Kimberly J. Brown, better known to St. Helens residents as Marnie Cromwell from the “Halloweentown” films, is set to return to the community’s Spirit of Halloweentown celebration for her third time in 2017. This year, cast mates Judith Hoag and Joey Zimmerman will join Brown for the annual pumpkin lighting and a tribute to their Cromwell matriarch, Debbie Reynolds.
We spoke with Brown about her time filming, her plans for this year’s celebration, and she even took the time to answer some questions submitted by fans.
The film has become almost a cult classic. Why do you think that is? What is it about these films?
I think beyond the film celebrating a holiday that is open to so much possibility, the idea of dressing up in costume and pretending to be somebody else … I think there were probably fewer movies where the subject of Halloween is celebrated in a family friendly manner. I think it celebrates imagination and magic and what’s possible when you believe that anything can happen. So, I love it for those reasons. I think if I were being objective, not having been in the film, as a kid I would have loved to be able to visit a town that was Halloween all year around. It’s incredibly flattering that so many years later people still watch and still talk about it and keep it alive every year. It’s just the ultimate compliment as an actor.
When did you realize that the Halloweentown films had become so iconic and how did that impact your life?
I don’t know that I can boil it down to a specific moment. I think with social media the way it is now, certainly over time I’ve watched different memes being made and different comments from people on social media, and then I would meet more and more fans that had grown up with me and are also showing it to their kids now, or people seeing it for the first time … it’s just incredible. Like I said it’s the ultimate compliment for an actor, not only to have your work be well-received but continue to be well-received, and just people wanting to watch it over and over again and have people quote the movie to me. I’m just so appreciative. It’s beyond anything I would have ever expected.
What was one of your favorite or most memorable moments making the movie?
One of my favorite days was probably my last day of shooting which was the day we shot the ‘flying on the broom’ scene. Debbie and I were in front of a blue screen all day and that was pretty special and kind of, I think, even in my young age, I just knew that was a really cool opportunity and one of those once in a lifetime things. Not only getting to pretend to have magical powers and fly on a broom, I know I would want those abilities, especially in LA traffic, but also just spending the day with Debbie Reynolds … that was something really special. I also just remember being in the town square and shooting different exterior scenes there and just loving the feel of it. It didn’t quite feel like Halloween because it was the middle of July and it was hot. It’s fun to read scripts and audition for projects but then when you get on set … it was fun to actually feel like I kind of was in a different town, in Halloweentown. I really did kind of feel like I was somewhere else and that was just special to me. I’ll remember that feeling for sure.
Tell us about working with Debbie Reynolds. What was she like?
She was the ultimate, just loving, grandmother type woman. She loved being able to perform and make people happy through her work. She was incredibly appreciative of fans. She was so great at wanting everyone around her to not only feel good, she was just great at lifting everyone around her up, whether it was a crew member or cast or whatever. She just wanted to have a good time … make you smile and laugh. Her energy was infectious. We had an incredible time playing these witches. I guess my personal life was kind of mirroring Marnie’s in a way because she was trying to soak up everything she could from Grandma Aggie and I was trying to do that personally with Debbie as well. She was just such a great joy and such an amazing person to be around.
She loved being able to share her stories and her advice and she’d make jokes about her ex husbands and her career just to make you laugh. She enjoyed people getting a good laugh at some of the things she’d been through. Ultimately, you’d hear these stories and you’d realize even more so what a strong, determined person she was. She made it through a lot and kept going, ya know? She was just a constant jokester, too. She would say things just to make me giggle. She was always so great around us kids, especially when we were younger. She was always really great when fans would come around. There would be people waiting off to the side of the set and she’d always make time to go over and say hello. She’d introduce herself to people and say, “Hello, I’m Princess Leia’s mom!” People always got a kick out of that.
Did she give you any advice that stuck with you?
She did tell me once, I can’t remember specifically what we were talking about, but towards the end of the story, she ended up basically telling me, “Ya know, I just got to a point where I stopped giving a crap what people thought about me.” She had a very kind of “life is short” mentality. She wanted you to know, ya know, don’t worry about what people think about you. You do you. She wanted me to remember that that was what life was all about and that always stuck with me.
She had a quote in the movie that has become really popular, “Being normal is vastly overrated.” Do you think that still applies today?
