Sunday 26 January 2014

On Vacation with Dana Barron - An interview

I have been working in this roadside cafe for many years now, have seen people come and go... A pit-stop on the way to work, the last chance for a wee before they hit the long stretch of highway, the holiday makers lost and begging for directions, screaming at each other, hungry, angry and tired, the thrill of their holiday long since dissolved into frustration, I'd seen it all...

I was wiping a table when she walked in... the daughter of one the most famous Hollywood fictional families, in walked my favourite hapless holiday maker... Dana Barron...

Dana Barron (born April 22, 1966) is an American actress who has starred in film and on television. Barron is best known for her role as the original Audrey Griswold in the 1983 film National Lampoon's Vacation which she reprised in 2003'sChristmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie's Island Adventure for NBC television.

I couldn't believe it, how many times had I fondly reminisced about Dana and her Vacation family, Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo and the lovely Anthony Michael Hall and all their holiday mishaps...I thought of them all squashed in that green Truckster, travelling across America to visit Walley World... How many people can relate to that one? I know I can! Maybe not some of the spectacular incidents... The dead aunt, the car flying through the air, the questionable in-laws... But there is something for everyone in that movie, as well as a cameo list as long as your arm.... You know, I had always wondered what Chevy Chase was really like and I also wondered if she'd have any Randy Quaid gossip...   

I took her a herbal tea and plucked up the courage to ask her some questions. 

So, Dana, Audrey... Dana...You started pretty young, how exactly did you break into show biz?

“Well I was lucky enough that my father [Robert Barron] owned the first commercial and Soap Opera acting school in the world: Weist-Barron School of Television which is still in business in NYC today. He was fourth generation actor in our family, my grandmother was a Brodway performer in Vaudeville, and did the Zeigfield follies...
Wow! So how did you get involved?
My older sister had started doing commercials, because she was the blonde haired, green eyed beauty and I said "Can I try it to?" to my dad, he said sure and by 12 I was on Broadway, by 13 I was in Tom Hank's first film called ‘He knows you're alone’ (1980) which was a horror film... and then years later I did Vacation, so it all started there, as a child actor.... but that being said, in most of my parts I looked like a child, but I was actually way into adulthood, which is kinda' funny because people say oh, you were a child actor and I say no, I only played a child.”

So, how old were you in Vacation then?

“Well I'd rather not say, although people can figure that out, but I was definitely a teenager but I wasn't an adult, it was one of my only child roles that I did.”

One question that had preyed on my mind for a long time, why did they change the kids so much in all the sequels?

“I actually ended up doing a sequel a while ago for television [Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddies Island Adventure] and it was fun to reprise my role, but what happened was, Anthony Michael Hall was doing very, very well in different films at the time, he was about to film ‘Weird Science’ and because he was contracted to do that and was filming over the summer, when they wanted to do the next Vacation… Was it the summer? yes, I remember now, because it was European Vacation… so he said no, which made me so sad because I basically had my bags packed, waiting by the door and then the director at the time [Amy Heckerling] said 'Well, just get two new kids, we can't have an old kid and a new kid, it'll look strange'... So I was waiting and waiting and waiting by the phone and they went on and filmed without me...
... and I felt my family had left me because we were all very close and I never got a call from the producer, and so I actually took myself to Europe! I put my backpack on my back and went off had a nice summer vacation alone, back packing through Europe."
Good for you, I thought

Now people can't help but notice how the actor Anthony Michael Hall has changed over the past couple of decades... From the geeky brother Rusty in Vacation, to the geeky boy in Weird Science, to the nerd in The Breakfast Club... to this... 

“He's done so well I know, he's almost as tall as Chevy now. We're still close, he's less than half a mile down the street from me, here in California.”

He's certainly blossomed!
“Yes, he did a very big series and now he's doing another show and he working up steam again, he was a little bit on the quieter side for a while, but now he's doing well.”

So while we're going through the cast list, what is Beverly D'Angelo like? 

