Post by Graveyardbride on Dec 2, 2015 19:14:05 GMT -5
Interview with Vampire Barnabas Collins
It was in the beginning of 1967 that fate intervened and altered Jonathan Frid's life in ways he could not foresee. He had just wrapped up a national tour with Ray Milland in Hostile Witness and his plans were to pack up his belongings from his apartment, move to California and utilize his master’s degree to get a job as a professor of drama. “As I got to my apartment door in New York, the phone was ringing,” he recalls. “I left my bags in the hall and ran in to answer it. It was my agent, who I hadn't told when I’d be back. He told me about the part of a vampire on Dark Shadows and coaxed me into trying out for it by pointing out the job would only last a few weeks and would net me some extra money to go to the coast with. Well, you know the rest of the story. It was just that freaky phone call. If I had been two minutes later . . . .” His voice trails off, letting the silence speak for itself.
Frid joined the series in April of 1967 and the rest, as they say, is history. The ratings took off and fan mail began pouring in, including suggestive letters and nude photos of women who wanted him to use his fangs on them. Vampire Barnabas Collins and Jonathan Frid were suddenly cult objects.
“Barnabas is very much like everything I’ve played before,” Frid explains. “I played Macbeth once and there’s a great similarity between Macbeth and Barnabas. Certainly Macbeth is built on guilt, just as Barnabas was. It’s a characteristic when even Richard III has, though I don’t really like to drag Richard into it. A lot of people think he had no guilt and I think that he did.” To illustrate, Frid references the nightmare sequence of Shakespeare’s play in which Richard confronts the souls of his victims and, consequently, himself. “Richard III is a delightful role that can be played very comically, but I was playing it for horror.”
With this, Frid gives an oration on the aspects of his portrayal which has apparently influenced many of his other roles. “I love to play horror for horror’s sake,” he explains. “Inner horror . . . I mean. I never thought I created fear with the fang business of Barnabas. I always felt foolish doing that part of it. The horror part I liked was ‘the lie.’ There’s nothing more horrible than looking someone in the eyes who’s telling you a lie and you know it. Somehow that scares me more than anything else. Of course, I’ve never been physically attacked by anybody with a knife or a gun . . . or teeth, and that may be quite horrible. But in terms of the theater, I liked the inner drama rather than the outward manifestation. An inner conflict or emotional confrontation is more of a drama to me. That’s why with Barnabas, there were so many scenes I was thrilled to do and why the show came alive so many times for me.”
It was Barnabas’s lie, that he was pretending to be something that he wasn’t, which motivated Frid more than any other aspect of the role. “That pretense was something the actor playing Barnabas had to remember all the time,” he emphasizes. “He got the lust for blood every once and a while, but always what preyed on his mind was the lie. And, of course, it played right into my lie as an actor,” he adds. “I was lying that I was calm and comfortable in the studio, just as Barnabas was lying that he was the calm, comfortable cousin from England. He wasn’t at all. He was a sick, unbelievable creep that the world didn’t know about.”
In essence, the character’s façade, inspired the actor, but what was it about Barnabas that appealed to so many people? “First of all,” Frid begins, obviously still trying to explain it in his own mind as well, “Barnabas was the first sympathetic vampire. He was a man with an addiction, who drank blood only to survive. The audience felt pity for him and many of the women wanted to mother him. There was a love-hate relationship between the audience – particularly children – and Barnabas. In some ways, he was looked upon as a darker version of Santa Claus; friendly enough that you were intrigued by him, yet mysterious enough that he frightened you.”
And what about the overall appeal of Dark Shadows itself? “I recently watched a rerun of an episode which I thought was excellent and it gave me a perspective which is good for me to have. It took me out of my own ego trip in my connection to the show, because I wasn’t even on it, and I think it answers that particular question. Grayson Hall as Dr. Hoffman and Robert Gerringer as Dr. Woodard were having an awful confrontation about me,” Frid says. “This day, they were both dead-on perfect and their confrontation sparked. It reinforced our interest in her getting her goals. Grayson was strong without overacting and made everything believable in this ridiculous story. But that’s the magic of theater, making implausible things plausible. The writers scored that day as did the actors and it was all very believable.”
