Categories: Interviews

Terri Nunn: The princess of synthpop

For decades, girls have dreamed of being Princess Leia. Terri Nunn almost was Princess Leia.

The lead singer of Berlin – of “Take My Breath Away” fame – auditioned for and nearly landed the lead female role in the 1977 epic space opera “Star Wars.” Though she lost out to Carrie Fisher, she wouldn’t trade places with her for anything in the world.

“You can see the screen test online,” Nunn said in a recent phone interview. “Harrison Ford looks like he’s 15, I look like I’m 12. We read these lines and we didn’t know what the heck an R2D2 or a Chewbacca was … we had nothing to look at, so it’s hilarious to watch, at least for me it is.

“George Lucas was wonderful. I’ll always love him, he was very honest with me. He said it was down to me and Carrie Fisher, and I thank him for it. You know, the lead actors got paid next to nothing to be in that movie but Lucas gave them each 1 percent of ‘Star Wars.’ Yes, I would’ve been richer, but Berlin never would’ve happened for me. My life would’ve taken a totally left-hand turn.”

Lucas was so impressed with Nunn, he recommended her to director Steven Spielberg for 1981’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (which Lucas produced).

“George was such a cheerleader for me, and he didn’t have to do that, but I thank him for being so kind,” Nunn said. “I auditioned for ‘Indiana Jones,’ and didn’t get that either, but I think I did pretty well for myself. It wasn’t my goal to be an actress; I thought I was good at it, but it wasn’t my passion. Music was my real passion.”

After giving up on Hollywood, Nunn was working for her family’s record store in Reseda, Calif., when she answered an ad to audition for the fledgling band Berlin, which was influenced by the electronic work of Kraftwerk, Sparks and Devo. She got that gig.

Led by Nunn and songwriter-bassist John Crawford, Berlin made a commercial breakthrough with its second album, 1983’s “Pleasure Victim,” which featured the new wave classics “Sex (I’m A …)” and “The Metro.” The 1984 follow-up album, “Love Life,” contained their first Top 40 hit, “No More Words,” co-produced by Giorgio Moroder.

Then came Moroder and Tom Whitlock’s “Take My Breath Away,” the love song from the smash Tom Cruise movie “Top Gun” (1986). Moroder originally offered the song to a few other singers, including Martha Davis of The Motels, until he eventually approached Nunn. It was a ballad, something totally different from what she had done before.

“He said, ‘You want to try this song?’ and I’m like, ‘Hell, yes,’ ” Nunn said. “If he had farted on tape, I would’ve sung to it. That’s how much I admired him and his work.”

The million-selling “Take My Breath Away” topped the Billboard Hot 100 for one week and was No. 1 for four weeks in the U.K., and won the Golden Globe and Academy Award for Best Original Song.

It would also be Berlin’s last hit.

“My problem was, I was a kid and I was naive,” Nunn said. “I didn’t know how to get off the machine. I had no love life, no partner, no relationships. My friends were leaving me because I didn’t have time to be around them. We were always touring or recording. I lost balance in my life.

“I needed a break. We started hating each other and the machine. The train crashed and hit the wall.”

Even after Berlin broke up, Nunn still couldn’t find happiness.

“I had nothing,” she said. “I needed a life, a relationship, a friend, a partner.”

She now has that ideal relationship with her husband, mortgage broker Paul Spear. She has two stepsons and a daughter, and they live in Agoura Hills, Calif.

Nunn obtained the rights to the band name Berlin in 1996 and released two albums, “Voyager” (2002) and “4Play” (2005). Now comes “Animal,” their first album in eight years. Out Sept. 17 on Something-Music/INgrooves Fontana, “Animal” stays true to Berlin’s synth-pop roots but also has modern elements of electronic dance music and even a “Take My Breath Away”-ish ballad, the first single “It’s the Way.”

“Every time I put out an album, the rules change,” Nunn said, with a laugh. “Just getting the music out there for people to hear is the biggest challenge. But I’m really surprised, they’re adding the song in places that didn’t play Berlin 30 years ago. We were always big on both coasts, the Midwest not so much, but now we’re getting more airplay in the Midwest and the South. I couldn’t be happier.”

She didn’t get “Star Wars,” but she got Berlin, and for that, she’s very grateful.

“I’m just so lucky to have had this experience,” she said. “It’s a ride like no other.”


Gerry Galipault

Gerry Galipault debuted Pause & Play online in October 1997. Since then, it has become the definitive place for CD-release dates — with a worldwide audience.

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