Interview with Barbara Crampton
Barbara Crampton’s role as Megan Halsey in Re-Animator instantly cemented her beloved status in the horror community, so it was beyond exciting when, after a brief retirement from acting, she appeared in Adam Wingard’s You’re Next. Since then, Crampton has been relishing the slew of varied and interesting roles that have come her way. Her latest film, Replace, just premiered at Fantasia Fest and she was kind enough to chat about the film and do a bit of a deep dive on the pressure to remain youthful that can afflict people in today’s culture.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
LF: Recently, I was able to watch Replace and it was super amazing.
BC: Thank you. I hope you liked it.
LF: I loved it. I want to marry it. I was curious, though, did you do any research?
BC: I did. Norbert, the director, had sent me some material to read about gene therapy and rejuvenation, things like that. I also live very close to a place called The Buck Institute in Marin County. They do biomedical research on aging as it relates to disease. I called them up and went there to interview two different scientists. They both told me that they’re studying and working on age related degeneration as it relates to diseases such as Parkinson's, heart disease, cancer, diabetes ect: lots of different diseases that take your life, from middle age and on. Their mission is to extend the healthspan of life. A byproduct of finding cures for these diseases and/or slowing them down is that the healthier or rejuvenated cellular structure that will extend our life will naturally make you appear younger because the rejuvenated systems will extend to our skin, hair, nails and more. I learned about gene therapy, stem cells and telomeres. So, there’ll be a time within the next fifty years, where we’re going to be finding cures for ailments and you will be able to live longer and also LOOK younger. The science is not that far off. This movie feels like science fiction, but we’re very close to all of the concepts that it’s portraying and being able to live well and healthy to many years beyond what we consider now a normal lifespan. Think 200 years or more potentially…
LF: That’s wild.
LF: Is it true that the role of Dr. Crober was originally written for a man?
BC: It was. I don’t believe they had in their mind, “Oh, this HAS to be a man.” It was just, you know, written for a man and at the time that they were casting and thinking about who they wanted to play which roles, they had some auditions for Rebecca’s part and Lucie Aron’s part. But for Dr. Crober, they thought they would find (an older person) in the genre and offer it to them. I think in talking about it, the team realized, “Well, wouldn’t it be interesting if this subject was approached from three different WOMEN’S points of view? Why don’t we change Dr. Crober to a woman?” I believe it was Colin Geddes and his wife Kat Gligorijevic who are two of the co-producers, that suggested me for the role and they set up a meeting for Norbert and myself in L.A. I read the script and I really thought it was fascinating. Of course, having Richard Stanley involved as well was very exciting and enticing to me. He is a co-writer on the film. I loved the two movies he did in his early career, HARDWARE and DUST DEVIL and thought he got a terrible and unfair end on THE ISLAND OF DR MOREAU So, I said, “Yeah I’d love to do this part.” As it sometimes does, it took almost another year for them to acquire all of the financing that they needed before we started filming.
LF: I was blown away by how this movie felt very much written for women, but was written by men. I think it was such a smart idea to have the doctor be a woman as well. As women, we’re constantly being told that we’re not allowed to age, so did you feel a certain responsibility in this movie to portray the doctor any specific way?
BC: That’s a very good question. You know, I definitely have been a participant in this question of, “Are you too old?” In my late thirties, I really wasn’t getting a lot of roles. During this period, just when I felt like I finally figured out how to act on screen, when I did Castle Freak, I just wasn't offered much of anything anymore. I wasn’t getting any auditions. Naturally it was distressing to me and I felt as if I had aged out of the business.
So I kind of left the business, because of that. I thought, well, maybe I should do something else. I love gardening and I love to cook, so maybe I should change professions. And just as I was beginning to really think about going to chef school, I met my current husband and we fell in love very quickly and got married. He was transferred with his job to San Francisco and he said, “Do you want to move up there?” I said, “Thank goodness, yeah, let’s move. I’ll just get away from this town. About 8 years later I got a call out of the blue to do You’re Next. After that, I started getting the older woman roles: the mom, the doctor, the crazy caretaker. You know, roles that an older woman could portray. But still there is this lack of women’s roles for all ages really. We’re all very aware of it because it’s been in the news and written about a lot. The aging issue is the main thrust of this movie and what it’s saying is something that’s very close to me. The horror that this poor girl goes through to maintain her youth and her beauty is quite striking. I felt an obligation to, without giving any spoilers away, show how distressing and how horrible that is for a person to feel that way about themselves, that they have to look a certain way to have value. Unfortunately, it’s not something that’s probably ever going to change because of magazines, marketing and models. So many things, tell us that to be successful, we have to be beautiful and young. I think the thing to learn from that, is that beauty is only skin deep. That’s a cliché, but clichés are around for a reason and you have to focus on the passion of your life and who you want to be as a person and you have to make sure you are educated and you see about the world and you know about the world and you don’t just follow the Kardashians on Instagram.
