The Carnivale Interviews

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Adrienne Barbeau Interview
Part 2
Interviewed by Beth Blighton

Beth: Another one of the theories we've been kind of kicking around online, it seems that some of the people in the carnival have a better idea of the big picture, of what's going on, what's at stake, than others. Do you think Ruthie has some kind of instinct that Ben needs to be taken care of, that she needs to watch out for the Lodz-type characters? Or do you think she has actual knowledge and understanding of what' really going on? Because it seems like some of the characters kind of know. Like Lodz knows, and possibly Samson knows. But others seem to be completely in the dark.

Adrienne: I think anything Ruthie knows, I don't think she knows anything from a past history. She was the first one, she knew early on, because Ben told her that Hack Scudder, that the picture in the photograph was his mom. And so, "You think he could be your father?" comes out of that. So Ruthie knows early on that there is some connection. And she knows, again early on, when Ben says, (when Apollonia walked and Ben caught her, and all of that), "I didn't do anything. I didn't touch her." She says, "I know." And she knows that! So she knows that there is something unique about him. And, of course, when she realizes that he's healed Gabe's arm, that's the reason I call him for the snake bite. I know he has certain abilities. More than that? (laughing) I'd have to go back and watch the whole thing! Which I fully intend to do before we start shooting again.

Beth: And it is wonderful. When they did that marathon and you get the chance to see it all in one sitting, it just plays like an epic movie!

Adrienne: Unfortunately, I was having such trouble with my cable for the first six episodes, until I finally got rid of the cable company and switched over to satellite, all of the episodes I've got taped are almost unwatchable! So I hope we go into reruns eventually.

Beth: Yeah, I hope they show the reruns before they air the second season, too. Just so they can get new audience members up to speed on this story before going any farther with it.

Adrienne: I do, too.

Beth: I think it'll be a little tough for new people to know what's going on, if they don't.

Adrienne: Yes.

Beth: One of the best scenes that I thought you had was the eulogy for Dora Mae. What was it that Ruthie put into the grave? I know some of the objects seemed to have a specific meaning, did the object that Ruthie put in have a specific meaning, too? I think it was a shawl she put in...

Adrienne: I don't remember...

Beth: (laughing) Oh, no! Okay... bad question.

Adrienne: (laughing) Now, what WAS it? Was it a piece of fabric?

Beth: I think it was, it was like black fabric of some kind, but it was hard to tell if it was a costume or a shawl, or what it was!

Adrienne: Ah, well ya got me, Beth. (laughing)

Beth: (laughing) Sorry about that!

Adrienne: It's one of those questions everybody else can answer! (laughing)

Beth: But that was a great scene for you, and it was just so emotional, and I thought, again, that Ruthie was sort of the heart of that group. She was the one who needed to say something. From what I've heard, Amanda Aday was just so good as Dora Mae that nobody really wanted her to die by the end!

Adrienne: Yes! It came as a huge shock. All of them! I mean, Lodz came as a shock! But I think Amanda knew going in that she was contracted not for the whole season. But we didn't know, and we were really sorry to lose her.

Beth: I also loved the scene between Ruthie and Samson, after Ben has been kinda nasty to her.

Adrienne: That's my favorite! That's my favorite! I loved it!

Beth: Here they both are, just trying to figure out what in the world is going on.

Adrienne: I loved it. (laughing) It sorta reminded me of a Howard Hawks woman, pick a number, put a number on it. Ya know one of the things that's so wonderful about the scripts is the dialect of the dialogue. You can't help but find your character and know your character, just by the way the words are written on the page. And I know when I went in for the original audition, the words were so specific. Sometimes when you go in for an audition and you change a "the" an "and" or a "what" or something, it doesn't damage what you're doing. It doesn't really change anything because it's contemporary and somebody might say, "What the heck are you doing?" and somebody else might say, "What are you doing?" ya know? But Ruthie's dialogue, the first speech that I said over Ben's mom, which got cut, was written so specific to the period and to the place, that I just knew who she was. I think it was, (as Ruthie) "Lord. Never met this woman. Don't know what kind of life she had. Whether she sinned or did good. All's I know, she got a son who went through great trials and tribulations." Aw, shoot, I'm gonna forget the rest... "To put her here safe..."Something like that, there was more to it. "And that says somethin', Lord." I can't remember the rest, but you could tell from the way it was written.

Beth: And they took that out?

Adrienne: Well, it was too long. They needed to get the story going and all that. But that has carried through throughout all twelve episodes. Each of the writers has such a strong sense of how these characters sound, it really makes our life very easy.

