Black Magic Woman: A Conversation with Lara Parker

In 1967 a new type of evil came to the popular daytime soap opera Dark Shadows.  When the series was saved from cancellation by the addition of Jonathan Frid as vampire Barnabas Collins to the cast a year earlier, creator Dan Curtis sought to widen the mythos of the show by revealing the origins of his vampire anti-hero.  In a suspenseful flashback sequence that would last for months, viewers were brought back to 1795 where the same cast played different characters, and the heartbreaking and suspenseful back story of Barnabas Collins was brought to life.  In an attempt to soften the once brutish Barnabas so that he would go from the show’s villain to hero, Curtis and his team of writers spun a multi-layered story filled with lust, betrayal, death and horror that kept viewers at the edge of their seats and helped to turn Dark Shadows from an ailing daytime soap into a full blown cult phenomenon.  But with Barnabas as the program’s new unlikely hero, a new villain would have to be created.  Dark Shadows hit the mark for a second time with the introduction of Lara Parker, in the role of Angelique Bouchard.  As handmaiden to Barnabas’ bride Josette DePuis, Angelique was madly in love with the groom to be, and would do anything to make sure that her mistress would never have him.  Beyond her sweet smile and golden curls was the cold heart of a witch who would eventually put a curse on the man who scorned her, bringing death to the people that Barnabas loved, and forcing him to face eternity as a vampire.

The first major new character introduced to Dark Shadows after Jonathan Frid, Lara Parker’s addition to the series not only reinforced the supernatural element of the show, but also added a third party to a love triangle that would capture the imaginations of the growing audience.  Angelique was the scheming witch that you hated to love, but each and every viewer who had ever faced unrequited love understood the motivations behind her jealousy and lust for revenge.  For Angelique and Barnabas it was a case of fatal attraction, and a love/hate battle that would continue for centuries.  For viewers it was a gripping drama that they couldn’t tear themselves away from, and while viewers were supposed to root for the good girls, like Josette or Victoria Winters, Angelique proved that sometimes the bad girls could be a lot sexier, and a lot more fun.  Eventually Lara Parker would become a fan favorite and as iconic to Dark Shadows as Jonathan Frid himself.

Originally from Tennessee, Lara Parker studied acting in college and had a career in theater before coming to New York where she “lucked” into the role of Angelique in what would be her first professional acting job, and stayed on the program until its end in 1971.  From there she relocated to Hollywood where she had an active career in television and film, including a memorable role as a prostitute in the Academy Award winning film, Save the Tiger with Jack Lemmon, and the cult horror film Race with the Devil with Peter Fonda, Warren Oats and Loretta Swit.  But despite her success as a working actress in Hollywood, she would always be held close to the hearts of Dark Shadows fans as their favorite witch.

As one of Dark Shadow’s most prolific actresses, Lara Parker has maintained contact with fans through her continuous participation at Dark Shadows conventions throughout the years, and has written a pair of Dark Shadows novels: Angelique’s Descent, which tells the tale of Angelique Bouchard’s origins for the first time, and a sequel, The Salem Branch.  With Johnny Depp’s new version of Dark Shadows about to be released in theaters, Lara Parker’s books have gone back into print after nearly a decade, and she is completing her Dark Shadows trilogy with a third book, Wolf’s Moon, which is to be released later this year.  Furthermore, Lara Parker, along with Dark Shadows alumni David Selby, Katherine Leigh Scott and Jonathan Frid, came face to face with Johnny Depp’s version of Barnabas Collins when they made cameos in the new film.  As a new generation gets ready to fall under the spell of Dark Shadows for the first time, Lara Parker is standing at the sidelines reaping the rewards of staying true to the franchise for over forty years.

It was an honour and a thrill for me to be able to talk with Lara Parker about her career and her time on Dark Shadows. A passionate fan of Dark Shadows, it is a rare occurrence for me to be able to hold an in depth conversation about the program, so talking about the show is always a true joy.  A charming woman with a sweet voice and a good sense of humor, Lara Parker shared with me her stories about Dark Shadows and beyond, and took me to the set of Johnny Depp and Tim Burton’s new production, where she discussed the long time fan reaction to the comedic trailer, and told me about the day when Jonathan Frid came face to face with Johnny Depp.

CONFESSIONS OF A POP CULTURE ADDICT PRESENTS

BLACK MAGIC WOMAN:

A CONVERSATION WITH LARA PARKER

"I took piano lessons, ballet lessons and singing lessons but I wasn’t very good at anything. So I decided that nobody really had to do anything to be an actress."

