Kelly McGillis on Coming Out, Shame, Religion, and Vampires

Not in the habit of playing a nun, but this is a horror flick

Kelly McGillis shot to fame in 1980s blockbusters like Witness, Top Gun, and The Accused, serving fierce hair and the requisite attitude.

After a 10-year hiatus, she's back in Stake Land, a spare and arty horror flick with minimal dialogue ("Stake the bitch!") and Kelly cutting an imposing figure as a nun running from both vampires and a Bible-thumper out to jumpstart a gang-rape.

Meanwhile, her off-screen life has been anything but spare and minimal. Twice married to men, Kelly came out as a lesbian in '09, and last year she had a civil union ceremony in New Jersey with girlfriend Melanie Leis. Intrigued, I rang Kelly to talk sexuality, religion, and, of course, vampires.

McGillis: Apocalypse now
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McGillis: Apocalypse now

Me: Hi, Kelly. Why did you want to do Stake Land?

McGillis: What attracted me was the apocalyptic theme to it. I liked that.

Me: It's very bleak stuff. But did you have fun on the set?

McGillis: Yes, oddly enough. It is acting, after all. I don't have to be methody about it. If I'm playing a serial killer, do I want to bring that home with me? No!

Me: You play a nun in a religious crisis. In real life, you supposedly rejected religion because it made you feel guilty about your sexuality. True?

McGillis: I don't know if I'm religious. I'm a very spiritual person. There's a big difference. I don't know if I ever took it on to reject it. It was a story I created in my mind about my sexuality—that it was wrong—but it was not necessarily a religious thing. I think that's far more cultural than anything else.

Me: How have you dealt with that story?

McGillis: That's been a slow, arduous process—coming to terms with who I am. I had a lot of shame attached to my sexual self, and I don't think necessarily that was anyone's doing. Things happen in life.

Me: Did people tell you not to come out for your career's sake?

McGillis: Yes.

Me: Do you regret not doing so anyway?

McGillis: No, because that would indicate regret. Things happen for a reason.

Me: You have no regrets? That's wonderful.

McGillis: I don't have any right now. Three hours from now, I might change my mind.

Me: In the '80s, when you were a big Hollywood star and rumors started surfacing, did you duck for cover?

McGillis: What did I do? [Pause.] I think I was very afraid. It's sad to be afraid to be who you are.

Me: You have a helluva narrative, as Ashley Judd would say. Along with the great achievements, there was a horrible sexual attack on you, years of struggling with abuse.

McGillis: If people only knew. One of these days, I'm gonna be honest about my life, but until a lot of people are dead, I can't. It's bad karma. I can laugh at myself, but it's not fair for me to laugh at other people.

Me: Are you afraid people might wrongly make a connection between your having been sexually attacked and your lesbianism?

McGillis: No, it never occurred to me, because that's not why I have the sexual preference that I do.

Me: Did your life change when you came out?

McGillis: Not one bit. It wasn't any big secret in my life. It's not like people went, "Oh, my gosh, you're gay?" I've been what I've been. I just never talked about it publicly. It's really nobody's business, truthfully.

Me: Have you ever taken another look at The Accused?

McGillis: I have recently, only because I did a fundraiser for Berks Women in Crisis. And I was struck by how young I was and how crazy I was to think I was fat and ugly. That's how I perceived myself for so long. That was my negative chatter in my head.

Me: How did you get the chatter out of there (along with "the story")?

McGillis: Years of therapy. It helps to work on yourself.

Me: Does your wife, Melanie, help you with self-esteem issues?

McGillis: No. I feel better regardless of what anybody does. That's my job. Self-worth and self-esteem are an inside job, baby.

Me: From what I've heard, true love can only be achieved after sharing dark spells. You and Melanie have certainly gone through those.

McGillis: Can we not talk about that? I'm here to talk about the movie.

Me: Sure, OK. What are your feelings about Hollywood films versus independent films?

McGillis: I don't have any experience of Hollywood movies right now, so I can't answer that.

Me: Did Hollywood squeeze you out or did you walk away?

McGillis: That's a weird thing to say because it's a little combative. But I got married [to second husband Fred Tillman], had kids, and the focus of my life changed. The be-all-and-end-all of my life was not my job.

