role call

Elaine Hendrix Answers Every Question We Have About The Parent Trap

The actress talks memories of Natasha Richardson, the cut scene she wishes made it into the final film, and the secrets she still keeps about that lizard scene. Photo-Illustration: Vulture and Buena Vista Pictures

There’s a moment in Nancy Meyers’s The Parent Trap when Lindsay Lohan jumps into a fabulous pool outside her house in Napa — that’s Northern California — and produces a small splash. Sitting beside the pool in a flawless white dress is her would-be stepmommy dearest, Meredith Blake. Blake, played by Elaine Hendrix, leaps into the air for a towel and acts as though she’s about as wet as she’d have been riding the Maid of the Mist through Niagara Falls. There’s barely a drop on her, which is about all you need to know about Meredith Blake. A 26-year-old playing a 26-year-old, Hendrix’s performance holds up over 20 years later, and she’s quite pleased to see the character being recast in a different light — less a conniving gold digger, more a savvy young woman who owns her sexuality and knows how to get what she wants in life.

We recently spoke about her character’s redemption arc, her experience shooting with two Lindsay Lohans, her memories of Natasha Richardson, the cut scene she wishes made it into the final film, and the secrets she still keeps about that lizard scene.

How familiar were you with the original Parent Trap when you read for the remake?
I knew about it because my mom was a huge fan of the original. She had talked about Hayley Mills and how growing up she wanted to be Hayley Mills.

Did you know you were going in for the villain?
I did. Well, the audition, for me, the very first one, was very last minute. I didn’t have a whole lot of time to prepare and think about it. The next thing I know, I’m in the office with Nancy and Charles [Shyer] and Dennis [Quaid] and Lindsay. And then, the next thing I know, I’ve booked it. But yes, I knew I was going to be the heavy.

I realize I put words in your mouth there. Do you consider Meredith Blake to be a villain?
In a traditional sense, yes. She is. That being said, I absolutely am shocked but love that present day there’s scores of gals, a whole generation now, that don’t see Meredith as a villain. They see her as an aspiration. With every character that an actor plays, we have to justify our behaviors. So, you know, Elaine Hendrix, the actress, knew that Meredith Blake was the villain, but as far as Meredith Blake goes … she just was doing what she needed to get what she wanted in life. She saw nothing wrong with any of this. There is definitely a part of me that feels happy for Meredith Blake that she’s been vindicated.

In rewatching it, I found myself thinking you could make the case that Dennis is actually the villain. This devoted dad of 11 years meets one hot woman and decides, Uh, I’m just going to blow up my kid’s life.
It’s definitely one of those movies you can’t think too hard about because, when compared to reality, there’s a lot that’s wrong with it. But when you keep it in the context of this beautiful, fantastical movie, it does tug on your heartstrings. It’s endeared itself to multiple generations. In that regard, you’ve just gotta let reality go and flow with that.

Absolutely. Though I will say, here at, we are big fans of poking holes in things.
Then The Parent Trap is the good vegan Swiss cheese.

Is there anything that sticks out to you as being particularly far-fetched?
Right off the bat, I keep picturing back … you’ve married someone or you’ve gotten together with someone. I can’t remember if they were originally married, Nick and Elizabeth. You actually have babies. She gives birth to them. Then you have a fight, and one of you takes one [baby], and the other one takes the other one. That moment as a mother, much less the father, you’re going to give up one of your kids? That’s where, if we’re poking holes, to me, that’s the biggest hole. Especially someone as lovely and endearing as Natasha was in real life and in how she played Elizabeth. There’s no way that woman is giving up one of her kids. The logistics? How do you … do you flip a coin? Take the one closest to you?

Truly what judge signed off on that?
There clearly was no judge involved.

What’s Meredith’s best line?
She’s got a few, but I think hands down it’s “for your 411.” The whole swing-set scene: “Is that clear?” Oh, also there’s the fight at the end: “What’s going on, buddy?” “The day we get married is the day I ship those brats off to Switzerland.” Without exaggeration, there’s not one day that goes by that I don’t get a fan letter; I don’t get stopped on the street; I don’t get something related to this movie. That’s just a long-winded way of saying there’s a lot of people who asked me to ship them to Switzerland.

I wanted to ask if there was a point over the last two decades where people stopped recognizing you as Meredith Blake, but it seems the answer is no.
I just went to the dentist, and I walked in the office, and they’re like, “Oh my God, my favorite movie is The Parent Trap.”

Was any part of your portrayal ad-libbed?
No, not really. Nancy was really good about letting me bring what I call my little buttons to things — a lot of the physicality, my facial expressions. Nancy hired me because I embodied her in a very particular way. I just remember there was nothing about that script I even wanted to improvise on.

