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Alley, whose death was announced Monday at the age of 71 following a brief colon cancer diagnosis, made her Cheers debut as Rebecca in the hit NBC sitcom’s season six premiere that aired in September 1987. Not long after, Heckerling would land her as Look Who’s Talking lead Mollie, an accountant whose challenges while raising a newborn son and falling for taxi driver James (John Travolta) were narrated by Bruce Willis as the voice of her baby.
“Those movies could not have been done without her,” Heckerling tells The Hollywood Reporter in her first public comments since Alley’s passing. “When you’re working with babies, everything has to revolve around their moods, their schedules, their everything. There was absolutely no time or space for any kind of movie-star behavior.”
The filmmaker praises Alley, who later starred on NBC’s Veronica’s Closet, for her positive attitude throughout production on the original film and its 1990 sequel, Look Who’s Talking Too. (Alley also starred in a second sequel that Heckerling did not direct.) “She was just such a fun person to have around — so cheerful,” Heckerling recalls. “Her and John were just like a party. Their jobs seemed to be making the babies feel happy and being entertaining to a toddler, and she just went for it. She just was so vivacious and fun and such a great, happy spirit.”
Heckerling, who is also known for directing Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Clueless, admits that she was shocked to hear of Alley’s death and had not been aware that the star was quietly fighting cancer.
Look Who’s Talking, which made $296 million worldwide ($713 million today), clearly had a wide impact: Travolta said in a statement Monday that working with Alley was “one of the most special relationships I’ve ever had,” while actress Keke Palmer told Variety earlier this year that her goal is to make a similar project and that she’s “ready to be Kirstie Alley.” (Upon hearing of Palmer’s remarks, Heckerling tells THR that she’s a big Palmer fan and “would really love to work with her.”)
As far as Alley’s real-life personality, Heckerling remembers her not as a “comedian-jokester” type who felt the need to always be on, but as someone who consistently delivered the laughs and could also help the crew stay in a good mood.
“She was just ready to party — if there was anything good to eat or fun to do or whatever, she immediately wanted the whole crew to join in,” the director says. When asked to name her favorite scenes of Alley’s, Heckerling cites the actress’ bond with the toddler version of her character’s son as unique and special: “She would be telling him her problems, and he would hold up his toy phone, and you’d hear Bruce Willis’ voice, ‘Call him!’ That stuff was just so much fun for me.”
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