Sam Tweedle:  When did you first start acting?

Lara Parker:  I think I had an artistic temperament.  I took piano lessons, ballet lessons and singing lessons but I wasn’t very good at anything.  So I decided that nobody really had to do anything to be an actress.  (Laughs) I was maybe nine years old when I made that decision.  I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee and they had a little theater and Saturday afternoon radio dramas that children could be in.  Anytime that there was anything to audition for, I’d audition, and sometimes I’d be cast.  I did quite a bit of work for the Memphis Little Theater.  Then I went to Vassar College and I did a few plays there and decided I wanted to major in drama.  I went to the University of Iowa and I was working on a Masters there, and I was lucky because I was cast in the very first play, and then the second, and then the third.  So I had a lot of support and reinforcement for my ambition.  I went back to Memphis and worked at what was called the Front Street Theater.  That was the local community professional theater.  Then I did some summer stock in Connecticut and one of the directors said, “You should go to New York.”  I was given the name of an agent in New York and had actually ended up sitting next to him at a play.  He said, “I want you to come back to New York and see if we can find you some work.”  Well this agent had just got his job, and he was looking for clients.  He was very interested in representing me.  At that point I had two children and I was married and we were living in Wisconsin.  My husband was an art professor and he moved around to where he could get jobs at colleges.  Well he got a job in North Fork, Virginia, and a couple of weeks after we moved I said, “Listen.  I’m going to go to New York for a week and see if anything happens,” which is ridiculous to think that anything could happen in a week.  Well, he said okay and I went to New York and I had been there for five days when I got cast for Dark Shadows.

Sam:  So Dark Shadows was your first major job!

"At the very end of the scene, after all my sobbing and cajoling and begging, I turned and looked at the camera and I guess they zoomed into my eyes and I held my gaze, and well, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned."

Lara:  It was my first professional job.  I was also cast the same week in a play out of town, but I couldn’t do both of them.  It was interesting because for five days I sat in my tiny hotel room, staring out the windows at the rain thinking nothing was going to happen.  But then I got the call to go to the audition and I got the part.

Sam:  So when you went for the part of Angelique Bouchard, were you aware of the magnitude of the fan following that it had?

Lara:  Well it didn’t have it yet.  Jonathan Frid had been on the show for a few months, and [Dark Shadows’ popularity] had picked up.  They made the decision to go back in time to tell the story of how he became a vampire, and of course they had to cast the witch.  As we went back to 1795, and told that story with everyone in wonderful costumes and all new sets, was the point at which it began to get a whole lot of fans.  There was that wonderful triangle between Barnabas and Angelique and Josette.  Dramatically it was gold.  It worked well and everyone loved it.

Sam:  What was the audition process like?  Were there many other actresses up for the part?

"My golden ringlets became a big deal too, which were not mine. They were kept in the studio."

Lara:  There was actually only one other actress at the call back.  I don’t know how many went into the original meeting.  But the only thing the casting woman asked me was, “Have you done any period drama, because this takes place in 1795.”  I said, “Yeah, I’ve done a lot in summer stock.”  She said, “Well, you need to have a little edge.  A little kind of British thing going.  It makes it seem a little less modern.”  I said, “No problem” and I think that’s what got me the audition.  For the call back I went up on the set and I was to read the scene with Jonathan which was the first scene where Angelique goes to his room and says, “We love each other.  You can’t abandon me.  We had this wonderful love affair. I love you deeply” and he says, “No.  It’s over.  I’m going to marry Josette,” who was Angelique’s mistress.  She is just heartbroken and clinging to him and begging him to love her and that was the scene.  Well we read for it, and Jonathan actually leaned in and he said, “I hope you get it.  You know, she’s a witch.”  Of course I had no idea that she was a witch.  I said, “Oh really?”  He said, “Yeah.  She’s a witch.”  So at the very end of the scene, after all my sobbing and cajoling and begging, I turned and looked at the camera and I guess they zoomed into my eyes and I held my gaze, and well, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

Sam:  Well, I think what made Angelique so wonderful is that you could have such a sweet smile, but these cold eyes that were just so sinister.

Lara:  (Laughs) Well it is very easy to do, but it was kind of an inspired moment because it was a contradiction to what I had been playing in the scene, and it was kind of what I’d call a zinger.  I think that’s what got me the part.  I walked off the set and this funny little lady came up and started pulling on my hair and started saying, “What are we going to do with your hair?  What color is your hair?”  Of course it was then I realized that I got the part.  Nobody had told me that I had got it, but she was the hair dresser and she was trying to figure out how she was going to do my hair.  My golden ringlets became a big deal too, which were not mine.  They were kept in the studio.

