INTERVIEW: Shannon Tweed on Hollywood

Leslie D Bland, Shannon Tweed, and Gene Simmons in Gone South

Leslie D Bland, Shannon Tweed, and Gene Simmons in Gone South

“Conquered Hollywood? It might have conquered me,” says the delightful Shannon Tweed on how she and countless other Canadians found success in American show business.

The reality show star is just one subject in the new documentary Gone South: How Canada Invented Hollywood, along with people like Neve Campbell, Tommy Chong, Howie Mandel, Alan Thicke and many other big stars maybe you didn’t know were secretly Canadian. Lorne Greene, green card, coincidence?

Written and co-directed by former Edmonton playwright Ian Ferguson with producer Leslie Bland, Gone South makes its Canadian premiere Monday, Sept. 29 at the Edmonton International Film Festival.

Gone South Shannon Tweet EIFF Edmonton GigCity PlayboyTweed was this wholesome, innocent girl raised in Saskatoon who went to Hollywood in the early 1980s after winning a talent contest. She made it into a couple of Playboy magazine spreads, was named Playmate of the Year in 1982, and briefly became Hugh Hefner’s girlfriend. This was back when the magazine was known as much for serious journalism as naked boobs, and literate men could claim with a straight face that they read Playboy “for the articles.”

Tweed says with a laugh, “Yeah, with the bathroom door closed. And this was back when women had pubic hair. What happened with that? Why does everyone look like prepubescent girl or a Barbie doll? It’s going to come around and change, too, I believe.”

The relationship with Hefner didn’t last long.

“You can only be waited on hand and foot 24 hours a day for so long before you start feeling pretty useless,” Tweed says. “As good as it sounds, it does get pretty boring. I had to go to work, and it wasn’t jibing with his idea of what he wanted in a girlfriend: Don’t go anywhere, don’t do anything else, and as all girlfriends know, there is a curfew. It was something like 9 p.m. Like, yeah, that’s not really happening. I’d just left home myself.”

The be-robed czar of softcore porn continued to get away with this sort of thing even into the 2000s, where the reality show Girls Next Store featured several women in exactly in Shannon Tweed’s shoes, or lack thereof, 30-something years later.

“It was a cute show,” she says. “They made it PG-ish. What happened after they went to bed? It’s so funny how they always just cut it right there.”

But a girlfriend curfew? Really?

“That’s what he wants in a girlfriend, and if the girlfriend agrees, is it sexism?”

Gone South Shannon Tweet EIFF Edmonton GigCityIt wasn’t easy for a Canadian to make it in Hollywood, even after being a Playboy playmate. Perhaps especially after. Tweed says she turned down $1 million to pose for Hustler magazine. She starred movies such as Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death and soap operas before coming to mainstream fame in 2006 with her partner Gene Simmons in the hit reality show Gene Simmons Family Jewels. Tweed didn’t want any part of it at first, but was gradually lured into it by Gene, who made their eventual marriage part of the program. The show lasted six years, and Tweed now stars in the spinoff Shannon and Sophie, with her daughter we all watched grow up. Camera crews have been in their private lives for nearly 10 years.

Tweed says she’s long past the point where she finds it weird that so many strangers know her so intimately – in hard copy form or not; Reality shows aren’t really reality shows anyway, she says. You need a permit to shoot in public locations; situations and subjects are scouted in advance, scenes are planned. “It’s work,” she says. “You’re held captive. If you were doing what you wanted to do – sitting around, watching TV, the kids off doing their own things – they wouldn’t shoot it. It would be too boring. You have to plan it out.”

Moreover, Gene Simmons controls the final edit, so this family is well aware which pieces of their lives are for public consumption, and which – decreasingly, it seems – are kept private. Other reality show stars aren’t so lucky, Tweed points out. Then again, some are incredibly lucky.

Shannon Tweed Edmonton EIFF GigCity“We might be sharing too much,” she admits. “There’s no privacy anymore. It’s almost already hum-drum , isn’t it? What are we going to do next? We’ve watched people have babies in a moment that should be just between you and your husband and your doctor. We’ve seen weddings and breakups, divorces and horrible fights. But the reason people watch is that people relate to it. That’s part of the reason people love it so much. It’s confirmation that you’re OK, that these stars are doing exactly what you’re doing. You don’t have to be so envious – with a couple of exceptions. The Kardashians aren’t exactly normal. It’s not real life, but it’s become their real lives.”

Has being famous for being famous become an art in itself?

“I don’t think any of them are claiming to be artists, but they made it into an art form. It’s a brilliant in a way, when think about it. Who would’ve thought you could take nothing special, except your ass, and turn it into something so big.”

The career, not the ass.

“We’re normal compared to all that. Or wait? What is normal? That’s the question. Weird is normal now.”

Tweed’s been in Hollywood most of her life; she knows how the place works.

“I don’t think Canada invented Hollywood. I think Hollywood was invented by some very shrewd gentlemen who invented the studio system, but that, too, is pretty much long gone, and it’s become its own entity, fully funded by each their own. And it runs on what I think is good storytelling. I think that’s the most important thing. Good writing. It’s getting harder and harder to write good stories, and that’s why we’re seeing reality shows. And they started because of the writer’s strike anyway.” She adds with a laugh, “Don’t do that again.’’