Exclusive Interview: Adrienne Barbeau on Eco-Horror UNEARTH and Her Legendary Life
“Oh you know what? Forget that. I’m not supposed to talk about that yet.” Those were some of the first words from icon Adrienne Barbeau as we started our conversation about her new horror film, Unearth. Rest assured, that when the news does come out about a certain horror series she’s been filming, we’ll be the first to report it.
Related Article: Adrienne Barbeau Experiences Some Serious Body Horror in Our Exclusive Clip from UNEARTH
Moving along, I was happy to talk with Barbeau about her performance as Kathryn Dolan, a headstrong but weary farmer struggling to keep her family afloat. It’s some of her best acting in years. Her character is right to distrust an offer from a Big Oil fracking company promising a hefty payout in return for letting them tear up the land that her family and neighbors worked so hard to cultivate.
In our lengthy chat below, we talked about us both visiting the Point Reyes Lighthouse where DJ Stevie Wayne broadcasted from in The Fog and her book about the 50th anniversary of the premiere of Grease on Broadway. For those that don’t know, Adrienne was the original Rizzo on stage.
The actress and mother was also kind enough to give her thoughts on her son Cody Carpenter’s incredible music collaboration with his father, so be sure and read until the end.
Synopsis: The bond between two neighboring farm families is put to the test when one of them chooses to lease their land to a gas company. In the midst of this growing tension, the land is drilled and something long-dormant and terrifying is released.
Adrienne Barbeau: I just finished guest-starring in a series (laughs), but right now I’m working feverishly to finish a book for the 50th anniversary of the premiere of Grease on Broadway. We’re just finishing up what I think will be a wonderful, fascinating, interesting book with stories and memories from every actor that appeared on stage in the Broadway production or the national companies…Travolta and Treat Williams and Peter Gallagher. James Remar has a wonderful audition story. So there’s a little crossover there.
DC: I’ve had “There are Worse Things I Could Do” stuck in my head all day knowing I was going to be talking to you. I’m sure you did press for Broadway when you did Fiddler on the Roof or Grease. Do you remember when people really started interviewing you on a regular basis?
AB: Well, it wasn’t Grease, it was probably Maude. That was the first television show that reached a wide audience and there were many, many interviews in those days. The press always looked to me as the spokesperson for the woman’s movement which I didn’t mind. I was very happy to be. The Pro-Choice movement and all of that. Those were the first interviews I remember.
DC: Yeah, you’re on a series that was created by Norman Lear. Working on things like Maude in the supercharged era of the seventies, is that where some of your desire to do films like Unearth that actually have a message comes from? Those shows were always tackling big issues.
AB: It is part of my DNA now. It is what attracted me to Unearth. It’s not just your everyday slasher film where six people get killed in the first three minutes of the film and you don’t have any idea who they are and why you should even care if they’re dead. I was attracted to the social statement it’s making about several things. Not just if you come down on the side of fracking or anti-fracking. It presents a very balanced picture of people making choices because they have to in order to survive. Unearth really explains the reasons behind the choices.
DC: Your parents were farmers. Did this feel like a coming home of sorts for you?
AB: There was no question in my mind that I knew this character. I remember being maybe eleven years old and it was the night of the Miss America pageant. My grandparents had a twenty acre grape farm. They raised grapes for raisins, primarily in Selma, California. We got a call that evening…this is still very clear in my mind. Not much from my childhood is! But we got a call that evening from our family in Fresno saying that there was rain coming. The grapes had all been picked but they were all on trays out in the field. If water hit them, that was the end of the crop. So, we had to go out in the pitch blackness and try and fold up the rolling papers for the grapes. And I got lost. I couldn’t even see the house, I got scared. So, I did relate very much to Kathryn Dolan as the Mom of the family that’s losing money because of the heat. Farming is not an easy lifestyle.
DC: You running around in the middle of the night sounds like a horror movie in itself.
AB: (laughs) I guess it could be now!
DC: I was living in San Francisco and we would go to the Point Reyes Lighthouse a lot. Have you been back there since? I definitely don’t miss the steps.
AB: Well, John Carpenter and I bought a house there right after we finished filming. I loved being up there. It was a wonderful house that had been designed by an architect for himself. It wall all environmentally correct. It was all cedar and glass. It had a sod roof. And it burned to the ground. There was a big fire. It was after John and I had separated. I think it was in 1988. It took out about 270 homes. The last time I went up, and I did go to the lighthouse, and I did go to Point Reyes, was when I was doing a Nash Bridges that was filming in San Francisco. So that’s quite a while ago. I drove up to…our house was on a ridge overlooking the ocean on one side and Tomales Bay on the other…and I drove up there. I couldn’t even find the driveway. It had been so destroyed by the fires, nobody had rebuilt. It was tragic. But I’m always sending people there. It’s one of the most beautiful parts of the country and I think it was as important a character in the film of The Fog as we all were. It was just the perfect spot.
DC: It amazes me that there’s no mention of The Fog there. That should be a big priority getting a plaque or something at the lighthouse.
AB: Well, the local people…unlike filming in Stinson Beach which I’ve done and they really don’t want film companies there…the local people back in ’79 or ’78 when we filmed it, they were…I don’t want to say they were appreciative but they were accepting of us. I don’t think they minded having us there. We were all very respectful of the community. Maybe they don’t want people tramping through the lighthouse and everything because they want to see the place where The Fog was filmed, I don’t know.
DC: I think Kathryn Dolan in Unearth is one of your best performances. Do you think it’s one of the best characters you’ve played?
AB: Thank you very much! I’ve had several people and friends say what you just said which is very nice to hear. Maybe I’m too close to it. I think it was an honest portrayal and a truthful portrayal. But you know, sometimes I’m looking at it thinking oh my god look at the lines on my face! I did feel very comfortable doing her and I felt like I was in very good hands with John [Lyons] and Dorota [Swies] and Marc Blucas who basically took over and was wearing several hats: A.D. and actor and producer. I’m happy with it, let’s say that.
DC: There’s such a great history of music in your family that you’re a part of, too. Seeing your son Cody, I’ve seen him on tour with his Dad and working on the Halloween score was so exciting for fans. How has it felt for you to see that collaboration and see Cody really come into his own as a composer?
AB: Before they went on tour, I went to see the family and friends concert that they did here in town. I was driving over thinking, oh god. An hour and a half of electronic music, I don’t know. I wish John was singing. I wish it was the Coupe De Villes. I walked in and sat down and what an incredible show it was. I was so blown away and so proud of Cody. I have another son who’s making his name as a music producer. He already at age 24 has one platinum record, a gold record…I couldn’t tell you all the artists he’s producing for. He’s sort of following in his older brothers footsteps in a different way. So there’s a lot of music around the house.
After a successful festival & theatrical run, Cinedigm released Unearth on Digital on July 6.