She’s only 20 years old, but Donna Wilkes already has survived alcoholism, drug addiction and shark attacks. On celluloid, that is. Specializing in problem adolescents (“I don’t know many adolescents who don’t have problems”), Wilkes is now starring in Angel as a high school honor student who moonlights as a hooker.
Made for less than $3 million, Angel has already grossed three times that amount, but in spite of this success, Wilkes admits the low-life is getting her down. “I’m not a fan of exploitation films,” she says, at the same time pointing out the film’s redeeming value as a realistic portrayal of the hooker’s lot. She should know, having done some on-the-street research for the part. No, Donna didn’t turn tricks, but she did talk to girls in the trade.
In Donna’s last acting job, on Days of Our Lives, she played Pamela Prentiss, a drug addict who “OD’d two or three times, was a runaway and kidnapped a baby for $125,000.” Viewer response was strong: Her fan mail included Bibles and recommendations that she “get baptized.”
Born in New York City to a doctor and a nightclub singer (Donna’s parents were divorced when she was 3 months old), Wilkes has been acting since she was 4. She kept at it after moving to L.A. with her mother but admits now that she “never took acting seriously as a kid. It was too much fun.”
A good student who skipped “two or three grades,” Wilkes finished high school at 15. After graduation, she worked as a computer operator and a secretary before deciding to try acting professionally. At 17, she won a small part in a teen film called Almost Summer, which led to a slightly larger role in Jaws 2, and ultimately to two TV movies before Angel.
Now Wilkes would like to clean up her image and sees hope in the career of another big-screen hooker, Jamie Lee Curtis. “She did all those Halloween movies,” says Wilkes, “and now she’s in Trading Places with a top-notch cast. I hope that’s where I end up in the long run. Or even in the short run. Who knows?”