Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Chris Claremont interviews Jonathan Frid, 1975

Marvel Comics has never met an idea that it couldn't steal. Legend has it that Marvel's first superhero title, The Fantastic Four, was created in the wake of the publisher's order to create a book in the vein of DC's Justice League of America. By the time the '70s dawned, this copy-and-paste attitude was in full swing. The House That Spidey Built decided to not only take on Mad Magazine with it's B&W humor mag, Crazy, they also took a swing at Famous Monsters of Filmland with its own Monsters of the Movies.

The title lasted just eight issues, with Jonathan Frid appearing on the cover twice during its brief  1974-75 stint. His second appearance was on the magazine's final issue, a cover painting by Bob Larkin that shows Barnabas Collins teaming up with Peter Cushing's Van Helsing. Inside is a lengthy interview with Frid about his film SEIZURE, which had just been released.

Because Marvel had no intention of creating independent publishing operations for new publications like Monsters of the Movies, the creators of their monthly comics tended to also serve double duty as writers and artists for their magazines. The bylines for their written features were sometimes buried in the design, so it's likely that DARK SHADOWS fans visiting these publications in later years might overlook the signature at the tail end of the 1975 Frid interview: the author is Chris Claremont, at the time an occasional contributor to Marvel Comics.

Shortly after the final issue of  Monsters of the Movies was published, Claremont would be handed the reigns of Marvel's Uncanny X-Men title and have a profound impact on the comics industry for decades to come.

And his interview with Jonathan Frid is a doozy. It's easily the most intelligent discussion I've ever read about SEIZURE, and features Frid at his most politely frank. It also features a few tidbits that I'd never before heard, such as his potential involvement with a torture porn film titled HOUSE OF THE KILLER APES, and some thoughts on the 1973 TV movie, THE DEVIL'S DAUGHTER. (Also, if this interview makes you want to finally check out SEIZURE, you can find a gloriously restored Blu-ray on Amazon HERE.)

Once Upon a Time There Was a Vampire

Monsters of the Movies #8, 1975


Once upon a time there was a vampire named Barnabas Collins, who was created almost by accident to bolster the somewhat disappointing ratings of a New York-based soap opera titled Dark Shadows; and who turned out instead. to almost-single-handedly transform the show from a fairly dismal prospect into one of the really hot numbers of daytime TV. He also spawned two feature films based on the exploits of Mr. Collins and the other somewhat strange members of the Collins family of Collinsport, Maine and helped make Producer Dan Curtis' reputation in the industry as a producer of high-quality horror material (most prominent among his later productions was the fantastically successful TV-movie, THE NIGHT STALKER— which, in turn, spawned a series of its own under the same title).

Not bad for a character originally designed to be a three-four week fill-in gimmick.

But we digress. For this article is not so much about the character, Barnabas Collins, but the man who essentially made him what he is today. the actor who took a screenwriter's conception and breathed life into it — and, without quite realizing how, creating a sensation—Jonathan Frid.

I met Mr. Frid in New York, in the offices of Cinerama Releasing Corporation — the operation responsible for releasing his latest film, SEIZURE (about which. more will be said anon) — on a typical New York early summer blah afternoon where there seemed to be too many people, too many cars, and too much stinking gunk in the atmosphere — and one is left wondering what the point of building cities was in the first place. And wondering why one put up with it.

The first thing one notices about Jonathan Frid is that — cliche though it may often be — he is a very nice man. Soft-spoken. gentle, considerate, his every action belying the fearsome nature of the characters he has been portraying lately. We got our hellos over fairly quickly, settled down for a moment of introductory small talk — he sipping coffee, me grape juice — and then we got down to business. I began by asking him just how he had first gotten involved with Dark Shadows?

He replied that — back then, in those pre-vampire days — he had been down in Florida, doing regional stock theater.

Jonathan Frid at the White House, 1969.
JONATHAN FRID: We finished this tour in Florida, and I decided to stay down there for two or three weeks. I'd told my agent at the time that I was going to California to teach—my great ambition was to get a job in some Drama Department and do my own thing in that situation. And I said, I don't know when I'll be back in New York. I stayed less than two weeks and got back with no intentions of calling him necessarily. He didn't know when I was coming back: he thought about three weeks. Anyway, I got home. and I was opening my door and the phone was ringing. And I dropped the bags— I thought it was a friend of my room-mate's or something — and it was my agent.

