For more information about "Carnivale" visit: HBO.com
Adrienne Barbeau Interview
Interviewed by Beth Blighton
Beth: What drew you to “Carnivale” as a project?
Adrienne: Initially, the fact that it was HBO. I never read the script until after they made me the offer. I knew Howard Klein, he was a friend and a business associate. And I had seen the pilot casting specifications in the breakdown. They call them the “breakdowns”, the thing that the casting directors send out to the agents saying, “This is what we’re looking for.” And I saw that they were looking for the woman in the coma, who seemed to be about my age, ya know? (laughing)
Ruthie was initially described as a wizened… I can’t remember how they said it… I don’t even know if Ruthie was in the breakdown that I saw. So, when I saw this, I called Howard and I said, “Listen, if there’s anything I’m right for, I’d love to be considered.” And he said, “Oh yeah, there’ll be plenty of stuff. Don’t worry, we’ll get you in.” And then I got a call to come in and audition. And they sent me the sides, which was a scene that eventually, pretty much … Well, my part of it was pretty much cut out of the first episode. It was… Ruthie spoke at the funeral for Ben’s mom. She had a long… I can remember it to this day, what the dialogue was. She had a long speech that she said. Samson said, “Ruthie, say a few words,” and Ruthie said… something. But I had no idea that it was a period piece, because on the sides I got it just said they were carnival workers. So I put on my cowboy boots, which I live in, and my jeans. And I thought, well, my hair looks much too contemporary. So I had this old ratty wig, from a show that I had done several years before. It was sort of long and looked a little less urban. (laughing)
Beth: A little wilder.
Adrienne: A little more rural, and I went in and I did the audition. When I walked out, the casting director said, “That was fantastic!” And I said, “Oh, thank you.” Then Howard Klein, who’s one of the producers, called and talked to my husband and said, “Tell Adrienne she was fantastic.” And I thought, “Oh, great!” Then I never heard another thing! (laughing)
Beth: Oh, no…
Adrienne: That was before Thanksgiving, I think, and I thought, “Well, I was fantastic, but they hired someone else.” (chuckling) But then, right before Christmas I got the call saying they’d be calling to make an offer and that I wasn’t even going to have to go to HBO to audition again – because the original audition was just for the producers and for the director, Rodrigo. And I was out of town, and it wasn’t until I came back after the first of January that I picked up the script.
Adrienne: And I was on my way to my son’s college, I needed to drop some paperwork off, so I started reading it in the car while I was driving. And by the time I got to the college, I just got out of the car and sat down under a tree and started reading it before I even did my chores!
Beth: Sorry, honey, but I have to read this!
Adrienne: It was fantastic! I mean, the pilot script, the original script, was just fantastic! It was the kind of thing that I’m drawn to. I have sort of an underpinning of metaphysics. I have dealt with psychics throughout my life. My grandmother was psychic. I think I’ve had some minor incidences of my own. I have a predisposition to a belief system. I have studied tarot and have done a little bit for myself. So all of that was already something that I was fascinated with. It was just incredibly well written, and I loved the character! And the fact that it was HBO, which meant freedom, prestige, quality. That’s what drew me.
Beth: And you were right! What do you see as the background history of the character of Ruthie? What have you brought to her history in your own mind, beyond what they’ve given you in the scripts?
Adrienne: Well, there was a time when I did have an entire back-story that I sort of worked out just to make everything logical for myself. I think her mom was probably Romanian or Armenian, eastern European, came over with a circus, ended up in a Midwestern town and stayed… I’ve never told anybody this! (laughing) But this is just one thing that might work for Ruthie. Maybe she stayed with an American farmer or something who had a strong religious background -- because Ruthie does tend to carry the religious aspect of the carnivale.
Beth: I think so, too.
Adrienne: But maybe the mom couldn’t stay with her dad and took off early, or maybe Ruthie just couldn’t stand the real strict disciplinarian of the Midwestern farmer, so she took off early, and eventually she hooked up with another circus. I think she’s been there for a while.
Beth: I know people have brought this up online. Do you see Ruthie as kind of a parallel with the legend of Lilith, who I believe was supposed to have been Adam’s first wife but wouldn’t be subservient, since Ruthie is the independent woman who will not be run by a man?
