started work on a Dark Shadows novel, how's it been revisiting
been watching tapes that are necessary to create a background
for the book, Angélique's Descent. I see it from
time to time on the Sci-Fi Channel - sometimes my friends will
telephone me screaming, "You're on! You're on!" I'll
watch it then, with the same feeling of overwhelming boredom
I used to get when I watched them originally in the sixties.
I find it very slow and tedious!
it difficult looking objectively at the show?
Looking back, I always think my acting is terrible. My voice,
in particular, is much too high. So I'm very critical - but
I always think I look great! [Laughs] I must say, though,
that I've come to appreciate the allure and magic of Dark
Shadows in recent years. At times, it really became mesmerising
- it was just one of those lucky things where a certain number
of elements came together in a unique way, something that
has never been done, before or since. It was just marvellous.
Shadows was your first role
on television. What was your take on the medium?
think it is very difficult for people who love something to
realise that the people involved in its production are just
doing a job. They think they are watching this amazingly graceful
activity, but that isn't the case. There are make-up and hair
people who create the glamour, but the actress is just doing
a job. The only thing I cared about as an actress was getting
a job - it's very difficult to explain to someone who's not
been an actor, but for me it was my first job.
that much of a culture shock for you?
I'd only been in New York for three weeks and read for [creator]
Dan Curtis. It was so wonderful to get the job on Dark
Shadows. That wasn't just because it was an acting job;
there was money - $350.00 a day, which seemed like an absolute
fortune. For me, it was just great to get dressed up in all
of that paraphernalia, running down the tiny stairs at the
back of the studio onto the set - our wonderful set, all dark
and cobwebby - for this crazy, wonderful role. And of course
there were these wonderful theatrical characters, too, because
nearly all the other people on the show were stage actors,
as I was before coming to New York.
cast seemed quite an eclectic bunch compared to the average
was a kind of upper-crust cast in a way, as they'd done a
lot of Shakespeare and period plays, as I had. A lot of us
realised in each other a seriousness in towards acting and
to a career in theatre and films. Everyone was hoping that
would come to them, and that Dark Shadows was simply
a day job. So everyone sat and moaned: "Oh I wish I could
get a part in this film
" So we went on hoping that
something wonderful would come of Dark Shadows, that
it would be the first step on the ladder for us.
you have any initial instincts for playing Angélique?
think I really wanted to be the heroine! There I was, all
sweetness and light with golden curls, so I thought it natural.
In my early scenes, I was trying to accept the fact that Barnabas
had rejected me. I remember trying to work in perfect tears
and earn the audiences' sympathy. So I was very much playing
the wronged woman, her heart broken. They kept saying, "You're
the witch, you're the heavy - don't deviate from that, even
though you're cruel and vicious!" And I would say "Okay",
but never really listened!
retrospect, do you think you were right about that?
the long run, it worked for me because it gave Angélique
dimension. Instead of being a one-dimensional villain, she
had motivation. And so for some people - not a lot initially,
but more so over the years - people began to develop sympathy
for her. It worked, just as the sympathy angle had for Barnabas.
That said, I did learn to play the 'heavy'. Jonathan Frid
took me aside and said, "You really have a much better
part than all of these silly little heroines. You will grow
to realise it." I replied, "I've never really been
jealous and I've never really hated anyone, so I don't really
know how to be mean." Jonathan said, "It's there!
Reach down inside you, because we all have it somewhere."
Jonathan much of an influence?
Jonathan was very supportive of the whole cast, but was very
needy of your support because his strength was not in learning
lines. He had a difficult time with dialogue, so his speeches
tended more towards the emotional truth, which he excelled
at. But sometimes he'd take it too far and just forgot the
words! He'd adlib and we would have to interpret what he'd
said, simply to make sense of what was going on.
those situations create friction on the set?
always thought it was great fun, because when we were doing
it, it became absolutely hysterical. It was always a relief
when we finished a scene. But Jonathan really was a wonderful
actor. I would watch him when we were in scenes together and
he would simply forget where he was. I would see the terror
going through his eyes and think, "Oh dear, what are
we going to do?" because we could never stop to retake
anything. But they nearly always cut away to another camera
at the right point. You've seen the show - that sheer turmoil
he was experiencing in not knowing his lines would work, given
the particular moment he was playing. It seemed to translate
as a sort of inner turmoil - whether Angélique was
threatening Josette or whatever - it seemed to work for him
and work look marvellous.
was your approach towards acting on the show?
