing a high school student. It turned out that you were perfect for the role, but did you realize what you were getting in to at the time?
Joyce: Actually I think I was 26 when we made the movie and I had to screen test for it. There were 3 women who tested and one of them was Jennifer Jason Leigh. Going into it I was a little nervous about Jennifer because she got a part over me once before, but once the test was over I felt pretty confident. I did not think that anyone could play that part as well as I could.
Q: I have to ask about two physical things. First is the hair cut. How did you feel about having to cut your hair? Did you wear a wig for the early scenes when your hair was long? How long did it take you to grow it back out after the film?
Joyce: I actually had long hair before the movie and they had to cut it off and make a wig for the long hair, which by the way I hated!!! They spent a fortune on that wig and it was just g-d awful! My hair grows VERY fast so it didn’t take that long for it to grow back in. It’s funny that I never had short hair again after that, because it was actually very flattering.
Q: Second is the topless scene. The scene when you reveal yourself as a girl is quite memorable. Was that in the original script and did you have any reservations about the nudity? What reaction to the scene did you get after the film was released and even today?
Joyce: I had a NO nudity clause in my contract and I was quite adamant about not doing the reveal scene. Lisa (Gottlieb, the director) recently reminded me of a story that at the time had absolutely cemented my decision to not show the real deal. I had discussed the script and the scene with a very close friend, another actor, who had advised me against it. Her argument went something like this….. “Honey, with those breasts if you go topless in that scene, no one you meet will ever look into your eyes again.” That just freaked me out!
The crazy thing about my decision to actually shoot it the way we did, was that this was long before the internet. Had I known then that one shot would end up on porn sites one day – there is not a chance in hell I would have ever done it. In the end I agreed to shoot it both ways if, and only if, the decision would be totally mine on which way we would go. After watching it both ways it was undeniable to me that this was in no way gratuitous and in fact it was essential to the unfolding of the story.
After the movie was released I did find that I had to remind many a young boy that they might get a better response from me if they actually looked at my face when they talked to me because the breasts have no voice!
Q: What do most people tell you they remember best from the movie (other than the scene mentioned above)? I actually was able to impress a girl in high school with the “pencil eraser as a replacement earring back” trick. I will always remember Buddy’s emphatic statement that “all balls itch!” What was your favorite?
Joyce: The ball scratching scene is definitely a fan favorite, but my favorite scene is when I come home drunk and Kevin is there and then I tell my brother that there’s a naked girl in my room “feeding pizza to the fish.”
Here you can watch the great scene when Buddy tries to teach his sister how to act like a guy including how to itch a certain body part...
Q: Buddy (played by Billy Jayne) and your character had great chemistry as brother as sister on screen and the scenes when you would go back and forth are some of my favorites in the film. Did that just come natural? Was any of that ad-libbed or was it all in the script?
Joyce: Billy and I had GREAT time together. He was a mature 15 and I was an immature 26 so the age difference wasn’t much of an issue. Our banter although pretty raunchy at times was designed to be a little throw back to old school screwball comedy. There was definitely some make it up as you go, but most of it was scripted.
Q: How was it working with Billy Zabka [who played “Greg Tolan”]? There was no one better than him at playing the bully role in an '80s movie and this was no exception. He could make you dislike him within seconds of being introduced to his character. How was he off the screen?
Joyce: Billy Zabka is a total sweetie pie off screen. Seriously, absolutely nothing like most of the characters he played.
Q: Can you believe it has been over 25 years since the film was released? I can’t. Do you keep in touch with director Lisa Gottlieb, Zabka, Clayton Rohner (Rick Morehouse), Billy Jayne (Buddy) or any of the other cast members?
Joyce: Most of us are on Facebook together, and I’ve seen Clayton and Lisa in the past year.
Joyce had some other contributions to the '80s as well. Here are some questions not about Just One of the Guys…
Q: Prior to Just One of the Guys, you had roles in films directed by Sylvester Stallone (1983’s Staying Alive), Rob Reiner (1984’s This Is Spinal Tap) and Martha Coolidge (1983’s Valley Girl). What memories do you have from being around any of them?
Joyce: I loved Sly and I loved John Travolta who I had known prior to being cast in the film. I ran into Sly not that long ago and he couldn’t have been sweeter.
Rob Reiner was also a doll. Sweet as could be, very funny and super talented!! That movie was a ton of fun to make and I just wish that my stuff had not been totally cut out of the film! All my scenes were with Chris Guest, Harry Shearer, Michael McKean and Vicki Blue. Vicki and I play two groupies Chris and Harry pick up on the road and we go out on tour with them. Those guys are all comic geniuses and it was an honor to work with them.
Q: How did you end up being in the video for the 1984 hit single “I Can Dream About You” by the late Dan Hartman? Do you like the song more or less now because of your connection to it?
Joyce: I knew Dan’s manager and he asked me if I would do it. We shot at the Hard Rock in London. I honestly remember very little about it, but Dan was very nice and I absolutely love that song. I did another music video for ZZ Top’s song “Pin Cushion” which I really like. It was directed by Julian Temple.
“I Can Dream About You” was from the soundtrack for the film Streets of Fire and would reach #6 on the Billboard Hot 100. Joyce appears in the video as the beautiful patron that the bartender played by Hartman is pining for. Here is the video for “I Can Dream About You” by Dan Hartman…
Q: You had the recurring role of Jimmy Smits’ girlfriend “Allison Gottlieb” on L.A. Law (from 1989-1990). Anything particularly memorable about your time on what is considered to be one of the best TV dramas of the '80s?
Joyce: I’m very proud of my work on L.A. Law. I love Jimmy Smits and he was an absolute dream to work with. I was originally hired to do one guest spot as a video director who was shooting a video with Arnie Becker (played by Corbin Bernsen) and it turned into a 2 year recurring role. I was brought on to the show by a wonderful writer by the name of Judith Parker who had wanted me for a pilot she had created for NBC prior to her stint on L.A. Law. She was definitely a champion of mine and I will always be grateful to her for her belief in me.
My most memorable L.A. Law moment came off the set when I was home one night watching Nightline with Ted Koppel, which I watched religiously. In those days, his set was a desk in front of a huge bank of monitors. The opening music comes up and the monitors are filled with the same image of me and Jimmy Smits in our first love scene playing on a loop. Then Ted says, “Sex in television. Has it gone too far?” I must say that may have been one of my proudest moments. LOL!!
Q: It is reported that you dated Bruce Springsteen back in the '80s. Can you confirm and do you have any interesting Springsteen stories?
Joyce: Bruce and I were together for almost 5 years. I grew up with him. We are friends to this day.
Q: Were there any '80s roles that you auditioned for or were considered for that would be interesting or surprising?
Joyce: Nothing really notable in the '80s that I really cared about. I tested for Volunteers and lost to Rita Wilson. I turned down a role in Eddie and the Cruisers. My biggest career disappointment was The Sopranos. I tested for Dr. Melfi. It was between me and Lorraine Bracco. Oh well!
Q: The last role that I see that you had was in 2003. What have you been up to since then?
Joyce: I fell in love with writing and that’s what I’m doing now. I have an amazing writing partner and you may see something from us soon on the small and the big screen. I have not turned my back on acting, just taking a good long break from it that was much needed.
I can’t tell you enough what a pleasure it was for me that Joyce took the time to answer my questions so I could share them with you here. As I said earlier, I have been a big fan of Joyce and Just One of the Guys since the first time I saw them. She undoubtedly made contributions to '80s pop culture through film, music video and television. I certainly thank her for those and look forward to what she might bring to the screen next as a writer.