And he said, "Oh you are back." I said, "Yes. I decided to come back a week early. "Well," he said, "I thought I'd just take a chance and call you" (call me once was the implication). Anyway. there was a soap opera called Dark Shadows and they wanted a vampire. I said, "Now look, George, I told you I'm going to the Coast. I want to go and carry through with the plan." And he said, "Well, when are you going?" I said, "Well, it'll take two or three weeks find out where I'm going to be." He said, "This is only two or three shots; you'll have a little extra money to go to the Coast with." And I said, "No, no, no, no." Come on; go up and so I said, "Fine," very indifferent to the whole thing. That's what happened — you know the rest.

But it was funny, that phone call. Now if I had been a minute later ... I wouldn't have called him. He wouldn't have called me again. He just took a chance — he wasn't really interested in the idea — he just thought, well, I'll call Jon, see if he ...

But then. of course, you see, the thing that makes you wonder ... was all the things you never have done because you missed that minute. I mean, the thousands of things, millions and trillions of things that could have happened in our lives that never have happened because of a minute one way or the other.

CHRIS CLAREMONT: The alternate route things. I mean, had you arrived a minute later—had you missed the phone call — perhaps a whole different ...

FRID: Well, you see, the thing I feel about life is that you decide what you're going to do with your life. I don't believe in fate—I'm supposed to be a Presbyterian but I don't believe in that predestination. You make your own life. And you do it the way you will. You will your way thru life and you do what you want to do. You think of all the things you would like to have done — nuts! You would have done them if you really wanted to — you do exactly what you want. If you do nothing; that's exactly what you wanted to do. If you want to do something once in a while, that's what you do do. End of speech. Get down to the nitty gritty.

CLAREMONT: That's weird, what you just said about man's ... free will. It seems to have a lot to do with the themes of both SEIZURE and Dark Shadows. Your character in SEIZURE seems trapped

FRID: I don't think he's trapped. I think he gets exactly what he deserves with respect to his own life. He ruins it deliberately just by his chemistry. I like to think you bring some of your own character —personality — to your roles. My life is so much like his in a way. I mean, I've ruined so many things in my life — you know, I know perfectly well what I should do and I shouldn't do most of the time —and if I don't do something — you let yourself go and I haven't had that experience yet and I hope I never do. Of course. the film occurs within a dream — after all, the character's life hasn't been that bad: it's only like that in the dream. He dreams that — except that he has a heart attack from having had the dream so many times. Who knows how many people have died of heart attacks from utter exhaustion after nightmares.

CLAREMONT: Watching the film, I felt that the impact might have been stronger if there'd been more people there, if it had been in a theatre with a crowd, the people's own vibrations building on each other. There were only two of us there in the screening room and it was kind of a controlled situation. It's funny: in this genre you start a kind of game at the beginning of the film, wondering who's going to get it when: you kind of figure some people are marked ...

FRID: Do you find that it's the value of suspense in the picture? I don't see it.

CLAREMONT: Well. there wasn't much suspense for me, actually. That started when it was just you and your wife and the son. You know, facing Kali and the giant and the dwarf. It was like a one-on-one situation. And then your wife died—committed suicide—and then the conflict was, Kali saying. "Give him up. Give me your son." And you suddenly come forward and we wonder, well, what's he going to do? Would he sacrifice himself — kind of half-knowing ourselves that he won't — and just seeing the character going thru that conflict — physically as well as emotionally — that's what was nice about the performance. A very solid performance that was ... enjoyable, if the word can be applied. I can't tell.

FRID: I can't tell whether a picture's any good or not. I mean — you know — I liked it. But I can't tell where the best dramatic values, the suspense — when he was watching the door or he was fascinated by this character or are you pulled wondering what's going to happen next? It's a curious thing, I haven't heard anyone speak that way about the film. I've never discussed the picture with anybody but it's interesting that you say that there are moments of at least a suspense of what way will he go, that concern ... sort of thing.

CLAREMONT: One had the feeling, the suspicion. I guess — basically because I've seen the style done before — that it was a dream. But at the same time, one wondered: usually dreams have happy endings, because you're in complete control of the situation. Theoretically. Yet this dream was wiping out people right, left and center

FRID: You say dreams usually ...

CLAREMONT: It seems.

FRIO: Lord. I've had some nightmares—a nightmare is out of control.

