Illustration by Nick Wanserski

Welcome to Random Roles, wherein we talk to actors about the characters who defined their careers. The catch: They don’t know beforehand what roles we’ll ask them to talk about.

The actor: E.G. (Elizabeth) Daily kicked off her career with a variety of roles in iconic ’80s movies like Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Better Off Dead…, and Valley Girl. She also crafted a musical career, with a top dance hit in “Say It, Say It” and appearances on a variety of movie soundtracks, from Scarface to The Breakfast Club. Then someone gave Daily a card and told her that with her appealingly raspy voice, she should try voice-over work, which kicked off a whole new career. Now millions have heard her voice-over work, in movies like Happy Feet and Babe: Pig In The City, and TV shows like Rugrats and The Powerpuff Girls. Now promoting her new one-woman show, E.G. Daily: Listen Closely, Daily talked with The A.V. Club about the twists and turns of her lengthy and labyrinthine career.

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Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985)—“Dottie”

The A.V. Club: It’s hard to believe it’s the 30th anniversary of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.

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E.G. Daily: Yeah. I can’t believe it either. I was like, what? Thirtieth anniversary? I don’t even feel like I’m old enough to have 30 years of that anniversary.

AVC: At the time of the movie, Pee-Wee wasn’t really a big deal yet.

EGD: Yeah, he was brand-new. People were just getting to know him.

AVC: When you were filming it, it must’ve seemed kind of odd. Like, “That’s just crazy, what he’s doing.”

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EGD: Well, I was in love with it because I love everything that’s like a kid, because I’m kind of like a kid. And all the sets and everything were like grown-up kid-people things. Like if you could play make-believe and have a funny cereal-maker thing for breakfast. All the stuff that he had, it was like living out the fantasy of getting to be like a kid, but I was an adult. It was perfect.

AVC: What was Tim Burton like on the set of his first movie?

EGD: I remember thinking he was like a mad scientist. Like a genius mad scientist. And he was very meticulous and very specific about what he wanted and his vision. Which is why he’s so brilliant. His vision—he’s such an artist. Kind of like Rob Zombie’s an artist, but in a different realm. They’re like painters with their imaginations. So I just thought he was genius. I could tell right away that he had something really special.

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AVC: And the longevity of that movie sure shows that to be true.

EGD: Yeah, right? I mean, who knew? We didn’t know that. We made that movie and we were all like, this is so fun, it’s great. And then it came out and it was huge, and it just keeps sustaining. I literally walk down the street, people will chase me like, “Dottie! Dottie!” Marriage proposals. I can’t tell you how many marriage proposals for Dottie that I’ve had, it’s so funny. Which is ironic, because Dottie’s not like Miss Hot, Sexy Hollywood Girl. She’s real. She’s a tomboy. But for some reason people like real, which is awesome.

Laverne & Shirley (1979)—“Rita”

AVC: It looks like the very first thing you did was a guest spot on Laverne & Shirley on an episode called “Bad Girls.”

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EGD: Yeah. I was the leader of the Angora Debs on that show. And that was my first big break into TV. I was in high school and I went on the audition and I booked it—and I was super happy. It was such a popular show.

AVC: You went to high school in Hollywood?

EGD: Yeah. I did. It was my town.

AVC: So, growing up in Hollywood, did a lot of your friends try to get into acting?

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EGD: Not everybody, but my best friend happened to be doing it. So my mom was like, “Oh, your friend Michelle is doing it, let’s try it.” Because she saw that I had an interest in music and writing and dancing, but actual acting was hard for me because I was a little bit shy. So it was awkward for me at first. But the actual music and singing and dancing, I could kind of go inside my body and I didn’t have to be all outgoing and stuff.

AVC: That makes sense because in a lot of your early roles—like in Better Off Dead… or Summer School—you just kind of appear and you sing.