“She's very funny, she is very much like she was when we did the film, she hasn't changed much at all... Just fun, out there, high spirited, very, very talented singer, and actor. Now she has two young kids... actually I guess they're older now... 12, at least... with Al Pacino. She's working mom now... Oh! and she was in Entourage recently...
Suddenly she went quiet, and then her eyes opened wide she proclaimed... 
The Dead Zone, that was the series that Michael (Anthony Hall) was in! 
...Anyway back to Beverly, so my son has gone and played with her son over at her house and swam in her pool, and I was like ooh... Because with Michael, I still call him bro and it's like 'Hi sis, hi bro', and my first (film) mom was Beverly because we really were a very, very close family, That’s part of the reason I think the film worked, because we were on Vacation doing the movie Vacation. It was a wonderful special time and it felt very real, although we were acting. It's hard to explain the magic that we shared.”

Now, Chevy Chase has a certain reputation... and not the best, but honestly I couldn't believe
 a man that funny couldn't be that bad... Here was my chance to find out...
and I wasn't going to miss it... 
“It’s hard to get to know Chevy in a way, he's extremely, extremely bright, he's very quick and if you don't keep up with him he lets you know it... He's just someone that you have to keep on your toes when you're with him... But if you don't keep up you're in trouble, you're swimming! So it's a matter of 'do you say silly things?' He's a really kind-hearted man, he's just a man you have to get to know, and he has to get to know you and trust you and understand you. He and Beverly have an unbelievable relationship, as people and a love between them that makes they magic work on screen, if you ask Beverly she would never say one words against Chevy... All these people say things in the press about him over here, but he's just extremely smart and he sees things beyond other people it sometimes gets to him a little bit."

Any good Chevy anecdotes?

“Hmm... I know I had once talked about this, maybe on the DVD... Maybe it was a joke played on him...? I know that when we were driving alone in the family Truckster, [he had just finished Saturday night live and no one knows what we were doing] he would stick his head out the window and shout "Hi I'm Chevy and you're not!" and we thought it was just Chevy being kind of cheeky. 
He has now got three girls, all grown - and he was in a father mode, he wasn't the bachelor on the run or anything like that, he was, and still is, a devoted husband, great father and he was really happy doing what we were doing and it was such a special time for everyone... so I think the movie worked in a completely different way than your average film.”

How long did you spend in the car?

“Well it was basically a road movie, so we were in a and out of the car all summer! So it would have been three months and we loved it. Imogene Coca [Aunt Edna] had lost and eye years previously in a car accident and she was terrified of being in that car, so when we weren't filming (and the car was moving) she would put her hand on the roof of the car to secure herself, but she was a trooper and although she was so scared her acting came through and she was going to do it no matter what... and she was brilliant.”

Now this film has so many cool cameos... The late great John Candy for one... 

“Yes, it was peppered with loads of cameos of really fun people, I remember when John Candy came onto the set [for the new ending]...
She suddenly diverts the conversation, reminiscing about Anthony Michael Hall
...and actually I always talk about how Michael was so much taller, he'd had a growth spurt, he started off basically my height and I’m very little, and then he was towering over Beverly by the end of the movie - because we shot the ending months later and he was completely different. You see us at the beginning playing Pacman, space invaders... whatever we were doing and then you see him at the end of the movie, he looks like a completely different kid....
... But he was so floored that John Candy was on set, playing this character of this security guard... But I wasn't as up on comedic talent as he was, but he [AMH] was over the moon and so excited. So there was an excitement on set for John, but he wasn't known in a big way at that time, mainly for his television.”

Now you had some memorable scenes with Randy Quaid as Uncle Eddie, what was he like?

“OOOH... Well now obviously he has a reputation, he is a bizarre character and has got
into some things that are unmentionable...  His wife, I believe sent him off on an interesting track, so he's been in trouble in the United states, he apparently what they call 'on the lamb' I think the term is...”
“Yeah... He had destroyed some hotels and rooms or something and now he's hiding out in Canada, I don't really know the details, maybe he destroyed some things in the United States and is hiding out in Canada... I think that's the rumour...
That was a couple of years ago, but every time I worked with him - including Cousin Eddies Island adventure - he was very funny and warm, nice and kind, and I am just so lucky to have worked with some of the greatest American comedians ever  -Eddie Bracken and obviously Imogen Coca. Beverly was pretty much was a serious actor but then she did this huge comedy, that I don't think anyone really expected what kind of iconic mark it would make... It's the 5th highest grossing comedy of all time and it made Lampoon, with Animal House and it still holds up. Harold and Chevy worked on the script together and there was a lot of improvising...”

