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Barbara Crampton talks to LFF about channelling Trump in Dead Night, breaking down her acting process and her role in Channel Zero

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Barbara Crampton is widely and rightly considered horror royalty. Her unforgettable mid-80s roles in Re-Animator, Chopping Mall and From Beyond seared themselves onto the collective consciousness of a generation of horror movie fans. Now those fans are making their own movies and Barbara is in high demand. 

Since blazing back onto the horror scene in 2011’s brilliant You’re Next, she has gone on to star in an array of excellent indie shockers like We Are Still Here, Sun Choke, Road Games, Beyond the Gates, and now: Dead Night, which is available on DVD and digital download on the 8th of October.

DEAD NIGHT features a stellar cast including horror icon Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, You’re Next, We Are Still Here) with a strong supporting cast of genre favourites including AJ Bowen (The Guest, House Of The Devil) and Brea Grant (Halloween II, ‘Dexter’).

James, his wife Casey, their two kids Jessica and Jason, and sick friend Becky head to a remote cabin in Oregon for a weekend trip. When James ventures into the dark forest looking for firewood, he encounters an enigmatic woman passed out in the snow. Bringing her back to the cabin for help, the family has no way of knowing that her wicked presence will be the catalyst for a series of horrifying events that will change their lives forever. DEAD NIGHT is The Shining meets Cabin in The Woods in a very modern horror full of twists and turns.

I saw Dead Night at Arrow Video FrightFest 2018 and gave it four stars describing it as a cabin in the woods movie with Ash as a badass Axe Mom, and a scene-chewing-and-stealing Barbara Crampton as the Republican candidate for Queen of the deadites.

I recently caught up with Barbara to talk about her character in Dead Night and had a whale of a time speaking to her about that as well as getting a really cool deep dive into her acting process. We also talked about her role in the next series of the brilliant horror show Channel Zero.

 

Hi Barbara!

How are you?

 

Very well thank you. I’m Alan by the way, from a UK website called Live for Films.

Hi Alan! Thank you! Nice to meet you.

 

Yeah, you too – I’ve been looking forward to getting to chat to you all day!

Oh yay!

[both laugh]

 

I really enjoyed Dead Night and it really caught me off guard. As a horror fan, when you hear the term “cabin in the woods” you think you know exactly what you’re going to get, but Dead Night takes that expectation and then uses it to really bamboozle you.

Thank you for saying that. When I read the script I… I agree with you. You hear “cabin in the woods” and you think “Oh I know what that is.” This movie is not that at all and it was pretty clever in using the device of the double narrative to throw you off and it was something very unique when I read it.

 

Totally. I mean how did you get involved with the movie in the first place and, you touched on it just then, but what was it that appealed to you about it?

I was walking around the American Film Market with Jackson Stewart a number of years ago. We had made Beyond the Gates and were looking for a sales agent. We were going from room to room chatting to different people, and we happened to walk into Don Coscarelli’s room where he was selling his box set of Phantasm.

 

Oh, cool!

We both know him so he said “come in you guys. Hang out for a little bit and we’ll have a chat.” So we sat down with him and we’re just talking about whatever. He goes “You know… I’m working on this new film that I’m gonna be producing and I think you might be right for one of the parts,” and I said, “okay, well send it over to me.” He took my email and sent it over. Had I not walked into that room I don’t know if he would have thought of me or not. As soon as I read the script I emailed him and the director Brad Baruh – who I didn’t know yet – and said “Please don’t talk to anyone else about this role. If you guys are doing this movie then I have to play this part.”

It took another couple of months to go into production, so I was on the edge of my seat just waiting for the call to my agent to get the offer. Every two weeks or so I would email to ask what’s going on. I basically forced myself on them!

 

[laughs] You certainly called shotgun on the role.

Yes! I did, but it paid off! I was bugging them, stalking them a little bit, and then finally they were like “well I guess we have to offer her the part!”

Fantastic. I can see why you were so keen to play Leslie, she’s such a great character, kind of a total wild card, was it an immense amount of fun to play her? It felt like you got to cut loose and stir things up.

Yeah. It was around the time that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were both campaigning when we were shooting the movie. Donald Trump was such a colourful larger than life character on our screens every day. I can’t say that I modelled my character completely off him, but some of the larger aspects of him. Leslie is very boisterous and out there and says things that are totally out of place and off the wall sometimes. I didn’t change any of my dialogue but I kind of used his sort of character, his colourfulness, the thought of him when I was playing her. That she was big, that she was over the top, that she was taking control and being extremely powerful and knocking everybody down. I used a bit of his characterisation in my portrayal of Leslie.