He continues, obviously enthused by this revelation. “A great deal of the time the show was absolutely absurd, because we weren’t strong enough to make it believable and we had an extra duty over and beyond the average soap opera. To deal with this strange material on a daily basis is more demanding on the actors than normal, and on the writers. Because of its inconsistency as a good and bad show, some days people would laugh at it as a hoot and then on others, they would get caught up in it. I suppose what I’m really trying to say is that when the over-sizeness is honestly thought out and meaningful, the show became sheer magic. It’s as good as anything I’ve ever seen on television.”
By the summer of 1967, it had become obvious Dark Shadows was a sensation. Teenagers gathered outside the studio to get a glimpse of their favorite star, fan mail had increased ten-fold and thanks to a New York Times article which revealed that Frid had a listed phone number, fans called at all hours of the night. It wasn’t long before his likeness adorned lunch boxes, bubble gum cards, comic books and more than a dozen paperback novels. One must assume that being thrust into this phenomenon was not an easy thing to deal with. “Well, the cameras scared me because I hadn’t had much experience in television,” Frid admits. “Not so much the cameras, but the millions of dollars they represented. I was in big business and my job was to get people to hang in there until the next set of commercials. I was scared by that. The other aspect,” he continues, “is the stardom. I guess I kind of realized what was happening after two or three months, but I was saved from dwelling on it and becoming too big for my boots because I was so busy with the scripts every day.”
Actually, this does not seem so improbable when one understands Frid’s approach to studying a script. “The character of Barnabas was all set before we even began. My only problem was getting it under my belt. Getting the lines down, delivering them and playing the values I had to play; the motivations. I spend so much time working out the problems that I don’t get down to the nitty gritty and get the bloody lines learned. I’m constantly undoing whatever it is I’m doing. Tearing it apart so it’s in a shambles, little pieces of paper all over the place. Then I have to be in front of the camera in half an hour and I’ve got my part all over the place. I used to do this night after night after night. It’s just in my nature.”
Success followed success, as Frid toured different cities on weekends, hosted pageants, appeared on TV talk shows, starred in the big budget motion picture House of Dark Shadows and even visited the White House, having been invited by Tricia Nixon, daughter of the president himself.
But after a five-year run, it was over; ratings declined and the show was canceled in April of 1971. “The end wasn’t really a great shock, because the writing on the wall was always there for me,” Frid says. “Every time the show went up another notch, I figured it was peaking and that it would start to go down. It lasted a hell of a lot longer than I thought it would. It wasn’t the average soap opera and they went through all the stories three or four times. We started repeating ourselves and the show burned out.”
So, with the exception of the hardcore fans, Dark Shadows faded into the mists of time and the hysteria which had snared Frid, suddenly set him free again. “I knew I couldn’t make a career of being a star, because I would have had to make a commitment to the occult,” he states. “If I did make a career of it, I would have had to become an honorary member of every occult society in the country and get into vampirism. I just couldn’t bear the thought of doing that. Look at Bela Lugosi, the poor man. He died and had himself buried in his Dracula cape. I never wanted to get like that.”
Moving out of the shadows, Frid appeared live in Murder at the Cathedral and on film in Oliver Stone’s Seizure and ABC’s The Devil’s Daughter before dropping out of the public spotlight. Was the problem typecasting? “I knew that was going to happen,” he explains. “Actually, there was nothing to typecast except the fangs. As for as Barnabas was concerned, he was more of a full-blown character than anybody on the show. Frankly, if I had worked harder, I would have manipulated it or, indeed, exploited it. You see, being a star is a big job and you can never go back. You can try, but you always end up trying to top yourself.”
Another thing which made Frid keep a low profile was a desire for normalcy. He disassociated himself from continued interest in the show for nearly a decade. “It was just such a pleasure to have my private life again,” he says with a breath of relief. In fact, it wasn’t until the early 1980s that Frid appeared at his first Dark Shadows convention and his interest was re-sparked.
Source: "1990 Jonathan Frid Interview" by Edward Gross, The Dark Shadows Almanac: 30th Anniversary Tribute by Kathryn Leigh Scott.