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Cult movie actress tells of survival in the fast lane

Date

Ron Cerabona

Actress Laurene Landon is in Canberra for the Canberra International Film Festival.

Actress Laurene Landon is in Canberra for the Canberra International Film Festival. Photo: Rohan Thomson

This is Laurene Landon's first time in Australia and what has struck the Canadian actress most is the honesty here.

''It seems to be you have what is essentially an honour system,'' she said. ''In Los Angeles you sit at a sidewalk cafe and pay right away. Here they bring you your coffee and croissant and they're gone. You have to chase them down to pay them.''

Landon came to Australia to tour with five film festivals screening retrospectives of her films. Two of them, the Larry Cohen-produced Maniac Cop (1988) and The Stuff (1985), were screened in the Canberra International Film Festival on Friday night and the third, Hundra, will screen on Saturday.

Laurene Landon.

Laurene Landon. Photo: Rohan Thomson

Landon will be at the screening of this 1983 movie for a Q&A session afterwards.

''I play a female Conan in this movie,'' she said. Her character is out to avenge her slain family and protect her tribe.

''It was the most incredible experience of my life. I did 38 stunts in this movie, all the stunts on my own. Some stuntmen quit, they said I was out of my mind, they said I was sword fighting, jumping off buildings onto horses and trying to kill them - which I was!''

Well, not really. In fact, the actress has been a survivor, maintaining a long career in Los Angeles, where she has lived since she was four, and has rolled with life's punches, including a long career hiatus (from 1990 to 2006) during which she took care of both her mother and her father when they were seriously ill.

''I was being offered jobs in that time but it was more important for me to take care of my family.''

But she maintained a sense of humour and has continued to so, despite becoming dispirited by the ''desperation'' of Los Angeles. Asked her age, she said, ''Under 100,'' and when asked if she was 55, the age quoted in Wikipedia, she said: ''That's off by a few years - in my favour!''

Landon originally intended to be a police officer but, while training, realised she was too emotional to hold a gun. ''I could never kill somebody … I felt guilty shooting at the clay ducks.''

She was approached by a talent scout and took up modelling but found the long periods of sitting still tedious and enrolled in acting classes. Again, she was fortunate in finding work. ''I felt like God intervened at the time.''

One of her earliest roles was in Full Moon High (1981) directed by Cohen, during which she became ''best friends'' with him and his wife.

''Larry is out of his mind, he's insane, and you can quote me on that.''

Cohen gave her the opportunity to play a policewoman in Maniac Cop. ''What I remember most is how cold it was in New York at that time.''

She was one of 2000 young women who auditioned for … All the Marbles (1981) about female wrestlers. Despite mistaking the director, Robert Aldrich, for another director, Robert Altman, (''I was 19 years old, I didn't know'') she got the job. And although she fractured her foot during a climactic bout, she finished the scene.

It was an interest in architecture that led Landon to buying a historical house more than a century old in the Los Angeles suburb of Harvard Heights.

She lives there with her ''best friend'', Addison, a director of TV commercials, two dogs and five cats. ''I like animals more than people. They don't judge you, all they do is love you unconditionally.''

Hundra screens at Arc Cinema, National Film and Sound Archive, at 4.15pm on Saturday.

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