CS Interview: Adrienne Barbeau on eco-horror film Unearth
In time for the film’s debuts at the Fantasia International and Mile High Horror Film festivals, ComingSoon.net got the opportunity to chat with genre icon Adrienne Barbeau (The Fog, Creepshow) to discuss her role in the new eco-centric horror film Unearth.
In looking back on having originally received the script for the film, Barbeau found she instantly “connected with the characters” and that it was “very well-written,” drawing her to the project, which she describes as “more than just a horror story.”
“It’s saying something about saving the earth, about the environment, about fracking, specifically, hopefully making people think a little bit,” Barbeau expressed. “But if nothing else, it’s explaining the plight of our farm community across the country. I come from—my grandparents were farmers. I sort of grew up on a 20-acre grape farm that’s never made a dime, I don’t think [chuckled]. So as soon as I read it, I just connected with the character. Then I saw a small sample of John’s work and I was already a huge fan of Marc Blucas from a series he did on HBO years ago about football players, I can’t remember the name of it, Necessary Roughness I think.”
Though having this past experience in the farming world, the Catwoman voice actress did a little extra research into the industry and practices of fracking to better understand its dangers and its connection to the story.
“I researched fracking because my grandparents had a grape farm, they raised seedless grapes for raisins, primarily,” Barbeau noted. “They sold them for raisins. So I had heard the term fracking. I sort of generally knew what it was, but this led me to doing a lot more research and understanding of the procedure and the damage that it’s done. I mean, you’ve come down on one side or the other of the fracking argument, and we do that in the film. You see farmers fighting for their lives, and this is a solution for them, I think.”
Having grown up in Nothern California, the 75-year-old star found it was “great” to be able to film on set in rural Pennsylvania, especially as it meant getting to work relatively close to Pittsburgh, “one of my favorite cities.”
“It was a wonderful crew and John and Dorota, they were just great, our DP was fantastic,” Barbeau warmly described. “I was just so incredibly impressed with her work. I didn’t really get a chance to spend any time with her because whenever we were together we were on the set and we were filming, but I was so impressed with her work. I’ve done a lot of work in Pittsburgh, both on stage and on screen, and this wasn’t too far from there. It’s a beautiful countryside, and so it was really a nice experience all around. I think I had worked with PJ Marshall on something else either before this or maybe we did something after this, but I think we had done something before this, so I sort of knew PJ. I only knew Mark from his work, but I came in as a fan. I mean, I have had horrendous experiences on some location shoots, which I’ve written about in my memoir, just absolutely horrendous. This was smooth from start to finish, even though we were dealing with rain and Pennsylvania weather, it went very smoothly and that made it a pleasure.”
While working with the cast and crew proved to be one big positive experience for her, Barbeau recalled one of her fondest memories from the set was when the group all headed to a nearby demolition derby derby together, having “never seen anything like that.”
“I don’t know that I’ll ever need to—I mean, I’m not sure I’ll be buying tickets to go again, but it was fascinating, and fun, it really was fun,” Barbeau related. “So that sort of stands out in my mind. What else? I had some of the best corn I’ve ever had in my life, grown right on that farm we were working on. In fact, we were selling it in the movie and not in the movie. You know, they had a little corn stand and people were coming up while we were filming, and some of the other vegetables that they had, I want to say cauliflower, maybe.”
In looking ahead at the festival circuit for Unearth, especially Fantasia, Barbeau expressed excitement to be bringing the film to audiences, though also found some disappointment in the virtual nature of the festival as she “loves Montreal” and would’ve been there in a second if it was an in-person festival.
“I’m just very excited and proud that it’s been chosen to be shown, and I actually am going to be in New Zealand, I think, when the festival takes place,” Barbeau explained. “We just want to get it out there and have everybody see it, and I think the last 30 minutes of this film are some of the tensest moments. I mean, I’m not a horror fan in any way. I love to do them, but I don’t like to go sit in an audience and watch them. But I did watch this one on my computer, and boy, those last 30 minutes, you’re just like, ‘Maybe I’ll put this on pause for a second, walk away and come back.’ So I’m just hoping everybody hears about it because I think they’re going to like it.”
While hoping audiences can bring away a feeling of entertainment from the film, the Golden Globe nominee also really hopes viewers can “expand their understanding of what is going on across the farm land” and do their own research into the world of fracking.
“Whether or not it convinces them, you know, we shouldn’t be doing this or I don’t know,” Barbeau pondered. “But at least it will bring the problem to the public in a manner that is understandable and acceptable and entertaining. It’s not unlike when I was doing Maude back in the ’70s, you know, and we were dealing with really controversial topics, but we were dealing with them in an entertaining way, and consequently, people stayed to watch. And I think they’ll stay to watch this.”
Despite finding she’s not a fan of watching the genre, Barbeau believes part of the reason she keeps returning to the horror world is the sheer amount of offers that arrive in comparison to other genres, which allows her the “opportunity to play a full range of emotions” and “strong women who survive and maybe they’re even the heroine.”
“Those are the kinds of roles I’m drawn to and that I tend to play better than the victim, who knows, had I not started out doing them,” Barbeau related. “Although I didn’t start out doing them. I mean, I started on Broadway doing musical comedy. I was the original Rizzo in Grease, and so, that’s a far cry from where I ended up. But because my first feature was The Fog and it was a genre film, I identified with that genre and I love doing them when they’re good, when they’re well written. Unearth was well-written, and it was not just your, you know, let’s do a basic slasher film where three characters that we have no idea who they even are, are all murdered in the most grotesque ways you can imagine in the first 90 seconds of the film. That’s not interesting to me.”
Of her many appearances in the horror genre over the years, Barbeau’s role in 1982’s Creepshow from George A. Romero and Stephen King proves to be one of the most notable and last year she became one of the only stars of the film to return so far for Shudder’s series revival, which she found was “great fun” to do.
“Unfortunately, the small screen character was not as outrageous or really as much fun as Billie in George’s Creepshow, you know, but I had worked with Tobin Bell,” Barbeau recalled. “We had done a Criminal Minds together. where we had played an incestuous brother and sister, and then, I also worked with him on another horror film. So, it was just a joy to show up on the set of the small screen Creepshow and have Tobin there. I’d never worked with Giancarlo and that was just a pleasure. Plus, I mean, the great thing was to work with Greg Nicotero, who back in the 80s when we were doing the first Creepshow, was just getting started with his love of makeup artistry. So it was fun. I was very glad that they asked me, and I’d love to do one every season.
Though revealing that she and Greg haven’t yet discussed a possible return for the forthcoming second, and reportedly third, seasons, Barbeau expressed a delight in working with Nicotero in a new capacity and interest in returning should the opportunity arise.
“I really didn’t know him as a director until I showed up on the set, and I was so happy to be in his capable hands as we continued working,” Barbeau noted. “I knew immediately that I could trust him, when I got on the set. I’d only known him as a makeup artist and a friend, not a close friend, but somebody that I had socialized with once or twice. So I was blessed to be able to work with him as a director.”
The film follows two neighboring farm families whose relationships are strained when one of them chooses to lease their land to a gas company. In the midst of growing tension, the land is drilled, and something long dormant and terrifying, deep beneath the earth’s surface is released.
Unearth is co-directed by John C. Lyons and Dorota Swies on a script from Lyons and Kelsey Goldberg and features a cast that includes Barbeau, Allison McAtee (The Haves and the Have Nots), P.J. Marshall (American Horror Story) and Rachel McKeon (Jessica Jones).