CLAREMONT: I find it's hard to find people who even remember their dreams. I personally forget ninety percent of  them ...

FRID: Oh, you don't remember the early ones. But what I like to do — and I'm a constant dreamer —is I wake up and even if it's a horrible thing, I lay there letting the dream kind of — not analyzing it — but letting it continue, the feel of it, let my emotions go with it. And then as I gradually wake up more and more and more I bring my analytical powers into play and work on the dream. But I keep it happening. It's become a little dream of mine and even if it's a depressing dream — a nightmare —and it's depressing, I know that all I have to do is get up out of bed and go make a cup of coffee. And my depression ends. So, it's like therapy. I let the depression go right thru me and as it's bathing I start to capture with my brain what it is. What is it at the core of the depression. really? Not what does the dream mean. But yes. in a way, it's that, but ... I love to get at the core of the ...

This morning for instance — it was funny — the phone rang. A friend of mine called very early and I was having a nightmare — a dream; it was not quite a nightmare — I was taking off in a plane. And there was something in the middle of the plane — it was a banquet or whatever.  I don't know; it was big. I wasn't quite sure what it was. But anyway. It was a constant thought of mine on a plane that I'm always fascinated and rather fearful of a plane's take-off. I mean, it's that you can't stop: you've got to go with it. and I've never been on a plane yet that I haven't been somewhat conscious of that take-off. And that was what the dream was about. It was a nightmare and I was wondering—not frantically. but just kind of curiously wondering—are we going to make it? I said to my friend. "God damn you. I was just having a beautiful nightmare. I was in a plane, taking off, and if it hadn't been for your phone call I would have found out whether we got off the ground or not."

Well, I was curious to know.

CLAREMONT: That's interesting, the way you yourself let the dream flow thru you. The character you portrayed in SEIZURE woke up. thought it was all over, walked into the bathroom — repeating the beginning of the film — and all of a sudden he hadn't gotten out of the dream at all. It had gotten worse. The dream had become the reality.

FRID: Well, of course. That's entirely the reason of the film. I think I'm still confused about it, too. It is a dream at the end of the picture — but you know that was very arbitrary. I think the original ending of the script was reality. But that's just a dramaturgical device: they made the end into a dream, which I think is much more effective. The character has a stroke from dreaming his dream so often.

CLAREMONT: One watches the character wake up and thinks, Okay. cool, it's a dream and we're all back to square one. And then he walks into the bathroom and they break the rules because there's his wife's suicide note — "I love you" on the mirror and the Kali figure is jumping out of the bed and seems to destroy him literally. And that's something one hadn't really expected.

FRID: It's still within the realm of possibility. I mean, I've done it myself. That's my worst nightmare, actually, waking up from a nightmare and finding that it's not, it's real within the nightmare.

CLAREMONT: At the end of the film, your character goes, "Ohhh, I've made it." One gets the feeling that each night is a battle and here he's finally made it to the finish line, one more night. and then he finds he hasn't and that's what destroys him. In that, one assumes that in his dream he doesn't have to fear destroying everyone he knows and loves and cares for as long as it's a dream. That's what shattered him. I think, him thinking that as this is a dream, everything's all right. And then to find out that it isn't.

FRID: Of course. he's dead in the bed at the end. So he hadn't gotten out of bed to go to the bathroom at all in reality. Just a double twist. I love the way that picture ends, and I love that shot the next morning — you know, the peaceful morning.

CLAREMONT: I was sitting there, honestly thinking: "Oh man, is that milkman ever going to get a surprise. He's going to find a body in the lake and fifteen-odd bodies scattered around the house and grounds." And I was sitting there waiting for his reaction.

FRID: That's not the way I ... of course. knowing the story, I just saw the irony.

CLAREMONT: Yes, once one gets into the irony, those minutes when the man is coming up the drive. One is thinking, "Wow! This is going to be right out of Hitchcock or Roger Corman at his best. This man is going to go absolutely bananas." But then to have those footsteps come down to the milk, one thinks. "What does Kali want with milk?" And then to discover it's the wife! And the "dead" dog is still running around and the boy is still running around and one thinks, "Aha! A double reverse twist!"

FRID: Then a double reverse twist after that.