Liking a man with a little chest hair then … that was all in the script?
I’m a big fan of chest hair. I love chest hair.

You actually were 26, Meredith’s age in the film, when you shot it. Did her life feel unfamiliar compared to your own?
We were the exact same age. That was not by design; it just so happened to be that way. Anytime you book a gig, much less starring role, in a big studio movie — I was 26 years old; that felt like such an accomplishment. I had Meredith’s same drive and ambition. Meredith’s far more put together and — what’s the word? Precious. She’s not as outdoorsy and natural and, you know … with lice and stuff like that, whereas I am all about animals. I’m all about camping. I love kids. I think really one of the biggest differences is that I didn’t dress as fabulously as Meredith did.

We can’t talk about Meredith Blake and not talk about her clothing — it’s true. Honestly, a lot of her looks would be on trend now.
Penny Rose was our costume designer, and she’s absolutely fabulous. All of my outfits, except for the Stafford Hotel [scene], that’s the only outfit that wasn’t custom made for me. Everything else was custom and exquisite. I wish … I guess Disney probably has some costume warehouse. Sometimes I take my clothes or even buy them from different productions, but that one I didn’t even ask because that’s just not how I typically dress. Now I’m like, What?! I’m still the same size. What I wouldn’t give for those outfits.

Incredible humblebrag. Let’s talk about that very first scene with the hat. What was the direction like for that moment?
That’s a great question. We did try it in a couple of different ways where they had me just look up slowly. Then they had a take where they filmed it in slow motion. That way, Nancy would have options. She talked about this recently at the reunion that we had, but films, by and large, are built in an editing room. You can do all the planning in the world, but it really comes together in the editing room. There was only a few moments in this movie where Nancy had the luxury of waiting until the editing room because Lindsay was doing both roles. She had to choose the take and match it a lot of times. That moment when the camera is isolated and it’s just me, that was one of those moments she could say, Okay, let’s film this a couple of different ways and then I’ll decide.

What was it like to work with the ultimate in ’90s-dad hunkiness, Dennis Quaid?
You answered your own question right there.

Yes, but I’m not interesting.
I think it’s Natasha who says, “He was rather dishy.” Total hot hunk, chest hair and all. That was one of those pinch-me moments. I couldn’t believe it. I was so familiar with Dennis Quaid, and here I was playing his love interest.

You and Lisa Ann Walter are real-life friends, which is something the internet loses its mind over collectively whenever it is reminded of that fact. Was that a friendship that was formed on set?
When we first met, she was testing with Dennis and Lindsay the same day I was. I actually can’t remember if it was a test or we were doing a rehearsal. But whenever it was, she was coming out of the office, I was going into the office, so we very briefly met. We got to really meet up in Napa. We were in Napa for — I was there for a month and a half or so. We were at the hotel. I think, one of our first nights, we bonded over talking nonstop while eating a Marie Callender’s pie.

Was it weird to turn around and ring a bell in her face?
Lisa is a consummate pro. I’m a consummate pro. Whatever is needed for the shot. Now we make it a joke. I stay with her all the time, and I’ll make bell noises, and she’ll be like, “You rang?”

Let’s talk about the camping-trip scenes. Sounds like you probably had some camping experience prior to the movie?
I grew up camping. That was pure acting. I got to really let go, be loose, and go for it. I’m very snappy in nature. I know how to navigate. I’m trained in certain aspects, and I’ve camped my whole life.

Which is to say you would notice if somebody was loading your tiny backpack with rocks.
Oh yes, but let’s go back a step further. Penny Rose and I discussed wardrobe. What would she wear? I thought, This woman, the only thing she has to go camping in is her aerobics gear she keeps in her car. That’s how she landed on that outfit. If I’m going camping, there’s no way I’m in capri leggings and a crop top.

You’ve mentioned before that the lizard scene is a combination of an actual lizard and CGI and that we could watch it and decide for ourselves. How much of your face was a real lizard crawling around on?
I don’t really know how trainable lizards are, but there was the animal wrangler who took care of the lizard. We worked a lot with the real one, we had a toy one, and then there was the CGI. While we were filming, Charles Shyer said, “Elaine, now when you start to do press for this movie, you cannot tell anyone the secrets behind this.” Twenty-three years later, I have not told anyone the secrets behind it.

