Barbeau, Adrienne (Carnivale)
As a horror journalist every now and then I get the pleasure to sit down and chat with some truly remarkable people that I grew up watching on T.V., in theatres, etc. After a while you get kind of used to it. Then it happens. You get to talk with someone that you've idolized growing up. Adrienne Barbeau is that person for me. I, like so many other horror fans out there, also had a crush on her since I was about age 10. To say I had butterflies in my stomach the size of Mothra is an understatement. What the hell, you only live once, right?
Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted prior to Carnivale’s cancellation, so obviously some of the comments will not reflect that latest development.
Uncle Creepy: Let me start by thanking you for taking time out of your schedule to talk with us. It’s a pleasure to have you here and a pleasure to chat with you. With your career and all the things you’ve done, it’s kind of hard to pick a starting point. But let’s begin with Carnivale. You’re coming off a helluva run there, and it’s been an amazing show.
Adrienne Barbeau: Oh, boy! It has, and I hope we’re not talking about it in the past tense.
UC: Amen! We’re pulling for you guys. We put up a few stories.
AB: I know. You guys have been fantastic, and we’ll see. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.
UC: How did you get involved with the show?
AB: I got called in for an audition. I actually had read about it and knew Howard Klein, who was the Executive Producer on the show. I told Howard that if there was something that I was right for, I’d love to come in and read for him. The role I knew about was the mother – the comatose Tarot reader. I said I’d love to come in and read for that, and he said, “Oh, no. We’ve got some other stuff that’s even more interesting, so we’ll get you in.” And I just got a call one day. I didn’t know anything about the show; I didn’t know it took place in the 30’s. I didn’t know anything except that it was about a bunch of carney workers. I hadn’t read a script. I thought it was contemporary. When I went in and gave the audition, the casting director said, “That was fantastic,” and I said, “Well, thank you.” Howard called a while later and said, “That was fantastic!” And then they never called me back. That was before Thanksgiving, so I figured, well, that was fantastic, but they hired somebody else. What can you do?
UC: You read for the part of Ruthie?
UC: Did they mention the snakes to you?
AB: (laughs) They did, yes. They asked if I had a problem with snakes, which I did not. Finally, about five weeks later they called and said they had made the decision. I didn’t even have to audition for HBO; they wanted me in the show.
UC: Excellent! Well, they definitely made the right choice.
AB: Thank you.
UC: Being a fan of the show for the last two seasons, it’s hard to imagine anybody playing the character like you did. It was an incredible portrayal.
AB: I don’t think it’s what they envisioned at the original casting call. She was supposed to be . . . well, I just don’t think I was what they had in mind. But it worked.
UC: What was the hardest part about playing her? And how long did it take to apply that tattoo?
AB: Actually, the tattoo is a transfer like the kids in grammar school have. You just put it on, pat water on it, and it’s done.
UC: Ah, technology! (laughs)
AB: So that only takes a couple of minutes. We just have to make sure we get it in the right place all the time. So it’s not hard for me. Some of the others I think have it harder. I’m not sure about some of the work Clancy has had done. But mine was pretty easy.
UC: Sorry to detract from my original question! Ruthie seems like a really complex character, and if there’s one thing you do well, it’s getting into the head of complex characters. You have really brought that character to life. What was it like playing her?
AB: Well, I just love Ruthie. It’s such a . . . I want to say incredible opportunity, but that’s not really the word. It’s such a unique opportunity to play Ruthie because nobody’s writing stuff like that for women my age. So I just love going to work every week never knowing where she’s going with all of this. (laughs) Once I got the script and found out what it was I was cast as, I came up with a backstory for her that made sense to me, that put her in that place doing what she was doing, and then just took it from there with what the guys were giving me to say.
UC: It’s such an interesting show. How much leeway were you given with the character? Did you know what was going to happen from episode to episode? Was there a clear picture?
AB: No. At the most we knew two weeks in advance because usually what the writers tried to do was have an episode ready for us to read for the following week while we were filming the episode we were filming. And then that would go through a lot of changes from the time we read it until the time we filmed it. But more than that, no. They did give me broad strokes early on: You are going to dance with the snakes at some point. But even the relationship with Nick – Ben Hawkins – didn’t really come out. No one said on the first day of shooting, “This is what’s going to happen.” It just all evolved.
UC: Ruthie’s been through the mill. She’s died once, and now she’s taken a complete turn for the spooky with the seeing of dead people. Which gave the show itself a much creepier tone I might add. That’s when things started really getting dark for me anyway. This season was amazing, both genre-wise and quality-wise. It was definitely the most interesting thing on TV.
AB: I think so.
UC: It took chances. Copy cat shows like Point Pleasant, which got canceled thankfully, and most recently Revelations, try and tackle the same themes and fail miserably.
AB: I tried about ten minutes of that one; I couldn’t get into it.
