DANA PLATO

DIFFERENT STROKES FOR DANA PLATO
Don't Call Her Kimberly Drummond Anymore
By Owen Keehnen

On May 8, 1999 Dana Plato was found dead in a mobile home in front of her in-laws house in Moore, Oklahoma. Eventual autopsy reports labeled her death a suicide -- deadly combination of prescription drugs-- at least seven carisoprodol capsules (a muscle relaxant) and hydrocodone were found in her system. Only the day before in an interview with Howard Stern Ms. Plato declared that she had never been happier… but sadly the 34-year-old actress could not keep the demons that plagued her at bay.

The year before I had interviewed Dana as part of the publicity junket for her 'comeback' a lesbian soft-core film 'Different Strokes'. Setting up the interview was somewhat problematic due to any number of dramas on that end -- "I have to rush to get airline tickets", "Let me call you right back I just stuck my hand in some paint", "Oh, oh my God, I have people over - I am so so so sorry." Finally after four attempts we connected. It was a real pleasure to talk to her. The following is our interview that was eventually published in Chicago Outlines.

From 1978-84 Dana Plato played Kimberly Drummond, Conrad Bain's teenage daughter and step-sibling to Gary Coleman and Todd Bridges on the hit NBC sitcom 'Diff’rent Strokes'. Now after a rough 15 years Dana is back, playing a seductive lesbian in the erotic soft-core video feature entitled, you guessed it, 'Different Strokes'…a story of Jack and Jill…and Jill.

Can you give a plot synopsis for those who haven't seen the film?

Sure. There's a very insecure and beautiful young woman named Jill who’s in a relationship with a man named Jack who doesn't treat her real good and keeps her down so he can have the power. Then I come along as Jill Martin, a lesbian art director from New York and I'm working on a shoot with Jack who's a photographer…and I meet her and she and I get together. I don't just take her, but it's exciting to her. I don't push the issue, but I'm there in her face so when the opportunity comes along I go for it.

Did you have any reservations about doing the role?

None at all. When the role came along I was very happy to do it because this is life. It's something people need to see and recognize and get healthy about. In my opinion it's not about gay or straight or bi, we're attracted to spirits whatever body they're in. There are other reasons too, but that's how I see it. With women and women I think there's an understanding. Nobody knows what a woman feels or experiences but another woman. We are the nurturers and there are times when we need to be nurtured.

What about the role appealed to you?

It was a strong role. The script appealed to me, I saw great room for potential there.

In addition to a sexy tango, some honey feeding, a double shower scene, and a skinny dip you have two soft-core lesbian sex scenes in the film. Were you nervous or at least more nervous than if you were doing the scenes with a man?

Gosh no. I'm okay with who I am. I think the whole nerves thing comes into play when we worry about what other people and society will think.

Did you do any research or have you fantasized about sex with another woman?

I'm open-minded. I don't consider myself gay or hetero, I just am. I've had experiences all over the planet but it always comes down to just me, but I think at this point if I had an ongoing relationship I believe it would be with a man.

Did you place any graphic limitations on the sex or was that in the contract or delineated in the script?

No, we didn't place any limitations. The only thing is I wanted this to have as wide an audience as possible. I didn't want to get an X rating because in my opinion once that happens you X-out everyone else.

How far would you have gone?

If it feels right and I'm not going against any energy in myself or the situation there would be no limit, but if it's something I'm pushing or there's something I’m fighting against I'll think twice. I like to go with the energy because when you ignore it that's when you start doing things wrong.

In the film was it better to give or to receive?

I've got to be honest, there's no pleasure when you're working. There's a certain headspace and in any love scene with a man or a woman there's no pleasure. I have fun doing it, but there's no sexual pleasure. If there was I would have called the scene and said, "There’s something else going on here, this isn't about working anymore."

What did you learn from your role as Jill Martin?

That people have an awful lot of problems that society has put on them and a lot to work through because of it.

Did the gay and feminist politics of your character at all reflect your own?

No because the character seemed a little harsh and seemed to also have a vindictiveness towards men. For me, I'd hopefully work through all my issues with men first so then I'd be okay being with a woman. With that character I felt something happened to her, they never said what but I think they maybe should have to understand her character more.

Was it tough growing up on national TV as Kimberly Drummond?

Yeah, but I didn't realize it was tough until about a year ago. Growing up all I did was work and vacation but I loved it, no one pushed me into anything. The thing was I developed no special skills. I don't have any resentment because I am a performer and I've always felt that, but it did take its toll socially.

What's your most vivid memory of the 'Diff'rent Strokes' episode that costarred Nancy Reagan during her 'Just Say No' drug campaign?

She was the First Lady so I had a lot of respect for her, that's just the way I was raised. It's like a grandmother, you may not love her but ultimately you do respect her. She did know how to carry herself. I believe she was a man in another life because she is very in touch with her masculine side, not in a manly way, but she knows how to work things out, do them right, and present them to the public in a man's world. It was interesting because you could see this whole other person beneath the surface but she was ultimately aware of exactly how she had to behave as The First Lady.

According to press reports it sounded like things were a bit rough for you a few years ago.

All that money stuff was so strange; all it ever meant to me was freedom from worry. I'm happier now than I've ever been but I still wish I had that money. I'd like to open a halfway house for people on the street, people who are willing to help themselves with the only condition being that they stay sober. It would include meetings about getting lives together and redeveloping life skills to get on their feet. That's my dream.

Was alcohol then source of your problems?

Yeah, it was serious emotional problems that made it possible for the alcoholic inside me to be born. I had no life skills, my mother died, my husband left, and I didn't know what to do with myself so I drank and that compounded my depression till there was nowhere to go but deeper into the bottle.

It sounds like things have turned around.

I'm learning to play by the rules. I sort of hate to think of it that way, but that's how it is. I'm really learning to function out there and in such a way that I don't need to drink.

Any closing comments?

I've learned through experience that life is never that bad. The secret is just paying attention to how you feel and not letting anyone else dictate what in your heart you know is right.

Thanks Dana and all the best to you.

Oh, I hope so. And to you too.