The witch and the vampire - Lara Parker and Jonathan Frid as "Dark Shadows'" iconic "couple" Barnabas and Angelique: "He was very generous, and far more experienced than I was. He was also a stage actor so I think we understood each other from the beginning in terms of dynamics of performance. "

Sam:  You and Mr. Frid had wonderful love/hate chemistry on the screen.  What was your working relationship with Mr. Frid like?

Lara:  He was very generous, and far more experienced than I was.  He was also a stage actor so I think we understood each other from the beginning in terms of dynamics of performance.  The energy of stage acting is bigger and there was a tendency to play soap operas sitting around the kitchen table right after you have a nap.  They are very slow, or at least they were back then.  Our show was much more like theater.  It was dynamic and passionate and dramatic and heartbreaking.  There was high, high emotion.  We were expected to reach for a higher emotional level, and Jonathan was used to doing that.  He had done a lot of Shakespeare.  Well in the beginning [my character] did a lot of crying, and eventually Jonathan took me aside and he said, “You know, you’re not the heroine.” I said, “I’m not?” (Laughs) He said, “No.  You’re the heavy.  You’re the villain.  Don’t you realize that that’s a great part?  It’s much meatier than some sissy little ingénue with a broken heart.  You really should dig deeper.”  I said, “Well I don’t know.  I don’t tend to get jealous.  If a guy doesn’t want me I seem to figure ‘good riddance.’”  He said, “No, no no!  You have to dig deeper.  It’s there.  All the anger and cruelty and resentment that you are expected to play in this part.”  I don’t know if at that point I began to play Angelique differently, but I know slowly over time I felt more comfortable with her spells.  Also, many people have said that Jonathan Frid has a great deal of trouble remembering lines.  There are really two ways to learn dialogue.  One is to memorize the words, which means at any moment you can forget them.  The other is to piece together the actions that motivate the words, which follow one another logically.  If you do that you never forget your lines.  You may not say the words exactly right, but you won’t ever go up.  Well Jonathan went up a lot, and we had teleprompters and he would look over my shoulder at them, and I had always known that he had forgotten his line.  Often I would have to give him his line, or pick it up.  [Dark Shadows] was taped live, so we couldn’t go back and do it again, which is why there are so many bloopers and blunders.

Sam:  Well there is this famous story about how you once almost burnt down the set during filming.

Lara Parker's famous "house of cards incident": "Well I lit the candle and started the incantation and said it to the house of cards, and the whole thing went “Poof!”"

Lara:  Well, not the set.  It was the famous house of cards scene.  First of all I had to build a house out of very big playing cards, which was a trick in itself to do without it falling down.  Then we went to commercial and the prop man covered the cards with lighter fluid.  Since we were live on tape the commercials were cut right into the tape.  We sat there and had to wait until the commercial was finished.  Well there was another commercial and then the prop man began to worry about the house of cards not burning and he came over and squirted it again.  He squirted it three times with lighter fluid.  The scene was an incantation where I call upon the powers of darkness and what I was doing was setting fire to Vicki’s room so I could scare her out [of Collingwood Manor] so Reverend Trask would be able to grab her and say that she was a witch.  So I started this incantation and at the very end was the words “Burn burn burn.”  By then the house of cards should have been little flames in front of my eyes.  Well I lit the candle and started the incantation and said it to the house of cards, and the whole thing went “Poof!”  It singed my eyelashes and my eyebrows and, of course, turned immediately to ashes.  I still had this long incantation to say and at the say I said “Burnt burnt burnt.”  There was nothing left to burn!  I had to finger the ashes!  It was just ridiculous, and that happened to us a lot.  There was no turning back.

Sam:  They killed off Angelique during the 1795 sequence originally.  Did you know that you’d be brought back when the series returned to the present at that time?

Lara Parker came back as a brunette when she returned to Dark Shadows after the 1795 storyline: "Fans seemed to watch it more when Angelique and Barnabas were fighting it out. That seemed to be the most popular part of the show, so (Dan Curtis) brought me back many, many times."