 

You mentioned it briefly before, but I really liked the structure of the movie. I think it’s really interesting and involving the way it’s put together with the true crime element and the play with different perspectives.

Well you know they shot it as if it was two different movies. They shot our stuff first in the cabin, then they did all the true crime stuff later, months later. All I knew was the scenes that I was in. I did the commercial at a different time and that was at a different location.

 

The pretend commercial is so good!

Thanks! All of the stuff we shot at Lake Tahoe in California over about a two week period. Then we went back a couple of times for additional filming. Everything was shot as two distinct pieces that they then put together in the edit later.

 

How did you think it worked when you finally got to see it all stuck together the way it was supposed to be?

I personally thought it was quite ambitious, very clever, very different and very timely in how things work today. Because the movie is about something that happened, and then a true crime reality TV show about what they think happened because it was sort of a mystery. Reality and perception is so much a part of what everybody is talking about today.

 

Totally, yeah.

In terms of “fake news” and “he said she said,” President Trump says something. Then the Fox News people will report on it and say something about it. Then CNN will say something about that and it sounds completely different when they talk about it. Reality changes, it seems, depending on the lens that it’s viewed through. Recently in our country, Kelly-Anne Conway talked about “alternative facts.”

[laughs]

I’d never heard that term before.

 

I don’t think anyone had.

I think it was something she made up special for President Trump because a lot of the things he says are called into question for their veracity. This movie sort of plays off that. What’s real and what’s fake and what is your perception of it? The idea – I know from the filmmakers – is that there’s a lot of true crime reality TV shows out there now, and there have been for a number of years. Their whole idea was, “what if we actually did a series about something that couldn’t be explained and where do these crazy stories really come from?” That was the basis for coming up with the idea for the movie. I thought that it was really clever and interesting

In all fairness, I have to say that some people who watch the movie, tell me that they were a little confused. It’s very complex, multi-layered and it’s not a clear beginning middle and end story. So a lot of people are like “Huh?”

They might have to watch it more than once!

 

When we watched it, the first time it cuts to the true crime thing it’s a little bit jarring and you’re kind of like “Ooh, what’s going on?” in a “this is interesting, where are we going?” way. Once that happens a few times and you get into the rhythm of it you think “This is cool, I haven’t seen this before”.

Yeah, for me it really works and I thought it was really clever.

 

Obviously, that’s down to Irving Walker’s great script which also has this really great sly sense of humour all the way through it. How important is the standard of the writing to you when you’re looking at potential projects?

Very high, of course! I think the script is everything and I think a lot of filmmakers maybe don’t vet their script very well before they put it out. I read a lot of scripts where I think, “oh, this could be a little bit better.”  It’s very hard but I think it’s the most important thing.

I felt like with this script it was really well written, so it’s easy for the actors to do their job. Everybody in the movie is very good in their roles and that’s because the writing was so good.

I read a lot of scripts and you know movies never turn out the way you think they’re going to.  They’re always a little bit different than you picture in your mind when you’re reading it. If the writing is good you have a better chance of making a better movie. Sometimes, if the writing isn’t there but you have a really great director or actors or editor, you can overcome that. You get a feeling and an emotional connection with the movie that may take any blemishes away, but if you start with a great script it’s so much easier for everyone.

I really felt that this script was one of those. I also felt that when I did We Are Still Here and Beyond the Gates.

 

We Are Still Here was so good!

They were both movies where I felt that the writing was so good that I won’t fuck it up!

[laughs]

If the writing is no good I’m afraid I’ll mess it up because I’m unclear about a moment or how to play a scene. If the writing is good then that’s a foundation for me to do my best work.

Totally. In terms of doing your work: how do you like to be directed?

That’s a great question! That’s a great question. Thank you for asking me that question.

I don’t know if anybody has ever asked me that before. It’s a real big conundrum and it’s something that I want to address coming up because the new Fangoria magazine is being relaunched in October and I have an ongoing column. M first column is about acting in horror movies and working with fear.  I think my next one will be about working with different directors because I have interviewed a lot of people for my column. That question came up a lot and it comes up for me a lot.

