Interview: Lara Parker
A vintage Dark Shadows Journal interview from 1997
 

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Having started work on a Dark Shadows novel, how's it been revisiting the show?
I've 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!

Is 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.

Dark Shadows was your first role on television. What was your take on the medium?
I 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.

Was 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.

The cast seemed quite an eclectic bunch compared to the average soap…
There 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.

Did you have any initial instincts for playing Angélique?
I 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!

In retrospect, do you think you were right about that?
In 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."

Was Jonathan much of an influence?
Yes, 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.

Did those situations create friction on the set?
We 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.

What 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.

Was 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.

Do you think those working conditions were a big part of the show's energy?
I 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.

Would you say that it was a conscious concern?
It's 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 incredibly funny!

Indeed. Were the actors ever aware of the show's campness?
We 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.

Who 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.

What 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.

I 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.

What did you think of the finished product?
I saw the film when it came out and it got terrible reviews. I think everyone was just disappointed because Barnabas wasn't in it!

What's your life like nowadays?
Living 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.

I 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.

You're 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!

How 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 scared!

Do 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.

The show's continuity must be quite restrictive…
I'll 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.

Order Angélique's Descent from Amazon.com

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