UC: But here is Carnivale that’s dealing with all of these issues, ten times better than any of the shows trying to mimic it, and there’s a question of a third season. It just makes no sense.
AB: Well, it’s an expensive show to do. And we didn’t get the numbers and the reviews that merited spending that kind of money. The first season that is. The second season people have caught on, and I think the second season, as you say, was better. But, you know, we need . . . it costs them a lot of money to make it. So that will be one of the deciding factors I think – whether HBO feels it’s worth bringing back given the amount of money they have to spend on it. But I agree. We’re so lucky to be involved with a show not only that is well written and so unique but that I’m very proud of. There are other shows on the air that are much more successful, but I think, “Oh, okay, so you’d be doing that; you’d be making money and people would know who you were” and all of that, but (laughs) you’d have to give an interview or something where you couldn’t say what you can say about Carnivale.
UC: Everything about the show is rather unique, and I think “unique” is the right word when describing folks from that era that were in carnivals and did the whole traveling circuit thing through these little towns. More or less, from reading a lot of books that I have, a distinct family unit would grow out of people traveling and spending so much time together. Did that translate into the cast portraying such characters?
AB: Yes, very much so. We are a pretty tight-knit group. Everybody really enjoys everyone. We try and see each other away from the set and miss that family when we’re not filming.
UC: There are so many rich characters on the show. What were some of your favorites?
AB: Well, I love Michael. And I love Ruthie’s scenes with Michael. They always tickle me. (laughs) I think they are just . . . I love the tone of the relationship between the two of them.
I love Jonesy because I think Tim is just such a fantastic actor and a wonderful man – just a great person. And Clancy. And Nick. All of them! The girls, Clea and Cynthia. Amy lives in Malibu, and I’m in Studio City, which is like being in another state (laughs), so we email each other two or three times a week just to catch up on what’s been going on.
UC: What a transformation for her character as well! It was really funny; I was watching an old, kind of cheesy movie called Streets of Fire, and she was in that. I just watched that prior to seeing her in Carnivale, and god, what a drastic change in character! (laughs) From the rebel kind of girl to this prim and proper, yet evil, churchwoman. It’s amazing the range that she has.
AB: Every single person. Toby Huss is one of the most remarkable actors I’ve ever worked with. When we have table reads, if someone is missing, Toby will fill in, or he’ll read some of the characters that haven’t been cast. He is absolutely brilliant. He’s a brilliant voice actor as well as comedian, and a character actor. Everybody in the cast, uniformly, is extremely talented. And even the actors who have been hired for just a recurring role or a guest star role. I think the casting people . . . Well, I think they should have won the Emmy for casting. I think they just do a fantastic job.
UC: It’s a fantastic show, and I hate to think it will be left with Jonesy lying on the porch and everybody else in an uproar. We just recently had a chance to speak with Tim, and he’s going to be attending Chiller Theatre with you.
AB: Yes, I know! (laughs)
UC: It was very funny. One of the questions our interviewer asked him was how he feels about doing his first big convention. He was like, “Well, Adrienne will be there, and hopefully she’ll hold my hand.”
AB: I’m the one that dragged him there. I better take care of him.
UC: I think people are really going to love getting a chance to meet him.
AB: He’s as wonderful a human being as he is an actor. They’re going to be really pleased.
UC: Well, I’m sure he’s going to hold you to that “taking care of” thing. Chiller Theatre can get kind of strange. As I’m sure you well know.
So, let’s see. Just before I called you I went to the IMDB and was looking over some of your films and your career. It’s just staggering, but it always seems that, for one reason or another – and hopefully you can shed some light on what that reason may be – you always come back to the genre of horror in one way or another. What it is about it that keeps bringing you back? Is it happenstance? Is it a conscious decision?
AB: Those are the jobs I get offered. (laughs)
UC: There’s nothing wrong with that!
AB: That’s what it is.
UC: Do you enjoy working in the genre? Is there something about it that stands out for you? Or is it just like another job?
AB: You know, I like playing heroines. I like being the strong woman who saves people. I like being the woman who has the M-16 or whatever it is that’s blowing away the bad guys. The horror genre gives an opportunity to play emotions and situations that we’re not faced with in our day-to-day life. So, that’s fun for me. I don’t know why. Acting out my fantasy of being a heroine I guess. Saving people.
UC: One thing that’s rung true through all your characters in the genre is you’ve always taken a very no-nonsense approach. Anytime you think of an Adrienne Barbeau character, one thing rings true: She doesn’t take any shit!
And that’s wonderful to see – a strong female lead doing things like that. You’re just wonderful to watch. The most fun I’ve had in a long time watching one of your movies was The Convent.
AB: Yes, me too.
UC: The Convent just looked like an absolute blast to work on. You got your motorcycle, your aforementioned M-16, what could have been better?
