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In 'Knock Knock,' actress Colleen Camp has a cameo -- and a producer credit

In 'Knock Knock,' actress Colleen Camp has a cameo -- and a producer credit
Colleen Camp starred in 1977's "Death Game" and produced Eli Roth's new "Knock Knock," which is inspired by the earlier film. (Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

Horror director Eli Roth ("Hostel") was a 20-year-old film student at New York University answering phones for producer Frederick Zollo when he met actress/producer Colleen Camp.

He recalled the first time Camp called to talk to Zollo.

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"I said, 'Wait a minute, is this the Colleen Camp from "Smokey and the Bandit Part 3"?' She said, 'I love you. Who are you?' We ended up talking for an hour. We met in person and she was so lovely. Every time she called, she really treated me like a person."

And now 23 years later, Camp is a producer on Roth's new film, the darkly comic erotic thriller "Knock Knock," which opens Friday. Keanu Reeves plays a devoted husband and father home alone for the weekend who makes the biggest mistake of his life when he allows two stranded young women (Lorenza Izzo, Roth's wife, and Ana de Armas) into his house on a rainy night.

Talk about a lost weekend. Reeves' Evan is lured into temptation by the young women only to have them wreak havoc on his life.

Camp, now 62, has a very funny cameo in the film as Reeves' masseuse. Unfortunately, Camp sighed, she doesn't get a chance to actually give him a massage.

"He's so friggin' gorgeous," she said, laughing. "How amazing does he look?"

That's how it was talking to Camp during a recent interview at her office on Sunset Boulevard — she's effusive, lively and earthy. She unapologetically wears her emotions on her sleeve. She loved her visitor's necklace and watch — Camp even had her assistant order her one — and the scheduled one-hour interview quickly became a two-hour gab fest.

Though she may not be a household name, you'll certainly recognize her from the countless films she's done since her debut in 1973's "Battle for the Planet of the Apes," including her role as Playboy Bunny Miss May in Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 Vietnam War classic "Apocalypse Now," her delightful comedic turn as country western singer Christy Miller in Peter Bogdanovich's 1981 comedy "They All Laughed" and as Brenda, the lonely cat woman in charge of the wires in David O. Russell's 2013 Oscar-nominated "American Hustle."

Probably one of her most unusual films was 1978's "Game of Death," which incorporated footage from the incomplete 1972 Bruce Lee movie with a new plot. Camp played Lee's fiancée.

"Bruce Lee had been dead for five years," she said. "They superimposed Bruce Lee's head on somebody else's body and then they had the real Bruce Lee in the last 20 minutes of the film."

It was also during this time she made the low-budget 1977 indie "Death Game," directed by Peter S. Traynor, which also starred Sondra Locke and Seymour Cassel. The behind-the-scenes credits were impressive, with Jack Fisk as the production designer, his wife, actress Sissy Spacek, as set dresser and actor Bill Paxton at the assistant art director.

Though the film barely caused a ripple when it was released, it has grown in reputation. In fact, "Knock Knock" was inspired by "Death Game."

"Colleen's performance in 'Death Game' is brilliant," Roth said. "I feel if this film had been made today she'd be the girl on everybody's radar."

The filmmaker was equally impressed with Camp's producing skills. "She knows everybody. She can pick up the phone and she can go right to the top. She is the big picture producer. She understands the combinations of people to put together."

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For Camp, producing comes naturally. "There have been many people I have put together. I helped Martha Coolidge put together 'Valley Girl.' "

It was her ex-husband, producer John Goldwyn, who convinced her to take producing seriously. And in 2001 she produced the drama "An American Rhapsody." But when the couple divorced, she decided just to concentrate on acting while she was raising her daughter, Emily.

When Emily left home for Stanford, Camp dusted off her producer's hat. She is an associate producer on Bogdanovich's latest comedy, "She's Funny That Way," in which she also appears, and was one of the producers with friend Barbara Broccoli (best known for producing the James Bond films) on the Broadway production last year of A.R. Gurney's "Love Letters."

And speaking of love letters, Camp was recently revisiting the love letters written to her by the late French director Francois Truffaut ("Jules and Jim," "Day for Night"). She had met Truffaut in Los Angeles in 1979 when he was speaking at the American Film Institute.

"It was like an instant chemistry, but nothing happened romantically for a year," Camp said with emotion welling in her voice. "We wrote these amazing letters between us that were so beautiful. It was before technology — when men used to court women. When things were very simple."

Follow me on Twitter: @mymackie

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