Lara:  No.  Dan Curtis called me and said, “You’ve been great kiddo, but we’re going to kill your character.  Thanks a lot for everything.”  Of course I was very sad, but about two months later they called me and said that they wanted me back.  We were kind of the first team, and the fans seemed to watch it more when Angelique and Barnabas were fighting it out.  That seemed to be the most popular part of the show, so [Dan Curtis] brought me back many, many times.  I was on the set on the very last day.  It was a great experience for me, and I was very fortunate to get such a great role.  I went to New York to become a famous actress, and after that I figured my next option was to go to Los Angeles, so I came out to California to become a famous actress.  I didn’t realize until ten years later that, although I got a lot of jobs, that [Angelique] was really my best part.  I realized it more when I looked back.

Sam:  There is a real otherworldly, almost hypnotic, feel to watching Dark Shadows.  How did the cast and crew create that incredible dynamic?

"It was like opening night with no rehearsal every single day. I think that created, what I call, a tone. A tone of tension. We were all very tense. It was very hard to do, and the tension fed the scene in a very strange way."

Lara:  It was a situation where we were very under rehearsed, we’re trying to hit our mark and get in our light.  They just cut your lines, you’re trying to remember your cues, trying to play the emotions fully, trying to change costumes, trying to get over to the other set.  All of this [was what we did] and it was like opening night with no rehearsal every single day.  I think that created, what I call, a tone.  A tone of tension.  We were all very tense.  It was very hard to do, and the tension fed the scene in a very strange way.  I used to think, when I watched Jonathan Frid go up, that he had egg on his face.  I had never seen such a terrible performance.  There would be panic in his eyes, his face would screw up, he’d be gasping, he couldn’t even catch his breath, he’d be stuttering.  But we’d watch the episode the next week and we’d get to the scene where Jonathan missed his line, and he’d be mesmerizing.  Why?  Because he was tortured.  That was his part.  That was his character.  He was tortured.  He was miserably unhappy because he was a vampire and he couldn’t have the woman he loved.  He was frustrated.  He was agitated.  He was searching for a way out.  So the way the actor felt fed the scene perfectly.  We had to do these very difficult scenes a lot of the time.  We’d have to run over to the chormakey set, and make sure you’re the right size so you can appear and disappear into a room, and then run back so you can be in the room and then fire starts at your feet, and then you knock over the set, or a door swings open, or a painting falls off the wall.  These things were just constantly happening, and we were rising to the occasion and playing it like theater.  And we were playing these absurd situations.  Corpses that would return to their grave, and telling ghosts to leave, and vampires calling girls to give them comfort and we were expected to play these situations with complete and total conviction.  We never played it arch.

Sam:  Let’s talk about Night of Dark Shadows.  That was a strange film.  None of the actors were playing the characters from the show.

Lara Parker starred opposite David Selby in the second "Dark Shadows" cinematic release, "Night of Dark Shadows," which is set to be released on DVD with 45 minutes of additional material:

Lara:  Yeah.  I’m not really playing Angelique.  I’m not playing a witch.  I’m playing a ghost and not my real character.

Sam:  How did the changes affect the fan reaction?

Lara:  It didn’t do as well as [House of Dark Shadows] but I think the reason for that was because Dan was forced to cut it.  He had to cut forty minutes out of it because MGM said that it was far too long.  So it really didn’t end up gathering the kind of suspense that it needed.  I think that it was a much more understated film.  I was in a lot of scenes that didn’t make it into the film which were haunting.  It was pretty scary.  Ghosts can be pretty scary.  They kind of stuck to the relationship between Kate Jackson and David Selby and the kind of gathering fear that the movie had when they shot it.  You know, they are going to re-release it with all the cut scenes.  They just have to find someone to do Grayson Hall’s voice.  We’ve all gone in and redubbed the soundtrack [to the cut scenes].  Because of the [new movie], it will be released this year.

Sam:  After Dark Shadows you did a lot of memorable television work through the 70’s, such as your appearances in The Incredible Hulk and Kolchak, but probably the most highly acclaimed film you made was, Save the Tiger with Jack Lemmon.  What was Jack Lemmon like?  He does such an intense performance in the film.

Lara Parker appeared in the Academy Award winning film "Save the Tiger" with Jack Lemmon, despite a difficult audition: "I had this feeling that something weird was going to happen. I don’t know why. There was another girl there, and a photographer and I just got the feeling that I was in a bad situation."