CLAREMONT: When the son goes upstairs, one feels that Edmund — your character — is dead. But then again, there is a feeling that maybe they'll do another reverse. I don't know—you can loop it forever. What did you think about the use of violence in the picture? A lot of it was never actually shown — but I remember watching the scene where the giant crushed Joseph Sirola's head, thinking as I heard the crack, "Oh, the giant's breaking Sirola's neck." And then when I heard the pop and saw the giant shaking his hands. one knew that he had crushed the man's skull and was shaking off the man's brains.

FRID: Was it effective for you?

CLAREMONT: It was horrifying.

FRID: It was? Again, being part of it, I just thought it was funny. You know ... just between you and me, I didn't believe the effects were that good: I suppose because I was in it and saw how they were done. And if you're going to have horror, why not? Violence, oddly enough, violence bores me on the screen and on television. It just bores me. It's so unreal to me. I can't stand someone being tapped with a car and knocked down in the street; I'd practically have a stroke just seeing that much violence in reality but anything on the screen, ho-hum. That's why I never go to those things, those "horror" films. I haven't been to see THE EXORCIST. I haven't been to see any of those things. I like psychological — interior acting, interior stories. Exterior — all that stuff — I guess. is all right if it's seen. I've talked to people who were very affected by it, but I ...

It's as I was saying a little while ago, they're making two or three cuts in SEIZURE and there's one cut that they're making that I've been trying to get them not to make — the scene between my wife and myself in the bedroom where she tells me just what I am and ...

CLAREMONT: They're going to cut that?

FRID: It seems to me that's the whole point of the picture.

CLAREMONT: Then what justification do you have for her committing suicide? Does she just flip out?

FRID: Again, it's Edmund's dream. It's his conception of what she would do. I think the scene's very vital — psychologically — to the story. You know, I laughed when they first told me. I said, "Don't pay any attention to me: that's my favorite scene. I'm just an actor: forget what I say." Then I started to think about it quite objectively and I think it's stupid.

CLAREMONT: It changes the whole tenor of the character and the film.

FRID: There are parts they could cut — a lot of that racing around. The racing around is cinematically bad. There are scenes I think are irrelevant. There's too much emphasis given to the dining room scene between Serge and Charlie—Roger de Koven and Joe Sirola—l mean, they're both marvelous actors, no doubt about that — incidentally, that's one thing I liked about the picture: there's a lot of good actors.
CLAREMONT: I know. It's surprising; usually, one doesn't see that many good actors in a horror film.

FRID: Right. The scenes are played beautifully, but I don't see what relevance it has to my dream —to my nightmare. Perhaps in the sense that they're just friends and they're peculiar — but I still don't understand ...

CLAREMONT: Perhaps they justify ... give the audience a reason for why Sirola's character dies the way he does. It's a pretty horrible way for a man to die.

FRID: But it's pretty well established that He's not going to survive anyway so you can go on Monday morning quarterbacking forever. But on the whole I was quite staggered by the picture. I thought — I just thought it was going to be a mess, Because pressures of time — five weeks.

CLAREMONT: You shot the entire film in five weeks?

FRID: Either five weeks or a little less than five weeks.

CLAREMONT: It was all shot in Canada, right? It was a beautiful setting.

FRID: Lovely, lovely place. I thought the opening of the film was one of the best openings I've ever seen on the screen. Through the credits, when they have that black — it's just the first time I saw it. I saw this black background and at the end of the credits, my God, there was this beautiful lake. And so I watched it, this last time, it was just imperceptibly to the black — you know the technique — you see the lake and you don't see it. You think you're seeing something. like in a dream. You think you're seeing something and the progression is so slow, it comes On so slowly, it's fascinating to watch and then my God! It's a beautiful statement about the whole story, the whole picture in a way — just that one technical thing. the opening shot. Whoever's idea that was, was a genius.

CLAREMONT: That opening kind of throws you in a way because one expects that, because this is a horror film, it'll reek of horror and menace from the word GO. People cut up, things like that, to establish the right mood. But this idyllic opening took its time establishing what was going on, moving thru the events of the imagined Saturday morning. Really nothing ominous until the woman, Eunice — Anne Meacham — was swimming in the lake and one saw this shadowed hand among the trees on the shoreline.

FRID: You would characterize this picture as a horror picture?