EGD: Early on, yes. I just felt more comfortable with that. And then as I applied myself to studying and understanding myself more, I started seeing how cathartic acting was, and how it actually helped you connect to things that you wouldn’t normally connect to. And I started seeing how amazing acting was from a different perspective. Not like, “I want to be famous,” but, “Wow, this role really moves me.” So my perspective changed and that made a difference.

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Valley Girl (1983)—“Loryn”

AVC: You can totally tell. Like in Valley Girl, that part could’ve just been “the fast girl” or whatever. But you were so empathetic and everybody rooted for her.

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EGD: Yeah. Exactly. Because she was kind of the trampy girl, but her heart was really big. That’s where the healing parts come in. It’s like, that girl that needs to be kind of funny, that needs to be slutty and trampy and have everybody want her, really deep down has a huge heart for humans and doesn’t want to hurt anyone. There are a lot of deep-rooted issues why people act certain ways, and that’s what the fun of acting is. It’s understanding why Loryn’s loose—why that character was loose and trampy, is because it was a way to hide her vulnerability.

AVC: That’s another movie that has had some staying power.

EGD: I know, I had no idea. I don’t know any of them are going to be big. Valley Girl was this weird little tiny movie that had no money, half of our clothing was our own clothing, and it turned out to be one of the most iconic movies. It broke Nic Cage’s career. Had the best soundtrack ever. And it’s like nobody knew.

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Streets Of Fire (1984)—“Baby Doll”
No Small Affair (1984)—“Susan”

AVC: Did you sing in Streets Of Fire? Because that was like a big Jim Steinman musical.

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EGD: No, and that was a very frustrating thing for me. Because Diane Lane was singing, and I remember thinking, “Ah!” It was so frustrating for me. It was painful. Because I wanted to be on that stage singing with those guys.

AVC: She was lip-synching anyway, right?

EGD: I think so. Yeah, I think there were some other singers.

It was the same thing for me in No Small Affair with Demi Moore and Jon Cryer. Demi Moore played a singer, and I was just like, the sister-in-law who is married to Peter Frechette. Demi got to play a singer, and I remember at the time thinking, “Oh my God, this is so frustrating for me!” Isn’t that weird?

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Nobody brings this up in interviews, so it’s funny that you are and I’m actually admitting that I was super, like, having some pain about it.

AVC: Especially because the singing in both those movies was so fake.

EGD: Yeah. It was frustrating to me. I was always like, “Why don’t you hire someone who can sing?” But Demi was a great actress, so they went there. But I was always like, “Wait a minute! I can do both! I’ll do it!” That was kind of in the back of my mind. But back then I always played those quirky characters. I didn’t get those fancy leads. I got those best friend of the leads, quirky, funny characters. Hookers with a heart of gold. Weirdos. I liked my roles, I just wanted to be singing, too.

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Better Off Dead… (1985)—“Singer at dance”

AVC: Speaking of your singing roles, when our staff was talking about setting up this interview, one of our editors was like, “We have to talk to her because of her song in Better Off Dead…” Yet another iconic ’80s movie…

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EGD: Well, it’s funny, because it’s the 30th anniversary of that movie, too. They’re doing a huge premiere at the Egyptian, and they sold out. It’s 700 or 800 seats and they sold out like in a minute. They could’ve sold out twice. They’re having a Q&A, so we’ll have a panel at the front of the movie, and then they’re doing a red carpet. It’s crazy. The director just emailed me and I was like, “Yeah, I’ll be there.”

AVC: Savage Steve Holland was another director who had such a crazy and personal vision for his movies, mixing in animation with that really dry sense of humor.

EGD: Yeah, exactly. He’s amazing. Now he directs a lot of shows. But he’s one of those artistic geniuses too, like Tim Burton, and he does do animation. I did a show called Eek! The Cat with him where I played a character called Wendy Elizabeth. He just needs more opportunities to do films like that. He directs and he’s always working, but yeah, he’s pretty genius.

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Summer School (1987)—“Singer in video”

AVC: Another singing spot—there’s a fantasy video sequence for Summer School, where you show up as one of the students falls asleep?

