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‘Annie’ star Aileen Quinn explains why she took a break from Hollywood: ‘It was a blessing in disguise’

Aileen Quinn was only 9 years old when was chosen to play a red-headed orphan, beating 8,000 young girls for the role – and it forever changed her life.

The child actress skyrocketed to fame overnight when she starred in John Huston’s 1982 screen adaption of “Annie” alongside Albert Finney, Tim Curry, Carol Burnett and Bernadette Peters. As the feisty heroine, Quinn sang her way into the hearts of audiences across the country. Following the film’s success, Quinn was contracted to appear in several sequels – and none of them ever happened. And by age 18, she decided to bow out of Hollywood and pursue other dreams.

“Annie,” which turns 40 in May, will be honored at this year’s 13th annual TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood. The event, which takes place from April 21-24, will pair the 50-year-old with host Alicia Malone as they discuss the film’s lasting legacy.

Quinn spoke to Fox News Digital about what it was like starring in “Annie,” how fame impacted her and why she took a break from Hollywood.


Aileen Quinn famously played Annie in the 1982 film.

Aileen Quinn famously played Annie in the 1982 film.
(Bobby Bank/WireImage)

Fox News: How does it feel to know that “Annie” is part of this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival?
Aileen Quinn: Pretty amazing, actually. I have a lot of great memories affiliated with the movie and I love it so much. There’s a special place in my heart for it. And it’s great that other fans want to be a part of this with me.

Fox News: Speaking of memories, what’s one memory from your time filming “Annie” that makes you smile whenever you think about it?
Quinn: I have so many. From Bernadette Peters giving me a beautiful potpourri pillow that I still have to this day, to [spending time with] Albert and Ann Reinking in the car. And then, of course, playing Speak & Spell with Carol on set.

It was like a real family and they were all my aunts and uncles. John Huston was like a grandfather. He would always call me, “Aileen darling.” I was never just Aileen to him. It was always “Aileen darling.” It was like my last name *laughs*. But it was such a family-oriented, happy set. Everyone, from the cast and crew, just made me smile. They still do.

Fox News: You were too young to realize what an incredible cast of legendary stars that was.
Quinn: It’s true! And yes, I was *laughs*. I knew Carol Burnett from a commercial, not from “The Carol Burnett Show.” We still laugh about that to this day. I had no idea who I was working with, including John Huston.


Aileen Quinn during the filming of "Annie" on location at Radio City Music Hall on May 1, 1982, in New York City.

Aileen Quinn during the filming of "Annie" on location at Radio City Music Hall on May 1, 1982, in New York City.
(Walter McBride/Corbis via Getty Images)

Fox News: Going back, there was a big race to cast “Annie.” What was the audition process like for you?
Quinn: Long – very long. There were several times that I just assumed it wasn’t going to happen. I think my mom felt that way as well at one point. I went back for eight separate auditions for almost a year. It was a long process for me. I kept making it to the next level and getting callback after callback, which was unusual. Usually in musical theater, which I’ve done for years, there are maybe three callbacks at most. But this was eight. And the last two were in Hollywood. They flew us out there with the nine finalists. And then, of course, after the screen test with Albert, they took it down to three. It was quite a process.

Fox News: And you’re a brunette.
Quinn: I was just thinking that as I brushed my hair this morning. *laughs*. Yes, I am a brunette, but there’s some red in there being very Irish.

Fox News: Do you remember how they created that iconic hairdo for your role?
Quinn: I remember it was a little itchy and I had to scratch with a special comb. It was real human hair that was made into a beautiful strawberry blonde wig. They needed to create two of them, the scrappier one and the prettier one for when she gets adopted. I think my mom still has one of the wigs. It’s beautiful for its style, and it’s in good shape.

Fox News: What are some of your favorite fun facts about “Annie” that might surprise fans?
Quinn: Ooh, that’s a hard one because everyone knows everything by now. But some of my favorite tales to tell involve the dog. They would put apple on my face so he could lick me on cue. There were a lot of rehearsals with the dog, but it was fun.

John Huston, director, with Aileen Quinn and other cast members of "Annie."

John Huston, director, with Aileen Quinn and other cast members of "Annie."
(Paul Harris/Getty Images)

Fox News: When the film finally came out, how did your life change?
Quinn: It changed right away. I went from being a very small town girl who was very close to my friends in fourth or fifth grade, 9 turning 10 in the middle of filming. Even though I had done Broadway and commercials, my friends at school didn’t know I was a professional performer. They weren’t used to it on that scale. It went from having sleepovers, to me going away to film for six to eight months, and then all of a sudden getting swarmed at the mall while trying to get an ice cream cone.

And then my best friend asked me for my autograph a week later, which was really weird. I was like, “You know me, I’m sure I’ve given you several birthday cards. You have my signature.” And she was like, “No, I want it with the Annie face like you do. I want your actual autograph.” That was certainly a wow moment.

Fox News: Hopefully she still has it.
Quinn: That’s a good question! I should find her on Facebook and find out *laughs*.

Fox News: What’s the funniest or most unique encounter you’ve ever had with a fan?
Quinn: I have been doing some appearances recently, and everything goes. I get told meaningful stories where they say that they saw the movie at a very particular time in their lives when they needed it. I also hear very emotional stories involving adoption and how the film helped them and gave them hope. A lot of people approach me and describe watching the film as they went through foster care or adoption. Some said that even though they wanted to find their real parents, like Annie, they felt everything was going to be OK.


Carol Burnett, Aileen Quinn, Albert Finney, Geoffrey Holder, Ann Reinking and Bernadette Peters.