Lara:  He was wonderful.  On a movie set, the director says, “Let’s go” and the AD says, “Quiet on the set” and then the guy who was running the sound would say, “Speed” and then when the director feels the moment is right he calls, “Action” and then you start to play the scene.  Well right after the sound man would say, “Speed,” Jack Lemmon would say, “Magic time.”  He’d say that underneath his breath.  Thinking back to him saying that, it gives you goose bumps and makes you think, “What a wonderful thing to be doing, making a movie.”  (Laughs)  You just can’t believe you’re on a set making a movie.  Jack Lemmon made it such a thrilling thing.  He was wonderful to me.  I had a little problem doing the scene in my underwear and the director wanted me to do a couple of thing with the other actress in the scene, and I felt very uncomfortable.  Well the next day Jack Lemmon took me aside and said, “I just want you to know that none of that will be in the picture.”  I said, “Really?”  He said, “Yeah.  You shouldn’t have been treated that way and that was really not necessary.”  He was a good person.  He stood up for me.  It’s unbelievable how I even got that part. My audition was in someone’s apartment and the director was John Avildsen, and he wanted me in my underwear during the audition and he gave me some grass.  Well I had this feeling that something weird was going to happen.  I don’t know why.  There was another girl there, and a photographer and I just got the feeling that I was in a bad situation.  I had four or five changes of clothes, and all my make-up and I said, “I have to go to the bathroom.”  He said, “Okay” and I picked up my coat, left all my clothes and my make up and all my jewelry and my shoes, walked out the door barefoot, down the street, hailed a taxi and I went home.  My husband went back two hours later and said, “I came for my wife’s stuff.”  I couldn’t handle it, but I still got the part.  Save the Tiger was really the reason I came to LA.  I came out to shoot it, and by then my children were nine and ten and I just thought maybe Los Angeles would be a better place for them to live than New York City.

Despite promotional rumors, no real cultists were used during the making of "Race with the Devil": "They were just a group of actors. It was pretty lurid though, wasn’t it?"

Sam:  Another film that you did in the 70’s, Race with the Devil, is, in my opinion, one of the coolest films of the era.

Lara:  Oh.  You really think so?  (Laughs)

Sam:  That was a cool movie.  I didn’t say it was a great movie.  I said it was a cool movie.  It was very 70’s. Very unique.  You create a real sense of much needed paranoia in the film, which Peter Fonda, Warren Oats and Loretta Swit weren’t able to portray.

Lara:  Well, I had done a lot of it on Dark Shadows. (Laughs)

Sam:  There is a rumor that they really used a satanic cult for the ritual scenes.  Was that true?

Lara:  No.  They were just a group of actors.  It was pretty lurid though, wasn’t it?

Sam:  Yeah.  It was really eerie.  But my favorite image is Peter Fonda on the top of the Winnebago shooting satanist stunt men on the highway.  There is something so 70’s about that scene.  It’s a sequence that sticks with me.

Warren Oats, Loretta Swit, Lara Parker and Peter Fonda in "Race with the Devil": "I was the paranoid one. I was the one who sensed it. I don’t know why nobody else chose to play that."

Lara:  There was a lot of interesting things about working on that picture.  It was shot in San Antonio in the middle of winter, so the bleakness of the film as a setting says a lot for it.  Then I never realized that stunt guys had specialties.  They had a stunt guy to drive the Winnebago, and stunt guys to do all the dirt bike scenes.  Of course Peter Fonda wanted to do as many of those as possible.  Then they had a guy who could flip a car, and a guy who could drive a car on two wheels.  (Laughs)  They were all different people of course, but they were all supposed to be the same person.  It was a lot of fun watching them do the stunts.  I thought the ending was lame.

Sam:  Well, during that time open ended endings in horror films were sort of a standard clique.  It was very trendy.

Lara:  Well, in my opinion, they should have all woken up in the morning and my character, Callie, should have been gone except for a pile of my clothes that are left behind.  Because I was the paranoid one.  I was the one who sensed it.  I don’t know why nobody else chose to play that.

Sam:  Well, after a while you bring that film forward in a certain way via your paranoia.

Lara:  Especially in the swimming pool scene, and with the snake scene.  The teamsters wouldn’t even come on the set during that scene.  That was supposed to be a two character scene but Loretta Swit refused to come on the set with the snake.

Sam:  So why were you willing to work with the snake?

Lara Parker wrestles with a rattle snake in "Race with the Devil": "I had to hold the snake by two ends and put it in my face and scream. I loved that. After being on Dark Shadows, that just cooked for me. I just thought that was great."

