So just how accurate is “The Runaways,” the new movie celebrating the pioneering female rock group that included Joan Jett, Lita Ford and Cherie Currie?
Hitfix got the chance to ask Currie when we sat down with her during the Sundance Film Festival, where the movie premiered Jan. 24. Were she and Jett lovers, as the movie implies? Did Kim Fowley have local boys throw dog poop at the girls to toughen them up? How did Robert Plant’s advice land the girls in jail? What shocking tragedy did the film makers leave out? What misunderstanding did she and Jett resolve last month, 30 years after the band’s break up?
The film, based on her autobiography “Neon Angel,” opens wide March 19. Currie is also preparing a new version of “Neon Angel” that comes out March 17.
Q: What did you think when you saw the completed movie?
A: I haven’t seen the completed movie yet. The sound hadn’t been laid in. I just thought that the actors were incredible. I love the soundtrack, of course. I’m partial. It’s a cautionary tale. It’s a parallel narrative, as Joan puts it. It’s not the real story, but it’s not far from the story either.
Q: What really struck me was that the movie tells a really grim story. There’s not any point where you seem to be enjoying the ride.
A: And that’s not true at all. How do you shove two-and-a-half years into an hour and a half? That was tough because we had a lot of fun.
Q: But the movie doesn’t show that.
A: No. And again, it says we got a record deal on the road. We had the record deal like two weeks after we’d been together. So there’s some inaccuracies about the film. No, we had a great time. It’s hard for me to be objective because it’s my life and Joan’s life that we’re talking about here. Of course, I was sitting there going, “No! It didn’t happen that way. No! Wait a minute.” But it was still very entertaining and it flew by.
Q: Did Kim Fowley really gather local boys to throw dog poop at you when you rehearsed?
A: No. And the thing is when Kim would have those days of just trying to prepare us for what was really out there; he just wanted us to be so ready for the impossible. Just once in a while. He didn’t bring in kids to do it, he’d just do it. He’d just grab a can and whip it.
Q: But not dog poop.
A: No, we would have drawn the line there.
Q: What the movie really does show is how at 15, you haven’t developed a voice to stick up for yourself, and you turn to the drugs. You have no coping skills.
A: Absolutely. And again, right when I had gotten into the Runaways, I was just treading water. Also, being a twin, its not easy, there’s the constant competition thing. Who’s the prettier one? Marie was the more popular one and I was just kind of lost. And what they don’t show in the movie as well is Marie’s boyfriend, who picks the girls up [in the opening scene], he raped me. He took my virginity. He raped me and that’s when I cut my hair off and became an angry…I wasn’t like that. I was a really nice surfer girl. Loving Bowie and loving sticking my toes in the water and just trying to break away from being a twin. At that point, you go through puberty and you just don’t want to be connected at the hip all the time. Yeah, so that was not in the movie as well. They didn’t want me to lose my innocence so early in the film. I felt, “Gosh, that doesn’t really explain why I take that turn.” That’s why I said the book really explains in depth a lot of things that we went through and especially on the road. We were arrested in Europe for possession of hotel room keys.
A: Back then, they threw us in jail: Me, Joan and Sandy, because Robert Plant had told us to save our hotel room keys. We went to Europe and he had his in shadow boxes, so of course we’d do anything that Robert Plant told us to do. Who wouldn’t? And they busted us in Dover on the way to Paris before we jumped on the ferry. Threw us in jail. And [road manager] Scott Anderson had stashed some of his cocaine in my makeup case…We signed off on all our luggage and all of a sudden it occurs to me while I’m sitting in this cell with the girls, “Oh my God, his coke is in my makeup case and I’m going to stay in Europe the rest of my life in prison!”
Q: What happened?
A: What happened was this really nice guard felt sorry for us because they were really treating us badly. He could tell that I was just coming apart. Europe was really tough for me, The punk movement had just come into play and they were violent and they were throwing knives at us on stage and I was just really homesick…But this guard just became very protective of me and he was the one that searched the luggage and he found it because he was looking at me. I was having seizures practically I was so scared and he just kept looking at me saying, “It’s okay, it’s okay. “ And when [his boss] came in, he said, “I’m disappointed to say we didn’t find anything” and it was sitting right…When you opened that thing, there it was. Wonderful guy. I was a scared little girl, just turned 16, terrified.
Q: How did you feel about how they handled your love scenes with Joan? Did you feel that was accurate?
A: No. A little overplayed. I mean, Joan and I just had a great friendship. I clung to her. She kept me sane. She had this vision. All her life she knew what she wanted to be. I wasn’t quite sure until I saw my first Bowie concert, which was a few months before I joined the Runaways. We were just best friends. And there were some drugs going on. Back then in the ‘70s, if you didn’t do drugs they thought there was something wrong with you. So, and at that time, bisexuality, David Bowie, Elton John, people were coming out of the closet. It was just right in that time when the experimental factor kicked it. That’s really all it was, just a couple of girls having fun. No in-love relationship kind of thing, girlfriend/girlfriend, it wasn’t that way. We were just coping with having fun. And we had a lot of fun on the road, we really did.
Q: What do you think when you see Dakota Fanning on screen playing you?