Beth: Yes, just that color all the way around, the accuracy of the scenery, of what's there.

Adrienne: I didn't know. I'm not a history buff, and it's not a period of time that I had studied...Growing up in California, we'd studied the Spanish coming up from Mexico and all of that, but I don't remember even studying the Depression, or the 20s and 30s, or even the first World War, that much. And if I did, it was so long ago that the brain cells have gone. So I had a great time researching the period, researching the first World War, researching... I rented all of the documentaries that were made by the WPA and government at the time, and then just read everything I could get my hands on and looked at the photographs. And even to find out what was on Broadway at that time and what was on the radio at that time. What were the hit songs? Who was in jail? I tried to put it in some... In fact, I think at one time I even thought to myself that Ruthie had probably seen Little Egypt at the World's Fair in Chicago, which may have given rise to... I'd have to go back now and see if the timing was right, but may have given rise to her interest in snake dancing. But it was great fun as an actor to have a reason to explore that.

Beth: Ruthie's tattoo has come in for some discussion, too. I mean, obviously, she's a snake charmer so it would make sense that she has a snake tattoo. But with the symbolism of the Tattooed Man with the tree, and she has the snake, we've been putting together theories about the whole Genesis, Tree of Knowledge angle.

Adrienne: Oh! I'll have to go online and see about that! (laughing) It's funny because, right before the show... I think we had done the pilot, but we hadn't gone into filming yet, I did a production of "Fiddler on the Roof." I was originally on Broadway in "Fiddler on the Roof" playing one of the daughters, but now I'm playing the mom. But one of the girls who played one my daughters had a tattoo. And so I asked her about it and said, "So, why'd you do it?" Because she was young and I wanted to know what made her do it. And I asked several other people, "Why do you do this?" Unless it's in a drunken state and you just got off the ship. (laughing) And so I think I sort of based some of Ruthie's... I think I clarified it for myself. I don"t think I could clarify it for anybody else, but it has not to do with... Certainly it never crossed my mind that it had anything to do with the Tattooed Man or... I think part of it is... It's a sales gimmick! She's a performer. She's an entertainer. This is what she does! And if this will draw people in.... It's something unique. People who tattoo their bodies do it because they think that's it's beautiful, it's an enhancement. She has an enormous affinity for snakes. She holds them dear to her heart, so it's all of those things.

Beth: Which makes it kind of a nastier way for Lodz to get her, knowing that.

Adrienne: Yeah!

Beth: That was pretty cruel. And I'm wondering, now that she's been resurrected, how much of that is she going to remember?

Adrienne: I have no idea! I have no idea what's going on next year. I mean, I know I'm back! That's all I know!

Beth: But that's a GOOD thing to know! (laughing) Ya know, that last scene of that final show still startles me, when she wakes up and gasps like that!

Adrienne: Only yesterday I was making a copy for a friend who hadn't seen it, and that was the show I was doing. And when it went to black I thought, "Oh, I bet there were a lot of people who just got up and said, 'Oh well, it's over,' and shut it off, and never saw that last moment!" (laughing) It went to black for a good second and a half, at least!

Beth: Well, won't they be surprised next season! (laughing) Ya know, I wondered that, too. I though, "Oh, I hope they didn't miss that!"

Adrienne: Yeah, there was time enough for them to hit the button!

Beth: My husband and I were watching it, and his comment was, "Why did they stop throwing water on the burning bus as soon as Jonesy ran in there?"

Adrienne: Oh! (laughing) That's interesting! I'm fascinated, along with everyone else, to see who comes out and how damaged they are. I mean, that was a major fire in a small area!

Beth: Exactly! But the last fifteen minutes or so of that season finale were just amazing, some of the best television I've seen in a long time. Just the way Apollonia looked at Sofie when she grabbed her arm, that was just eerie and awful. (laughing)

Adrienne: Yes!

Beth: Also, "Carnivale" has broken a lot of stereotypes in casting and in the relationships, in that they haven't used the Playboy standard type of girls for the Cooch dancers, you have a man who is one of the love interests who is also disabled, they put Ben & Ruthie together though there is an age difference. Do you feel as if this show is breaking down some of those stereotypes?