Lara:  Well they didn’t scare me.  The snake handler pulls the fangs, and they milk the glands and you can see all the poison going into a glass.  So the snake has nothing to bite with.  I was perfectly okay.  I was more worried about hurting the snake. (Laughs)  Jack Skerritt, who was the director, wanted me to take the snake and whip it across the room and slam it against the counter.  I couldn’t seem to do it, and I gently lifted it up into the air and put it on the counter.  He’d go, “Throw that sucker.  Come on.”  At one point he said, “Can you get the tail that’s rattling and the head with the tongue coming in and out both into your close up while you’re screaming?”  I had to hold the snake by two ends and put it in my face and scream.  I loved that.  After being on Dark Shadows, that just cooked for me.  I just thought that was great.

Sam:  Now in recent years you have turned from acting to writing.  Due to the new Dark Shadows movie the Dark Shadows books that you wrote a number of years ago are going back into publication.  What lead you to write Angelique’s Descent?

Lara Parker's "Dark Shadows" novels are now back in print after over a decade: "My books are going to be sold now in five European countries! They are going to be translated into Italian and Hungarian, not because of me, but because of Johnny Depp! I just can’t believe my good luck."

Lara:  Well an editor from Harper Collins got in touch with me and said, “We’d like to start a series of novels.”  I think what they had in mind was more like the Buffy novels.  Little TV tie in novels that if you were quick and well organized you could knock one out in a couple of months.  I said, “You want me to write a novel?  I don’t know how to write a novel.”  She said, “Well, we’d really like to use your name, so if you can do the best you can we’d have a real writer come in and rewrite it. That’s just what William Shatner does.  He doesn’t really write them.  He may come up with the idea and dictates a few things.”  But I said, “I’m going to go through all the trouble to write a novel and then someone is going to rewrite it?  I’m not interested.”  So she said, “Why don’t you put together an outline.  Do you have any ideas?”  So I started thinking and I came up with an idea for Angelique’s childhood and I sent her that.  She said, “I love it.  Just write fifty pages and we’ll see what we think.”  So I wrote the first fifty pages and she said, “This is absolutely wonderful.  Send me another fifty pages.”  She kind of made me write fifty pages at a time.  Well the outline I sent segwayed into the actual show, and when I got to the last hundred pages she said, “You’ve got to wrap this up” so I just went into the show and told the story as it was done there.  Fans loved it.  It sold really really well, but then Harper Collins decided not to do any more.  So I took it back because it belonged to me.  So when I wrote the second book, The Salem Branch, in order to get through that one I went to graduate school.  I got my MSA in creative writing, and one of the projects was to write a novel.  I actually had input from literary writers who were my professors, who were very intrigued by the idea of a horror novel.  But I did a tremendous amount of research for both of the novels.  For Angelique’s Descent I spent months reading about the slaves and sugar plantations in the Caribbean, and the uprisings and all the different tribes and voodoo.  It was a huge amount of research.  It is unusual for a TV tie-in novel.  I think I did it much more intelligently.  I told this story about a little girl and how she became a witch.  With the Salem Branch I did a huge amount of research on the Puritans and what their ministers were like and I talk about the devil and the Salem witch trials, which has been done to death, but I put my own twist on it.  In my book the woman, Miranda, really is a witch.  Here they are jailing and hanging these poor women who aren’t witches, and here’s one in their midst who truly is a witch and trying very hard not to let anyone find out.

Sam:  You have a third Dark Shadows novel in the works.  Is it a sequel to The Salem Branch?

Lara Parker's third book in her "Dark Shadows" trilogy, "Wolf's Moon," will be released this fall and will focus on werewolf Quinton Collins.

Lara:  Well, it starts where the Salem Branch ended, but you don’t have to have read it [to understand it].  It’s mostly about Quinton, who has a painting which keeps him young and keeps him subject to the werewolf curse.  In The Salem Branch, Barnabas steals the painting and hides it in a crypt, and when Quinton doesn’t have it he starts to age. When the full moon comes he turns into a werewolf.  It’s mostly about Quinton’s desperate attempt to find the painting and not go through the metamorphosis.  David and Jackie end up looking for the painting and they go back to the 1920’s during prohibition.  Again, [I had to do] tons of reading about the twenties and looking at the language and the dialogue and the habits and attitudes and the dress because Quinton is the same age, and he is in love with the young Elizabeth, who is nineteen and a flapper.  It turns out that she is the love of his life.  When he lost her he became a womanizer.

Sam:  There is a lot of anticipation for the new Dark Shadows film which has sort of put the franchise back into the mainstream.  I’ve seen some beautiful shots that were taken of you, Jonathan Frid, Kathryn Leigh Scott and David Selby that were taken during the filming.  I know by now you’ve probably heard the negative fan reactions to the comedic tone of the trailers.  What are your feelings on Tim Burton and Johnny Depp’s vision of Dark Shadows?  Do you think the fans that are screaming foul are overreacting?