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EGD: That was a music video. They actually brought the cast back for the music video.

AVC: You’re on a lot of soundtracks, like the Scarface soundtrack.

EGD: Yeah, a lot of them. Breakfast Club, Scarface, Babe, Rugrats… A lot of them. They asked me to do that song [for Summer School] and then they asked me to come back. That song actually was originally recorded by Deborah Harry, and then there was some conflict with a song she had being released, so the label was like, “We need to get somebody else to sing it.” So it’s really cool trivia, if you listen to that song in the very background, there’s a Deborah Harry background. And then they called me one day and said, “We need you to go and recut this song, and we need to fly you to London.” So within a day’s notice I was being flown to London to record with Stock Aitken Waterman. And then I cut that track, and then that track ended up being the song in the movie and then they brought me back for the music video.

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Dogfight (1991)—“Marcie”
31 (2016)—“Sex-Head”

AVC: Talking about your parts like hookers with a heart of gold, or weirdos, brings to mind your scene in Dogfight with Lili Taylor. You hid behind that part really well. You were not even recognizable.

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EGD: Thanks, that’s awesome! That’s my favorite kind of thing to do, where you just hide in someone. You go in. You go into somebody else’s realm, and then you’re not in your own realm.

That’s kind of what I did in Rob Zombie’s new movie. I get to go in deep into this character called Sex-Head. It’s really fun. Really deep. And, yeah, [Dogfight] was awesome. I wasn’t even right for that movie. When they were doing the casting, they wanted somebody really large and I was like, “I’m going to do it anyway.” And I read for it and I shoved a big wad of gum behind my teeth and I went in with this whole concept of why my character was like that. Actually everybody thought she was unattractive but she thought she was the hottest thing at the dance. And she was like, “They just don’t know me. They don’t know it yet but I’m the hottest thing there.” So I played it in this weird way, and for some reason the casting director hired me. That was a weird little funny part.

AVC: That’s one of those movies that kind of flies under the radar, but it’s really nice.

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EGD: And it was one of River Phoenix’s last movies. I spent some time with him.

AVC: What was he like?

EGD: He was sweet. Very sweet, a little bit shy. And when we were doing that movie, you could see some problem drinking during that movie. Because we would all go out and then River would get wasted and we would all go back to the hotel. It was a little sad seeing him needing to get so obliterated so young. I was like, what’s that about? One day he’s eating all vegan and vegetarian and the next day he’d be drunk.

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“Young Turks” video (1981)—“Patty”

AVC: The Rod Stewart video you’re in is a seminal moment from the early days of music videos. I also think it’s the first time breakdancing was shown on MTV.

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EGD: Wow! Nobody really brings that up. It’s funny, I forgot about that. Wow. Yeah, that was a blast. I was in Las Vegas with some guy who was, I think, a lighting manager or engineer or sound guy for Pia Zadora. I remember being backstage hanging out and then I saw Kenny [Ortega] and Kenny was like, “I’m shooting this video for Rod Stewart. Do you want to play the lead actress?” And then I was like, “Sure.” I was only 18 years old. And I was like dammit, I love Rod Stewart, it was so awesome to get to be part of that. That was the beginning of music videos, and that was one of the first ones out there at that time period. So it was a pretty cool experience getting to be in a video with Rod Stewart, who was one of my idols. I was Patty, who gave birth to a 10-pound baby boy.

Rugrats (1991-2006)—“Tommy Pickles”
The Powerpuff Girls (1995-2005)—“Buttercup”
The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (2010-12)—“Mockingbird/Queen Veranke”

AVC: So after the mid-’80s is when you started segueing into the voice-over work.

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EGD: I’d been playing clubs on the strip and I’d been going on a lot of auditions and I’d been booking a lot of movies. I did The Escape Artist with Desi Arnaz Sr., Raul Julia, Teri Garr. It was a Francis Ford Coppola production. And then I did a lot of horror movies like One Dark Night and Wacko and I started working a lot.

