Adrienne Barbeau has done it all. She played Rizzo in the original Broadway cast of Grease. She was Bea Arthur's daughter in the groundbreaking TV series Maude. Starring roles in films like The Fog, Swamp Thing, and Creepshow made her an icon of the horror genre. She's also penned a best-selling memoir and a series of fun, funny vampire novels. She's coming to Memphis' Orpheum Theatre in the touring company of Broadway's Pippin.
Memphis Flyer: Did writing come easy?
Adrienne Barbeau: If you take a writing class, you've got to write. So I started taking homework assignments, just writing little pieces about my life and my career. You know, things I thought people might find interesting or funny or humorous. Like, I'd just finished doing a low-budget horror movie based on a Bram Stoker short story in Russia. It was called Burial of the Rats, and I took it because I wanted to go to Moscow. Well, we landed on the day of an attempted coup. They fired on parliament, and martial law was declared. That was interesting. I was also supposed to be working with 50 trained rats, but there were only 16, and I think eight of them were dead. The rest had only been trained to eat anything that smelled like fish. So every time I'd do a scene where the rats had to swarm all over me, they took fish eggs and squeezed the juice all over my body. I thought, "Well, somebody might find this interesting." I wrote about that. I wrote about dating Burt Reynolds and being married to John Carpenter. And after about six months of bringing in homework assignments, the teacher said, "You need to get an agent because this is a memoir." So I did, and that turned into There Are Worse Things I Could Do.
You're currently playing Berthe, the grandmother of Pippin — the son of Emperor Charlemagne. Her song, "No Time at All," is all about embracing life and living in the moment.That's so you.
That's why I took the role. Berthe sings, "Now when the drearies do attack, and a siege of the sad begins, I throw these regal shoulders back, and lift these noble chins." And then she gets on a trapeze and hangs upside down.
What was it like transitioning from Broadway to TV and a controversial show like Maude?
We shot the whole show like it was a play. We didn't stop once the camera started rolling, and we had a live audience. We did it twice in a day. We did a 5 o'clock show, and we did an 8 o'clock show. After the 5 o'clock show, the writers rewrote jokes that didn't work or cut whole sequences that went too long. So, while having dinner, we were getting our notes and new pages, and we'd memorize those new pages. If you didn't have a stage background and you couldn't memorize and incorporate all those changes, you were screwed.
Did you know right away what a big deal Maude was?
I knew we had a hit show. I was really proud of it, and it was really funny. But I had no idea about any of the issues that the journalists were going to make me the spokesperson for. Because, up until that time, I grew up in a household where I didn't even know what political party my parents were registered in. And as far as they were concerned, it's nobody's business if they were Democrats or Republicans. If they read the paper, they read it at work, because I don't remember ever having a newspaper in the house or watching the news or anything. So I was just concentrating on being an actress and getting a job and all of that. Suddenly it was like, "So, how do you feel about the Equal Rights Amendment?"
Your horror writing is so playful. You seem to have a real affinity for the genre.
Oh, no. In fact, I can count the number of horror films I've seen on one hand. I don't like seeing them. I remember when John [Carpenter] showed me Halloween, and I thought, "Oh my God!" He was black and blue because I kept hitting him sitting next to me. I don't like being scared. Now, I love doing horror movies. And probably the reason I love doing them is they give me an opportunity. I don't play victims very easily or very well. I don't play weak very well. So those roles give me the opportunity to be the strong woman.