Copyright © Kitley's Krypt





Q: There is quite a gap between NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and your current film work.  What brought you back to the big screen?

A: I believe the internet, in all honesty.  More and more people found they could get in touch with me.  Young independent filmmakers took the chance to get in touch and ask, “Would there be any way you would consider being in our film?”

Q: And you starred in one of the biggest independent films of all time.

A: We never would have guessed it when we were making it! 

Q: Next year is the 40th Anniversary of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.  Do you have any special plans to celebrate that?

A: I don’t know if this is letting anything out of the bag but I know George Romero’s manager has been working a United States tour that will possibly hit four major cities through out the country.  We are also possibly heading to Spain for the Sitges Film Festival.  I think I could handle that.

Q: What do you think about NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD being selected to be in the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress?

A: I’m awed and more grateful than I can say.  This film really changed my life.  I’ve had the opportunity to meet some of the most wonderful people in the world; people who are so supportive of that film.  The film truly would never have been what it has become without people who latched onto it.  We were very, very fortunate.

Q: So what do you think draws so many people to the film?

A: I think it was wonderful to see the combination of a black man and a white woman without the stereotypical black/white issues.  It was just two people – who happen to be black and white – doing their best to survive.  I think also the fact that it was almost documentary in style.  It smacked more of realism.  Also, we have to face the fact that not all good folk survive.  The white hats die.  Up until that time, in some way, one or two of the good folks survived in films.  But this broke the barrier and showed that sometimes we don’t survive.  I also think that George Romero, being as talented as he is, was able to do things on NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD on such a small budget that many filmmakers at the time didn’t think of trying.  He had wonderful shot ideas.  The movie was very tightly edited and even today I think it holds up in that regard.

Q: Have you seen the 3-D remake of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD?

A: No.  Have you?

Q: I’ve seen the trailer and that is about as far as I want to go.  I know Barbara receives her famous taunting from Johnny via text message.

A: (laughs) When I was a kid, mother would take me to the cemetery while she visited relatives graves.  I used to go with her and cemeteries scared the bejesus out of me.  I’d walk past the mausoleums with great trepidation.  Death itself was frightening to me and I questioned a lot about it.  To have gotten into a film that got me smack dab in the place that terrified me I thought was ironic.

Q: Was the NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD crew aware of your fear?

A: No.

Q: So were you able to channel that into your performance?

A: It has been quite a while but I sure hope I did.

Q: What is your personal favorite scene in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD?

A: One that always comes to mind to me is when Barbara has initially come into the house.  She is walking through the various rooms.  In one of the rooms, you see her hand go up this little box and she touches the top.  The little doors on the music box open and George’s shot from the ground up and you can see Barbara’s eyes as the doors close.  I absolutely love that scene.  That is one of the scenes George was able to do that I don’t think films did back then.  It is almost an avant-garde or film noir type of thing, those magic moments.  Sometimes you get a wonderful crew and cast that work so well together with a good story. 

Q: When did you personally realize that NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD had become a phenomenon?

A: That is sort of a toughie.  My life was so involved with my family.  Then I fell into divorce and making a living to support those children.  People would notify me and say, “Did you know that NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is in Japanese?”  I think it was probably 5-10 years [after the initial release].  It just never died.  It just kept on going.  I look forward to see some of the folks again.  We don’t often get together but when we do, we have a wonderful time. 

Q: Did you see the remake of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD that Tom Savini did?

A: I was invited to the premiere of that out on the West Coast.  I met Patricia Tallman and all the folks involved.  Often I am asked what you thought of that remake.  In all honesty, I think the two films stand separately, made at the different times they were.  I can see where Tom took a more feminist level.  But the fact that she survives sort of changes it for me.  I am still very much a supporter of the original in that, to me, the character of Barbara really creates…how do I want to put this?  You see in Barbara somebody who has just experienced something so terrifyingly unexplainable that it shows how a human being can deal with it.  We each deal with it differently.  Barbara had to go inside herself to figure out what is happening.  And then, having worked it out inside through that catatonia thinking, to see her come out and realize that if I’m going to survive, I’m going to have to come out.  I love that.

Q: So what can you tell me about your company O’Dea Communications?

A: It started about 7 years ago.  I was working with Raytheon Corporation – I started with Hughes Aircraft – as a presentation expert.  I used all of my theater and film skills to help executives and any level of employee to put together effective presentations.  It was a great way to work on a consistent basis to support my family.  I never thought in my life that I would do something like that and love it as much as I have.  Because I loved it so much, I thought, “Why not just create my own little business?”  I was able to pull away from the 9-to-5 corporate world.  I was 56 when I retired from corporate America.  To this day, even though I don’t promote it a great deal, calls will come in.  It enables me to do something I love just as much as theater, but in a different way. 

Q: Is that based on the West Coast?

A: It is but I work all over the country.  All over the world if somebody should want me. 

Q: Have you ever had a client recognize you from your past film work?

A: It happens all the time.  On my website, there is a page on NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.  Inevitably, word gets out when I teach.  That is one of the things I meant when I said that this film has changed my life.  Someone will say, “Were you really Barbara in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD?”  When I say, “Yes” and we talk about it, the whole atmosphere changes in that room.  I don’t know if they listen more to you or there is a level of respect that comes with the fact of here is a movie that has last as long as NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD has.  We end up having the greatest time because of that one thing in my life.

Q: Do you find similarities between working on NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and your new film, WOMEN’S STUDIES?

A: There is a wonderful camaraderie.  Last night, even though we are doing some very serious things, we had a lot of humor.  I like that.  I enjoy making them laugh.  In NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, all of us worked to make that film happen.  We helped with make-up, we helped with moving the lights, and we helped holding up the gobos to get the shadows in.  I can even remember George teaching me how to load film in a film bag.  Everybody helped.  There was an incredible group of hardworking people.

Q: What attracted you to your role in WOMEN’S STUDIES?

A: The Senatorial type role, with power attached to it.  I really thought it would be fun to do that.  I like the fact that she didn’t end up being the Wicked Witch of the West all the way, that there were redeeming qualities about her.  I liked the intensity, I liked the power and I liked the fact that she had redeeming qualities.

Q: So how did you prepare for that type of role?

A: I wrote a back story for myself, all the way back to [my character’s] childhood.  I saw myself coming from a family with a very strong patriarchy to the point of emotionally and psychologically abusive; physically abusive to her mother.  My character was smart enough to avoid that but that indeed stuck with me over the years.  Then how she met Miss Ross, the woman she falls in love with, who ends up being my partner in the school.  It was wonderful to write that whole history and I find myself, when we do a scene, going back to that.  Finding what I thought would be a good motivator to help me get into it.  I drew from it.  We filmed some heavy duty [emotional] scenes.  And I drew from what I thought would turn her better.  She was a pretty wicked woman.  That was actually pretty important.

Q: Tell me about the tattoo you have on your arm?

A: That is integral to all the girls at Ross-Prentiss Academy, let’s leave it at that.

Q: So how has it been working with director Lonnie Martin?

A: It’s been a ball.  Lonnie and Cindy Marie Martin are both very professional.