No matter how many interviews I might do in my lifetime, I never tire of having the chance to get inside of the minds of celebrities I’ve admired for most of my life. Actress Adrienne Barbeau is no exception; from watching her at an early age in reruns of Maude, to late night viewings of horror/action classics such as The Fog, Escape From New York, Swamp Thing, or Creepshow, she has always been a standout figure in my world. So it was with great honor I was able to ask her a few brief questions recently for Rewind It Magazine.
I wanted to start at the beginning, and asked if she’d enlighten me just how she began acting, and landed her first role on the previously mentioned ’70s show Maude alongside Bea Arthur (and if she was ever approached to eventually guest star on her later series The Golden Girls). She informed me; “I started acting on stage in a community theater in my hometown and eventually moved to NYC to (hopefully) work on Broadway. My first Broadway show was Fiddler on the Roof; then I went on to play Rizzo in the original Broadway production of Grease. That led to my being cast in Maude. I was incredibly fortunate to do such an important, ground-breaking sitcom; I loved every minute of it. Especially loved playing Bea’s daughter. She was the absolute best in every way. But, no, I was never approached about appearing on The Golden Girls. Not sure how they would have worked that out.”
As far as how she eventually came to be known as a ‘scream queen,’ starting with the inclusion in then-husband John Carpenter’s 1980 film The Fog, Adrienne explained; “I never set out to act in horror films specifically. I wasn’t even aware of the genre, really. But I was offered the role of Stevie Wayne in The Fog and in those days, if you were known for your work on television, you couldn’t get hired to do movies. So when The Fog came along, I jumped at the chance. None of us knew, back in 1979, that the film would still be as much loved today as it was then.” And as far as the 2005 remake goes? “I haven’t seen the remake. Probably never will.”
Having worked with the legendary late Donald Pleasance on the 1981 classic John Carpenter film Escape From New York, I had to know what it was like to be on that set. She told me; “One of the best parts about filming Escape…was getting to know Donald Pleasance. He was so witty, so funny, there were times I couldn’t start a scene because he had me laughing so hard. All the men on that set were great to work with, every single one of them.”
One role Barbeau will perhaps always be remembered for is the obnoxious booze-pounding Billie in 1982’s Creepshow. I was curious not only what it was like working with the late Hal Holbrook, but also having special effects maestro Tom Savini “off” her on screen (and what it was like revisiting the series on a semi-recent episode). She stated; “I’m afraid I’m going to disappoint you with my answers about Creepshow. I loved working with Hal, and with Fritz, but I honestly don’t remember anything about Snuffy (Tom Savani) and the special effects. I was pleased to be asked to appear in the recent series and so enjoyed working with Greg Nicotero. Obviously my role in (the episode) “Grey Matter” wasn’t as memorable as Billie, but it was fun to work with Tobin Bell again (our third time working together – we played incestuous siblings in an episode of Criminal Minds!) and getting to know Giancarlo Esposito. Aside from our episode, I haven’t watched the series – I’m not a big horror fan – but glad to know it was picked up and is so successful.”
Barbeau has also done her share of voice acting work, starting with 1982’s The Thing, and continuing into bit parts in such films and animated shows as Demolition Man, Judge Dredd, and Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island. When asked what drew her to this field, she noted; “I was drawn to voice acting when my son Cody (Carpenter) was born. It was something I could do and still be a full-time mom; I wasn’t about to leave him for 14 hours a day to do a TV series. John asked me to voice the computer in The Thing, and, if I remember correctly, the other three films you mention were simply offers that came through my voice-over agent. I did have to audition for Catwoman, though, in Batman: The Animated Series. I remember because it was just a thirty-second recording I did in my agent’s office, and they called me about a month later to say I’d been cast.”
Also an accomplished author, Barbeau explained where some of the inspiration has come for her writing; “Ali McGraw has an autobiography titled Moving Pictures. I was taken with the style in which she wrote; not a soup to nuts detailing of every minute of her life. That’s the only book that influenced me when time came to put my stories down on paper. I cared more about how I said what I had to say than the content of what I was saying. Since the memoir, I’ve written three vampyre novels about a scream queen who is the head of a vampyre clan of A-list Hollywood actors. Sort of a comedy – romance – thriller. And I’ve just finished co-authoring a collection of stories and memories from over a hundred actors who appeared on Broadway and in the national touring companies of the original production of Grease. Grease…Tell Me More, Tell Me More! will be published by the Chicago Review Press next year to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the show. It’s funny and moving and fascinating.”
And as for what’s coming up for Barbeau?…”Well, I have several horror films in post-production, and Unearth, a film whose release got waylaid by the pandemic, is now streaming on the major platforms. The next thing you’ll be able to see me in is Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop, scheduled to air in November.”