My Day at the Fayetteville Comic Show

Hailey Jones, Southworld co-editor

Attending my first-ever comic convention as a student journalist, I spent Leap Day 2020 at the inaugural Fayetteville Comic Show admiring attendee’s Cosplay costumes, vendor’s hand-made necklaces and T-shirts of both cartoon and television show characters, aisles of comic books and an entire wall of comic book artists and editors; some editors just like myself. Actors and actresses who made characters famous on 1990s television shows such as Twin Peaks, The Flash and Dawson’s Creek along with 1980s movies including The Outsiders and Sleepaway Camp, were on hand to meet and greet their biggest fans. I was already excited to be attending the event, but a few days prior I learned that I would be given the opportunity to interview one of Hollywood’s most well-known 90s actresses Sheryl Lee; the protagonist and murdered homecoming queen from Twin Peaks, Laura Palmer. Not stopping there, I also earned the chance to interview C. Thomas Howell who portrayed Ponyboy Curtis, an Oklahoma “Greaser,” in Francis Ford Coppola’s cinematic adaptation of S.E. Hinton’s classic novel, The Outsiders.

To prepare for each of my 10-minute interviews, I first did research on important topics to pin-point with both Howell and Lee. Since these two celebrities were and still are Hollywood icons, becoming educated on their current acting status proved its significance. I opened by asking Howell what he was currently working on, and he kicked off our interview by providing insight on his upcoming work in the acting realm.

“What I’m doing right now is a play that’s going to go up in LA [Los Angeles] for a month. It’s called Worst-Case Scenario, and we hope to take it to New York. And I’m getting ready to start a new film that’s called Express. It’s about the Pony Express and I’ll start that in May, and that’s with an actor named Harry Tredaway, who was one of the stars of Penny Dreadful. I cannot wait to go and start this film with him,” Howell said.

Since Howell was cast as the lead role of Ponyboy Curtis in The Outsiders, I of course addressed questions about his work on set and his fondest memories. Howell showed great interest in answering this question, even sharing the jokes and pranks that took place during filming.

“There were a lot of pranks on the set of The Outsiders, and I did a lot of night shooting, so I would come home at six in the morning, wiped out and ready to go to bed. One time I came home, and I don’t know how they accessed my room, but The Socs [rival gang in The Outsiders] got a key and opened the door to my room, and they turned everything in my room upside down. Everything. Lamps, the bed, the table, a penny. Anything that was in my room was upside down. Way too much time and effort. I was always working, so I figured I pulled the biggest prank when I was cast in the best role,” Howell said.

Despite the jokes and goofing around on set, the actors did experience some mishaps while filming. Howell shared an interesting, somewhat unknown fact about how the “rumble scene” of The Outsiders played out – not necessarily according to script – but nonetheless led to a perfect shot.

“The rumble was really sort of a special, different experience because we had been rehearsing for about six weeks to get the rumble just perfect, and Ponyboy was very active in the rumble and fighting. On the day we got there, it was pouring rain. We shot all of the bits leading up to the actual fight the first day. The second day we got there, it was a beautiful sunny day, and we were like, ‘What are we going to do? It’s not going to match.’ Well, they called in the fire department and we had three days of shooting this fight while being sprayed down by the fire department. It got so muddy, the traction was so slippery, that the first punch of the fight, if you go back to watch it, on me, really connected. The stunt guy slipped in the mud and popped me in the chin and down I went. So everybody is doing all their stuff, and I’m laying there and I stand up like ‘Oh my God,’ and I go up to the director [Coppola] and I’m like, ‘We got to go again I got hit.’ And he looks at me and goes, ‘It was great.’ So my heroic moment of rumbling turned out to be popped in the face and getting dragged away by Matt Dillon,” Howell said.

For my last question, I really dug deep to formulate a thought-provoking and distinct question that Howell most likely hadn’t heard before; a question that would stand out and that he would remember. I’ve been a fan of the movie since I was eight years old, but now, as a 17-year-old journalist, I knew it was my duty to ask a question that fans of the movie have always wanted to know – that I have always wanted to know, and according to Howell, I did just that. So I asked him, “What do you think Ponyboy would be doing today?” And his response really satisfied the question in the best, most ideal way.

“That is a wonderful question, you know. Well, I suspect that he probably would’ve had a fairly simple life. I think he would always stay true to himself. I think he probably would’ve helped people, maybe even gone into writing of some sorts. Maybe he followed his heart in that way and became a teacher within the community. I don’t think he really would’ve ever stretched too much. He probably married locally and had a child or two and was probably a pretty good man. I do think that the [Curtis] brothers stayed very close. Stay Gold Baby,” Howell said.

After my surreal and sublime interview with Howell, I quickly walked to Sheryl Lee’s booth, and then followed her into the back room (where the actors entered from) for our interview. Never in my life had I met a more humble and sincere actress with a genuine love for student journalists such as myself as well as a love for young film majors and actors.

