Interview with Julie Dolan

What do Helen Mirren, Eddie Murphy, Kip Winger and the Brady Bunch have in common?

They’ve all worked with Julie Dolan! 

As a journeywoman of the entertainment industry, Julie Dolan has been performing in different mediums for decades. On screen, she is best known for providing the voice of Princess Leia in various Star Wars projects. She has also made notable appearances in films and TV shows such as Beverly Hills Cop III, Gilmore Girls, BASEketball, Conan, and The Twilight Zone.

As a musician, Julie has performed in a number of working tribute bands including UnderCover Girls, INXS-IVE, Born Jovi, and RagDolls – The Ultimate Female Tribute to Aerosmith among others. In 2010, she appeared in the first season of VH-1 Classic’s Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp and got to play alongside rock legends like Ace Frehley, Michael Anthony, Lita Ford, Bret Michaels, and Kip Winger. 

If that wasn’t enough, she’s also toured as a magician’s assistant, performing at military bases around the world and maximum security prisons across the U.S!

Andrew got to chat with Julie all about her storied career and upcoming projects. Check it out below!

You became interested in the performing arts around age three. How did that begin and how did you get started professionally?

I saw Shirley Temple on television and she was singing and dancing. I think I was three years old. I turned to my mom and pointed at the TV and went, “I want to do that!” So she found a local dance studio and I enrolled in ballet, tap, jazz and then acrobatics. I was at the school until I was eighteen and we did shows all over California. We had a dance troupe and we would perform at different hospitals and different charity events with celebrities. I remember doing a show with the Brady Bunch and we were all like, “Oh my god! It’s the Brady Bunch!” We performed with the Jackson 5 back when they were still the Jackson 5. I took tap dancing with Donny and Marie Osmond.  

When I was nine, the school opened up a drama class and we started taking acting classes. We would put on shows, plays, and musicals. I got an agent when I was nine and started going on auditions for TV and film and that’s how I started acting. I also took piano. I went to catholic school and there was a convent next door so I took piano lessons from a nun. I always kinda wanted to be a rockstar, but I was a dancer and an actor and that was my focus so I went to auditions and dance class every day after school. Then I went to college, Cal State Northridge, and I majored in theatre and minored in music. I ended up starting to work on after school specials, soap operas, episodics. I didn’t have time for my school and I remember my agent said, “Honey, what are you going to school for?” “To be an actor!” “Well, here’s the job. Here’s the audition!”

So I told my parents, “I think I have to quit and focus on a career.” They were like, “Do what you have to do!” They were really supportive. 

I guess sometimes the best learning takes place on the job!

It does. I learned on the job and I’m still learning on the job because it’s different now. Technical-wise it’s different, acting styles are different. You kinda have to go through the phases. The parts that I’m playing are different. I made so much money and a living playing hookers. For some reason… I guess just my essence when I was younger, I was playing the drug addict kid or the pregnant teen or the alcoholic kid. Then it went into hookers and madams. Now I’m starting to play the lawyer that represents those hookers or the judge or the doctor or the therapist. Although, I’m doing a TV show in two weeks and I’m playing kind of a slutty girl. You would never hire me to play the church lady [laughs]. I’ve auditioned for a couple of those and they’re like, “Nah, she doesn’t look like she goes to church.” 

Do you remember what your first on-camera job was?

It was a commercial. It was a national commercial for Chevy and the car was a Chevette. I was this roller skating teenager and Barry Pearl, who was in Grease and did a lot of TV and film, he was the main guy in the commercial. I skateboarded by him and said, “Hi, Richie!” That was my one line that got me into the Union and we’re still friends to this day. I recently found that commercial online, oh my god… it’s blurry, but I googled “Barry Pearl Chevy Chevette commercial” and it showed up. 

My first movie was with Timothy Hutton, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., and Donna Reed. I played a slutty girl laying in bed screwing all these guys, but it was a TV movie so you don’t see that part. I had a scene with Tim Hutton and that kind of started my career. I did a lot of theatre too. From when I was younger up until about COVID, I was doing at least one or two plays a year.

