After a recent viewing of Jackson Stewart’s Beyond the Gates for Popcorn Frights Film Festival, where the film had its East Coast premiere, I had the opportunity to chat with the talented Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, From Beyond, We Are Still Here, You’re Next) and immediately jumped on it. The first portion of our conversation hit Miami New Times earlier this week, but there was plenty more where that came from.
As the conversation turned to her current career, I brought up the fact that in an era where it’s often said that women over forty aren’t major selling points, she’s a huge reason a lot of these films get the attention they do. “When I look at all these films you mention I’ve done,” she says about works like You’re Next and Sun Choke, “I just really look at the character more than anything. And, yes, it’s surprising that I’m over forty—I’m almost sixty—and I’m getting these really fantastic roles. But I always look at the character and the story, and if it tells an interesting one, that’s really what gets me.”
The filmmakers offering her interesting work are also younger ones, many of which saw her films back in the day and feel they influenced them. “These young filmmakers have so much knowledge and are just amazing storytellers,” she praises, specifically noting Jackson Stewart’s hard work on Beyond the Gates. “The business has changed a lot and you kind of have to wear every hat these days and do everything and almost have the force awaken within you to actually get your film made. It’s just extraordinary, the passion and commitment in getting these stories told.”
Another filmmaker she brings up in terms of talent is Ted Geoghegan, director of We Are Still Here. “He was a publicist on You’re Next and that’s how we initially met, and he’s also written a lot of screenplays and wrote We Are Still Here with me in mind for the role I played. He’s a brilliant guy and fantastic storyteller who gave me one of my roles of a lifetime.”
With a career in both film and television that spans genres, I wanted to know whether or not she’d noticed a difference in how directors ask her to approach roles depending on the medium and the decade. It’s something Crampton found interesting, but she doesn’t think it’s changed much when it comes to how they ask her to approach performances.
“It changes depending on the director because you develop a relationship with the director and a camaraderie that’s just between the two of you. It depends how that director feels and how he or she wants to influence you or leave you alone or help you somewhat,” she explains. “Most directors, if they cast well or they feel like they’ve cast well, work more with the crew and cinematographer in trying to set up the shot each day.”
“Generally speaking, at the beginning of a film, I’m heavily invested in talking with the director about his vision for the feature: what movies are like this? What influenced you and this story? What characters do you think are like my character in either a movie, a play, a book, whatever? What do you want the movie to feel like? What do you want the tone to be? Tone, especially, is very important to me and I think I’ve gotten better at asking the directors questions about their vision for the movie than I was at the beginning of my career.”
“In the beginning, I think I was just concerned with me and my performance and now I’m really trying to look at the whole movie and help in any way that I can to tell the story from a bigger framework than just my own special, or non-special, performance. It’s interesting too because I feel like as I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed every movie I do is really a reflection of the director’s personality and what they like and what they like to see, so I try to get to know them as well as possible. I want to tell the story that the director wants to tell and that’s something I learned very early on. You want to serve the director’s vision, the playwright’s vision—whoever is telling the story. I’ve pretty much gotten along well with all the directors that I’ve worked with.”
And of all the experiences working in film that she considers her favorite, or that which she looks upon with most fondness, “It’s probably my role as Katherine McMichaels in From Beyond. I think that’s a role that Stuart Gordon and Dennis Paoli wrote for me specifically and it gave me a lot to do in the space of one screenplay. I played a doctor and I played a heroine that was driving to save the day and I get to go crazy at the end. I get to play someone who’s repressed and then feeling a lot of sensual urges.”
“There was a lot in that movie and it came on the heels of our success with Re-Animator so we were given a very large budget back in those days. It was a movie that we made in Italy and it was the first time I’d ever been out of the country and I just felt like I’d made it at that point when I had that role: ‘this is as good as it gets.’ To star in a movie where I have a lot to do, I’m in Italy, I’m being paid a lot, they’re giving us a lot of time to make the movie, and it was my second film with Stuart and Jeffrey [Combs], and I had become friends with them. It was just an amazing experience.”
She still meets filmmakers today who look back on From Beyond with as much fondness as she does. “I meet people who say ‘that really influenced me as a child and I think it’s one of the best movies I can remember,’” Crampton explains. “And it’s surprising to me—the impact that movie had on people—especially since Re-Animator is the one that, in most people’s minds, is Stuart’s most seminal film. But to hear a lot of people say From Beyond means a lot to me.”
One such experience was on the set of her upcoming film, Applecart, in which she was filming at director Brad Baruh’s house and he revealed a personal story. She narrates the experience, saying, “We were at Brad’s family home in Hillsborough, CA, and it was the last bit of filming I personally had to do for the film and he said to me, ‘This is the room where I watched From Beyond as a kid and I loved you in this movie. It’s one of my favorite movies from the 80s and this is where I first saw you, and you’re standing here in the same room I saw you. This is an exciting moment for me.’ And I was like, ‘Wow, this is an exciting moment for me too.’”
Re-Animator and We Are Still Here are both available on Netflix Instant streaming, while Sun Choke, You’re Next, and From Beyond are all available for rental or purchase on Amazon.