For fans of the 1966-1971 ABC supernatural soap opera “Dark Shadows” (and they are legion), a lot is riding on Tim Burton’s blockbuster film adapation to deliver the camp, romance and frights that made the show the hit that it was. The brainchild of producer Dan Curtis, “Dark Shadows” is legendary for pumping out a remarkable 1,225 episodes during its five-year run. The complete DVD box set comes in a mock coffin, and runs a whopping 30,000 hours over 131 discs.
The show’s best remembered for the character of Barnabas Collins (played by Jonathan Frid, who recently passed away, and by Johnny Depp in Burton’s film), a 200-year-old vampire fresh from the grave and hellbent on saving his family’s cannery in Collinsport, Maine from the vengeful hands of the beautiful witch Angelique (played by Lara Parker; Eva Green in the film) who initially cursed him back in the 18th century. “Dark Shadows” is also fondly remembered for its infamous bloopers (looming boom mics frequently made an appearance) thanks to the fast-paced environment which didn’t allow for second takes — or editing for that matter.
In honor of Burton’s take on the TV classic that opens wide this Friday, Indiewire caught up with two of the show’s stars — Parker and Kathryn Leigh Scott, best remembered for playing Barnabas’ lover Josette (embodied by Bella Heathcote in the film) — to discuss the show’s enduring legacy and their time spent on Burton’s set shooting their cameo appearances.
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On the Challenges of Working on a Show Like This
Scott: It was like summer stock because every day — we had 30 pages of dialogue to learn, but we came in in the morning at eight, and by three we were in front of the camera doing a live show. We only had one take. We did the commercials and everything, all in that half hour. There was never an opportunity to edit the show or redo it. So when we started doing a lot of special effects, often we had very little time to actually rehearse the dialogue because we had to rehearse the special effects. Obviously things went wrong — we would walk out the studio shellshocked because so many things had gone wrong. We would beg Dan Curtis to do some editing, but of course that never happened. He would say that nobody was watching but housewives and kids. Well, now with these DVDs, all of those painful mistakes and bloopers are there for everybody to see.
Parker: It was extremely difficult. Most of us had done theater, but none of us had ever done a soap operas before. There were three rehearsals in the morning and then we did the show with absolutely no editing, no cutting, no stopping and starting over to fix the mistakes. So when you bumped into a styrofoam gravestone it fell over and the walls shook and the paintings fell off the wall. Everybody got a fly on their nose — that was sort of the initiation. It all went on the air. We flubbed lines. Microphones were in the shots. There were many many things that went wrong which went on the air.
On Revisiting the Show on DVD, Warts and All
Parker: We would watch the show that was airing that day and just cringe. Some of the acting, the purple clothes, the absurdity, unintended campiness of it all. We would look at each other and say we never had to do that again. We never had any idea that people would start watching it again. The interesting thing is that the older I become the better Angelique gets. I’ve stopped seeing her as a performance. I’m so far away from that. I actually see the character; the appeal in how evil she was.
When They First Realized the Show Was a Cultural Phenomenon
Parker: I think the first couple of times I was really aware was when I’d walk on the subway platform after work and the kids would just be getting out of school and they’d start screaming at the top of their lungs, running away from me as fast as they could. Kids tended to think I was Angelique and that I was that evil and cruel. We just came to the realization slowly and then the show went off the air. Then people began to have conventions that we were getting invited to and this mob of people would come up to us and tell me what I meant to them when they were growing up. Some had named their cat or daughter Angelique! It’s all very flattering.
Scott: When Jonathan first came on the show playing Barnabas Collins, young kids started showing up after school outside the stage door. Within a matter of weeks we had a crowd of youngsters out there.
I think when I first realized how big the show was, I actually had a bit of holiday in West Africa and early in the morning, I was in a Land Rover watching a pride of lions feeding on a wildebeest when another Land Rover pulled up. I heard this little girl’s voice going, “Mommy mommy, that’s Maggie Evans over there.” That was extraordinary.