You’ve done quite a bit of in-costume acting. How did you get into playing those types of roles?

I auditioned for Universal Studios as a dancer. They were doing the American Tail show, which was a movie that Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis produced and directed and it was an animated show about the little mice. They decided to put the live action show in the theme parks. They built a big playground for kids, there was a huge stage, and Dom DeLouise, who did the voice of this big, huge cat in the movie, did the voice for us. So there were a lot of voice actors and it was a musical so you had to dance, you had to act, and I had never acted through fur before. They put the head on, they put the body on and I remember we all got a little claustrophobic at first because you can’t get out of it. We had to learn the routines, learn some dialogue, and then it would launch into a dance number. Then it would go back into the scene and launch into another dance number. We did maybe five shows a day outside in the heat and we were dropping like flies. A lot of the dancers got heat stroke. 

I did that show for a couple of years and then they came out with a new movie called Fievel Goes West. So we did a brand new show and from there, they had the Rocky & Bullwinkle show, the Flintstones show, and Rugrats. I did all of those shows at Universal and I was there for eleven years doing dance shows. Then one year, they decided the movie Beverly Hills Cop III was going to film there and John Landis was directing it.

He came to the theme park and saw all the walkaround characters and went, “Oh! This is great. I want to hire all of these walkaround characters,” and I thought, “He doesn’t realize that we can dance!” So I set up a meeting, and I don’t know how I did this, but I set up a meeting with him and I got together with another dancer and I put together a tap routine. Just a short little two minute routine, and we went up to his office. I turned on the tape recorder and we did our dance. I said, “I don’t think you realize what we can do in these costumes. I mean, there are walkaround characters, but we could do a show.” So he said, “Oh, I’ve got a great idea! I’m gonna put a show together.” So he built a stage, hired a choreographer, hired us dancers. Eddie Murphy, in one of the scenes, comes up on stage and he comes through a door and he’s on stage with all of us. Of course we’re in costume, like I was a pig, so you can’t see my face. 

But then they had us walking around underneath like we were on break. I said to Landis, “You know, we don’t walk around on break with our heads on.” And he said, “I don’t want to ruin the illusion. I understand, but you gotta keep the heads on.” So they hired voice actors and they had dialogue going for all of us, but I still get residuals for that film and we had a blast doing it.

George Lucas also had a cameo in it so there’s a fun little Star Wars connection.

Yes! I forgot about that, he appeared in the theme park as a father for one of the kids. So, then that went into two TV series… one of them was for LifeTime and it was called Old MacDonald’s Sing-a-Long Farm and there was a chicken, a pig, and a cow. I was the pig. It was for preschoolers so each episode had a lesson like how to share, how to be friendly or something like that and it was filled with dance numbers. I had the mechanism to move my mouth in my hand, so when I would talk, I’d move my hand so the mouth would move, and the voice actors were behind the set watching the screen and doing the voices live. I remember a lot of times, I’d start talking and the voice actor would lose his place and hear my mouth is going and there’d be nothing coming out. Or he’ll start talking and I didn’t realize I had a line so my mouth was shut. We had so much fun on that show!

From there, I got hired to do Rimba’s Island which was an ABC animated series with really exotic, colorful characters. And again, you had to be able to act and you had to be able to dance in costume. Then I think that led to BASEketball. Oh my god, that was crazy… I was the beer mascot, so whenever they’re on the field, they have this big, huge beer barrel because they’re called the Beers. Somebody else was hired for that and he was claustrophobic and he could not do it.  Somebody got word that I was doing all this stuff so they called me and I said, “No problem!” I worked a long time and made lifelong friends on that movie. 

Matt Stone and Trey Parker made BASEketball pretty early on in South Park’s run. What was your impression of them?