Was it hard to improvise with such a comedic genius as Chevy Chase?
"Um, well it wasn't like we were trying to upstage each other, it was like everything fell into place, you know... Like when he fell asleep in the car and the car jumped and landed in the canyon? Then Chevy said something, and then Michael would come up with something and I would come up with something, so everyone was very open, it wasn't 'I'm the star and you're not' kinda' thing... and with Chevy it's never like that. It was more a real working family (laughs) in it's own dysfunctional way - You know we love going on vacation with our family, and we can't stand going on vacation with our family - and with that we get some of the greatest stories we've had in our lives... and that's through not only in our family of actors, but in the movie itself.

The filming must have been a blast, how did you keep a straight face?
I know that there were a lot of times where the crew was laughing so hard it was hard not to laugh, but we were... I don't know it was more like... if you look at the film there's so much horror... I mean when Jane Krackowski says  her lines, when we're on the see-saw...."

Oh yes, I remember that line! 
...""My father says I'm the best at French kissing" and I just stare at her and there was nothing to laugh about because you just... Well we were both kids and I didn't fully understand it and the implications of that whole scene..."

Did you actually understand the line though?
"Not fully, I think as children you understand what it means, but you don't fully understand what it means, she can brag about it, but not really understand it and I can look at her going huh?! And I remember the time she says "I'm a pig farmer" and I say "I don't know Viki, that's not too cool" and she says "How cool is this?" and she shows me a whole shoebox full of marijuana! And I look at it and even too this day I don't know if it was real or not, because the prop master was giggling and someone else was giggling, I asked what is this and they said it was just grass from the side of the road and I was like ok! To this day I'm not into drugs or drinking and probably still wouldn't know, but I have this inkling feeling, the way they were giggling that that was really a huge box of pot, it was the early 80s..."

What was it like working for Harold Ramis? He seems like such a nice man. 
"Wonderful, wonderful... Chevy just adores him and knows he's brilliant and he's kind, he's smart and always smiling, soft spoken but yet you'd listen and just... he's a genius... a pure wonderful, big hearted, loveable genius. always kind. A pleasure to work with as a director... an actors dream." 

The wonderful John Hughes wrote the script, did he ever come on set?
"No he never came on set, I only met him once, You know I've only talked about this once... I auditioned for Ferris Bueller's day off and at the time I had just finished Vacation, [a year or two prior] and he said "Oh you can play the sister" and I started improvising and getting lines and worked on it a little bit to act with Matthew Broderick... and once again waited by the phone and never got the call, then it came out and Jennifer... what was her last name...? Jennifer...? 
Jennifer.......? Oh I remember...? Umm...
Anyway, she played his sister and she said some of the lines I improvised at the audition!
Yes! It wasn't even like an audition, it was at his house, so it's one of those Hollywood stories... Terrible, but it's the business, you just have to keep going and move on."

Was Vacation where Anthony Michael Hall met John Hughes and got involved in the Brat Pack? 
"I believe he did, a definite staple to American movies..."

So what happened when you got to Walley World? How did you handle those roller coasters... I'm guessing that it wasn't just one take! 
"Oh my god! I had to go on it so many times that I had to take Dramamine! I also had to sit down on a bench and they had to film without me. Sometimes I say 11 times, but I think it could have been 17 times... And to this day they don't affect me at all! If you have any fear, after doing it so many times, it's just like OK... I wasn't afraid any more, I had had so much Dramamine I couldn't get up off the bench!"

And have you met all the Audrey's? Have you had a big Audrey get together? 
"I had the privileged to meet, at a party with Ricky Lake, who's a friend of mine, Dana Hill [European Vacation] and it was so much fun to meet, because she and I had grown up in the business where we were also was auditioning against each other... and then Beverly said "Hey come down to the set we're filming Christmas Vacation so I came down and met Juliet - I didn't know Juliette Lewis until we did the 'Old Navy' commercial together in 2012.  I didn't meet Marisol Nichols [Vegas Vacation], and the next was me... again!" Ha!