Oh absolutely! I think probably now more so than ever. I think life is what you make of it and people, I think, try to overly define other people and put things in a box to fit their way of thinking or their perspective. I think that’s what makes really embracing being yourself and being in the world, so special. The idea of normal, it’s a concept that doesn’t necessarily mean the ultimate … people look at it and think “Oh if I could just be normal” and be whatever their idea is of that … but it’s awesome now that people can define that for themselves. I think that was very true to Debbie’s character in the movie and how she felt in real life. I love that that has been one of the most memorable quotes from the movie because it’s so true, and I think it’s a good concept for the younger generation to try to grasp and make their way in the world.
What do you have planned for your time here for Spirit of Halloweentown?
I’m really excited this year. We’re having a little family reunion of sorts on October 14th. Judith, who played my mom, and Joey, who played my brother Dylan, are coming up and we’re all going to do the pumpkin lighting together and do a special tribute to Debbie. I know Emily Roeske, who played my little sister Sophie, is trying to come out. She’s had some scheduling issues so we’re not sure yet. There are going to be some meet and greet stuff with fans, I think in the afternoon that Saturday. I believe I’m doing some separate photo ops on Sunday with Benny’s cab, the haunted cab. So, it’s going to be a fun weekend of events. I’m really happy that we get a chance to get together. It’s the first time we’ve all been together as far as I can remember and what better excuse than to celebrate Debbie and meet the fans in the place where it all started? It’s awesome.
You’re doing a tribute to Debbie, aren’t you?
Yes, we’re going to do it with the pumpkin lighting and share some stuff about Debbie. I believe there’s going to be a small monument dedicated to her. All of us are going to say a few things and really try to incorporate her memory into the pumpkin lighting ceremony to kind of start everything off. I think that’s really the only fitting way to pay tribute to her.
What is your take on St. Helens as a community?
I love it up there. I love Oregon in general. I love the community. The first year that I went out there was just absolutely beyond my wildest expectations and dreams of what my first visit back there would be after shooting the first Halloweentown. I remember talking to one of my friends the next day and telling them that it would be a night I never forgot. Everybody there is just so kind and welcoming. I love the feel of the town and getting to meet all the people and hear their stories of the movie and seeing people again that were on set and involved in the shooting of the first film. It’s always exciting to be able to relive that with people.
I’ve heard you like writing and that you’ve written a Halloween themed children’s book? Tell us about that. Is that something you want to pursue more?
Yeah, I co-authored the book and worked on the illustrations. It’s called “Poppin’s Pumpkin Patch Parade.” I was really excited to do something for younger fans. It’s a fun, magical pumpkin patch story for Halloween and the fall season. I worked on a lot of original illustration designs for the characters. I have nephews and a lot of young kids in my life and I was excited to do something for them and kind of keep that fall magic feeling for some of the younger set. I do enjoy it a lot. I definitely would think about it. I have my hands in a bunch of different creative avenues, I guess you could say, so being to able to create in that way was such a joy for me, so, yeah, I’d like to continue doing it.
I’ve done a little bit more in the producing aspect. I like creating things. I don’t know that I’d specifically write screenplays and everything, I’m not sure my creative joy comes as much from that area, but I have done some original comedy skits on my youtube channel. I did a follow up from the second Halloweentown film, a short. I created and directed that. I’m working on developing a couple of feature films and producing them. I’m not sure that I’m the type that would fully sit down and write a script, but never say never.
You’ve been involved in almost every medium, from theater to film, commercials, soap operas, and animated work. What is your favorite medium to work in?
I get asked that question a lot and I can’t really narrow it down unfortunately. They all feed me in different ways, I think. There’s a different thrill that comes when you perform in front of a live audience and then it’s fun to take your time with a scene and shoot a little slower, like in film. They all get that fun adrenaline pumping in different ways. I’m so grateful that I’ve been able to explore all the different mediums. They’re all unique unto themselves. I still step out in front of the audience and I still get that same excitement that I’m where I should be. It’s nice to still get that same thrill that I did when I was 7 years old. It’s a blessing to still get excited all the time. I realize that I need to always be appreciative of that.
What are you working on now? What projects do you have coming up?
I have a film that I’m producing right now that I’ll have a role in that is in development/pre-production right now. I have another one, “The Wrong Side Of 25,” I don’t know when it’s coming out, but it’s in post. I’m still performing improv in LA and still shooting my sketches and stuff like that and having fun getting to collaborate with some of my friends. Any day where we get to be creative and try stuff out is always a good day.
I have a book full of ideas and it’s always interesting trying to do something with those. The process from writing to shooting is always an interesting one. We’re developing a few ideas and it’s just a matter of going through the writing process and then getting the people together that I want to shoot it with. With scheduling, it’s always interesting. It’s always fun to keep yourself on your toes.