They are brilliant, hysterical and Trey Parker is one of the most talented guys. Even as a writer too, they write all of the South Park episodes. But on set, he’d constantly be coming up with new things and he’d do characters. He did Cartman for us all the time. It was directed by one of the Zucker brothers, and both David and Jerry were on set a lot. I’m a big Airplane fan, so we were just laughing the whole time. Matt and Trey were both goofy characters and this was their first acting job and I think they did a really great job with it. 

You appeared in several episodes of Gilmore Girls. I’ve read that show was challenging to work on because of how lengthy the scripts were. Did you experience that?

Well I did about five episodes and I remember watching Lauren Graham. She had the little script right before they were shooting and she was running lines, saying them really fast and closing her eyes, remembering them and then putting the script down and saying, “Okay, go!” because she had a full day of lots of dialogue. One actress who was in one of my scenes, her agent called her and said, “If you don’t say it faster, you’re going to be replaced.” So there’s so much dialogue and it’s a style. It’s the same people who are doing Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and it’s witty, repartee, fast-paced, funny. So, it’s a style that they had to keep up and everybody had to do it. I mean there’s moments when you would slow down, but it was just the way they ran their show and it was really successful. I had watched the show before so I kind of knew that style and knew I had to match that. They could always tell me to slow it down, but you better know your lines because if you even have to think about your lines, you’re going to slow it down. I loved working on that show.

I feel like Gilmore Girls has a fanbase that’s equally as passionate as Star Wars. Do fans of the show ever reach out to you?

Oh my god, yes! I even do Stars Wars events and people will bring pictures of me in a scene in Gilmore Girls and ask me to sign that. It’s so cool! I even did an episode of The Twilight Zone… or the renewal of the Twilight Zone. Some guy did a screen capture of a scene I did with Helen Mirren and had me sign it. I’m like, “We’re at a Star Wars event! How did you even know about this?” So that was pretty special.

How extensive was your audition process for Princess Leia?

My agent sent me an email and said, “Can you sound like Carrie Fisher in Star Wars?” I said, “No, probably not. I don’t even know what that sounds like. I haven’t seen Star Wars since 1977.” She said, “Here’s the Obi-Wan Kenobi speech. Try to match it as best you can and record it and send it back to me.” My husband helped me. Carrie’s voice was a little deeper than mine and I tried to match her pitch, the rhythm, the motion, everything. I would play it and I would say it along with it. Then I would stop playing and say it by myself and we would compare it. My husband would say, “No, you need to drop your pitch a little bit,” or, “You need to be a little more emotional in this section.” 

We sent it to her, didn’t hear anything for weeks and then she said, “You have a callback.” For voiceovers, it’s rare to have a callback. Usually, you either book the job or you don’t. She said, “They want you to go into Disney Imagineering Studios with two other girls and record it there. They’re going to hire a dialect coach because they want you to have that slight English accent that she had in A New Hope and they’re going to hire a coach to help you sound more like her.” I said, “What is this for?” My agent said, “I don’t know. They won’t tell me.” 

I went into the studio and they had the hologram right in front of me so I could watch it as a reference and feel like I was connecting with Princess Leia. The lines were really close to the, “General Kenobi, years ago you served my father…” It was close to that, but they changed a couple of the words and I was like, “What? What does that mean?” I didn’t know what I was saying. So I finished recording and I stepped out of the studio and they had the hologram- like when I turned around, it was sitting there on the screen and her mouth was manipulated to say what I was saying and my voice was coming out of it. I remember I went, “Is that her or is that me?” They went, “That’s you.” “Wow, okay… I do sound like her.”

Two weeks later, my agent said, “You’ve got the part!” And I went, “Okay, what did I get? What is this?” And she said, “It’s for the Star Tours ride at DisneyLand.” They auditioned about two hundred girls and didn’t find anybody. They brought in Carrie Fisher, but this was 2010-2011, and she had kind of a deep, gravelly voice and they went, “You don’t sound like you do in A New Hope.” So they auditioned two hundred more girls and I was in that two hundred. The ride opened in 2011 or 2012 and then I didn’t hear anything until I got a call from Dave Filoni, who said, “Hey, I’m doing this in-house Star Wars thing and I want you to come in and do a Leia.” It was like motion capture. They put a helmet on me and I had a scene with C-3P0 and R2-D2. I think that was my audition for Rebels because I never saw what this in-house project was and then I got a call a couple days later and Dave said, “I want you to do Rebels.”

