Adrienne Jo Barbeau is an American actress and author best known for her roles in one-time husband John Carpenter’s horror films such as Someone’s Watching Me!, The Fog, Escape from New York, and The Thing, all John Carpenter-related projects. She has also worked with George A. Romero on Creepshow and Due occhi diabolici. Her work with other horror directors includes the Wes Craven comic book monster movie Swamp Thing. More recently she has become well known as the voice of Catwoman in Batman: The Animated series.
FTN: How did you get into acting?
AB: My mother sort of prodded me to take ballet lessons when I was little and then voice lessons in the fifth grade, and by the time I was in high school, I was doing musicals with the San Jose Civic Light Opera, which was a very commercially successful community theatre organization in the San Francisco Bay area.
FTN: You won universal acclaim as Rizzo in the stage musical version of Grease for which you also won a Theatre World Award. Do you like musicals?
AB: Not really. I’d much rather read a book than see a musical. There are a few I love doing (my first Broadway role was Hodel in Fiddler on the Roof and this past summer I did the show once again, this time playing Golde) and I love the score to Jesus Christ, Superstar and to Chess, but I’m not really a musical comedy fan.
FTN: Maude was a huge success with Bea Arthur who would later go onto the Golden Girls. What are your fondest memories of your time on the show?
AB: It would be easier to answer what my least fond memories were – none. I loved doing Maude for the entire six years we were all together. They truly were my family – Conrad Bain, especially. He played Maude’s next door neighbor, Arthur. Connie just passed away a few weeks ago and I feel his loss deeply, as I do with Bea.
FTN: It must be wonderful when an on screen relationship boils over into real life. What was Bea like to work with? She is a favourite in our house.
AB: Bea was the most giving actress I could ever hope to work with. All she cared about was making the show the best it could be; if that meant giving someone else the joke, she was the first person to suggest it. She was the ultimate professional. Always the first in the rehearsal hall and the last to leave. Knew her lines by the end of our first work day. And a warm, loving, funny, funny surrogate mom who could cook rings around the rest of us.
FTN: You are to this day a sex symbol to millions. Are you comfortable with that?
AB: You know, the funny thing about that label is that I’ve probably only done two or three sex scenes in my career – and the first one was with a slimy green monster. But I don’t mind, not at all. As long as that’s not the only label they pin on me.
I’ve probably only done two or three sex scenes in my career – and the first one was with a slimy green monster
FTN: You wrote your autobiography There Are Worse Things I Could Do which is very insightful. you come across as a very open and honest person. Are those qualities you respect in people?
AB: Oh yes. Communication is of the utmost importance to me. Probably why I don’t like texting. I want to hear the emotions in your voice, especially if I can’t see the expression on your face. And honesty is a given. I’m always stunned with astonishment at discovering someone I know might have lied. I tend not to know them for long after that.
FTN: You were married to John Carpenter for a time and appeared in several of his movies. Which one holds the fondest memories for you?
AB: Oh boy, that’s a hard one. I love The Fog because I love the location where we filmed, and the entire cast and crew were like family. I love Escape because I love my character, Maggie, and I had such a good time with all the guys – Kurt, Donald Pleasance, Ernie Borgnine, Harry Dean, Isaac Hayes. And Someone’s Watching Me is the film on which I met John, so that’s special, too.
FTN: John seems a very hands on director who brings out the best in his casts and knows exactly what he wants. Does it inspire actors when they watch a director like this at work?
AB: I guess it depends on the actor. I loved being directed by John; I’ve never heard one of his actors say otherwise.
FTN: The Fog is one of my personal favourites ever, the remake was awful. Did you like the way Stevie’s storyline was a virtual standalone movie on its own? She was a strong lady who faced the pirates alone.
AB: I love Stevie, yes, definitely. I never really thought about the fact that she was all alone throughout the film, at least not at the time we were shooting. I just loved that she was willing to sacrifice so much to do her job and help save others.