Adrienne: It was one of the things I was so proud of early on when I talked in interviews. It was one of the things I love about the show. Whether or not it's breaking them down, it's certainly not kowtowing to stereotypes. I mean you've got a woman who a lot of people find extremely sexy, and she's a big, bearded woman. You've got Cynthia who is not the waif or the nineteen-year-old who is the sexual draw. And Ruthie! It's fantastic to be able to do something like this. I just went to see "Something's Gotta Give" about an older woman/older man, and I came away angry, actually, because I felt like, "Geez, it was an opportunity to really deal -- in a humorous way -- with some real issues." And, c'mon, they don't even talk about AIDS! And I think, if anything... I don't know what's going to happen, but "Carnivale" is certainly more realistic, and gives an opportunity for me to play someone who... I had just said to my husband, as the years are going on, "Well, ya know, I'm gonna be relegated to lawyers and judges, and weeping mothers, and all of that stuff." But then something like this comes along, and it's fantastic!

Beth: Yes, it is! And it's just nice to see the change. Because even Libby is not... They haven't done things to make her look different, to fit into that Penthouse mold. She is what she is. All the women on the show are what they are.

Adrienne: Yes!

Beth: And everybody is getting some kind of relationship somewhere along the way.

Adrienne: You even have Samson with the prostitute!

Beth: Right! Samson has a relationship, the Bearded Lady Lila has a relationship, an older man, Lodz, has a relationship! So it is kind of different in that we've just gotten so used to having romantic relationships portrayed in this very narrow, exclusive way on television. So it's good to see a shift away from that kind of attitude. Good for them! I hope it opens up some horizons for some other actors, too. What I'd really love to see is an Annie Lebowitz Vanity Fair cover of the entire "Carnivale" cast. I can just see it! It could be gorgeous! Done up to the nines, with all the period clothes.

Adrienne: Mmm...

Beth: If they ever do an article on "Carnivale", that's what I would really love to see.

Adrienne: Me, too! (laughing)

Beth: Or even just the women of "Carnivale" -- people who look like real women!

Adrienne: Yes, yes!

Beth: I'm kinda surprised nobody has landed on that for a feature.

Adrienne: I think the show needs more visibility. I think our second season, hopefully, will do that. It's just premiering in Europe, I think, fairly soon. I talked to one of our producers the other day, who said he has a friend over in Ireland who had been seeing ads for it. So, it needs a larger audience before we get to that point. But hopefully we'll make it.

Beth: I think Ireland has gotten it, but England hasn't yet. but soon!

Adrienne: I think France will love it, Germany will love it! I think it's a very European series.

Beth: It's very stylized.

Adrienne: I think so.

Beth: Now, from some of the conversations that have gone on in the various discussion groups, there's kind of a consensus that Ben was a little bit rude to Ruthie the morning after. (laughing)

Adrienne: (laughing) Oh, more than a little! We cut some of the scene!

Beth: Really? Well, then!

Adrienne: Well, Ben's got his demons. He's got his morality, and his mom, and his religious upbringing. When I first saw it, I thought, now wait a minute! We're not married! I mean, I'm not married, what sin has he committed? I mean, he's thinking adultery? Then I was, oh, oh! He's gotta be married to sleep with her. (laughing)

Beth: Right. But I was trying to figure out if there was more to it than just the morality or if he just has a fear of being touched at all, or touching anyone else, because what might he accidentally do?

Adrienne: Well, there's certainly... He says that in the scene where we're off hunting for the snake. He says,
"There wasn't much touchin' in my family." And he cringes at it.

Beth: And isn't that sad and terrible?

Adrienne: And there's obviously a very strong religious indoctrination, so I think that's where some of it came from.

Beth: And it was so nice that Lodz was holding that over his head, too. The whole, "You killed your mother, and you could have saved her, too!" That's not small potatoes he's using there. But hopefully, now that Ben has lost Ruthie once, he'll have more of an appreciation for her, now that he's brought her back.

Adrienne: I don't know. I really have no idea where they're gonna go with it.

Beth: I'm totally obsessed -- and I admit I may be the ONLY person obsessed with this -- but I keep thinking, well, how are they going to explain the dead body?!? I mean, they've got a dead Lodz to explain now! He's got purple strangle marks rising up on his neck as we speak. What are they gonna tell people? These people believe in Carnivale Justice!

Adrienne: Well, the only person left there who wanted him alive is Lila. The rest of us aren't gonna care! (laughing)

Beth: (Laughing) The rest won't care if he just gets disappeared.

Adrienne: Oh, no! Get rid of him! (laughing) But then, all he'd have to say is that Lodz tried to kill Ruthie. I'd have to go back and look... But does anybody even know I've been bit? They don't know I've been killed, do they?

Beth: No, they put poor Gabe out in front of the trailer.

Adrienne: That's right!