CLAREMONT: Yes. I think more in a sense of something like Brian de Palma's SISTERS is a horror film. Everything resolves itself rationally at the end as to who these figures were or why they were there at your house — Kali, the Spider, Jackal the Giant — especially when the voice-over identifies your character as the Edgar Allan Poe of modern American fiction. Actually. if there was a confusing element in the film, that was it. Who you were. All one knows about your character is that you say you're writing a children's book and one really doesn't know what kind of books you've written before. But the fact that you are a Poe character or a Poe-like character helps clarify a lot of things. It just seems very strange to have to wait until the end of the film for everything to just bounce neatly into place as to why this is all happening.

FRID: I like to have hints as we go along, a little information now and then. I felt for the first half-hour you don't know how to make sense or anything. But I find that with many pictures nowadays, you're left at sea have to wait till the picture's over to find out anything. I've seen two pictures lately that have fascinated me when I saw them, although I was quite ready to walk out on both of them about threequarters of an hour  into each — LOVE AND ANARCHY, which I saw the other night, and GOING PLACES, which I saw a week or two ago.

CLAREMONT: GOING PLACES got butchered by most of the critics.

FRID: Well, it's a pretty wild picture, you know. But there're some beautiful things in it and it's beautifully shot. One of the most gorgeous pictures I've ever seen. of course. It's France, in beautiful, beautiful wood settings; and Jeanne Moreau. She was fascinating, of course. I now know what a star really is: a star is someone whom the director loves, is fascinated with. Because everything she does is just worshiped by the camera. I mean, she just eats and it's beautiful. You know, I was just reading a script the other day that was supposed to be doing late in September. It's produced by Bob Davis and it's sort of "Ape" picture. It's called. HOUSE OF THE KILLER APES.

CLAREMONT: Nothing relating to Twentieth Century-Fox's Apes are they?

FRID: No. I haven't seen any of those pictures, actually. I said to Bob, "Haven't we had the ape pictures?" But he's riding the wave: I don't know if it's too late or not. But I don't really think it's any relation to the Fox pictures.

It's about a Hollywood director who has been pissed off by the treatment he's had — and the treatment of his father who'd have been one of the giants of the industry sort of thing — a couple of years ago. He gets up at the Oscar ceremony, collects his Academy Award and says "Screw all of you!" and goes off to Ireland to make a picture about apes with this professor who's found a special breed of apes in Africa that can be trained to do things.

But anyway, to make a long story short, it's about this director luring all these people from Hollywood over to make this marvelous picture. He has a cinematographer who is his right arm, so to speak. and is involved in this whole mess. And the two of them sic all these trained apes on the people he's lured over. His way of getting his revenge against all these people. He's lured them over to do this picture and he photographs them and he's trained the apes with dummies and fake knives. Then he gives the apes real knives and the real people arrive and he films the ensuing carnage. It's gory. I read the script about a year ago and now Bob wants to go ahead with it. I was re-reading it the other day and I'd like to get, again, more of a psychological thing into the picture. I mean go and have your fun with all your blood and gore and everything — I don't know how he's going to do it, because there's a lot of technical things and stunt work and all that sort of thing: because it's grim; it's just about as grim, if not grimmer, than SEIZURE.

But I'm interested in the character. I don't think Bob's properly motivated the character at this point: at this point the man's just petulant. You know what I mean, that old saw. Hollywood mistreating me and all that and now I'm going to get even. It's got to have more interest for me. And it's that close; it's just these two or three scenes to motivate him more strongly. The structure of the story's marvelous. The suspense is kind of interesting. You know how the director tries to get away with it and he makes all  kinds of mistakes; and you wonder how can he get away with it? But the only way to play it now is a madman, but he plays it so fast and recklessly that before people have time to realize what's happening, it's too late. And he gets his comeuppance at the end. But it works — it's a very workable story. But from my point of view, the main character has got to be more motivated.

CLAREMONT: It'd be kind of an ironic twist if the film he was making with all these actors getting wiped out was finished and released and the man ended up getting a posthumous Oscar as Best Picture. Best Director.

FRID: That's an idea.

CLAREMONT: Your concern for the characters you play — how did that relate to the four years you spent playing Barnabas. Did you feel there was enough motivation when you were playing that role to sustain it?