The comedic trailers to Johnny Depp and Tim Burton's "Dark Shadows" film caused controversy amongst long time fans: "I would not, in a million years, criticize it or find fault with it or put it down because I think it’s absolutely amazing that we made something that long ago that captured the fantasies and imaginations and creative efforts of these people...Whether the movie is successful or not doesn’t depend on the Dark Shadows fans. It depends on the Johnny Depp fans."

Lara:  Well, first of all, I think the choice moments are the jokes and that they ended up in the trailer.  I think a lot of the movie will be more serious.  I knew from the very beginning, before I even was on the set, that knowing Johnny Depp and Tim Burton, it would be a “tongue in cheek” kind of take on it.  It’s inevitable with their personalities and the aesthetics which they share.  They are soul mates in terms of a sense of satire and a sense of the absurd and they are both extremely talented.  The fans don’t all hate it.  A lot of them love it, but the ones that do hate it feel betrayed.  The seriousness of the show was what they loved.  In my opinion, [Dark Shadows] would not work in today’s world.  I’m often asked why Dark Shadows was such a success and I think it had a lot to do with the time [it was made].  It was a much more innocent time where people accepted the dramatic moments more easily.  I think there is a lot of cynicism now.  Audiences today are just so smart.  They always see ahead.  They always get what’s coming.  It’s not like it used to be when you could surprise them and scare them.  But I am amazed that people of that caliber want to do a movie based on our show.  I would not, in a million years, criticize it or find fault with it or put it down because I think it’s absolutely amazing that we made something that long ago that captured the fantasies and imaginations and creative efforts of these people.  The fans that are still Dark Shadows fans are a very small number compared to Johnny Depp fans.  Whether the movie is successful or not doesn’t depend on the Dark Shadows fans.  It depends on the Johnny Depp fans, and it’s a whole new group of people, and it’s a huge, huge following.  My books are going to be sold now in five European countries!  They are going to be translated into Italian and Hungarian, not because of me, but because of Johnny Depp!  I just can’t believe my good luck.  We’ve been going to Dark Shadows conventions every single year for thirty-five years to keep the show alive and to [meet fans].  It’s a wonderful handful of people who love Dark Shadows, but if they’re unhappy it’s just human nature.  It’s human nature to moan when anything gets changed.  It’s a certain group of people who don’t like when things are different.

Sam:  Well, it’s also natural for fans to complain about changes.  That goes hand in hand with fandom.

Lara:  I just think they’re all Republicans.  They just don’t want anything to change and they want to find fault when actually it’ss something to be celebrated. It’s an absolute miracle that this film even got made.  I never thought it would get made.  They talked about it for years and years and years and I went, “Oh yeah, right.”

Sam:  Well, through all the screen captures and publicity material that I’ve seen, it just looks to good to be bad.  Fans also seem to forget that Johnny Depp and Tim Burton are fans of Dark Shadows as well, and I think they love the series too much to screw it up.

The original "Dark Shadows" cast meets the new players: (left to right) Jonathan Frid, Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins, Kathryn Leigh Scott, Lara Parker, director Tim Burton, David Selby and Jonny Lee Miller as Roger Collins.

Lara:  Well even if they do screw it up they are so good at what they do.  They have the most gorgeous sets I’ve ever seen.  They rebuilt the town of Collinsport.  They rebuilt the harbor with real water and real boats!  I mean, they built Collinwood Manor with a stairway that’s three stories high and a chandelier that’s three times bigger than [the original Dark Shadow’s] set!  Huge paintings and sculpture and the balustrades of the stairway are all hand carved wood.  It just takes your breath away.  The production value is just amazing.  And they have Alice Cooper!  Of all of the rock stars throughout history, he’s the perfect one!  The guy played the devil on stage!  He’s the sweetest guy!  A sweetheart!  He’s from Phoenix and plays golf, and here he is sitting in this exuberant make-up with the black lines through his eyes and having a great time.  There’s a lot to be said about the ambiance on the set.  The atmosphere on the set was just so happy.  All of the actors came and talked to us.  Chloe Moretz came and hung out for hours. She had her best friend with her, and they were so excited to meet us because they’d been watching the original show in the makeup room.  They’d been laughing at all the mistakes that we made.  Helena Bonham Carter has been quoted as saying that [Dark Shadows] was “transcendently awful” but she also said, “We all love it.  We’re all hooked.”  Michelle Pfeiffer said that she loves the show, and loved doing the film and she hopes there will be a sequel.  She expects there to be a sequel.  I think its going to be fun.