Me: I wouldn't know. I have no kids. I'm a sad, lonely person.

McGillis: That's pathetic! [Pause.] My focus changed. It's a maturing process. Isn't that part of what getting older is about? Not being self-involved.

Me: I don't even have a pet.

McGillis: Now I feel really sad for you.

Me: I do have a potted plant.

McGillis: That's something! [Laughs.]

Me: Why do you think vampires are so hot and sexy right now?

McGillis: I have no idea. I've never seen a vampire movie. No, wait, I have seen the Twilight movies, but those are sexy because the people in them are sexy. I don't think it's about being a vampire.

Me: Maybe it's the eternal-life thing.

McGillis: That would be exceedingly exhausting. I wouldn't have the fashion accessories for it!

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"I don't know if I'm religious. I'm a very spiritual person. There's a big difference."

Respectfully, this is post-modernist nonsense. To say one is spiritual is no more illuminating than to declare one is biological or psychological. It is simply a capacity in being a person.

Analogously, her statement is like saying: I don't know if I am athletic. I'm a very biological person.



Mr. Musto, this has got to be your worst interview yet. Could you badger Kelly any more about her 'dark times???' You clearly couldn't have given TWO SHI#S about the movie. Shame on you, are you TRYING to become the NYC equivalent to Perez Hilton???


Damm Kelly found a new girl and she's swore off men. Major contradiction from back in the day. She'd be bedding the prettiest young muscle men [plural] in LA and NY. No Lie. Must be the self esteem issue. Found Labia now.


mama, i'm with you. no kids. no pets. no plants. except the plastic kind. no living thing can survive in my hovel (i've tried and they've all died - except kids). luckily, i'm a vampire. :)

HRC fan
HRC fan

Mikey, you're the best. I love your interviewing and humor. Kelly's a cool lady. Wish she had taken your lead and opened up about her dark times. Maybe you'll allude to them in a blind item sometime...


Yes, I was being provocative. I have self esteem issues like everyone else, and do sometimes feel an inability to connect as well as others do, but I don't feel I'm pathetic, just a loner in some ways (albeit with a great network of friends and admirers). I was being a bit hyperbolic, and Kelly took me seriously, which I don't blame her for. By time it was clear I was half-joking--when I mentioned the potted plant--she was in on the gag and we had fun together with it.

What I'd hate to tell her is I don't even have a potted plant! I made that up!


Well, Mikey, I hope you're being provocative in your interview saying you are pathetic, lonely, just because you're not spousal, etc. That is no good reason to feel that way! I don't think being mature is about not being self involved. Why the hell shouldn't you (shouldn't one) be?! Kelly even says in her interview she needs to do her self esteeming stuff herself! If circumstances dictate otherwise, you'll know it! Also, vampires are hot because they stay up all night, they are thin, they have sexy experiences with their mouths (though blood is not so sexy, hotter to drink True Blood from a bottle!) and they are often portrayed by sexy people. Living forever would be great if you stay young and have means. As long as one is not destitute, crazy or sick, why not stick around as long as you can?

J. R.P.
J. R.P.

The interviewer was fine, she was terse. Not a fan here.

Margot Hemingway
Margot Hemingway

i'm havving a difficult time believing this dialogue Michael especially when u can't stop saying catchy phrases when u talk like "mary", "miss thing", "oh girl", "pa-leez", "as if". the list go's on 4 ever but c'mon hun write 1 of ur stories how it's really said.~ waiting 4 honesty

Southern Dave
Southern Dave

Well, she certainly is feisty and I like the "accessories" line.

I always admired her for returning to the theater periodically. And she's a damn handsome woman.

A LOT of girls and women have the negative body image thing. That doesn't surprise me one bit. A lot of guys have it, too.

Kimberly Davis
Kimberly Davis

Red Flags: "Spiritual not religious" "Karma" xo The reason she never had much of a career was not her weight, sexuality or priorities....I have never seen her give a good performance onscreen...she's got the 'Ali MacGraw' thing going on....IMHO


Kelly McGillis thought she was fat and ugly! Now I've heard it all.


She seems like she's really dealing with heavy issues and I feel for her. She talks in a lot of therapy speak. I wish her well.


Glad you like yourself, darling. We like you too!