Dillinger: Interview with actress/singer Michelle Phillips
by Dick Maurice – August 19, 1973
Michelle Phillips is starring in her first picture, American International’s Dillinger, and she does have a star-making role as Billie Frechette, girlfriend of John Dillinger.
Michelle was a member of The Mamas & The Papas, now disbanded, but in the late 1960s, one of the most successful entertainment ensembles. Before her acting and singing career, Michelle was a model in New York.
MAURICE: How does Michelle Phillips see herself?
PHILLIPS: Well, I’m likable, charming, 5’7″, I’m very good-natured, and I’m clean.
MAURICE: You once stated that you wanted to be a very big star. Do you feel that in today’s industry you have to walk over many people in order to reach stardom?
PHILLIPS: I think that you have to avoid walking over people. Being a big star is really matter of picking your parts very carefully. The fate of your career is so much in your hands that every move you make is critical.
When I said I wanted to be a big star, I meant it, but I also meant I want to be the best at what I do.
MAURICE: Do you miss working with the group, The Mamas & The Papas?
PHILLIPS: Everyone sees each other and misses the group activity.
MAURICE; Any possibility of the group getting back together?
PHILLIPS: It’s hard to say. Maybe if our careers aren’t going, well we’ll get back together.
MAURICE: Was there some jealousy between you and Mama Cass?
PHILLIPS: I think she hated me because I was slim and beautiful. However, she loved me like a sister as well. I was jealous of Cass, too. Her voice was so much better than mine. There was unbelievable tension within the whole group.
MAURICE: Do you think this tension was responsible for the breakup of your marriage to John Phillips?
PHILLIPS: I think the group struck trouble when my marriage began crumbling. For awhile, John replaced me with another girl. I hated that.
But what’s funny is that no one can even remember her name. They even tried to pass her off as me. Finally, I got back into the group and the marriage. But John, like a lot of geniuses, was impossible to live with, so the marriage had to end.
MAURICE: Didn’t you remarry?
PHILLIPS: Yes, I married again to actor Dennis Hopper, and he was an impossible man. As a matter of fact, the marriage lasted 8 days.
MAURICE: Any thoughts of getting married again?
PHILLIPS: No, I’m not considering marriage right now. I miss the companionship of marriage and I don’t especially like living alone and I was married very young, so I’m very used to being married. I’m much happier when I have someone around me. But I haven’t met someone that I want to marry.
MAURICE: Has anyone ever told you that you look like the actress Sandy Dennis?
PHILLIPS: I have been told that I look like Sandy Dennis, Faye Dunaway and like Leslie Caron. And I was even told once that I look like Michelle Phillips.
I denied that I was Michelle Phillips once. The man said I should start a group like The Mamas & The Papas, because I look so much like her. I said, “But I can’t sing a note.” He said, “Well, don’t worry about it — she couldn’t either.”
MAURICE: How does it feel to see yourself on the screen?
PHILLIPS: It’s very distorting at first. It was difficult getting used to seeing myself 20 feet high on the screen.
MAURICE: Do you really enjoy living in Hollywood?
PHILLIPS: No, I think it is awful, it’s immoral and it’s just the worst place in the world.
MAURICE: Where would you prefer to live?
PHILLIPS: You won’t believe this, but I have fallen in love with Fort Worth, Texas. It’s the greatest place and perhaps someday soon, I will be living there.
MAURICE: If you don’t mind, I would like to talk with you again about the Mamas & The Papas. Why is that Cass never really made it as a solo singer?
PHILLIPS: She has a beautiful voice, but she needs discipline and an iron hand of someone like John Phillips. He used to tell us what to do and we did it. We didn’t sing one note that we weren’t told to sing, and that was why the group was a success.
MAURICE: When the group started out, wasn’t it originally planned as a trio?
PHILLIPS: Yes, Denny, and John and I were singing in a club in the Virgin Islands where Cass was a waitress. Cass was so desperate to join that she used to sing along with our performances. We wanted to keep her out, but she persisted.
MAURICE: I understand that you were pretty good at piercing ears.
PHILLIPS: Yes, how did you know that? Did Mama Cass tell you? I pierced her ears with an ice cube, a pin and a string. I never saw so much blood.
MAURICE: You mentioned before that you hated living in Hollywood, but you’re a Los Angeles girl by birth, aren’t you?
PHILLIPS: Yes, I was born in Los Angeles, but when my mother died when I was 5, my father took me to Mexico City to live.
Later on, I returned to Los Angeles to attend high school, but for my childhood, it was air-pollution free.
MAURICE: Dillinger wasn’t the first film that you tested for.
PHILLIPS: I made seven tests for other pictures. I began to wonder when I would start working again.
It was a trying time, but I felt I was right for the role of Billie Frechette. After all, she’s right out of Americana. I’m from pioneer American stock, and I should be playing her.
MAURICE: To play the girlfriend of John Dillinger, what sort of preparation was necessary for the role?
PHILLIPS: I tried the month before the filming to get myself into the right frame of mind. I read all the books I could find on him, and even carried his picture in my wallet.