Beth: For DAYS! I was getting a little worried about you there. I was like, "I don't know... She might be getting a little tough to bring back about now." (laughing) But do you have any hopes for the character for the next season, something you'd like to see happen?

Adrienne: I would love it if Ruthie had some metaphysical abilities of her own. Just because I'm so interested in that, in psychic ability or intuition, and tarot and all that. Well, Tim DeKay and I have been teasing Dan Knauf since the first week of production. We're both trying to pay him off so Jonesy and Ruthie get together! (laughing)

Beth: There ya go!

Adrienne: (laughing) Cuz they seem like... Not quite the same age difference.

Beth: That's right, get Ben out of there. He doesn't appreciate Ruthie properly anyway!

Adrienne: (laughing) I mean, there's only so many machinations and relationships we can explore!

Beth: Hey, we're fans. We're all open to these kind of shifts!

Adrienne: Hey, maybe she could get pregnant, huh?

Beth: (laughing) Ah, that would be fun, too, wouldn't it?

Adrienne: That would be interesting! Good Lord. (laughing) I hope she gets to dance again.

Beth: And how was it with the snakes?

Adrienne: I had a ball.

Beth: That's scary to me, cuz snakes. I have a little bit of an aversion to them.

Adrienne: Well, if it were roaches, I wouldn't be here. But snakes, I don't have a problem with! But when they told me I would be doing a scene with them, I started calling around. I called a belly dancer, an exotic dance instructor, because I grew up listening to Armenian music and dancing in all the Armenian weddings, so I had some sense of the dance, the style and everything. But I thought I'd better go in and do a little learning. But when I called her she said, "Oh, you're gonna dance with a snake? Oh, no no... You don't want belly dancing, that's a whole different thing." And she gave me the name of a woman who dances with snakes. That's what she does for a living. And it was VERY helpful. I went and spent about three hours with this woman who has snakes in her house, a whole collection of them, and I was able to work with them and sort of work out a little choreography. But basically what it did was enable me to understand how to work with them, because once you're dancing with a snake, you're not really going to have a lot of choreography that you can stick to,

Beth: That snake is gonna do what it's gonna do!

Adrienne: And it's gonna do what you persuade it to do. So having learned that, I had a ball. We shot that one scene. We shot for about five hours, all the different takes and everything. Aside from the moment the snake decided it was time to deposit his digested dinner on my costume...

Beth: Ooh, boy!

Adrienne: We had a ball!

Beth: This is an awful question. but a guy I work with is an avid snake collector, too, and from the tales he's told us, don't they kinda deposit... it's sort of like a little composite package of whatever critter they ate, isn't it?

Adrienne: It's an entire rodent!

Beth: Exactly, the whole rat!

Adrienne: They take a whole month to go to the bathroom, and he decided it was time. And I had just said to the snake wrangler, "I think I'll put him in my hair."

Beth: Oh, no!

Adrienne: But we hadn't gotten that far. I was holding him in my hands, sort of away from my body, when I felt something moist hit my leg. (laughing) And, oh man!

Beth: Yeah, the whole idea of a desiccated rat that's made its way through a snake's system is like... Oh, no.

Adrienne: (laughing)

Beth: That would have gotten my attention. Now, snakes are kind of heavy, aren't they?

Adrienne: They are heavy, they are. I was at the chiropractor afterwards.

Beth: Oh, no!

Adrienne: Not so much from the heaviness, but because -- you didn't see it onscreen -- but there was one part of the dance where I was on the ground and I kept lifting him up. So when you do that over and over for five hours, I was hurtin'!

Beth: What kind of snake was that?

Adrienne: That was a... Wait a minute, we had two. There was one that was cut from the scene, and that was a Bolivian milk snake. And this was a diamond boa. I believe he was from Australia, I'm not sure.

Beth: Do we know what the other snake was, the black one that kind of slithered out of Ruthie's trailer after it bit her?

Adrienne: Ya know, I wasn't on the set that day, so I didn't work with it, and I never asked her.

Beth: That was a kind of scary looking snake.

Adrienne: Maybe they wanted it to look like a black mamba or something.

Beth: It looked a little like a black racer or something.

Adrienne: I don't know.

Beth: But being as I don't like snakes, her reaching into that bag just gave me the heebie-jeebies.

Adrienne: (laughing)

Beth: It was just such a wonderful series all the way around, and I really miss the quality, now that it's on hiatus. There just aren't that many series out there that go that extra mile with the look and the detail and the whole thing. I'm just so glad that they're bringing it back.

Adrienne: So are we!