FRID: Yes. I thought at times the character was very interesting. Depending on how it was written from day to day, there would be stretches where there'd be tripe and every once in a while — I always figured that every two weeks or so we'd put out a marvelous show. Nine out of ten would just be so-so and some would be downright dreadful, but there would come a day where it would production-wise come together, acting-wise come together, and writing-wise come together. That's the fun about soap operas; that's the reality of soap operas. There's something about soap operas that's much more close to life, in spite of the put-downs—and they are very trite very often—but they do have that relation to life, in that there's no end, there's no beginning. It will not end. As one trouble starts to get solved. there's another one coming in there. It's like politics — you know, politicians are always saying, "Oh, we're doing this for future generations." And everything ends up in a status quo — static. We all work for the perfect government, the perfect life for everybody and there's no such thing. Never will be. There'll be troubles multiplying as one gets cleared up; there's something else coming in so it makes a farce of what the politicians say sometimes. The way they talk Utopia will come and it'll all be there and nothing else will happen. This is silly! And the soap opera understands this. Not conventionally, maybe, but just by the nature of it. It just keeps on going on and on. Dark Shadows was that way, just like life. Sometimes it was interesting; sometimes it was bloody boring. But Barnabas ... you see, as long as in one episode I got two or three emotions to play, that's all I need as an actor; as an actor in a play, I mean. If I get three or four good scenes in a play. the rest can coast: as long as I have something to play. Even in the worst scripts there's a moment each day. My problem is just trying to get it under my belt, you know, to absorb the script and play it. I was never too critical of the thing; I was over critical of myself before I very often damned the script. A lot of actors used to damn the scripts because they learned the parts quickly and they were ready to do it, so let's have a good script. I was just so busy trying to remember the goddamned stuff and absorb it that I never had much time to be too critical.

CLAREMONT: Was Dark Shadows done live?

FRID: No, it was taped. But it is virtually live. It's almost the same thing, although we used to do a lot more stop and go than most soap operas because of the special effects.

CLAREMONT: I was speaking to some people who worked on Edge of Night and they were talking about how they would like to get back on a live schedule because of the Watergate hearings. They were about three weeks behind and they were taping three weeks ahead — that is. They were taping shows to be telecast three weeks later. Instead of live—and they were saying how they wished the political situation would settle down so they could be guaranteed their half-hour a day time slot so they could go back to doing the show live.

FRID: They wanted to be live?

CLAREMONT: Yes. The crew had the production down to a science. They used a three camera set-up and as one scene was bowing out, they'd pull one camera away and shift it to the next set — they had the day's sets grouped in a circle around the central cameras — and as the first scene ended, they'd key in the first camera and shift a second camera over to the second set. Meanwhile, the third camera would move on to a third set — or an interim set, whichever was needed next — and so on and so forth.

FRID: That's the way we did Dark Shadows.

CLAREMONT: Done just like that?

FRID: It has to be. Ninety percent of the time, we shot the show at one time, twenty minutes or so excluding commercials. In a sense, it was virtually live, even though we had to stop occasionally because of effects. I enjoyed those four years. But I got bored with it eventually — everybody did. The writers got bored: we got repetitious. That was the reason the thing closed — I was amazed it ran as long as it did — for a soap opera it had a very short run, but for a special horror thing it ran for a hell of a long time. Because it was kind of a special show and our material was limited — you see, with most soap operas the stories are about this thing and that thing that happen in real life, and they go on and on. But our show was very special material and you repeat the vampire story once too often and you keep the werewolf story just once too often and it's much more difficult point where you move from passive to active, your hates and so forth. I mean Barnabas was everything: he was a gentleman and then suddenly, he was a monster. He'd been motivated, you see — and a good actor can motivate these switches and be understood. I mean Barnabas was a law unto himself. I took him very seriously. And even though it was high camp to millions — college kids and all — and it would have been awful played on the stage — I don't know how it would have worked: I mean you would have had laughter half the time — but in the silence of the studio you could take it very seriously. And the over-acting — which I was accused of doing an awful lot — I could well believe it. I knew I was overacting because of just nervousness — of trying to get the damn thing going again. It was all ... the slow, heavy weight of the speech was just ... I couldn't get going, be light.

CLAREMONT: Especially with the long succession of ingenues ...

FRID: Yes. Because it's so special. I thought it had a very healthy run for something as unusual as Dark Shadows. But there were many times when I was first getting the character of Barnabas shaped, I used my Shakespeare background — I used Macbeth. I used Richard, I used Cant — I used things I've played, using emotions that I played in those roles — quiet feelings, loneliness ... maybe it was a blessing in disguise.

CLAREMONT: It's funny, there've been a number of revivals of the original 1921 play DRACULA— you know, the Hamilton Dean things — and a lot of actors have tried it. And they can't deal with it— playing the play for real — because it's such a 1920's piece. They almost have to go back to the classical vampire/high camp kind of thing.