I think all actors tend to base their work very heavily on
either the emotional truth or the narrative. The rule seems
to be that one will be easy for you, with the other more difficult.
I relied heavily on the emotional truth, as that's where my
best performances seemed to be. Of course actors using the
emotional approach often lose their logic, along with the
dramatic line. However, I tried to be much more logical and
would analyse every scene, looking to see that the speed and
final clause matched the situation we were playing. You often
hear actors asking about the dramatic objective - I find when
you analyse that, you can see all the ways you can achieve
that objective and plan your approach. Other actors would
just go with the emotional and simply wing it, but would sometimes
say things they didn't except to come out! So yes, there are
two very distinct approaches, and I feel the best work comes
when an actor can combine both and create that kind of emotional
challenge, which was always my challenge.
that a challenge you think you conquered?
Especially in my early years, I was not relaxed enough and
it took me a long time to become free. Bearing that in mind,
Dark Shadows was very unforgiving, as you'd only had
three rehearsals. You were trying to desperately hit your
marks and look at the right camera, because if they were ignored,
the show would suffer. So we had all that to consider, as
well as trying to find the emotional truth. It made Dark
Shadows very hard to do, because when working from emotional
truth, you have to let everything else go and enter the moment,
making it totally real for you.
you think those working conditions were a big part of the
do think that may be one of the unique elements about the
show. I think it provided a special kind of tension that that
worked for the plot or situations. Poets strive to create
tension between images that have not necessarily been placed
together before. Painters reach for tension - a kind of energy
between the unresolved forces in their work. And it's this
feeling of discomfort or anxiety that is so dramatic.
you say that it was a conscious concern?
kind of a mysterious thing. You can't simply say, "Well,
I'm going to create tension here", but some directors
work all their lives to find a way of achieving it. Hitchcock
had a way of creating an atmosphere where you felt unsettled.
I'm not comparing Dark Shadows to Hitchcock necessarily,
but unintentionally because we had so many things to remember,
and so much going on during taping, it worked for us to create
that kind of mystery and anxiety for impending doom! Of course,
in reality it was the fear that it would all fall apart, that
we would forget our lines! But it worked for the premise -
that there really were werewolves and vampires out there amongst
the storms and lightning. All of those things combined and
often worked, but would often spill over into camp, becoming
Were the actors ever aware of the show's campness?
never played it for laughs, and took it ultra-seriously. All
of us, the actors and directors, were asked to make it bigger,
broader, with great emphasis on emotional depth and expression
- "Say it stronger! Scream louder!" And we would
try very hard to make it real. Of course when you see the
show today, especially in a world far more cynical and less
romantic, it's all very funny. It's kitsch, because of this
lugubrious, horrific, gothic quality - but that's actually
very popular today.
were you closest to out of the cast?
I became very good friends with Humbert Allen Astredo (Nicholas
Blair). He took me under his wing and pretty much became my
acting teacher. He knew an awful lot about acting technique
and we had a lot of scenes together. I was also very close
to Jonathan Frid. He worked very, very hard. It was a hard
day's work for all of us. We all worked from the moment we
arrived at the studio. We all learned to cut corners and help
each other out. We would run lines during make-up and run
into each other's dressing rooms to rehearse scenes. I became
very good friends with Kate Jackson (Daphne) too. The whole
time she was on the show we would see each other socially
and had a lot of laughs together - our personalities really
matched. We enjoyed each other as people and made a lot of
fun at each other. I was also close to Grayson Hall (Julia)
and Johnny Karlen (Willie), though my Dark Shadows
relationships now become somewhat blurred because now I see
everyone so much at the Festivals. Kathryn Leigh Scott (Maggie)
and I see each other a lot, both living in Los Angeles, and
though we weren't good friends on the show, we are now. Roger
Davis (Jeff) and I were not on the show together that much,
but we became friends and we kept in touch over the years.
do you remember of working on the movie Night of Dark Shadows?