“I teach a workshop with Gary Hershberger, he was in Twin Peaks as well, and Gary and I created an intensive, creative workshop for actors, directors, and writers. It lasts about a weekend or two days. I also have taught at different colleges, so I may be doing that again. I just moved to Colorado, but I was teaching at UCLA in California. There is also a director that I’m interested in, and we are creatively discussing an interesting idea for the film. So, hopefully that may happen and start shooting in the summer. He doesn’t have a script yet, so all I have are the ideas, and it’s really, really creative. It brings several different mediums together. It’s not necessarily a regular story film,” Lee said.

No plot grabs a viewer’s attention quite like a good television show or murder mystery. It’s both compelling and shocking. And without a doubt the murder of the beautiful, 17-year-old Laura Palmer in her hometown of Twin Peaks was both a shock to the entire town and a mystery that compelled fans of the cult classic for well over a year. As Lee informed me, fans of the show threw Twin Peaks parties, speculating about who killed Laura Palmer. Since Netflix and other streaming capabilities didn’t exist in the 90s, viewers were forced to wait an entire week before watching a new episode, building up suspense and anxious feelings about Twin Peaks and its complex, yet quirky characters.

As popular as TV murder mysteries are, they’re no doubt commonly discussed around the water cooler and on message boards. However these discussions are intensified when a TV crime or murder deals with real-life circumstances. As I researched Twin Peaks, I ran across an 80s drama that had its own high-profile mystery; this one involving the mysterious shooting of an oil tycoon, J.R. Ewing. The show was called Dallas, and it was a Friday night staple in households all over the country.

A show with a plot centered around the shooting of a man and another centered around the murder of a young girl showed both differences and controversies. Twin Peaks acted as a series similar to Dallas and vice versa, only dealing with opposite genders in each show. With that knowledge, I asked Lee a question of opinion that when asked to anyone could possibly reveal different viewpoints and strife. I asked, “If both cases were to happen today in real life, what do you think would be a bigger headline and appeal to more people, and why? ‘Texas Oil Tycoon Shot,’ or ‘Homecoming Queen Found Murdered In Hometown.”

“That is an incredible question. That is a question that I’m going to keep thinking about for a long time. It’s a really tricky question because I think that humans in their hearts, for the most part, are really good, and that goodness wants innocence to be okay. That means we don’t want death or suffering or pain for the innocence. ‘Homecoming Queen’ is young and shows innocence. We don’t know what happened in that oil tycoon’s life, not that he deserves death, that’s not what I’m saying at all, but people are drawn to a story when innocence is hurt. At the same time, the media and storytellers have monetary interest in what stories make the headlines. So you don’t know who’s interested and whose power wants the oil tycoon’s story told, or not told,” Lee said.

Women in Hollywood, ever since a man first cast a woman in movies and shows, generally receive the lower hand. Men would take a woman’s looks, thoughts, smarts, domestic characteristics, physique, and overall qualities into question when considering who to cast in a production. The look and behavior of a woman determined her role and personality in her career, and unfortunately it still does to this day. Having a beautiful face trumped a woman’s talent and smarts in the 1980s and 1990s, and commonly did in the 2000s and 2010s as well; hopefully the 2020s will be different. With those facts in mind, Lee shared her experience as a young woman in Hollywood and reflected on how a man normally received more respect in film. She shared her gratitude for my generation of teens and how a woman today doesn’t let a pretty face define her.

“We [women] didn’t have any power. I didn’t have any power. I am so grateful that this generation gets to grow up in a time where your [teens] voices will be heard more than ours was heard. It was sort of unspoken that we didn’t speak up for ourselves. There was so much emphasis placed on how we looked, and even as a young girl, it always bothered me so much because I felt like it was my job to develop a character and be a part of telling a story, but all the time it was about how the girl looked. Most of the time I worked, I was maybe one of three women on set with like 100 men, so if I went on to a set and there was either a female director, or a female first AD, or a female producer, or a female DP, that already made me feel better, otherwise there was a loneliness. I would be trying to have a creative conversation with like seven to 10 men about a scene or storyline, and already I’m introverted and already it’s hard for me to stand up for myself, and then you throw in the fact that I’m a woman and I had been taught not to speak my truth, and that I’m the only woman in a room filled with men…it was just really outside of my comfort zone. But I’m grateful to be alive at 52 and be okay with who I am now, and I really hope and pray that for you women, it’s different. And you’re going to have to really have each other’s backs as women and as women get into a position where they can hire people. They have to make sure that they are hiring diversity and that they have the power to make those decisions,” Lee said.

In just five short hours on a Saturday afternoon, my life changed forever. I took on the role of a real reporter, preparing myself for journalism in college and even beyond college. Interviews shape a reporter. They shape a person into the success they can become. As the co-editor of Southworld at Southside High School, I constantly interview staff and students – people I see every day. But interviewing an actor who starred in a movie I loved as a kid and can relate to now as a working teenager with hormones, school issues, and high school drama, combined with interviewing an actress who convinced me that all women – despite being seen as inferior to men in Hollywood – can excel in anything, showed me how a professional reporter works for interviews. It showed me how a professional strives to earn that one interview, or in my case interviews, to create a dialogue that will serve as the interviewee’s voice and story for his or her fans to enjoy.