Why the Show Appeals to Youth Despite its Dark Subject Matter
Scott: One of the things that I discuss in my book is that those kids who were watching the show when they were ten year-olds are today writing letters to me. One that I got just about a week ago said, “I’m 51 years old and my first grandson was just born and I’m a happy man, but ‘Dark Shadows’ got me through a terrible, terrible childhood. My best memory is watching the show with my grandmother.”
Our show was on at four in the afternoon and it allowed for half-hour of pure fantasy and escapism. A half-hour to just get away from everything that had happened during the day. A lot of adults, housewives, were watching it as well. If you’ll remember, there was huge social unrest at the time. We were in the middle of a war, a war that nobody wanted.
Why “Dark Shadows” Has a Lasting Appeal
Scott: I think it all comes down to story. I talked to one of the writers from “Dark Shadows” and he said that we weren’t so much writers as we were thieves, but we did steal from the best. I think that even though children couldn’t reference “Turn of the Screw,” “Jane Eyre, “Wuthering Heights,” or “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” they still recognized a good story and a good story is enduring.
On What it Was Like to Be On the Film Set of “Dark Shadows,” Compared to the TV Show
Parker: We were dizzy with excitement, you can only imagine. It’s remarkable that this TV show that we did so long ago has inspired these amazing talents. I was thrilled with the casting and thrilled to meet everyone. We were taken to the studio and the costume department where Colleen Atwood put us in our dresses, then whisked off to the sets themselves. They were just remarkable. It was so grand. The scene was a party and Alice Cooper was performing and we made entrance. Kathryn, Jonathan and I, then David behind us. We nodded to Johnny Depp and he nodded at us. He said to Jonathan that none of us would be here if it weren’t for you. He was very gracious and warm. So was Tim Burton. It was very exciting set. They said they were watching the episodes in the makeup room every morning!
Scott: I just stood there with Lara Parker in the middle of this ballroom set and it was so reminiscent of back in 1966-67, but it was so lavish. To walk down the cobble streets of Pinewood Studios and see Collinswood come alive, it was very much as I imagined it, but there you had the entire town! It was just wonderful to see it all come alive.
On Meeting Their Feature Film Counterparts
Scott: She’s only a year older than I was when I started and it was really wonderful to chat with her and see this beautiful delicate young woman.
Parker: We talked for about ten minutes. She came out of her dressing room for a minute. She did not ask me for my advice, which I was prepared to give her, but she was intrigued. She didn’t know Angelique was from Martinique. She was very intrigued to find out that Angelique had French origins like herself. She said the part was truly a gift, that it had many layers and that she was thrilled to be playing it. She looked gorgeous.
Fondest Memory of Jonathan Frid
Parker: My fondest memory was when we did the auditions. I auditioned with him and the scene was where I’m begging him not to abandon me because I love him so much. We finished rehearsing the scene, he turned to me and said before we went on the camera, “You know she’s a witch don’t you?” Which I didn’t know, I had no idea she was a witch. I thought she was a servant girl who was in love with her master, and I said “No, she’s a witch?,” and he said, “Yes.”
So we did the scene and I put a little spin on it at the end; I looked at the camera and did that ‘hell hath no fury like a woman scorned look’ and I got the part. I think it was because he had coached me in that way.
Scott: My first memory of him was when Maggie Evans first meets Barnabas Collins in the Collinsport diner. There’s a beautiful moment when these two people, both of them very much outsiders, have a long scene in which you can see them bonding. I think that Dan Curtis wanted that chemistry that Jonathan Frid and I had from the beginning, and that inspired him to create the character of Josette and this long lost love of Barnabas. It was a really lovely scene. It was Jonathan’s first week on the show. Maggie Evans, who works at the Collinsport diner, is closing up and you can see that she’s tired and she’s about to go out the door. Then there’s this face in the window and it’s Barnabas Collins. He says, “I didn’t see you were closing,” and against her better judgment she lets him in, makes a fresh pot of coffee, and the two of them sit down and talk. It’s my favorite scene of all the episodes that I ever did.
He was so warm and he had a whimsical sense of humor, but he was also very down to earth. There are two words that Johnny Depp used to describe Jonathan that I completely agree with — he was “elegant” and he was “magical.”