New Empress editor Helen Cox talks to 80s/90s teen star Keith Coogan to commemorate 20 years of Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead…
As is evident from the majority of the stuff written both by and about me I had what others would deem a somewhat wasted youth and, granted, a mad-cap publication like New Empress doesn’t come from a person who had a normal childhood. Still, I wouldn’t change a second of my VHS-infused upbringing.
One of my favourite taped-off-the-TV films was (and still is) the all-but-forgotten teen gem Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead (1991). The title pretty much gives you all the relevant back story you need to know. I loved this film because the premise was weird, because David Duchovny puts in a creepy cameo (between this and Beethoven (1992) he pretty much had the slime ball market covered) and because Christina Applegate sports a lot of ultra-90s trends that should probably never make a comeback.
My favourite character, however, was undoubtedly Kenny: Christina Applegate’s stoner younger brother whose sarcasm and general apathy puts Applegate’s Sue Ellen through the wringer whilst their mom is holidaying in Australia. Kenny is played by Keith Coogan a man who as a budding child actor starred in not one but two films in the teen-babysitter subgenre; he also starred opposite Elisabeth Shue in the 1987 classic Adventures in Babysitting.
20 years on from his stint in Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead I caught up with Keith to find out what he thought of Piranha 3D, if he worships Thor and whether or not he now distrusts babysitters as a breed…
Helen: It’s been 20 years since the release of Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead. Can you remember your initial reaction on reading the script?
Keith: Absolutely ridiculous..! I loved that studios were taking risks with all teen casts and that some of the scripts were pretty ridiculous. DTMTBD seemed to walk the fine line between fun and madness and I was really drawn to the role of Kenny right from my first read of the script. I had been asked to read for Bryan, the Clown-Dog Boy, but felt that the Kenny role was the funniest part in the script. I asked my agent if the role was taken and he replied that I was too old to play the part. I kind of crashed the audition in character as Kenny and the producers went with my idea, even going so far as to get a few custom made, hand-laced wigs made for the character.
Helen: Who was your favourite person to hang out with on set and why?
Keith: I loved hanging out with Christina Applegate. She was very busy starring in the picture, yet always seemed to have the time to just chill, go over our scenes and generally was such a blast. I never had a sister, but if I did, I wish she were just like Christina in real life (not Swell (Sue Ellen’s nickname in the film), she has issues!).
Helen: What’s your favourite memory from filming DTMTBD?
Keith: I loved the day several drag queens stole our Buick from the Chuck-E-Cheese parking lot! Also, the party scene was great fun, although it was a bit weird trying to play Kenny without the wig (Kenny’s development towards being a responsible adult is symbolised by a hair cut).
Keith: Never! I was pretty stressed out and high strung. I have always had to remind myself to relax, chill out, de-stress. It took me many years before I learned my lesson!
Helen: I help to run a film club for school students in London and they were captivated by Adventures in Babysitting. Why do you think teenagers still enjoy that film after all these years?
Keith: I have no idea. Perhaps AIB caught that fleeting last glimpse of fun and whimsy that seemed to be popular with 80s kids flicks. It also exposed many kids to some of the greatest blues acts of all time. The soundtrack is priceless.
Helen: Did you develop an unhealthy obsession with Thor (or any other classical god for that matter) after the filming of Adventures in Babysitting?
Keith: No, but I was certainly scared to death of invoking the wrath of Thor as embodied by Vincent D’Onofrio. When he was all oiled up and in his Thor outfit, he was quite intimidating. Vincent was a heavy presence on the set and was always in character and surly. I was very afraid of him.
Helen: Did you watch Piranha 3D (also starring Elisabeth Shue) at all? If so did you enjoy it?
Keith: Both Piranha 3D and Hamlet 2 show exactly why Elisabeth Shue is a star!
Helen: If you were to make a third babysitting-related film what would it be called and what would the premise be? We think there is a DVD box-set with your name on it just waiting to happen.
Keith: Faster, Babysitter… Kill, Kill! – A blood-soaked, hard rocking, zombie adventure with a babysitter fighting for her life while protecting her charges from the undead!
Helen: Tell us about your experience making the episodes “Adventures in Telepathy” and “Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Baked” for TV show Crafty.
Keith: It was fun blurring the line from reality to fantasy. I love making fun of myself, and Crafty was an exercise in how far can you go before crossing that line of self-parody. The cast and crew of Crafty were very accepting of our ideas and input, and once you gave them the permission to make fun of you… it was all downhill from there!
Helen: Has your experience as an actor made you less trusting of babysitters?
Keith: Yes, never trust a babysitter to watch your children. Especially if you’re just going to run off to Australia with your new “boyfriend”.
Helen: You’ve had a really eclectic acting career. What has been your favourite role to-date?
Keith: I will always love Mitch from Cousins (1989)… the clothes, the murderous stories, the grandfather with a deep fear of God. If there was one role I’d love to remembered for… it may be this one… Joel Schumacher just made me look soooo coooool! Thanks, Joel!
Helen: Tell us about your experience working on The Fox and the Hound for Disney?
Keith: Deep in the dark recesses of the Disney lot lies one of the most advanced sound stages that is reserved just for dialogue and Foley recording. This was our home on and off for almost three years! The stage was huge! It had all of the surfaces (wood, brick, dirt) to make the added sound effects for movies and television. It also had a huge screen, but since this was animated, there was nothing to show. We would stand in front of a microphone, and act out all of our scenes one line at a time, giving different readings for each line. Then, they would animate to our voices, and the end result was just stunning. The last of the great Disney animated films before they started using computers to assist them. I am very honoured and proud to have been a part of The Fox and the Hound.
Helen: Do you have any current projects on the go that our readers should know about?
Keith: Cats Dancing on Jupiter – I play a child-abducting psychopath who comes to a bloody and chaotic end! A far cry from my days at Disney!
Cats Dancing on Jupiter is scheduled for release in September.