A: First of all, she was my favorite actress on the planet and I ended up finding she had been cast through [entertainment reporter] Sam Rubin on Channel 5 News and my knees literally buckled because I couldn’t have imagined anyone better than Dakota. No one can hold a candle to her. She was so receptive and quick. I mean if there’s any little thing, I’d say it and Boom, it was done. She got it.
Q: What about Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett?
A: I thought that she was just amazing.
Q: She looks so much like her.
A: And that was not an easy task. You know Joan is very unique. And she has a personality like no other and Kristen worked really hard to achieve what she did in this film. I take my hat off to all of them. And even Riley [Keough] playing my sister Marie, just exceptional.
Q: You have a teenage son and he’s in a band.
A: He’s here actually. He’ll be 19 next month.
Q: But when he was a minor and already in a band….
A: Not a chance. I’d never let him do what my… again, my parents were getting a divorce right at the time the Runaways happened. My mom was contemplating getting remarried and moving. It happened very fast between my mom and my stepdad. My father wasn’t even living in California, he was living in Texas.
Q: So that part is fiction where Marie has to take care of him?
A: No, that absolutely happened. My dad moved back to his cousin’s house…that was all true. And Marie had to stay behind and she took care of Dad and my grandmother and Aunt Evi did as well. But my dad, he started going downhill with the drinking and it was hard on my sister. Very hard.
Q: When your son got into a band at 14, did you say “do not do as I did?”
A: I don’t have to. That kid has grown up… his favorite book is “Neon Angel.” He’s read it. He’s the hippest, coolest. My ex-husband is Robert Hayes, from “Airplane,” incredible dad, he’s my best friend. There’s alcoholism on both sides of the family, so immediately we’re instilling, “Hey you’ve got the double whammy. You gotta be careful.” My son has just risen so far above it. He’s just not even… he’s not interested.
Q: When I interviewed you in 2006, we talked about a possible Runaways reunion and you said you came very close, but then Lita backed out. Given this film’s coming out, any chance?
A: She is claiming she will have nothing to do with anyone that had to do with this film and we have no idea why. She has an issue with Kenny [Laguna, Jett’s longtime manager] early one when Joan and Lita both had [solo] hits and Lita wanted to use the same photographer for her album cover that Joan had used. And Kenny, being a good manager, said I don’t think it’s a good idea for this album. We shouldn’t have the same photographer. And she wanted to use the same writer. And Kenny said, “You know what, not this record. Next record, but not this record. You guys shouldn’t have two records coming at the same time with the same album cover, the same photographer, the same songwriters. I don’t think that’s a good idea.” And Lita took that as a personal attempt to ruin her career. It’s just, again, you look at the chaos of us growing up in the insanity of Kim Fowley and you see that it’s very hard to let go of that, even as an adult, if you really get damaged by it all. I just look at it that way.
To me, it’s like can’t we all just get along? We’re grown. She and I are the only two who have children. I just thought it was ridiculous.
Q: That’s a long time to hold a grudge.
A: Oh, no kidding.
Q: Did the phone call happen as it did in the movie where you called Joan when she was visiting a radio station?
A: Yeah and that was a little upsetting to me as well. Yeah, I did call. I didn’t call from the bakery they had me working at. At that time, I was working as a drug counselor and I’d made “Foxes” and I’d taken the dive and got out and was working with kids. And I called Joan and I had a lot to say. I said, and I remember clearly, so does she and Rodney Bingenheimer. I said, I just gotta tell you from the moment I saw you, I knew you were a superstar. I’m so proud of you Joan. You are finally getting what you deserve and I love you, and that was the conversation. In the movie, I guess they didn’t think that was a good way to end it. Why? I don’t know.
Q: Are you and Joan in regular touch?
A: Yeah, we talk, of course. She’s just great. I just want to say that me and Joan finally, just in the last month, I heard how upset she was that I had left the band and that she was really hurt. I thought they wanted me out. And I said, “Joan, I thought you guys hated me. I thought you wanted me out.” She said, “No man! We were so crushed. We just thought that you thought you were better than us.” It’s like, no. I thought Lita was going to fricking kill me. Physically, I was going to be dead. You have to get to a point where it’s like, you know what, I just can’t take this anymore. I’m afraid of my life at this point.
Q: And you really were?
A: Totally. At the end of the movie, the actual story is we were doing our third record cover photo session. I came in early. Lita was a couple of hours late. I needed to leave to give my sister the car.. Lita threw a fit and kicked down the door and came at me and pushed me in the wall. And it’s like, you know what? Sorry. Enough. We were out of our minds.
Q: What do you want people to take away from the movie?
A: Wow… Buy the book. You know, you can survive anything if you just don’t give up. You know, Joan had her dream. Her dream came true. What meant the most to her in her life happened because she didn’t give up. I survived as well. I have a wonderful kid, a great ex-husband, a wonderful family. I’ve got Kenny who worked so hard to get this book. Who ever gets to write the same book twice? I’m a chainsaw carver and proud of it. Now all of a sudden I have this movie that depicts my life and Joan’s life and I have another book, the greatest kid in the planet. My God, just hang in there, even if you think it’s the darkest day of your life. Just stick around. Hey, if we could live through this, you can [too].