I thought, “Ooh, I better start watching that show!” Because I hadn’t watched it. When I got Leia for Star Tours, I went back and watched all six movies back to back- there were only six of them at the time, and I studied Princess Leia. Wikipedia, Wookieepedia, anything I could get my hands on to see who she was, who her parents were, what her goals were, how she grew up, who raised her. Because when you’re playing a character, you have to know all that stuff. If you’re creating a character, you make it up as an actor, but if it’s in print and everybody already knows it, you better know it. You better know her background so you can have that thought process when you’re doing the scenes. It really helped.

Was there anything you discovered during the research process that was most crucial to understanding Leia?

I would say maybe finding out that she was raised by Bail Organa and he’s a senator and she was brought up in assisting him, knowing that he was for the Resistance, but he had to put up a facade that he was not. So she had to do the same thing. Her mom, Padme, was not in the picture. So just learning about her parents, and learning about what she wanted and her feistiness. Being a rebel and not really caring if she was a girl or a guy. She wasn’t like a fairy princess or a feminine princess- sometimes she was, but she could also hang with the guys.

Did you ever get to meet Carrie Fisher?

Well I danced with her mom Debbie at several shows and Carrie was in the audience, but this was back when I was younger and Leia wasn’t even in my wheelhouse at that point so I never met her. Right before she died she was doing a book tour. Somebody called me and said, “Carrie’s going to be down in Santa Monica doing a book signing. You should take your book and go down and get it signed and tell her who you are.” I went, “No!” [laughs] I just thought I’d rather meet her at a convention where I’m on the same side as her and we’re sort of like backstage together and getting coffee. But shortly after that was when she died and I never got to do that. 

I believe she died in December and then in January, I went to New York with my family. It was my birthday so we all went to New York and we went to a restaurant called Tribeca Grill which is owned by Robert De Niro. I’m sitting there… and in walks Harrison Ford! My husband looked at me and went, “You have to say something.” I went, “He’s with his family!” And he’s very private. I said, “No, I can’t, but oh my god. I have to meet him.” So my husband walked up and said, “I’m very sorry to disturb you, but it’s my wife’s birthday and she does the voice of Leia for several projects with Disney and LucasFilm.” He waved and said, “I’m with my family right now, but wish her a happy birthday for me.” I was like, “Thank you Mr. Ford!” [laughs] So that was my one brush with Han and Leia. 

Switching gears, you were on the first season of VH-1 Classic’s Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp. How did you get selected for that and what were some highlights of that show?

Well, I wasn’t like a musician… I mean I dated every musician in LA. My brother was a musician and he started a music magazine called Music Connection which is really popular. I met a lot of musicians and I played keyboard. Right when I started Gilmore Girls, I got so fed up with acting, and my brother and I would get together every Tuesday night and jam on Beatles songs. He had a keyboard setup, he had electronic drums, and we did everything through headphones and we would jam. It was better than being on stage, it was better than doing TV and film, I LOVED it. I got some kind of artistic release. We started doing private party gigs for our friends and I got a taste of what it was like being in a band. Then my brother saw an ad in Music Connection for an all female band looking for a keyboard player to play 80s music. He said, “You should audition for this.” I thought, “No, no. I don’t know any 80s music. I like the 60s and the 70s.” “No, you should audition for this.”