We've interviewed Barry Atwater, who played the vampire in Dan Curtis' NIGHT STALKER, and he said that his conception of the vampire was that he was very much like a heroin addict. He had this addiction and nothing was going to stand between him and what he needed. It wasn't a question of morality or immorality: it was just essential to his life. Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee, on the other hand. are generally assumed to embody a more classic evil.

FRID: Well, that's no comparison. I mean, even playing in a classic style, you still have to motivate your character. I suppose my style came across probably more strongly than my motivation because I was just trying to keep my service acting going, keep the lines going, keep the movement going. It's funny, though, I've been up for so many commercials that I cannot get because they all want me to "do my thing." They call me in to do monster things. And they say, "Well, Mr. Frid. this should be easy for you. you know," and so I read the damn thing and they say, "No, no, no: do your thing!" And I'll say "Well, I'm sorry, I don't have a 'thing.'" "Oh, but you do: you have this monster thing you do." I don't know, like I'm supposed to have tricks to do or something. I just play a man, the writing took care of the vampire. The only thing I ever did which I hate were those scenes — I felt so damn foolish — where I'd bite the neck of someone. But I did that only about twenty times in the four years I was playing the role. And I always felt so silly when I did it because they always wanted to show off the god-damned teeth. I just always was embarrassed with those scenes. just get them over with.

But the rest of the time. I played a man with an addiction and I knew I had to, you know, be seriously motivated. I had to eat. But my guilt was that I was living in a world of humans who had other values and I was trying — I did — relate to people, and I knew this affliction of mine was up against a whole way of living among normal people that I loved. And so that conflict is what I played those four years. The lie, hiding what I was — which is always a fearful looking thing when a person is hiding something. They always look frightened. They're hiding behind a mask: that's what made that a factor. But in my own inner planning, it was hiding, trying to keep my secret, and at the same time trying to deal with that problem in my affairs with other people. Which made it an interesting thing to play. all the colors involved

CLAREMONT: You said that you'd been up for commercials and you've had problems with being typecast. I'm curious about that because the only thing I'd seen you in prior to SEIZURE was a TV-movie on ABC, THE DEVIL'S DAUGHTER. Your role in that was fun, in a way, because it was silent, no dialogue: it was kind of nice ...

FRID: I was kind of disappointed with the part. They said they were going to make me much more of a character and they really didn't. It just sort of ended; you know, it didn't really go anywhere. But the idea of the character I'd like to see again. I think my horror things, my playing if it's well motivated and so forth ... I just don't want want the narrow typing of being a vampire person and, pardon me, being seen as a monster. That's why I like this picture, SEIZURE, because I am ...

Well, my favorite role is Richard Ill and there isn't a bigger monster in literature than Shakespeare's Richard III, but the playing values of it are so magnificent that they overpower any horrible image of him, of what he would look like facially, for example.

CLAREMONT: In a sense — say, at the end of Laurence Olivier's film or RICHARD Ill, you think, "What a bastard." And at the same time you have this sneaking admiration for him as you watch him move from one step to the other: he's always pulling something new and you end up saying "oh man, he's a son-of-a-bitch but he's so smooth..."

FRID: I always try to humanize things as much as possible, but the environment of the story, the writing, whatever all the — what I call the peripheral things from my point-of-view — will set up the horror. I play values and the horror is taken care of, takes care of itself. I always go out of character just playing mean some things I do in life are horrible to other people but they're not horrible to me; I love doing them. But they may be distasteful. We all do things other people think are distasteful, but you don't think they are — you do them. So, anything I do in a horror story is something I like to do. I'm guilty about it because other people think it's horrible but I love to do this. We do what we want to do.

CLAREMONT: It's like setting out to play something — to play the element "horror" instead of the realities of character and situation; you end up defeating yourself.

FRID: Incidentally, one thing I learned on Dark Shadows is that the audience does half to three-quarters of the acting for you. You just say your lines, go where you're supposed to go and pluck the line—so forth and so on (and this was proven time and time again by personal appearances). People would all ask me about so and so: what's going to happen. And I've even forgotten—I couldn't even remember.

