When Mike Watt first called to say he wanted to interview me for a Troma retrospective that "Femme Fatales" was featuring in the February 2002 issue, I thought I was lending a few quotes. You can imagine what a hoot it was to see Professor Holt, with her 3ft beehive hairdo, running across the cover (a mutant squirrel is chasing her). Then to open the magazine and discover a whole article dedicate to me, pages of text and photos, was a tromatic thrill.
Before calling Lisa Gaye, I’d never spoken to a New York Socialite. Then again, I’m not the best-traveled person in the world. ButI was told by Debbie Rochon that no Troma retrospective would be complete without an interview with Lisa Gaye, and so gave me her number. And all of a sudden, there she was, talking to me from her beautiful Chelsea loft, her perfect tri-borough accent lilting through my phone. Lisa Gaye: better known to Tromaniacs as Miss Malfaire from THE TOXIC AVENGER II and III, or as Professor Holt – she of the three-foot hair- from THE CLASS OF NUKE ‘EM HIGH series.
Throughout our interview, I stare in awe at her nifty website, filled with pictures of the lovely lady, not to mention fabulous shots of her apartment – the kind of place where people on sitcoms live. One of her obsessions is restoring her apartment to its original 1930's glory.
"I’ve always had this apartment. It’s impossible to move unless you’re really rich. But I have a two-bedroom in Chelsea, and I’m so damn lucky to have this place. So damn lucky. About five years ago I started getting into restoration. So I took a good long look at the place and really Lisa Gaye, Toxic Avengerrealizing that I have crystal doorknobs, and porcelain, all buried under paint; windowsills that have no definition anymore, just buried under globs of paint and plaster from the last eighty-plus years. So I started working on it, and I documented the restoration section [on my website].
There are two types of people who have worked for Troma: people who love the company and return again and again – and the people who don’t. Lisa Gaye is definitely not in the camp of the latter. She is one of Troma’s biggest supporters.
"Make no mistake about it, I certainly wouldn't be the fringe girl I am today without Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz," she says. "I got into Troma quite innocently. I came to New York to be an actress and dah dee dah, and studied and blah blah blah and then I decided it was time to work and stop studying. So I answered an ad that they had in the back of Backstage Magazine. I had never heard of Troma, but I had heard of the Toxic Avenger. I sent in a headshot; they called me in for an audition, and I’ve been with them ever since. I still act for their company. I was in the most recent Toxie movie. I played an abortion counselor. This was very different because in the first TOXIC AVENGER movies I did, I played the same character, Miss Malfaire, the lead villainess. We shot parts two and three back to back. So by the time the fourth one came around many years later, I didn’t reprise my character. I know that she dies at the end of the third one, but that doesn’t make a difference in the Troma universe. You could certainly still live after you die. That’s not a problem. She was a very interesting character. Wow! Part four! We could just keep going and going."
Miss Malfaire is, of course, the wonderfully evil lady that leads Toxie, the world’s first hideously deformed super-human hero from New Jersey down the path to the Dark Side. "Miss Malfaire was the devil’s girlfriend, and she was just pure evil. She was a ‘woman of tomorrow’ type of character, she ran the corporation, was very into fashion. But she was completely, completely evil."
Lisa continues, "Now Professor Holt, with her fantastic three-foot hairdo, was also a very intelligent woman. But she also had heart. Malfaire has no heart. Professor Holt is really in it for the science. She was never into anything evil. She was being manipulated by the evil people. Very one-dimensional, it was all about her sub-humanoids. She had a motherly instinct for them, and she loved being in the lab and creating these creatures. She thought she was bettering mankind, but really she wasn’t. I never played the complete good girl in a Troma movie, but I think that’s because I’m a brunette and the blondes get to be the good girls. But you know, we’re all twisted in the end."
As with anyone who works with Troma, Lisa went through her trial by fire. "You know, I got slimed by Tromie the Nuclear Squirrel [in CLASS OF NUKE ‘EM HIGH II: SUB-HUMANOID MELTDOWN]. That wig got unexpectedly destroyed. After I got slimed, I had to lay on the floor for quite a while, and when the director yelled 'CUT', I couldn’t up. The wig absorbed all this slime. It was so heavy I couldn’t lift my head! They literally had to pick me up and separate me from the wig. Then they dragged it out to the trash. We went through about four of them.
That three-foot hairdo was almost as much a character as Professor Holt herself. It took a special person to don that hair and still perform naturally. "When you first put it on, it takes getting used to. At first, I kept bending the top of it, hitting into doorframes. After a while, it became second-nature: when you see a door, you stoop. You know you’re only going to be able to ride in a car with a sun roof. I wore it for two movies and then various public appearances. I really got used to it and could maneuver it after a while. Still, you’d be in a new location and sooner or later, you’d smack that top off something and it would bend."
