|On the evening of September 20th,
2004, I had the rare opportunity to have a chat with the wonderful Judy
O'Dea via AOL instant messenger. In her acting career, spanning five
decades, she has appeared in only one film. But in that one film, she
has solidified her place in the horror pantheon as one of the most
unforgettable roles in horror film history. In her role as Barbara, she
brought a level of depth and humanity rarely seen in the drive in films
of the day, or even the films of today. What couldíve easily devolved
into a clichťd (even for the time) portrayal of a hysterical woman, was
brought to life as a haunted, traumatized, woman fighting for her
sanity, and later, for her life. Her performance stands out as probably
the best in the film (in my opinion), even amongst the very strong
ensemble cast who play alongside her in the film.
But, enough of my chatter, letís go on to the interview!
First, let me say thank you for taking the time with me
Rich- Why donít
you tell us a little bit about how you got started in acting?
Ever since I was a little girl, before school even began, Iíd always
pretended, imagined, fantasized. Being an actress just seemed the most
natural goal for me.
Rich- I guess it
was kind of the same here, then I found out I couldnít act my way out
of a paper bag, so I took to writing and drawing. One terrible school
play was enough for me.
Itís interesting, isnít it? How our lifeís directions go?
Rich- Very much so.
As kids, we all play basically the same games, then we split off at some
Being somebody else always came easily for me. Itís reality that is
often times more difficult.
Rich- How would you
describe the film to someone who hasnít seen it?
believe Iíd say that NOTLD comes off as more of a docu-drama than pure
fantasy or science-fiction. Itís more of a study of a group of people,
whom, unbeknownst to them, were propelling themselves to their own
demise. I was talking to this about someone last week after a screening
of the film. When you stop and think about it, Harry Cooper was right,
the cellar WAS the safest place.
Rich- I agree, it
might have been the only time he was right in his life, but he was
totally on the money.
it still wasnít safe enough to save Ben, was it? Itís interesting,
the good donít always survive, for whatever reason.
Rich- I donít
think any of them expected their saviors to come in that way.
do the best we can with what we have at the moment. Characters are truly
more well defined in those times of stress, or so it would seem.
Rich- How did you
end up getting the role of Barbara?
had worked with Karl (Hardman) and Marilyn (Eastman) doing voice over
and other commercial work. They thought of me when auditions came up for
the film. I was in Hollywood at the time. They called and asked if Iíd
like to return to Pittsburgh to audition for the film, and I did.
Rich- Wasnít Judy
Ridley originally up for the role of Barbara?
Yes, I believe she was
Rich- I think she
wouldíve done well, but she was better placed in the end.
Rich- What was your
reaction to the script, originally?
canít honestly say I was given a complete script to read. We took
scenes as George (Romero) gave them to us. A work in progress, truly.
attracted you to the role of Barbara?
Looking back now with a much clearer perspective, I would say what
attracted me was that, even though she fell into a state of catatonia
for a while, she was able to rally, to fight, to survive to the very
Rich- Thatís one
of the most interesting things about her, you kind of write her off, but
in the end, she comes around. Itís too late, but itís still great to
helped another who was in dire straits, with no thought to her own
Rich- Was there any
sort of research or preparation you did to get inside Barbaraís head,
so to speak?
nothing extensive. We talked through what had to be shot. I internalized
it as best I could, and then we went for it. Remember, we didnít have
the luxuries of time or extra film stock.
Rich- What do you
recall as being best about the shoot?
Isolating the one best thing is hard to do. I loved being involved,
having to produce on call the emotion and outcome that would best suit
what George wanted. Also, helping with the many other aspects of getting
the film made was great fun, too. It was truly a team effort.
Rich- It felt like
a family environment?
Well...sort of. A tight knit group of people striving to produce
Rich- Thatís one
of the greatest things about independent film you hear. Everyone is
there because they like what they do, and everyone is on the same level.
Yes, itís more about the art, the worth of the project. Sure, we all
hoped it would make a bit of money, so more and better films could be
made. But while we were shooting, it was ALL. We gave it our best.
Thatís one of the reasons, when any independent film opportunities
come my way, Iím eager to participate, for the most part.
Rich- What was the
worst thing about the shoot?
canít honestly isolate any worst part of the shoot, I was 23, life lay
ahead. I was doing what I love to do, all was exciting and challenging.
great, any bad memories just melted away.
Isnít that the wonderful thing about many bad memories? They just seem
to fade away far more quickly than the happy ones. I like that about my
Rich- Might as well
let go of the bad ones, unless to learn from them.
Absolutely, all offer opportunities for lessons learned.
Rich- If you
couldíve rewritten your character, what would you have changed about
gut reaction to that question is to say, I donít think I really want
to change much of anything. Well, maybe the length of time she was
catatonic. But, for the most part, I like Barbara the way she was.
wouldíve had her come around sooner, maybe kick them in the rear, tell
them to get their stuff together?
Maybe, but then think what kind of an impact it would have had on the
storyline. It wouldnít have been quite what it was, and what it was
Rich- I agree, but
its kind of fun to go "I wouldíve done this...".
Once done, I let it alone, for the most part.
Rich- Would you
take the role if it were offered to you today?
aged Barbara?! Sure, I love the craft. Iím game for almost anything. I
hope, at this age, I could bring even more to the role.
Rich- It would be
fun to see a world weary Barbara still around 35 years after the plague.
What a sight!
Rich- There has
been a remake of NOTLD, and now there is a comic book based around
Barbara. They both portray Barbara as being a zombie butt kicking
machine. How does that strike you, as far as your take on her?
know of the remake, Patricia Tallman played my character. I can see why
they updated Barbaraís responses, seeing as how they were in the 90's
rather than the 60's. But for me, honestly, the original storyline was
even more emotionally and psychologically powerful.
Rich- I enjoyed the
remake, but it seemed hollow, comparatively. Had you heard of the new
Rich- Ill send you
a cover scan of it. They made you a comic book heroine! LOL!
Holy cow! Boy, have I changed! Thatís a riot! They got my blue eyes
right, though ;-)
Rich- Anyways, I
was going to ask what acting jobs youíve been doing recently.
Iíve done lots of stage work since NOTLD. Musicals, drama, comedy.
Recently though, Iíve had the opportunity to get back into film, a
medium I dearly love. Iíll be flying to Wisconsin to take part in an
independent film called October Moon. It is written and directed by
Jason Collum. Several other projects are in the wind, as well.
Rich- Iíve also
heard of Claustrophobia and A Moth to a Flame.
Yes. Claustrophobia is in the can. A Moth to the Flame has yet to be
Rich- What can you
tell me about your new films?
Well... October Moon is a Fatal Attraction kind of story. I play a
mother who turns her back on her own son.
Rich- Sounds harsh,
I hope she has good reason.
to say, without spoiling the story for you, she hasnít. At least in my
mind, maybe not in others.
Rich- What about
Claustrophobia? Is it a return to horror for you?
Claustrophobia is about a killing spree, Iím the one who gets it
first. By arrow!
Rich- Is it weird
seeing your movie lining all the shelves at the stores at Halloween?
wonderful and will always be exciting to see NOTLD lining the shelves at
Rich- Lastly, what
would you like to say to the fans of NOTLD?
deepest heartfelt thanks for making our young and hopeful film effort
become what it is today. Truly, without your support, NOTLD would never
have gone beyond the dream we all had for it back in 1968.
Thank you from the bottom of my little horror geek heart! Itís been a
pleasure to spend some time with you. I cannot wait to see your new
bless you. Thanks so much!