Is that you falling off the air mattress into the lake or a stunt double?
I think some of it was for liability purposes, but I always try to do my own stunts as much as possible. I did a lot of it, but now I can’t remember. We shot that sequence in two different locations. We shot that in Arrowhead, and we also shot that on the Sony lot. They actually launched me into the lake. All the wide shots and me going in … those were while we were in Arrowhead and on location. The actual floating, I believe, was at Sony. We were fighting weather and winter, so by the time we actually got up to Arrowhead and Big Bear, it was starting to get really cold. Under those pajamas, I have a wet suit on.

Did that take a lot of takes?
Nancy varied how many takes she did, but I didn’t do a crazy amount. When it came to the physicality stuff, there was a certain amount of resetting that has to happen. But I went in and out of that water a lot.

Do you keep in touch with Lindsay Lohan?
No, just through social. A retweet or comment here or there. Lindsay was actually 11 when I was 26. It didn’t really make sense to keep in touch with a child. Now that we’re older, it’s like with everyone else in the business: Lindsay says hi. Oh, hey, Elaine says hi. That sort of stuff. I haven’t even crossed paths with her.

Were there any scenes you loved that didn’t make the final cut?
There was one moment that’s very near and dear to my heart because late Army Archerd, who wrote for Variety for decades, came to visit us when we were filming a scene where we were picking out Meredith’s engagement ring. They shut down Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, and Army wrote about the movie and really singled me out and called me a young Carole Lombard. Oh yes. He mentioned how only a group of pros would really be worthy of shutting down Rodeo Drive. I understand, like, once you see it, the movie didn’t need it, but I was bummed. It was just such a big, special day and to have that shout-out was very special. There’s also a moment where I got to do physicality with the clicking of the sticks to keep the mountain lions away. We filmed it twice: once where I’m actually doing it and then I trip and fall. I do a pratfall out of screen. It was so good. I’m so proud of the physicality work that I did. I was like, Damn, that was a good fall.

After Meredith throws the ring at Nick’s head, do you think she hikes back alone, or is there a very long, painful car ride involved?
The way I always envisioned it was that it was a very awkward car ride. In the original movie, there was a right-hand man there who drove her back. But in our version, there wasn’t the right-hand man, so I definitely think there was a silent, tense, awkward, horrible car ride home.

Was there a behind-the-scenes moment you remember laughing particularly hard during?
The memories to me that stand out are kind of endless. I can tell you about Dennis at lunch. He never left lunch without like half of it on his T-shirt. Because he was just such a guy.

Throw in some chili and that’s method acting.
Natasha was lovely. She would always invite people to her trailer, especially after work, to have a glass of Chardonnay with her. Lisa and I were always there particularly long hours because we were waiting as they shot different scenes two times, and they would have to reset Lindsay and each character. I said, “Hey, Leese, let’s — let’s have a photo shoot.” We went and got the still photographer, we went to hair and makeup, and then we went to the wardrobe trailer. We picked out these slips and then we did this whole photo shoot. Lorey Sebastian was our still photographer and, man, is she a good photographer. The pictures just came out flawless. I think I have those negatives in storage. That year for Christmas, we all got each other presents, and I blew up one of those images and I had it framed for Lisa. She still has it on her wall.

What did people give you that Christmas?
Natasha gave me a beautiful tea set with all these glorious teas. Nancy and Charles were always giving us presents, books, pictures, memorabilia. I forget what Lindsay gave me and Dennis … I think he gave me a shawl.

Was there anyone in particular who was in your mind informing your portrayal of Meredith?
Another publication said that I was a young Goldie Hawn. One said I was like Barbara Stanwyck. All of these, I was like, Yes! I modeled a lot of Meredith after Old Hollywood. Fairly soon after, I got to meet Sigourney Weaver. She told me, “Oh, you play such a good bitch.” That was an ultimate compliment because I had studied her in Working Girl. Being called out by Sigourney Weaver was the cherry on top of the sundae.

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They were. Following an earlier exchange with Lohan’s character, in which she condescendingly explains to Blake what “411” means, Blake delivers the following line: “Being young and beautiful is not a crime, you know. And for your 411, I adore your father. He’s exactly the kind of man I always planned on marrying. This is the real deal, honey, and nothing you do is going to come between us. Hate to break it to you, angel, but you are no longer the only girl in Nick Parker’s life.” The scene continues: “Okay, puss. You listen, and you listen good. I am marrying your father in two weeks, whether you like it or not. So I suggest you do not tangle with me any more. You are in way over your head. Is that clear?” The line is: “Wear your shirt like this … I like when I can see a little chest hair.” Walter plays Chessy, Nick’s housekeeper and Hallie’s nanny, who falls in love with Martin, the James family’s butler. Meredith uses a bell to summon Chessy for help around the house.
Elaine Hendrix Answers Every Question About The Parent Trap