In 1982, 10 year-old Aileen Quinn stole America’s heart when she portrayed Annie in the classic film. Today, Aileen is all grown up, and still has us captivated. Celebrity Parents spoke exclusively with Aileen about Annie, acting and America’s enduring love affair with the red-headed orphan.
How did you get the role of Annie?
When I was 8 years-old, I auditioned to be in the Broadway production of Annie. I was one of the swing orphans, which meant that I performed all of the orphan’s roles except the lead role of Annie. I think being the swing orphan was my greatest training; I had to know the choreography and dialogue for all of the orphans. It has served me well during the years!
When they were casting for the movie Annie, I took some time off from the show to audition. I heard that the casting directors were trying not to pick anyone from the show. I was called back 8 times, and I finally got the part.
What was your reaction when you found out that you were cast as Annie?
I was completely in shock! I didn’t believe it until the casting agent showed me the production schedule, and I was scheduled to appear on The Today Show at 7:00 a.m. the next morning. That’s when I believed it!
What was the experience like of making Annie?
It was so much fun! Even though it was a lot of work and long hours, I just remember having the best time. We were driving around in fancy cars, like the Duesenberg, and I had a blast with the cast. Albert Finney was hilarious; he would tickle me under my knees if I started to droop a little. Ann Reinking and I would play games together.
Of all the songs you sang, which one is your favorite?
“Maybe” is my favorite. It’s a beautiful ballad and I love the lyrics. It’s sad but hopeful at the same time. I think it introduces the audience to her character right from the start. She’s dreamy and optimistic.
“Maybe” is my favorite, too. It must have been fun to film that scene.
[Laughs] In that scene, I’m sitting on a narrow ledge, and it was high up! The first two takes were scary; I was afraid I was going to fall! By the third take, I was okay. I also liked the song “Easy Street”, but unfortunately I didn’t get to sing that one!
How can you explain the world’s enduring love for Annie?
It’s a Cinderella story. Annie is down and out but she has hope and optimism. In the end she succeeds by being a good person. Daddy Warbucks thought he had everything, but in the end realizes that he doesn’t have it all. He loves Annie and wants to have a family. It’s so classic and hopeful, how they come together. What’s not to love about that? [laughs]
What was life like for you after Annie?
It was amazing and strange at the same time. I was 11 years-old, and I remember my best friend at the time, Amanda, asking me for my autograph! I told her, “Amanda, I’m not giving you my autograph! We’re playing Barbies!”
Did you eventually give it to her?
Yes! [laughs] She insisted, so I gave it to her. I also remember going to the mall with a group of friends to get ice cream and being swarmed by people! It was strange to me how many people recognized me. I wasn’t used to it at all. At home, though, my parents made sure that I stayed grounded. After filming Annie, I still had to do all my chores. There was no special treatment, which I’m thankful for.
Did you continue to perform after Annie?
Yes, I did. After the movie was released, I was under contract for seven years to make more Annie movies, which didn’t work out. It was a blessing in disguise, because I was able to pursue my studies. During the summers, I would perform in stage shows. After high school, I went to college, and it was there that I discovered my love for languages. For six months, I lived in Chile as part of an exchange program. I’m now fluent in Spanish.
Yes, I heard you speaking in Spanish to my husband. Your accent is wonderful!
Thanks! I think I was Latin in a past life! I love the food, the culture, the dancing…everything!
Let’s talk about some of the roles you’ve played.
I’ve done a lot of Broadway work. I was in Fiddler on the Roof, Peter Pan, and I also played Annette in Saturday Night Fever. I loved that role; it was the first time that I was able to show my dramatic chops on stage. I’ve done many off-Broadway shows, too.
If you had to choose, which medium do you prefer, stage or screen?
I love them both. I like the intimacy of film. I’m shy and quiet, and I like what the camera can pick up. However, I’ve done theater for over 20 years, and I find it’s more challenging. That gives me a greater satisfaction. I also love seeing and hearing the audience’s reaction. That’s very exciting.
What’s also exciting is that you recently received an honorary doctorate from Monmouth University, where you teach drama.
Yes, I was awarded an honorary doctorate this past May at Commencement. It was amazing! I didn’t realize how much it would touch me. I’ve dedicated so much time to the arts and my teaching, and it was an honor that the University wanted to bestow this upon me. I became very emotional on stage, seeing my co-teachers and my students in the audience. They were crying, and I was crying, too. It was pretty amazing.
It’s a true honor and well-deserved.
Thank you. I’ve been teaching at Monmouth University for over a year now. It made me feel even more like family. At Commencement, I sang “Tomorrow”. It touched me to sing it again after all those years.
We should mention that Monmouth University also served as the location for the Daddy Warbucks scenes in the film Annie. What was it like to return to your roots, so to speak?
It was surreal. I got chills the first two times I had to go to the Woodrow Wilson Hall to sign paperwork. Just walking up those steps, where we had filmed “I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here”, was amazing.
And to think that you had been dancing on those stairs in a big musical number when you were only ten years-old!
And now there I was, in my skirt and heels, going up those very same steps, to sign official paperwork! I have so many good memories of this place as a child, so it feels very comfortable for me to teach here. It feels very safe.
You’ve come home.
How do you feel that Annie is the film for which you are known world-wide?
Annie is a very positive thing to be known for. Having done so many other roles in theater, I’m fortunate that I haven’t been typecast. Although, whenever I’m in a new production, someone will always make an Annie reference! I’m very proud of Annie, though. Many people have told me that Annie played a huge role in them becoming performers, too.
What do you have planned for the future?
I want to continue teaching because I love it. My mother was a teacher for 35 years, so I know it’s in my blood. I want to continue going on auditions, and hopefully work in television. Of course, I wouldn’t mind if a Broadway show or film came my way!
I want to do it all. For now, though, I’ve found this happy medium with teaching. I get to teach what I love and inspire my students to have successful careers in acting, too. I get to see the joy that it brings them, and I feel that this is my way of giving back for all the great opportunities and experiences that I’ve had. And I get to teach in the place where it all started. I’m very lucky.