There was one time—we were all sitting around the studio one day and there was one point in the plot we couldn't ... we had to be very careful because it related to something that had happened about six months before. And we sat around reading the script one day and we couldn't remember what that thing was. We asked everybody in the building — everybody in the studio — and no one knew. The writers couldn't remember — they all happen to be there that day — they couldn't remember themselves. And I said, "For God's sake, go out on the street: there's always a mob of kids outside every day. Go ask them." And they came right up with the answer. They remembered everything. They imbue the story with all of its colors and everything. They act — they do the acting — and I'm always quite convinced that the audience always does. It's passive, but it's filling in your imagination. Where you leave off, they take over.

CLAREMONT: That's one of the things, I think, that's so rich about live theatre, as opposed to cinema or TV acting: there's audience feedback to play off of.

FRID: My acting on television or screen is just as live as on the stage, because I play it with the technicians. As a matter of fact it gives me a great thrill to know you can play even off guys who are working while you're doing it. Actually, a lot of them aren't active while you're acting. They do work before and after but they're mostly standing around while the scene is being played. You can sense them. I sense when they're caught up by it and, you know, I sense when they're not. So, you play to anybody in the studio. You're playing to the director — you're playing to someone; you're not just playing blind just because you're not in a theatre. Your co-workers are your audience. I get great pleasure out of doing that sort or work.

The only thing I miss in the theatre is a long run, where you can really develop a character and be comfortable with it. That's what I miss. But I'm afraid that's my curse—is that I think my acting is as good as it ever will be under duress. It's an awful realization I have come to, and that is that you're better when you're a little out of control than when you're in control of all your faculties. I tend to slack — no matter how hard I try; I don't consciously slack, and I consciously work harder. But there's just that something that is magic that works when you're under duress and it irritates me, because I love to be in control of everything and know exactly what I'm going to do. I want to be the complete, the consummate artist. I don't think that'll ever happen — I don't think that's my temperament. My temperament works best under duress.

CLAREMONT: It's very strange, thinking back again, your desire to be in control of everything. Shifting back to Edmund, your character in SEIZURE, he was in a way in control of the dream situation and yet he was out of control. But you could almost say he was in control when he died. You got the feeling that he probably sensed where this was leading him. To have this nightmare occur over and over again, each time a little more terrible ... because in the original memory sequence where he's running and being chased by the dwarf, it's night. And yet, when it actually happens in the film. It's dawn—which is wierd in and of itself, because Kali had said whoever survives until dawn will be allowed to live. And then it seems that she's been faked out; you think, "oh, the sun's up; he'll be all right now.' But she wasn't and he wasn't and it wasn't and that was that. To turn to another problem you said you were having; how many problems — if any — have you had going for roles with this image you have of being the consummate vampire?

FRID: Yeah. Yeah. I never gained anything as an actor, you know. Since that show, it's been very difficult for me. I've been offered a number of things — all in the monster — um — vein. At first I wouldn't touch anything in the horror thing: you know, anything. But I had to compromise there. And I'm glad I have and I've got myself together, that I mustn't be so stubborn that I wouldn't play in horror stories. Because I know I'm going to get work that way, as long as the character is interesting. Certainly I'm not—if I play this role, and it seems likely that I will be, in HOUSE OF THE KILLER APES — certainly I'm not going to build an endearing following to that one. This man I don't know— depends on how I, how things might shape up in some strange way. Certainly, at first, Barnabas was not terribly interesting. I think I brought the human thing to that. And even on this picture, SEIZURE, Edmund's a despicable man but yet, he has a conscience. Oh well, I mean, he wouldn't be having a nightmare if he didn't have a conscience. But this character in HOUSE OF THE KILLER APES just has no conscience at all. He's out there and he photographs — he films scenes of people being mangled by these apes. And that's going to be a pretty tough pill to swallow for anybody who follows that career of — I don't know — the 'charming' Jonathan Frid.


I suppose that's one way of looking at the situation. On the other hand, one might look at HOUSE OF THE.KILLER APES— horror cliche as the title sounds—as just another facet in the multi-talented career of one of the more celebrated horror film actors of the last two decades. And hope that it heralds a day when Jonathan Frid is seen by the viewing public considerably more often than once or twice every couple of years. Until then. all One can do, is watch. And wait. And think back to those glorious days of yesteryear, when the organ ticked off its eerie theme. and those titles spiraled out of the surf and we returned once more to the slightly scary, slightly zany, slightly amusing, never dull world of Collinwood Mansion and Barnabas Collins. The world of Dark Shadows.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...