FTN: That sequence on top of the lighthouse was breathtaking. Was it a hard one to do?
AB: It was only hard in that I had to act the entire scene in reverse – to allow for the fact that they couldn’t make the fog evaporate on cue, they could only shoot it into the scene, not suck it out. It’s a lot easier to understand if you read the chapter in my book. I still get exhausted just trying to explain!
FTN: You also did Escape from New York. When you were doing these movies did you realize they were classics?
AB: No. Not at all.
FTN: Kurt Russell seems a very intense actor that has fun along the way. Is he a delight to work with?
AB: Kurt is definitely a delight. A great actor and a good, good guy. We don’t share the same political views, but that never stopped us from enjoying each other.
FTN: You have also done voice work for Batman and other animated shows. Is that a harder genre as the performance lies in the vocalization rather than visuals?
AB: I don’t think it’s half as hard; it’s just pure fun. And I don’t have to put on make-up or stand out in the freezing cold at 3 a.m. in some flimsy costume or worry about what my hair looks like! Who could ask for a better gig?
Kurt is definitely a delight. A great actor and a good, good guy. We don’t share the same political views, but that never stopped us from enjoying each other
FTN: Did that lead to the computer game characters? Are you a games fan?
AB: No, I’m not a gamer, but I love the way my stock went up with my older son, Cody Carpenter, who’s been playing games for 25 years, and my almost 16 year olds, who love them, too. Of course, they play FIFA most of the time, but they’re still impressed that mom is ‘in’ Halo 4 and God of War and some of the others.
FTN: In Star Trek you played a Romulan.Do prosthetics bother you?
AB: Only when the make-up artist screws up and they have to be re-applied a bunch of times. That didn’t happen on Star Trek, though. They had their procedure down to a science.
FTN: You filmed a scene for the Halloween remake which ended up cut from the movie. Is that frustrating as an actor to discover you ended up on the cutting room floor?
AB: That was the first time that had happened to me and it was just more of a surprise than anything else. I guess it hadn’t crossed my mind that it could happen. But in that case, the fun was in doing the scene with Malcolm and working with Rob Zombie, so it really didn’t bother me to lose it from the finished project.
FTN: Carnivale was a great show. What attracted you to the role of Ruthie?
AB: I loved Ruthie. Loved the whole show and everyone attached. Even the caterers were great. But just imagine, at a time when most roles for women my age are nurses or judges or lawyers, being able to play a sensual, spiritual, psychic, snake dancer who has a love affair with a boy half her age, and sees dead people to boot!
FTN: You also starred on stage as Judy Garland. What research does an actor have to do when playing a real life celebrity? Are you a fan of Judy’s work?
AB: I really wasn’t familiar with her work before I started my research. What I became a fan of, more than her singing or acting even, was her wit and her ability to tell a story. She was a true raconteur – or raconteuse, if that’s the feminine form of the word.
FTN: And you also starred in Argo which is a great movie. It must be very satisfying to stand back and see all your hard work click into place in a movie that everyone loves?
AB: I’m very proud to be a part of Argo. I absolutely love it.
FTN: What are you working on at the moment?
AB: Well, that’s the downside of having done Argo. The last three projects I’ve been offered pale so in comparison that I turned them down. Next week I start on a new video game, but that has to remain nameless until it’s released. And my third book (second vampire novel) Love Bites just went on sale as a digital ebook on Amazon.
I’m very proud to be a part of Argo. I absolutely love it.
FTN: Where can our readers find out more about you and your upcoming projects?
AB: My website is www.abarbeau.com and my twitter account is also @abarbeau. There are several Facebook pages that purport to be me, but the one I oversee is Adrienne Barbeau and you can tell it’s the real one because I mention my boys’ soccer team in my profile. I’m pretty good about keeping in touch. And if any of your readers are in London this summer, I’m planning on appearing there to sign photos and say hello. Check my website for the specifics.
FTN: Adrienne, many thanks and we’ll hopefully be in London ourselves, so we’ll keep an eye out for you.