When I heard the new Total Recall had remained true to its predecessor by including a mutant three-breasted hooker (newcomer Kaitlyn Leeb, who’s already steeping in the positive and negative attention associated with such a role), my elation turned bittersweet when I realized how little I knew about Lycia Naff, the actress who originated the role in Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 blockbuster. Even in a movie teeming with compelling females in thankless minor roles—the “two weeks” woman; the grotendously disfigured mutant fortuneteller; the wee, Uzi-toting Thumbelina—Naff’s performance became downright totemic. Verhoeven’s entire vision of man’s future balances on her prosthetically enhanced bustline.
Right after Total Recall, Naff earned an Emmy nomination for her role in The Perfect Date. She was on “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” too, and next weekend she’ll appear at the enormous Star Trek convention being held in Las Vegas. But today her main work is as an undercover investigative reporter; previously, she has worked for The Miami Herald and People. When I reached out to Naff, she was kind enough to share bits from a never-published interview she’d given for another venue once upon a time… and she rounded it out with some sage advice for Leeb and any future actresses who continue her legacy of dystopian lower back pain.
What was it like working with Arnold?
He was super professional. In fact, it was almost like he was a robot with no mind of his own. Paul Verhoeven would literally tell him exactly what to do, how to say his lines, when to say his lines, everything. Paul completely directed Arnold’s every move on set.
And how was it working with Paul Verhoeven? Actors, such as Peter Weller, are on record saying that Verhoeven is “a sociopath on a film set.” Did you find that?
Paul hired me without auditioning for him, which was the first time that had ever happened to me. I was just given the part. He knew me because he was the DP on Clan of the Cave Bear [Naff played Daryl Hannah’s little sister Uba, a Neanderthal] and he knew I could handle prosthetic makeup and hours of sitting in the special effects chair each day. So for that, I was grateful. I was on the set for a week and he was very kind and gentle to me because he knew that I sort of freaked out when the reality of baring three breasts was finally hitting me, for real. I got shy and regretful that I said ‘yes’ to the part, so Paul went out of his way to make me feel comfortable. He promised, he really did, to give me a better role in his next film but he never did that. So he’s not a sociopath but I guess he also didn’t hold to his word, maybe? Just like most Hollywood types, I suppose.
Do you mind that a Google image search simply for “Lycia Naff” immediately finds lots of pictures of you with your shirt open and three boobs?
So I hear. I’ve never Googled myself and I never will. I can’t bear to look. Ignorance is bliss!
Are all three prosthetic, or are two your own? What was the make-up application process like? Was it very public?
All three mammary glands are fake. In fact, the prosthetic is a large chest plate that starts at the neck and goes down to my belly button. This huge piece is applied using spirit gum on the very thin ends of this porous, spongy piece. It took between five and eight hours to apply. Needless to say my call times were 3:30 am! They’d lay me down in a dentist-style chair that reclines back. And two makeup artists would have at me while I napped. The makeup room was very private. No one but me, my three boobs and the artists at hand.
You were shot in the back and blood splattered out the front of you and you die. How fun was that?
To do a dramatic death scene has got to be the most fun thing on the planet. The stunt director taped all of these blood packets to the front of my body and I had to put blood packets in my mouth to bite on to explode when I got shot. The blood packets were rigged up to electric wires and when I was sprayed with bullets in the back, the stunt director flipped a switch on a remote control and all of the packets exploded on cue. I was responsible for biting the ones in my mouth and spraying them out. Then I’d fall face-first to the ground and die in a pool of my own blood. Very romantic. To top it off, during the whole shoot, I was suffering from Montezuma’s Revenge, which made the whole experience that much more delightful.
Have you had any amusing (or unwelcome, or both) fan attention in the years since the movie?
I took the role for the money—and as a goof. Something fun to do. Go to Mexico, stay at a five-star hotel, work with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Why not? I wasn’t exposing my own chest, so I thought, no harm, no foul. Little did I know the fiasco that would unfold when the movie was released. I was bombarded with interview requests but became so embarrassed at what I did, I turned all of them down! Like an idiot. I’m kicking myself right now. Johnny Carson wanted me on his show and I had the audacity to say no. As far as fan attention, I decided that I either answer every letter from every prisoner in the world who was writing me from their cells, or I answer none. I chose the latter. Again, because I became embarrassed. Then, a few years ago, a friend came over with a T-shirt he bought at a porn shop on Melrose that had my face on it. The image was the screen grab from the movie of me opening up my blouse and exposing the three breasts. The caption read: “Got Milk?” I went down and bought up all thirty of the T-shirts so they couldn’t circulate out there. And then thought to myself, why not let them be bought, sold and worn? Since I was not asked permission to use my image and wasn’t paid, I kept the shirts and gave them away as prizes during “game nights” at my house.
You also played a hooker in Lethal Weapon. Do you think that’s indicative of a lack of good roles for women in Hollywood? Is it better now than it was in the 80s?
In the 80s, during the time I was acting, “ethnic” was not in, like it is today. All, and I mean, all the lead roles went to white girls. I was relegated to audition for hookers, run-aways, drug addicts, maids, etc. Things are different now. All races and looks are “in.” So that’s good. But not in my day. The one exception was my recurring role in “Star Trek: The New Generation” in which I played Lamar Burton’s ensign in engineering. First her name was “Sonia Sherman,” a nice Jewish girl in Space. Then, they changed me to “Sonia Gomez” so I was right back where I started—an ethnic sidekick.
What made you leave acting for journalism?
As for leaving acting, it sort of left me. In 1992, I was nominated for an Emmy and I didn’t get it. That following year, I didn’t book one job. I kinda choked. So I thought, well, I’ve never been to college. Hollywood won’t miss me. Why don’t I go away to school? So I did. I fell in love with journalism while attending a school is South Florida and worked my way through college as a staff reporter for The Palm Beach Post, The Sun-Sentinel, and, the last five years, at The Miami Herald. I enjoyed it, and the fact that my paycheck didn’t rely on the way I looked, but just on the way I could put a sentence together, gave me some very absent self-esteem.
Do you plan to see the new remake?
Only if someone buys me a ticket. And popcorn. And chocolate-covered raisins.
How do you feel about your part being resurrected as a nod to the original?
Since sci-fi without boobs doesn’t sell, I’m not surprised that they’d throw a three-breasted mutant into the mix. Did you know that they wanted to give me four, originally, but the feedback from producers was that I’d look too bovine? They were right.
Any words of wisdom for Kaitlyn Leeb, the actress who inherited your role, who already seems to be struggling with the same sort of fan interest?
Be nice to your fans and keep your legs crossed. Blouse open. But legs crossed.
Tom Blunt is the host of New York City’s Meet The Lady event series, which celebrates women (obscure or otherwise) in the arts.