Few Hollywood stars had hotter careers in the mid-’80s than Kelly McGillis, thanks to her starring roles in Witness, Top Gun, and The Accused. But at the end of the decade, the Juilliard-trained actress retreated from the Hollywood circus to raise her children. In 2007, McGillis took a recurring role on Showtime’s lesbian-themed series The L Word and two years later publicly announced her own homosexuality. These days, McGillis spends much of her time working as a drug counselor at a rehab center in New Jersey. The actress, however, returns to the big screen today, playing a nun in the post-apocalyptic vampire movie Stake Land and will soon be seen in another horror movie, The Innkeepers. After the jump, McGillis talks about her unlikely new career as a “scream queen” and why she decided to finally come out of the closet.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Is it true you’re not really a fan of horror movies?
KELLY MCGILLIS: I can’t even say I’m not a fan. I just don’t watch them because I don’t sleep well when I watch scary movies.
So you haven’t actually seen Stake Land?
I liked it. Any movie in which religious crazies throw vampires out of helicopters to kill off unbelievers — well, that’s 12 bucks’ worth of entertainment right there.
Well, good. I’m so glad you enjoyed it! [Laughs]
Why did you decide to do the movie?
I read the script and I really liked the story. I liked the apocalyptic part. I don’t know if I was so keen on the vampire-ey thing. I talked to [Stake Land director] Jimmy Mickle who was really really sweet and it shot in New Jersey, right down the road from me. It ended up being a really wonderful experience.
So in the post-apocalyptic world, will everywhere look like New Jersey?
No! I live in New Jersey. New Jersey will kill me if you say that!
I’m just joshing. More seriously, the message of the film seems to be that fundamentalist Christians are even nastier than slavering vampires.
Well, I think extremism in any thing, on any level, is dangerous. Life is all about balance, moderation. The polar ends of anything can be exceedingly dangerous.
You seem to be entering a horror phase of your career.
[Laughs] I know, I don’t know what that’s about. But I wouldn’t really call The Innkeepers a horror movie, I’d call it a little scary movie about people in a hotel that’s being shutdown and about a ghost. I play this eccentric aging actress. What really interested me about the story is it has a message — whatever we fear, we create. I am a firm believer in that.
Innkeepers director Ti West is often spoken of as someone who is likely to become a huge name in horror.
He was really nice. You know, it’s tough when you’re working with somebody who wrote the script, because they have a very clear idea of what everything sounds like in their head. That’s always challenging. It’s not really a negative. It’s just that they’ve lived with those characters in their mind for so long, and then here you come along and say, I had this idea, this idea, this idea, and it’s not really gelling with their idea. Other than that, I thought he was a wonderful guy and I had a great time.
You came out a couple of years ago. It’s a big question, but what prompted that?
That is a big question. How much time do we have? [Laughs]
Madam, I have all day.
Well, there were quite a few [reasons]. But fundamentally, I was just tired of lying about who I am. I’ve reached a point where my kids are grown, they’re out of the house, they no longer have to be concerned that their friends, their friends’ families, will put them in compromising emotional situations because of my sexual preference. That was a big concern of mine because, unfortunately, a lot of people are not very tolerant. I got to a certain age and I didn’t give a s— anymore. Ultimately, all I have to offer anybody is my truth. I don’t have any profound wisdom, no profound insight, I only have my truth and my experience to offer others. And I was living a frigging lie.
Is it trite to suggest that your spell on the L Word influenced your decision?
I was out before that. It’s just that I talked about it publicly [later]. I mean, I was involved in a relationship during that. It wasn’t a thing that just happened. That’s who I am and what I’ve been for a long time. It’s just that I could never really talk about it.
Could you tell us one Top Gun story?
I can’t remember any! No, I had a great time shooting that movie. It was like being at summer camp with a bunch of really good-looking guys. I used to love to rub the top of their heads when they got shaved. I really liked that. [Laughs] And we had a great time. We all hung out together. We had fun. We played golf together and tennis together. I couldn’t have asked for anything better in my life. When your job is that much fun, it sure it isn’t a job anymore.
What’s next for you acting-wise?
I’m really not acting too much right now. I have a real job and I’m really happy with that. I was going to say I’m doing 9-5 but I work the 2:30-11 shift. I’m going to do that for a while and see what happens. I’m not giving up acting. I love acting. That’s a huge part of me. But I also have other things that I’d like to do in my life before I leave this planet and being of service to others is a huge part of that.
To be clear, you’re talking about your work at the rehab center?
Yes. It’s amazing. I just love being able to witness and be a part of seeing people change in really profound ways. Honestly, I see God in action and that is humbling and it’s amazing. It’s just a great gift that I can be a part of that.
You can check out the Stake Land trailer below.