Sam:  Did you get a chance to talk with Eva Green about being Angelique.

Eva Green as the new Angelique Bouchard: "I guess I always thought that the character belonged to me, but Eva Green came out of her dressing room and sauntered over and I thought, “Oh my god. It belongs to her now.”"

Lara:  Yes.  I had a long conversation with her and she said that, “The part is a gift.  It’s multi-layered.”  She didn’t ask me for my advice, and I didn’t give it.  Obviously it’s her take on Angelique and [she does the] classic “nasty, sexy witch.”  That was never my take on Angelique.  My take is that she had deep reasons for the way she was.

Sam:  What is it like to hand your character over to another actress?

Lara:  I had a feeling about Angelique that I didn’t expect.  I guess I always thought that the character belonged to me, but Eva Green came out of her dressing room and sauntered over and I thought, “Oh my god.  It belongs to her now.”  It was kind of hard for me, but at the same time I think [Eva Green] is so vibrant and so gorgeous and a great choice.  I am so glad they chose her.  She is really remarkably vivacious and a powerful actress.  She loves to play evil roles.

Sam:  What is your impression of Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins?

Lara:  I think Johnny Depp looks transcendently beautiful in that white make up and the deep set eyes and those finger nails.  It just blows my mind.  Johnny Depp is not playing it for real.  He’s putting a spin on it, because if they played it for real, it would not work at all in today’s world.  The main thing is that [Johnny Depp and Tim Burton] couldn’t do it any differently being the people they are.  Those two people would not have done it like Twilight.  Not in a million years.  They just have a different take on the world.

Sam:  Now what was it like to see Johnny Depp and Jonathan Frid come together, and what was Mr. Frid’s reaction to coming face to face with another man in the role of Barnabas Collins?

Jonathan Frid, David Selby, Lara Parker and Kathryn Leigh Scott together for the last time during filming of "Dark Shadows." Jonathan Frid would pass away on April 13th, 2012, a month before the opening of the film.

Lara:  Well, we had to sign a paper that said we would not take any photographs or divulge anything that had happened on the set.  But there was one moment when the two were standing face to face, and I was standing looking at their two profiles.  Jonathan is almost ninety years old and suffers of dementia and he didn’t really want to be there.  He got up in the morning and went down to the front desk with his suitcase and told them he wanted to go back to Canada and to get him on a flight right away.  I don’t even think he knew who Johnny Depp was. (Laughs)  But anyhow, we finally got him on the set, and Johnny Depp said to him, “This is such an honour and a pleasure,” and he swept his arm around to the hundred member crew and everything, and said, “None of this would be happening if it were not for you.”  It was such a generous thing to say.  I thought that I wish I could have photographed those two profiles face to face.  It will be a picture I will always carry in my mind.

Lara Parker, David Selby and Kathryn Leigh Scott at the opening of "Dark Shadows" at Hollywood's Grauman's Chinese Theater.

When movie fans go to see the new Dark Shadows film this summer, one major player in the Dark Shadows family sadly will not be among them.  A few weeks after I conducted this interview, Jonathan Frid passed away at the age of 87.  Did he pass the curse of Barnabas Collins onto Johnny Depp in an exchange of energy during their meeting on the set?  We’ll never really know, but it is a strange footnote in Dark Shadows history.  Thankfully Lara Parker was there to witness this special moment in time, and share it with Dark Shadows fans.

The new Dark Shadows will bring a new Collinwood, a new Collins Family and a new Angelique Bouchard to film audiences, but Lara Parker’s portrayal of Angelique will always be the most bewitching to me.  After our interview was finished, my face began to hurt because of the ear to ear grin that was permanently on my face during our talk.  What can I say?  Although she may not really be a witch, Lara Parker had her own unique ability to put a spell on me.

 

POP CULTURE ADDICT NOTE:  I would like to send out a special thanks to Jim Pearson for helping to arrange my talk with Lara Parker, and for Stuart Manning for leading me in the right direction.  Thanks to you both, as a fan and a professional, for helping this memorable moment of my career happen, and also for the hard work that both of you do to maintain the original Dark Shadows fandom alive.  Us old school DS fans would be lost without you both and we all owe you so much.

  1. Tony’s avatar

    Thanks for a great read. Anything with Ms Parker and I’m hooked.

Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>