In addition to the slime, Lisa was called upon to beat up hideously plump punkers, spew up the patented Troma Bromo-Vomit, and, at the beginning of NUKE ‘EM HIGH III, her lovely wig was even set on fire. Though, she tells me, during the fire gag, only stunt hair was used. "They’re not too tough on actors," she says. "I think if you’re on the crew you get burnt to the core. Although a lot of actors are the crew [on a Troma set]! I’ve never had to do crew work for them, I’ve always just been an actress. As an actress I didn’t get worked to the bone. An actor doesn’t get worked to the bone. It isn’t as demanding as the job of a tech, [who is] running around constantly. An actor comes in and does his part for a few hours, or however long, and that’s nothing compared to how long it takes to set that scene up.
You have to be committed," she adds. "But I am. Whatever it is, I’m there 200%. As soon as I’m done here on the phone I’m going to be completely committed to this soup I’m making. It’s just my nature."
It takes a certain temperment to work with the Troma team. Not everyone is up to the long hours and hectic schedules. Some people join the crew then leave just Lisa Gaye is Miss Malfaireas quickly. Lisa has no complaints. "Lloyd and [his wife] Patty have always been very good to me. I love his children. We socialize outside of the Troma arena, as well as in it. I’ve always had an adventure with Troma. I’ve been to a lot of places with them. I’ve been to Cannes three times. I’ve been to other film festivals, like Portugal. [Troma has] been wonderful to me. I know they have this mixed reputation, but I can only judge by my relationship, which has been very good.
[And] I’ve met some interesting people through Troma. Troma attracts really cool people. We’re not cut-throats. You think on other sets one actress is going to talk to a reporter then recommend another actress? Like Debbie did with you. That’s how beautiful they are. They’re never jealous, or backstabbing, we’re all very supportive of each other.
This requited love Lisa and the Troma team has for each other continues to this day. The Divine Ms. Gaye can be seen in TERROR FIRMER and in the newly-released CITIZEN TOXIE. "TERROR FIRMER is my favorite Troma movie. I have a small part in that, [as] Ron Jeremy’s wife. I wore a little pixie wig and the vintage bra/slip thing. I do all my own costuming. The only costuming I didn’t do though [was in] TOXIE IV, because they literally called me the night before and said, ‘Can you do the abortion clinic thing tomorrow?’ And of course, I said 'Okay.' I studied my lines on the way up and they did the costuming. Which was fine. I didn’t mind surrendering – it was a new experience for me.
"The day that I did that [role], they started spraying my neighborhood with melatholin. (The pesticide is used to kill mosquitos, carriers of West Nile disease.) I was so relieved when they called me . Troma rescued me again! They hauled me upstate. And, may I add," she says, her voice growing low and heavy, "nobody was there to pick me up. I had to go to the sheriff’s station because all I had was a phone number. And the sheriff was so sweet – he put out an all-points bulletin: ‘Does anyone know about this Troma movie being shot?' and one cop calls over ‘Yeah, I’m going to be doing some work on it, they’re over at this place…’ They finally found them for me and got me there. Still, they’ve always been good to me."
You get more than you bargained for when Lisa Gaye comes aboard for the ride, particularly if you do right by her. "I like to help with craft services [on the set]," she tells me. "I like to help serve. It’s the entertainer in me. ‘Come, eat’. I do their conventions sometimes. I’ve had quite a few Troma parties over the years. Quite a few. And I’m great at the Troma parties. I [also] did a party for Lloyd’s book. We Tromites know how to have fun. I entertain a lot, and I’m very diverse in the little events I have. You’ll never get the same type of dinner party twice – or lunch, or brunch. I know a lot of fascinating people- people of different backgrounds, different nationalities, different careers. From filthy, Lisa Gaye Loves Surf Nazis must die filthy rich to minimum wage type of person, and everything in between, we get together and I make sure that the food is good, the booze is good. One of my favorite things about living in New York is [getting] the chance to do this."
In between shoots and parties, Lisa concentrates on her website. In the current realm of cyberspace, where every five-year-old has his or her own website, it isn’t sparkle that makes a good site – it’s class. Like Gaye herself, LisaGaye.com is draped with class.
"I designed it, I coded it, I did everything. Every single thing about that site is me, I had zero help," Gaye says. "I can code off the top of my head. I studied at the New School, took some classes, [but] most of it is self-taught. I spent a lot of time with books and the computer, going one-on-one with the code. I love it, though, love it, love it. I’m a geek! What can I say? I haven’t worked on it for a few months and I have to get back and update it. It’s a big job, having a website. I have a lot of fans who write me from all over the world.
"Things are changing, honey. I’m living in a really weird place right now. New York City is always the first place for things to be felt and things to be changed. What happens here affects everywhere else, eventually, like ripples in a pond. I don’t know – things are just very different now. There’s a shift in energy. Something always interesting happens… But I’m ready. Whatever the new wave is, I’m ready.
Visit Lisa Gaye’s cyber-domicile at www.lisagaye.com