The other creative aspect in my work is with painting and my Etsy store. It’s called, “Craftily Creative.” I started it with one of my best friends and we just sit down on Saturday and do crafting together and we both enjoy that. We do custom signs. She makes custom greeting cards and tags and we started doing t-shirts. I’m a huge graphic t-shirt fan. I have a couple of new graphic tees coming out in a couple of weeks. It’s fun to explore that side. We’re actually coming out with a new sign for “Being normal is vastly overrated.” There’s a new design coming out in probably a week or two. It’s a lot of fun and something to keep me busy while I’m working on other stuff.
What are some of your goals for the future?
I’ve been in the entertainment industry since I was 5 years old. Every day that I get to wake up and continue to be creative and take risks and try to live out these ideas that I have in my imagination … every day I wake up, I’m so grateful that I get to continue to do this and have such good friends that want to do it with me and have people that are still interested in what I do. I’m happy to keep creating and growing and seeing where that takes me. One of the shirts I have in my Etsy store says “I believe in magic.” I just believe in the idea of possibility and that you can create anything you put your mind to. I’m grateful that I get to continue to do that and I just want to continue to do that and be able to continue to perform and hopefully people will still want to see the stuff that I do. I would love to stretch more into producing films and producing some of my own ideas and that kind of thing. I’m really happy that I get to continue to do that. I would just like to continue to challenge myself and see what happens.
We had some questions submitted by fans if you don’t mind answering a few more?
Absolutely! Let’s hear them.
Did you ever consider doing more horror genre tv shows and/or movies since you were so good at it?
Absolutely! Ever since the Stephen King miniseries I did. I did another horror movie a few years ago, Big Bad Wolf. It’s a fun genre to act in in that everything is going terribly wrong around you and then they say cut. It’s fun to act out such extreme situations. I absolutely would. I’m a fan of, I guess, more the suspense/thriller genre myself, but yeah, I absolutely would.
Do you keep in touch with your Halloweentown co-stars?
It’s been cool actually, especially with social media, because I keep in touch with a lot of the cast. Emily I haven’t seen, I think, since we filmed the first one, but I keep in touch with her on social media. It’s been cool with technology to keep in touch with each other. I actually recently just met the original creator of the Halloweentown characters in the story, Paul Bernbaum. His kids in real life are named Marnie, Dylan and Sophie. Marnie is in comedy in New York and reached out to me and I got to have lunch with them and meet them. That was really cool. It’s nice to keep in touch with them. It’s always been a goal of ours to say “Hi” and see what the others are up to.
What do you imagine Marnie doing now and in the future?
I have a couple of different theories. I think that she splits her time a lot between Halloweentown and the mortal world now that the portal is open and she can come and go as she pleases. I think she’s still advocating for everybody to coexist. Maybe she’s running a program or something to have people exploring each world. Or I always thought maybe that she’d be running for Mayor of Halloweentown. I feel like she could be running her own magic school, kind of bringing up the next generation of witches and warlocks like Aggie did. I do think she would be actively involved in Halloweetown like her grandmother was.
What would your dream role be?
One of my favorite shows that was on recently was “The Good Wife” with Julianna Margulies. I am a big fan of that show. I love me some Mariska Hargitay on Law and Order SVU. I’d like to do something like that, like a detective or attorney. I’ve gotten close. I got to play a detective’s assistant on “Low Winter Sun.” I had a key card badge, not an actual badge. I was like, “I’m so close!” I was always fascinated with law in college. I don’t think I could ever become a lawyer, but those things are just so interesting to me and I admire people greatly that work in that line of work. That type of role would be so cool to do.
Is there a TV show or movie that you fangirl over?
Oh, there’s a few. I’m a long time Grey’s Anatomy fan. I love Scandal. I’m a pretty big Shonda Rhimes fan in general. I love Jane the Virgin, I’m a huge Gina Rodriguez fan and of that whole cast, it’s such a great show. I just watched Ozark. That was a great show. It’s great, I really loved it. I’m not a huge Marvel fan, in general, not by choice, not for any specific reason other than I just have never really gotten into it, but I did get into Jessica Jones and am itching for the next season to come out. I watch an eclectic mix of things. I’m trying to finish the third season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Orphan Black is another show that I love and I watch. Tatiana Maslany is just incredible.
Well thanks so much for speaking with us. Is there anything else you’d like to say to your fans and the community of St. Helens?
Just how incredibly grateful I am that everybody is not only so welcoming, but so respectful and everybody loves keeping the spirit of the movie alive. It’s so flattering and such an honor to come back and feel that love and that good energy. It’s just so special and I so appreciate everybody’s love for the film.