Carol Burnett, Aileen Quinn, Albert Finney, Geoffrey Holder, Ann Reinking and Bernadette Peters.
(Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

I’ve had women who were in situations at home that weren’t so great. And yet they felt empowered by Annie who was very spunky and took care of herself. I also get the husbands of the wives who give me funny quips about they had crushes on me when they were 10 or 11 *laughs*. I get a whole range of encounters.

Fox News: It’s been reported that you were contracted to make several sequels, but they never happened. Why?
Quinn: … Yes, that’s true. I met with the directors and the sequels were supposed to be more based on the comic strips. It was going to be more adventurous. I read scenes for it and even met with the other actors. And I don’t know what happened because that was on the corporate side of things and I was so young.

I had done this big film even though I was a theater actor in commercials. I had never done something like this before. And it became huge. So I don’t know why [those sequels] didn’t happen. But other things were happening [for me]. I was asked to be on certain sitcoms and do certain other projects and I had to turn them down for seven years. By then, I had grown up and I was a teenager.

Fox News: After achieving this massive success as a child star, you later decided to give Hollywood a break. Why?
Quinn: My mom was a school teacher for many years so education was always very important. They were very strict on the set about me getting my three hours of school a day. And when I came back from filming, my teachers didn’t cut me any breaks. Don’t get me wrong, they loved it, they were happy for me, and they wanted my autograph too, but they were like, “Welcome back to test-taking. Be your usual A+ student.”


Aileen Quinn, circa 1982.

Aileen Quinn, circa 1982.
(Getty Images)

I had been under contract, but I was still able to work in theater and do another Columbia project, the “Bobby’s Girl” album. But after that, I wanted to get back to some normalcy. I wanted to go to college and explore my other options. I wanted to learn about the world. I lived in a foreign country and got to experience that for a while. I got to learn a different language and explore another part of the world that was different. So in a way, it was a blessing in disguise. I was able to grow up, have a normal life, date and see the world, which felt right to me.

Fox News: Many actresses have gone on to play “Annie,” even Sarah Jessica Parker at one point.
Quinn: I went to her birthday party years ago when I was in the Broadway show. I did the Broadway show first and then I had to leave it to do the movie. So I went to her birthday party because they were transitioning from one “Annie” to another. It was such an awesome experience.

Actress Sarah Jessica Parker performs a scene with a dog in the musical "Annie."

Actress Sarah Jessica Parker performs a scene with a dog in the musical "Annie."
(Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)

Fox News: What does it mean to you to be recognized as the “Annie”?
Quinn: I never thought of it that way, but that’s very nice. I still think of all the Annies from all the years and how they all contributed to the role in their own way. I’m even friends with some of them. But it’s truly an honor that always stays with you.

Fox News: After graduating college, you did some more stage work. At any point, were you ever worried about being associated with this one role, or did enough time pass?
Quinn: It was hard in the beginning when I was still a teenager… I’ve always looked younger. So it was a little hard to transition. But the great thing about theater is I got to play everything… Luckily, theater kept me growing and I was never pigeonholed. If you can sing, dance and act, you can embrace any role in costume. And they’ll give you a chance.


Albert Finney, Aileen Quinn, Carol Burnett and others on stage in scene from the film "Annie," 1982.

Albert Finney, Aileen Quinn, Carol Burnett and others on stage in scene from the film "Annie," 1982.
(Photo by Columbia Pictures/Getty Images)

That’s why I did that for 25 years straight. They embraced me. When I was 17, the first thing I auditioned for was a role that was a little more womanly. It took them a moment to hear the audition song, which was very grown-up and soulful. But once they heard it and liked it, the rest is history.

Fox News: Is it true you played Bernadette Peters’ role in a stage production of “Annie”?
Quinn: I did! Oh my gosh, that was so much fun. I really wanted to play that role because I have a special connection with Bernadette. And she’s a real theater girl, too. I really admire her. I’ve always loved how she played the role. I thought she was just hysterical. And Carol, of course, but in a different way.

The strangest part was when I had to kidnap Annie. It was like kidnapping myself. That was very strange. And she’s really mean to Annie. It was a little surreal. I didn’t really think about those things when I was a kid. But I had such a blast looking at the story from a different perspective.

Fox News: What was your reaction when you heard Jay-Z sampling “Hard Knock Life” for the first time?
Quinn: Oh, that was so cool. Besides being a Broadway-trained singer, I love all kinds of music. I just loved that he did that. I couldn’t believe it at first because I thought it was so cool. I remember when fans used to ask him about it and he said how the story really spoke to him. Remember, Annie was scrappy. She was on the streets and had to survive. But she was also a fighter. It’s such a universal story and in interviews, he described how he related to that. I just thought it was really cool of him to do that.


Aileen Quinn attends the "Annie" world premiere at Ziegfeld Theater on Dec. 7, 2014, in New York City.

Aileen Quinn attends the "Annie" world premiere at Ziegfeld Theater on Dec. 7, 2014, in New York City.
(James Devaney/WireImage)

Fox News: What’s life like for you today?
Quinn: Always busy because these days, I’m getting back into film and TV. That’s why I’m living in Los Angeles. I also run my band, Aileen Quinn and the Leapin’ Lizards. We just had two concerts in a row the past two weekends. We’d like to tour. We’re working on our third album right now and I’m always songwriting. Life is full of the arts for me. It’s very creative and very hectic. Like any artist, I’m trying to juggle many hats.

Fox News: What do you hope audiences will take away from “Annie” in 2022?
Quinn: There are so many messages in the film. But I think the universal theme here is we all wanted to be accepted. We all want to be loved. That’s the bottom line of everything… we all want unconditional love. And we all have struggles… It’s really about love and acceptance, which we so greatly need these days. It’s such a great, beautiful story of accepting each other and family. I’m proud of it.

Stephanie Nolasco covers entertainment at


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