AB: I felt like I was doing the female version of Snake Plissken. It was great fun. I was sorry that it didn’t get a theatrical release because it’s really a good horror film. It’s funny, and it’s just a hoot I think.
UC: Mike Mendez is great.
AB: He is!
UC: He has such an imagination. I’m really excited about his latest project called Gravedancers.
AB: This is one he’s done now that’s going to be released?
UC: He’s filming right now.
AB: Good for him! We exchange Christmas cards and occasionally an email, but I haven’t kept up. I’m glad to know that.
UC: He’s doing well. The Convent was just such a blast. What was getting cast in that like for you? The subject matter is demonic nuns; you had to say, “Ooo!”
AB: Mike and Chaton wrote the character for me. They basically wrote . . . I don’t know who I had been in an earlier incarnation on film but . . .
UC: For that character it seemed as if they drew from every one of your other characters.
AB: Exactly. (laughs)
UC: They came up with the ultimate bad-ass Adrienne Barbeau character.
AB: So when I first started reading it, I thought, “Well, okay. It’s a horror film about all these teen-agers and blah, blah, blah.” And then I came to Adult Christine, and I was just on the floor laughing. I had to do it! It was just too funny.
UC: Speaking of directors you’ve worked with, I know Mike Mendez is definitely an up-and-comer, but you’ve worked with some of the absolute best in the genre from Carpenter to Romero. What are they like to work for?
AB: Every single one of them is wonderful. I would work with any of them again at any time – anywhere! I trust them. They know what they’re doing. They’re easy to work with. They’re just great guys, all of them.
UC: Definitely visionary. Some of the works they’ve helped to create . . . They’re just movies that were absolute classics. The newer classics of our age I guess you could say. Films like The Fog and Creepshow of course where your character was just so . . . It takes everything I have to refrain from asking you if I should just call you Billie!
UC: Because lord knows everybody calls you Billie.
AB: That’s right!
UC: I think one of the stronger characters out there that you’ve helped to create and brought to the screen was that of Stevie Wayne in The Fog.
AB: Well, I had the advantage of, again, having had the character be written for me. The role was written for me. John was fantastic – as the writer and the director. That was my first feature.
UC: I didn’t realize that.
AB: I had done television films, but that was the first feature. And everything that’s up there is John. I owe all of that to John.
UC: One of the things that stands out to me for your role in The Fog is that it looked like a very uncomfortable kind of shoot. After all you shot in an actual lighthouse right off the water.
AB: We shot in a lighthouse in Inverness, California, which is a gorgeous area of the country, so much so that we bought a house there afterwards. We just fell in love with it. For me, actually, most of my scenes were on a set. The exteriors were the lighthouse, and the hard part about that was to get to the lighthouse, we had to go down 369 steps, I think it was. With all the equipment, you know.
UC: Hence the word “uncomfortable”!
AB: And it’s also very windy there. The area is controlled by the Parks Department. There were days we weren’t allowed to film because the wind was so strong that it was dangerous. You couldn’t get down the steps. But it’s a gorgeous part of the United States – just north of San Francisco. I go back whenever I can. We bought a house there, and it burned down unfortunately. John still owns the property, but he never rebuilt on it. It’s an area of the country that I think both of us said this is where I want to die, you know, or be buried at least. When I think of the movie, that’s what I think of. I know they are doing the remake and they’re not shooting it in Inverness.
UC: They’re shooting it on a green screen.
AB: Are they really? (laughs)
UC: I wouldn’t doubt it.
AB: I think they’ve got a lighthouse, farther north maybe, up in Canada or something. I’m not sure. It seems to me I heard something.
UC: Were you approached by the people behind the remake at all?
UC: That’s sad because I’d have brought you back.
AB: Well, I would have loved to have done it.
UC: In some capacity or another, you should have been brought back. Or at the very least, Tom Atkins.
AB: Tom . . . yeah.
UC: He’s another legend to a lot of folks in the genre. I don’t think he realizes exactly how popular he is, but he should get whole mouthful of that at Chiller. He’s going to be able to see his first t-shirt I believe, which is cool.
AB: So cool! (laughs)
UC: He didn’t even realize his face was on a t-shirt, but he should get some good laughs out of it at the very least.
AB: That’s great. Yeah, I’m excited to be there because those two guys are just two of my favorite people in the world. Tom and Tim. So we’ll have a great time.
UC: You’ve done some conventions and gotten to meet a lot of the fans. What do you feel, in their eyes anyway, is your most popular character?
AB: I think right now The Fog because of the anniversary. What is it, the 25th anniversary of The Fog’s release?
UC: Something like that.
AB: And it’s coming back, so that’s on a lot of people’s minds. The Fog, Swamp Thing, and Creepshow would be the three. Escape, yeah, but I think people, genre people, think of those three first. And then it probably depends on how old they were when Swamp Thing came out, which one stays in their mind most.