"This is trivia that I've never talked about...

I drew close...

 ...To this day I never seen any of the other Vacation movies... Because it just breaks my heart that I wasn't part of my family, so I kinda rebelled and said I wasn't going to watch them."

Wow, I thought... Should I tell her how good they are...? Naa... I'll just ask...

What was your favourite scene?
"No one probably likes it as much as I do and I don't know why, but it's the scene where we're travelling and Rusty's feet are up with the dirty socks next to Chevy's face... and he's like 'what's that smell?'... I don't know why?! I'm very visual and it's something that is just so real, and every time I had my child in the car, I'd smell his feet and go pew!... and then it all comes back to the whole foot joke, I take photo's of his feet in the car and think 'I'm living Vacation now!'"

What do you think the Griswolds would be doing now?
"I think about that all the time because I think 'What would Rusty and Audrey be doing now?', That's a wonderful question but you've caught me off guard because I don't know... I was thinking if there was ever a part two?... I know that Newline have bought the rights from Warner Brothers to do another Vacation movie, they came up with the script and then they never filmed it, Chevy and Beverly were up to do cameos, and they were going to have Rusty take his family on vacation like he had when he was a kid... But I don't know why the film stopped production, they were looking for cast and then all of a sudden just 'poof!' They have it on hold, so it would have been fun to see what would have happened, It's always fun to see Beverly and Chevy Chase around our kids, and to be grandparents - to me that would be great fun."

Do you know any Griswolds?
"Actually I don't but there this guy whose name is Griswold and he takes his family on Vacation and gets teased all the time. So, it is kind of funny to have fans tell me their story, even to this day people come up to me all the time saying 'Oh you were in that film' and they quote me over and over again, because apparently its one of the biggest quoted films, comedic films.

So there are actually people out there called Griswold... I always wondered where John Hughes got the name... 
"I don't know, but here's trivia, Harold Ramis, about a year later, called me and said do you mind if I use your name in the Ghostbusters film? I'll make it close to your name, so I'll call her Dana Barret and not Dana Barron and I went woo! no problem and Sigourney Weavers characters name is Dana Barret..."


"So she was name after me... And there's something that's not really published."

"Ohh... Jennifer's name from Ferris Bueller is driving me nuts..." 

"No... No I know her..."

Cool, So do you know Al Pacino?
"I've met him when at the kids parties, times like that... Oh I actually worked with him on a radio play when I was really young but I can't say that I'm friends with him, I've just worked with him and met him through Beverly..."

Then like a flash of  lightning, it came to me... The girl in Ferris Bueller and Dirty Dancing... It's Jennifer Grey! 

"There we are yay!" 

She drowned her tea (which was on the house) and got up to leave, but there was just one more important question I had to ask... What did she think was the appeal of the Vacation movies?
"I think it's the appeal of going on vacation with our family and everything goes wrong, and your family drives you crazy, but you love them and you try to make the best out of a crumby situation... Everyone can relate to that, going on vacation with their family and being miserable, but being happy too.... So I think it's just family... People get family... They understand family and you stick together no matter what.... Beverly even told me that she devoted her character to loving Chevy no mater what, not getting mad and being the perfect wife, standing by her man. As children we used to roll our eyes, but at the end of the day we all are a loving family and people always want to have that iconic feeling... and I think that's why people love it because they can relate to the miserableness and the happy and joy at the same time."
And with that and the bell of the diner door tinging as she left, she was gone... I hope she has a happy holiday... Sorry... Vacation.... 

For more information and to purchase your own "Walley World" T-shirt, or even a copy of the original script with interviews with the cast by Dana herself go 

Also selling a copy of MY PERSONAL shooting VACATION script -- WITH THE ORIGINAL ENDING.  NOT VIEWED BY THE PUBLIC." - I'm clicking now!


  1. Awesome interview, loads of fun facts. I'm so glad Harold Ramis is a sweetie :D

  2. Oh my god I LOVE these interviews, such a different angle. Really enjoying them, thanks so much

  3. I'm the same age as Dana so this isn't weird, but I would watch pause the movie often to stare at her beautiful legs.

  4. Learn the difference between to, two and too. And maybe check for spelling errors before posting? Just saying. Cool interview though.