So I went to the audition and I learned about five 80’s songs- like Pat Benatar, the Go-Go’s, Joan Jett. Being an actor, you’re very disciplined. These girls were like, “Oh, when are we gonna have beer? What’s that chord you’re playing? How does that song go?” And I thought, “I am not cut out for this.” The lead singer was also an actor and she and I danced together at Universal at one point. She said to me, “You and I need to start this band. Let’s get rid of these girls and we will audition new people to start this band.” So we started an 80’s band. Our second gig was the night I was shooting my first night of Gilmore Girls and I had to cancel the gig and she and I ended up having a falling out and the band broke up. I said, “That’s okay! I wanna do 60s music anyway.” So I said, “I’m gonna start a band that does 60’s/70’s/80’s classic rock!” That was how the UnderCover Girls started. Our first gig was in 2004 and our last gig was supposed to be last year, but it got canceled because of COVID. So we were together for seventeen years. I was also in an INXS tribute band, a Bon Jovi band, an Alice Cooper band. It just never ended, so my acting career kind of took a backseat for a while.

Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp is a camp that’s all over the US. It’s a seven day event and even if you can only play guitar or sing a little, or you’re a plumber, a doctor, a lawyer… you can pay money to go to this camp and your counselor is a rock star and you spend all day with them and write songs and go perform at the House of Blues. The next day, you come back and take classes from different rock stars. Then you perform again and you record a song with a famous recording engineer. That was going on for a while and they decided to do a reality show of it. They had to bring in musicians that kind of knew how to play already and they had to interview us because if you were some crazy person or a criminal, they can’t have that. So we had an extensive background check and a thirteen page contract saying they can show anything, they can film you anytime, they can take what you say and flip it around to say the opposite. My agent went, “Are you sure you wanna do this?” Then a girlfriend of mine who had done the camp said, “You wanna do this.” 

So Bret Michaels was the main guy and the three counselors were Kip Winger, Mark Hudson and Rudy Sarzo. We auditioned for this long table of rock star counselors and they would sit there and go, “I want her. You can have him. I want the keyboard player.” They would kind of form their group. I wanted to be with Kip Winger because I know he also plays classical music and he’s just an amazing musician. He picked me and I got to be in his camp. First day, we were there all day from 9 AM to Midnight then back the next day for seven days. Out of the blue, they’d go, “You have a show tonight and you have to learn ‘School’s Out’ by Alice Cooper.” Shit, I better learn it! “Okay, now you’re going to be playing ‘Born to Be Wild’ by Steppenwolf.” Oh shit, I better learn it! [laughs] One day, Lita Ford would come in and jam with us and then Michael Anthony from Van Halen came and jammed with us. One night, they took us to the Velvet Margarita and Lemmy was there and all these rockstars were having cocktails with us. It was a whirlwind!

The big finale was at the Key Club and all three bands performed with our counselors in front of a huge audience. It was televised so they had a red carpet for us and we did interviews. I felt like a rockstar celebrity and it was one of the best weeks of my life.

Are you performing in any tribute bands currently?

Before I recently moved from LA to Atlanta, I went on Craigslist and said, “I’ve gotta find my music community!” The night before I drove here, I played with my band RagDolls, an all female Aerosmith band. I’m still in that band, but I just can’t fly back and forth to play gigs. There just isn’t enough money. But if they come here or somewhere around here, I can do that with them. So I looked up “Keyboard player needed” on Craigslist and there were two ads. Both said “We’re in Atlanta and we need a female keyboard player to play all 80’s music!” I went, “I’m your girl!” 

So I sent them my demo and sent them photos and a list of music I know and a list of bands I was in. Sight unseen, both bands hired me. One of them, I decided not to do the project. The other one is all new wave and we’re in rehearsal. In fact, tonight I have rehearsal with them and we’re auditioning a bass player. So that is the one project that’s moving forward and we’re having rehearsal every week and I’m constantly learning new wave songs. 

I also met a Prince tribute a few weeks ago that’s out here and they needed a sub keyboard player and they’re PHENOMENAL. So I might be working with the Prince tribute. We’ll see! Fingers crossed.

I also want to touch on your current acting projects. You recently did a pilot for a show called The Block Trilogies.