It depends. I feel like I always have to work in whatever fashion the director wants to work. Directors will say, “I have to work however the actor wants to work!” We’re trying to help one another out but I feel that the director has a harder job than I do. Some directors want to give you a lot of direction. They want to talk to you about every moment, every scene; some directors want to leave you alone and let you do your thing, and there’s no right or wrong way.

I’m a very collaborative person so I like a lot of direction – I like people to talk to me about the feeling, the mood, and how the scene is working. If they’d like something a little bit different or if they’d like to try something. A lot of actors don’t want to talk to the director so much but I want a lot of input. Sometimes I get it, sometimes I don’t.

If I don’t get that then I tend to talk to the other actors about the scene, but then some actors don’t want to talk. They want to do their work and be in the moment and kind of let everything surprise themselves and you. That energy between the actors is really important and how that lives and breathes and becomes its own character in a way.

I’m very heady I guess. I analyse things a lot so for me so I talk to the director about the character, what films move them, what they’re trying to do, or what tone they want in the film. I mean you can play with the tone in the editing but tone is a very big deal to me and when it’s off you really notice it. I’ve been in so many different kinds of horror movies that I really want to make sure that I get the tone right, so that’s a big thing for me.

So, to answer your question: I like a lot of collaboration!

[both laugh]

As much as I’ve analysed your question, that’s the kind of rapport I like to have with the director. It’s their movie and I want to be in their movie. I want to know what their vision is and the more I talk to them the more I can help in fulfilling that vision.

 

Have you ever felt like getting behind the camera and doing some directing yourself? Is that something that appeals to you?

You know, I’d love to. I’d love to do scenes! Or maybe a short, but I don’t think I’d want to do a whole movie!

It takes up too much of your life and one movie is going to eat up two or three years. I love acting so much – and I like producing too now – that to add directing into the mix at this point is not high on my list. I would love to do a part of an anthology or maybe an episode of a TV show in the future. That could be a possibility for me. It’s not something that I’m actively seeking. Sometimes when I’m working on a movie watching other people do a scene and I’m not the director, I think “what would I say to these actors right now if I was the director?”

 

Well, it sounds like it’s in there and it wants to come out!

Yeah! Maybe! We’ll see. Someday. Maybe.

I saw that you are going to be in the fourth series of Channel Zero, a show which is a very recent pleasant discovery in my house – we’re about a series and a half in at the moment – were you a fan of the show already before you got involved? Or was it a new thing to you too?

I was a fan of the show! It was crazy!

I’d been watching the show! I knew that Don Mancini was involved as a writer, I’m friends with Don, and I had met Nick Ancosta the creator of the show at Sitges Festival last year. It was about a year ago, everyone was watching and talking about the show and I was like “this sounds interesting.” I fell in love with it.

I watched the first season in full because it had already aired and loved it. Then I thought “I’m going to watch the second one!” I watched the second one immediately and liked it even more than the first.

The second season really hooked me on the whole show and then I couldn’t wait for the third season to come out. I was a complete fan of the show already. Then over the summer, I got an email from Nick and he said, “we’re about to go into production on the new season and I’ve written a part that I think you’d be good for. Would you even be interested in thinking about doing it?” I was like, “erm, yeah! That’s a hard and fast ‘Yeah!’”

I was really happy to be a part of it and it was one of the nicest experiences that I’ve had because they work with a crew in Canada and the crew was incredible. It was one of the best crews I’ve ever worked with in my life, everybody was tops at their job and Evan Katz the director of the season – you know he did that movie Cheap Thrills?

 

Oh yeah – great movie. Evan is cool (I interviewed Evan for the site when Cheap Thrills came out, and we actually have a quote on the poster and DVD).

He’s amazing. Everyone talks about him with such reverence and that he hadn’t “popped” yet, and I think he’ll “pop” from this.  He gave me a lot of direction! Great suggestions for the character and he was really easy to work with. The scripts are amazing if you are a fan of the show. I think every season has gotten better and I’m just thrilled on so many levels to be a part of it.

 

That’s so great to hear. I can’t wait to see it – I had better hurry up and catch up!

Yeah!

 

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today, it’s been an absolute pleasure.

Oh, likewise! Thank you so much for all the great questions.

DEAD NIGHT will be arriving on DVD and Digital Download 8 October 2018 – just in time for Halloween!

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