UC: Swamp Thing was a lot of fun.
AB: Not as much fun to make. That was a harder shoot. Physically, the heat and the humidity, the swamp and the chiggers and the ticks.
AB: All that stuff. They didn’t have as much money as they could have used, you know. Wes had to make cuts in the script and compromise some of the themes because there just wasn’t enough . . . the budget wasn’t big enough.
UC: What did you have the most fun playing? Who’s your favorite character?
AB: Billie. Billie in Creepshow. She’s just so outrageous, and I love George so much. I loved being in Pittsburgh, and (laughs) she’s my favorite. And Ruthie. But of the features, Billie I think.
UC: How much of Adrienne Barbeau goes into each character? Or is it like a completely different person each time?
AB: No, no. There’s a lot of me in all of them.
UC: Are you the bad-ass, I don’t take shit type of person in general?
AB: I’ve spent my life trying to learn to be.
But not in a bad-ass way. I spend my life studying communication, I think. Learning to communicate in a healthy, honorable way. That’s been one of the most important lessons for me to learn. So I’m not someone who’s going to tell somebody off or tell them what I think of them or anything like that. But . . .
UC: Should they hand you an M-16.
AB: No, I’m an extremely non-violent person. A real pacifist. You know, use words to try and solve problems. So in that way, maybe – that’s certainly not Billie or any of the others, but yeah, they’re all me.
UC: Who in the business would you like to work with that you haven’t had an opportunity to yet? Maybe a newer director or just someone who has always eluded you.
AB: Hmmmm. Hmmmm. I’d like to work with Susan Sarandon just because I admire her career. I’d love to work with Sophia Loren. (laughs) Directors? You know, I have two, eight-year-olds. I don’t see movies very much. Rodrigo Garcia, who directed our pilot on Carnivale and Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her. I think he’s a wonderful director, but he’s not a genre director necessarily. Sidney Pollack. I can’t speak for the genre because I don’t know it. I don’t go to see horror films. I don’t like them.
UC: There’s an interesting parallel.
AB: I don’t enjoy them. They make me uncomfortable. I’m a big action/adventure fan. Intrigue and mysteries. I watch a lot of BBC America. I’m the first one in line for espionage, shoot ‘em ups. But I don’t like horror films at all.
UC: And yet you’re in so many memorable ones. But, again, it’s a job, and sometimes people don’t realize that.
AB: For me, I don’t like the state of being frightened. It’s too uncomfortable for me. It’s not fun.
UC: To each his own. You know a lot of people love that. Some people detest it. Some people like a little bit of both. Horror has always been very special to me because it gives me that whole roller coaster ride feeling. It’s that controlled chaos kind of thing.
AB: (laughs) I’m not the one on the roller coaster.
UC: What about the Ferris wheel? You did work on Carnivale!
AB: I never got to ride it!
UC: So, you just finished work on Unholy. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
AB: I play a character named Matha. It’s about a family that gets caught up in a government experiment of time travel and invisibility and mind control.
UC: Wow. Hitting a lot of different subject matters there!
UC: That was shot in New York, right? Queens?
AB: In Queens in the middle of the blizzard. It was a nightmare! That was a rough shoot. We were doing exteriors on Long Island Sound in minus 6 degrees.
UC: I left New York because I didn’t want to see any more snow, so my condolences to you, Miss Barbeau.
AB: I liked seeing it; I just really didn’t want to be in it.
UC: So what’s next for you?
AB: Next is a two-character play based on the life of Judy Garland. It’s called The Property Known As, and I’ll probably be doing that in Manhattan sometime next year. And I am finishing a book contract. I’m writing a memoir for Carroll & Graff Publishers. I’m supposed to turn that in this summer, and hopefully that’ll be on the shelves next spring.
UC: I’m sure the fans are going to eat it up too.
AB: I hope so!
UC: And then you can start doing book signings.
AB: Yes. I think that would be so fantastic. I would be really excited to do that.
UC: Well, I’m sure that regardless of what you do, one thing that’s always going to remain positive is that the fans are going to be drawn to you in droves.
AB: Oh, thank you very much.
UC: You’ve portrayed a lot of impressionable characters over your career that people could be proud of or even aspire to be like. You’ve always shown a certain strength and integrity in each of your characters. Especially for a younger woman growing up, you’ve been a really positive role model. And you definitely appeal to men – lord knows in how many different ways!
There’s one thing I’m sure we’ll always see, and that’s a lot more Adrienne Barbeau. You can never get too much!
AB: Well, thank you very much!
And there it was. Over. I have to say Adrienne is as beautiful inside as she is out. I couldn't have picked a better childhood crush. Ok teen-aged crush. Adult crush?! Oh, cut me some slack already! A guy can dream, no? *swoons*