We filmed at the mansion in Tarrytown and my memories are
mainly of putting on the ghost make-up, which was a kind of
pearl white that had to be applied in stages to my face, then
powdered and rested. I wasn't even supposed to move my face,
because it would crack. [Laughs] So I would sit motionless
all day waiting to do a shot, which is what movie making is
all about. In film, you're lucky to do anything from three
pages of script to half a page in a single day. Nowadays they're
more stringent and push for two or three pages, but certainly
never 30 like we did on Dark Shadows.
was meant to have a bigger part than I did, but as it turned
out, the part of the ghost was a very small one, even though
it was quite flashy. So I was there every day, but often didn't
work. But Kate Jackson was by then one of my closest friends,
so we had a lot of fun running around.
did you think of the finished product?
saw the film when it came out and it got terrible reviews.
I think everyone was just disappointed because Barnabas wasn't
your life like nowadays?
in California, I'm basically a screenwriter. I've written
five screenplays but I haven't sold one yet. I've gotten a
lot of interest in two of them from various producers, along
with a cable company, but as yet, nothing's happened. I have
been working for about 10 years on developing the craft and
studying how it's done. It's been a marvellous journey. I
thought at first it would be a very quick step into screenwriting,
having been an actress, but that didn't actually happen. I
discovered, as people often do, that it's a whole new thing
and that I would have to start from the very beginning. Creatively,
it's really a wonderful form to work in.
have a family, with an 11-year-old daughter, Caitlin, and
I do quite a bit of travelling, along with backpacking and
hiking. Living in California, I have the opportunity to go
to a lot of beautiful places in the mountains and by boat
you can go over to the Channel Islands. I lead a rather normal
life as just a wife and mom.
currently writing Angélique's Descent, a new
Dark Shadows novel...
I seem to have been chosen to write the first new novel. I
hope I'll be able to discipline myself enough to do it. I'm
very excited about it, as are my publishers, HarperCollins.
My book will be about Angélique's childhood and how
she became a witch. Jim Pierson is the organiser of the
Dark Shadows Festivals and has become a very good friend
of mine. He's been working on the novels for some time. At
first I thought it was not very likely that it would become
a reality, but he made it happen. First of all, Dan Curtis
had to be talked into selling the rights to the Dark Shadows
characters, along with all the storylines and names, to HarperCollins.
Then they had to put out a contract to an independent publishing
company - sounds kind like the Mafia, doesn't it? It took
a long time for Dan Curtis to okay the project. Everything
takes years in this business and it's amazing that anything
happens before you die!
does writing prose compare to writing scripts?
It's a big jump for me, because screenwriting is a very economic
medium. You use as few words as possible. A screenplay is
like plans for a house, so it's difficult to go from writing
as few words as possible to saying as much as you possibly
can. I'm intimidated by it, because I'm not presumptuous enough
to think that I'll be able to do it easily. But a Dark
Shadows novel is not necessarily a work of great literature
- at HarperCollins it's called TV tie-in, simply a product
to sell to people who like the show - so I don't feel too
you feel a need to be authentic to the original episodes?
I have a lot of trouble remembering the series, so Jim Pierson
will be reading it and making sure it's true to Dark Shadows
and that there are no glaring differences. My story, however,
is entirely original and has no basis in fact. It's vaguely
based on a ceremony that takes place in Nepal and Kathmandu,
where they select a living goddess. I think it's a fascinating
idea, of taking this child and making her a goddess. It's
taken from research I'm doing, which is based in Haitian ritual.
show's continuity must be quite restrictive
see what I can get away with, because I don't know yet what
I'll be allowed to do. The editors have already said: "You
can't say any of these things! They don't match up!"
I'll probably get in trouble, because I don't get many ideas
from watching the series. The show's writers actually ran
out of ideas, so it is a challenge to come up with something
new. I often think that if there were anything left, they
would have thought of it! Over those five years, they really
did line every character and relationship to the point where
it was almost impossible to do something new. And if this
book does well and I write another, the publishers
would like me to carry my idea through into the future.
Angélique's Descent from Amazon.com