Then I got asked to be in this musical play, and I got a major record deal from this musical where I sang three songs live. I mean, that doesn’t happen. Three songs live and I had a major record deal. During that same play, somebody handed me their card and said, “You should do voice-overs; you’ve got a great voice.”

So I pursued that, and who knew my voice-over career was going to blow up? The first audition I went out for was Tommy Pickles and I booked it. And so that blew up, and then had a whole spiral of itself of like, 10 different series a week—I mean, Jungle Cubs and Woody Woodpecker’s nephew, and Rudy on Chalkzone and the list went on and on. And then during that same play I fell in love with somebody and had a whole thing going with that. So everything sort of sprouted open at the same time. The voice-over career, the music—I had a number-one dance hit [Say It, Say It”] all over the world. So I toured with that a little, and then I was on Saturday Night Live and The Dick Clark Show, and things just started opening up on every realm. And then continued doing movies. It’s like everything was going on at the same time.

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AVC: Yeah, I’m looking at your IMDB list and I don’t even know how you schedule all of this. It seems like you would constantly be in the recording booth.

EGD: Sometimes I am! But I love it, though. I mean I really do, I love it. Yesterday I was in a booth twice in one day. Sometimes I go from booth to booth and I’m so happy doing it. It’s fun.

AVC: Do you spend a lot of time creating the characters’ voices? There are so many of them and they’re all so distinct.

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EGD: I don’t really work on it. It’s just sort of instinctive. They just come out of me. Like yesterday I had to do a scared little crazy sheep, and I was like, [Scared little crazy sheep voice.] “Oh my god!” It was this weird little sheep and I just thought it was so funny how it came out. It was hilarious. It’s really instinctive, voice-overs.

AVC: Are you usually isolated or are there times when you’re recording with somebody?

EGD: I do a lot of stuff at home in my own booth, when I submit stuff for certain things. But yesterday I worked with two other women in the booth at Disney. And then the other day before that I worked at Disney in a booth but I was alone that day. It just really depends on the session. Some days I work with three, five people. Some days just myself. Some days with 10. And the ones with 10 are really fun.

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AVC: What are the shows where you work with other people in the booth? Powerpuff Girls? Avengers?

EGD: Powerpuff Girls is with the girls and then the mayor… It’s usually like five or six of us in that booth. Rugrats is usually the three babies: Phil and Lil, which is one person, Tommy and Chuckie and sometimes Susie. So it really depends. Some shows they just bring you in, do your lines, and you’re out. Some shows you’re working with your cast.

Avengers is a huge cast, and everyone’s in one room. I do Moonbeam and Mockingbird in that.

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AVC: How does that work if there’s so many people in the booth, like if somebody screws up or they laugh? Does it take a longer time when there’s everybody there together?

EGD: Yeah, they just have to say, “Everybody be quiet” and then everybody starts laughing and we have to wait because we can’t stop laughing. And then the director starts laughing and then finally we calm down and do our lines. It’s pretty fun.

AVC: And there are a lot of big names in that Avengers cast, that are known for more than voice-over, like you, like Adrian Pasdar.

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EGD: It’s true. They’re amazing. You’re amazed. When you watch a booth like that, you can’t believe the talent. You can’t believe it. They’re so good.

But I like to just do the work and then move on, and then when they break open, it’s like, oh, Rugrats just won an Emmy. Great! That’s so cool! But I don’t wait around. I don’t wait around for it. I’m just pleasantly surprised all the time.

Babe: Pig In The City (1998)—“Babe”
Happy Feet (2006)—“Baby Mumble”

EGD: I did Babe 2. I didn’t do the first one. Christine Cavanaugh did Babe, so I had already known it was magical. So when they asked me to do Babe 2, I was super honored and it was awesome. But I already knew that movie was magic. And I’d worked with that director many times. I did Lorenzo’s Oil with George Miller, I did Happy Feet and Happy Feet 2, and he just always uses me as his secret weapon for a lot of his animated movies.