The Block Trilogies is a new- I’m not sure what platform it’ll be on, I think it might be Hulu or something, but it’s three stories in one episode and they’re short stories and it’s almost like Twilight Zone meets Stranger Things. It’s kind of odd and weird. There’s three stories and each one has a different theme. I don’t know where or when that’s coming out, but it’s in process right now.

Do you have any other projects in the works? 

I’m going to LA to do a Hulu show next week. It’s the story of the guy that created Chippendales, the exotic dance club. So it’s his story of how he started out and where he ended up. So I’m in two episodes of that. That’s all I can say on that. I’m also in a video game called Arena of Valor. It’s a mobile download game that’s really popular and I do the system’s voice for that. So if somebody’s trying to get ammunition, I’m like, “You’re low on ammunition! Go back and get more!” or “Storm the castle!” So I bark out orders like that. I did Final Fantasy, which is a really cool video game. Final Fantasy VII was the most popular so they decided to update it because it hadn’t been done since 2006 or something like that. It used to be these little pixelated characters, but now it’s like watching a movie. I got to play the female lead character’s mom in that.

One thing you probably don’t know is that I was a magician’s assistant.

Yes! I read that you used to perform in maximum security prisons.

I was at every prison in New York except Attica. We started doing Air Force bases. We had a lion, a cougar and a dove and a big trailer and we drove across the country. It was the magician, his wife and me and we hit all these Air Force bases in the United States. My job was to feed the tiger every day and then at night I’d put on this feather outfit and his wife would also put on a Vegas showgirl outfit and we’d perform for the military on base. We went to Germany, Italy, all over Europe. We went to the Middle East and performed over there and in Japan and the Philippines. Then we went back to the states and hit every prison as much as we could on the way back. These prisons are gorgeous. I mean, they’re huge and they’re in the middle of nowhere because if someone escapes, they’ll be found. Loading in, the custody officers had to go through eighteen hundred pounds of magic equipment just to make sure there weren’t any escape things or drugs or anything like that. 

But being on stage in basically a bathing suit with feathers in my hair with two hundred inmates… and only four custody officers, that was it! They could have done anything. We were told, “If anybody charges the stage or if there’s a riot, there will be gas dropped and you guys will exit this way.” There was a whole protocol that you had to follow. Sometimes we had inmates on stage and we’d do fun little jokes on them, like cut their head off or put a bra on one. They were all so well behaved and when you look down at this sea of faces and they’re looking up at this magic, it’s like watching kids. But you don’t realize, “Oh, that’s a murderer! That’s the guy who I watched on that LifeTime movie last week because he was a priest who killed his wife.” So it was a weird experience and I was afraid at first, but after a while you realize you’re bringing something to these guys that don’t have shows like this. Same with military! I mean, these guys are stationed out in the middle of nowhere without their families for years. So we brought a little bit of light to them.

You’ve truly done it all! What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

I think my claim to fame is Princess Leia, but I will never get an experience like traveling all over the world to perform magic to military and prisoners. That’s in its own little box. Also playing in the Bon Jovi band, playing in the Aerosmith band or the UnderCover Girls. I always had a vision of being a rockstar and I NEVER thought I would be on stage playing keyboards. I’m in heaven playing music… I lose myself and it’s so great. So there’s not one thing. There’s the magic, the music, the acting… and dancing! I got to dance with Gene Kelly and Ann Miller and Debbie Reynolds. Oh my gosh! That was when I was a kid, but that was a highlight.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Just never give up. Never give up your dreams. I have this one picture that I keep on my desktop and the top half of it is a guy digging through a tunnel looking for diamonds. He’s digging and he gets all the way to the end with just a little snippet of dirt between him and the diamonds. The bottom half shows a guy walking away and I think the title of it is, “You never know how close you are.” With my life, it’s amazing how… if I had a book on my life and I turned the page, there would be so many moments where I’d be like, “How the heck did that happen?” You just never know! Miracles happen constantly, but if you give up, they’re not gonna happen.

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