Adrienne: She says to Ben, “I don’t answer to anyone. It’s no one’s business who I take to my bed.” But earlier on, when he says, “You slept with Scudder.” She says, “I don’t answer to any man.” And she’s been on her own, alone, for a long time – just her and Gabe. So, yeah! Nobody’s gonna tell her what to do. Maybe Samson… I mean, she’ll listen to people, but when it comes to relationships like that, she has a pretty strong sense of her own self.
Beth: What do you think the link is between Ruthie and Hack Scudder? Do you think it’s possible, again, as some of the fans have theorized, that Gabe may also be Scudder’s son?
Adrienne: (long pause) No… I don’t think so. I never thought… I didn’t know that was theory! (laughing)
Beth: Oh, yes! (laughing) One of the many ongoing theories in fandom.
Adrienne: Um… I don’t think so. (chuckling) He’s so active as it is, old Hack!
Beth: Yes, he is!
Adrienne: I don’t think we need to throw somebody else in the pot.
Beth: And I think it was Clancy who threw out the theory that when Ben healed Gabe’s broken arm, does Ben have enough control over his own gifts that he could stop at simply healing his arm? Or is it possible Ben could have unwittingly aided Gabriel with his mental development, as well?
Adrienne: Oh, interesting! Interesting, I hadn’t thought of that… But I don’t know that Ruthie thinks of it as something that needs to be addressed.
Beth: That’s true.
Adrienne: That’s Gabe. That’s who he is. If Ben… (laughing) I’ve never thought about this, honest to God! But I suppose, if Ben came to me and said, “Hey, do you want him to be healed completely?” She’d say, “No. This is who he is. This is who God meant him to be. The broken arm didn’t have anything to do with nature or the universe.” It’s just…
Beth: (laughing) Sorry. This is just what we do in the discussion groups -- sit around discussing possible storylines and plot twists.
Adrienne: (laughing) Oh, man! I hate to tell ya, I’m an actress who shows up for work and reads the words, and then tries to find the part of myself for whom they are real. I think about what just happened, what’s gonna happen, and stuff like that. But I don’t sit around creating… I feel like that’s the writer’s, that’s their table.
Beth: Yeah, sometimes I think a lot of us in fandom are really just frustrated writers! (laughing)
Adrienne: I did, however, when there was rumor that maybe, if someone was gonna have to die maybe it would have to be Gabe, I did put my foot down and say, “If Gabe has to die, Ruthie is never gonna forgive Ben!” I mean, you can’t expect me to have a relationship with someone who takes my son’s life because he’s giving life to someone else.
Beth: And would she even be able to stay there in the carnival anymore if Gabe was gone?
Adrienne: Exactly, exactly!
Beth: That would be her heart he destroyed.
Adrienne: When I was in jeopardy, you can’t bring me back and have it be Gabe that’s gonna go. There’s no way. I mean, there is, but then don’t expect me to stay in a romantic relationship.
Beth: There seemed to be bad blood already in place between Ruthie and Lodz.
Adrienne: Oh, yes.
Beth: Did they ever give any kind of hint what that was about? Or is that maybe something we can look forward to finding out more later?
Adrienne: No, I’ve heard nothing specific. I know she doesn’t trust the man. He’s been trying to take over since we started, pretty much. But I don’t have any back knowledge about it.
Beth: I just loved the way she booted him out of that trailer. The “two legged rat” remark was really good.
Adrienne: (laughing) And a lot of her animosity toward him is because he’s messing with this kid! And from the first moment, I was the one who said, “We can’t just leave him.” I felt some compassion for him, the desire to care for him, to protect him. Maybe because my own son does have weaknesses, I just identified with him as a mother.
Beth: Do you think that’s what really brought them together? That she sees herself as a protector or a guardian to Ben. It didn’t seem to start out that there would be a romance there.
Adrienne: Yeah. I don’t know if she sees herself that way, but that’s what she’s doing. That’s her actions. I don’t think Ruthie thinks about it, but her instinct is to care for him. I think her instinct is to care for anyone who’s in need… unless it’s somebody who’s crossed her, like Lodz.
Beth: And he seems to have crossed her in a big way.
To be continued….