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AVC: Did you work with Robin Williams on Happy Feet?

EGD: Yeah. I spent a lot of time with Robin. Like almost a month in Australia. We had a lot of really sweet times. Dinners and going to comedy clubs, and he chartered a yacht and we all went out on this beautiful yacht. I had a lot of really nice, quiet, special times with him, and Elijah Wood and Robin and his girlfriend at the time, Susan, and then she later became his wife. But we had a lot of really sweet, intimate dinners and I got to know him really well. So it was beautiful. I was happy I got to have that with him.

AVC: I saw him do an interview here in Chicago and just the energy that he had, literally bouncing off the walls; it was amazing to witness. I can’t imagine what that would be like in the recording booth.

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EGD: It’s insane. It literally is insane. But that’s what’s so nice about having spent time with him outside of that. I deliberately stayed very calm when I was around Robin, because I wanted him to know that it was safe to be calm, you know what I mean? And that he didn’t have to do any of it. And so I think it’s why when we would go out, he felt comfortable with me. We would kind of hang because he knew that I watched him and I felt like it was important to stay very calm and not make him feel like he had to do his thing, because it’s exhausting. And I don’t know, I just felt like I got him. Like I understood it. I understand him. I understood that guy. And I understand why his brain probably knocked him out. Because it’s hard to live like that, when you’re on like that all the time.

The Voice (2013)—“E.G. Daily”

AVC: Now it seems like you’re coming back into acting in front of the camera again, with the Rob Zombie movie and some other projects.

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EGD: That’s because my kids are getting bigger and I never really wanted to be doing so much on camera that I was away from my kids. So now one daughter is in college now, in New York, and the other daughter is 17 and has her own career happening, so I feel like now it’s okay. I feel like I gave them all the mama love they needed to feel secure, and I’m always there for them, but now I can go away a little bit and they’re okay with it.

AVC: And it also looks like you’re going back into recording. On your recent appearance on The Voice, you clearly blew Blake Shelton away.

EGD: Thank you! That was awesome. The only thing I hated about that was getting knocked off so soon. It was one of my favorite things ever, being on The Voice. They’re so good to you, and it’s like being at music camp. It was really an incredible opportunity at that point in my career. It really blew me out of the water getting to be on that show. I still have a fantasy I’m going to be on that show again as a judge.

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AVC: Are you going to be singing and recording more of your own stuff again?

EGD: Yeah. I’m headlining the Whiskey A Go Go on the Sunset Strip of all places, November 22, and they’re already selling tickets. And then I’m working on a whole new album with a partner of mine, the guy I actually did the Summer School soundtrack song with, “Mind Over Matter.” He and I are 90 percent doing a whole other album together. So it’s really cool.

I also just released a one-woman autobiographical musical that I do like 15 different voices in and I sing throughout. It’s a really powerful show, very scandalous, it’s all true. It’s all true, it’s very poignant, it’s very sad, and it’s also very funny. That just finally came up and is up for digital download on Amazon and there’s a link on my website. It’s really worth seeing if you’re interested in entertainment and just watching the journey. It’s crazy. It’s called E.G. Daily: Listen Closely.

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A lot of people are always asking how do I get into voice-overs, so I also just did this whole how-to voice-over seminar that you can digitally download. It has some celebrity voice-over people; it has some big agents. It talks about all the different ways to get your demos made and technique and it’s really a great tool, and it’s available on Amazon and digital download right now, and the link is on my website.

AVC: You’re so used to doing voice-over, where I just assume you can show up in sweatpants or whatever. Is it hard to go back to hair and makeup and all of that?

EGD: No, it’s like a whole other realm. Getting to do this Rob Zombie movie was like dressing up in the most amazing way ever. I feel like I got to live in this crazy world and dive in. And the wardrobe really takes me there. So being on camera just takes me to another level. The voice stuff is super fun and I get to be anyone, but on-camera, I get to go in with wardrobe and sets and stuff and be in an environment that’s not normal, and I love that.

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