LF: Because you have worked in an industry that is super hard on women, specifically, have you known anybody who has felt the same kind of pressure as Kira (the main character) does? Obviously, not to that degree, but have you known any fellow actresses that became consumed with this idea of youth in order to keep roles?
BC: You know, I just see it in the news a little bit, but I don’t have any friends, personally, that are THAT consumed. You read about these people who do extreme plastic surgery and they’re thirty years old and they’re trying to look like a Barbie doll. It’s quite unnecessary and it makes me feel sad. I don’t want to say that it’s always just women, because it’s not. It’s men too. People just feel that pressure because it’s in the culture. It’s in the magazines, on our social feeds and things like that. I hope that we can all grow old gracefully and embrace who we are and love who we are. If you have strong family and friends around you and you have passion for life and you have things that you love to do, I think that you will feel less likely to produce some artificial means by which you can be appreciated.
LF: That leads to another question that I had. We’re all subject to feeling this way, but do you think the movie would have been as effective if it was a male lead?
BC: No! No, no. It’s just kind of cliché that women dress up and make themselves look beautiful. I still do that myself, but the movie wouldn’t be as effective if the character was a man. It makes sense that it’s a woman and I like the fact that we’re looking at different points of view. My character is about the science, Rebecca’s character is about the surface looks of a person and Lucie is really about the passion and the heart, so it’s looking at this idea of beauty from three different points of view, from three very different women and I think it is very effective.
LF: Yeah, I love that they have Lucie’s point of view because it kind of grounded everything.
BC: It really did. She was so lovely, so loving and kind. Just a beautiful soul and she brought a lot of empathy to the movie. Rebecca and myself played it a little bit more stoic and determined but Lucie brought so much humanity to her part and a sense of love and caring and I really appreciate her performance in it.
LF: She’s incredible. All of you are. All three of you are amazing and your role kind of reminded me of your role in Sunchoke.
BC: I know, it does! A little bit.
LF: Are you enjoying these kinds of roles? They’re a bit meatier.
BC: Oh, of course. I feel I’m being offered some of the best roles of my career. My favorite role when I was younger was Katherine McMichaels in From Beyond because I had a lot of different colors that I was able to play in the span of two hours. But you know, most of the time, I played the supportive girlfriend or the supportive mother. The kind hearted person or a silly girl in Chopping Mall, which is still fine, I love that movie. Or the bubble headed co-ed in Re-Animator as Jeffery referred to me. I feel like I tried to imbue in Megan, a sense of strength and smarts, but the depth of the roles that I’ve been offered recently, really, are the best of my career. I still can’t quite wrap my head around it and I’m pinching myself because I feel like the luckiest girl in the room.
LF: It’s really obvious that you’re enjoying this and excelling at being given more to do. Like, your character in Road Games was also a little more complex than she might appear. The horror community was very excited to see you reappear in You’re Next and now you’re just blowing us away, being even more amazing.
BC:I appreciate that. I also think the story telling has gotten more interesting, don’t you think?
BC: Everything seems a little more layered and everyone’s mixing genres now so beautifully and I feel like the stories that I was involved in during the 80’s were maybe streamlined stories. They had one theme and they were telling it from one point of view. Sometimes now it’s hard to tell the villain from the hero! It seems like now, there are so MANY complex characters in one movie. The writers now are digging in and exploring more. I just think that it’s a great time to be a storyteller. I’ve said this recently, the screenwriters are my favorite people. I love them. They’re so smart and so adept at looking at our culture and society and transcribing that to paper and giving a director a vision to work from. I’m blown away by some of the material that I’ve seen lately.
LF: Everything is much more complex and nuanced and dealing with a lot. That being said, not every actor has been able to keep up with this advance in storytelling, so, I’m going to compliment you one more time and say that it’s so great to see you have a renaissance of sorts and it’s really great to see complex female characters played by such a wonderful woman who is also really lovely in reality.
BC: I thank you very much.
LF: I really, really appreciate you taking the time to do this and it’s been a pleasure and I really loved Replace.
BC: Thank you so very much, I appreciate that. I saw it recently at THE FANTASIA FILM FEST in Montreal and it was the first time I had seen it with an audience. I did see the first cut and maybe the second to last cut. But, it was my first time seeing it with music and sound and people in their seats! It’s a completely different experience with an audience in a packed house with a great sound system. I was really impressed by Norbert’s and Stanley’s and Tim Kuhn (our DP) work and the girls work and it’s a movie I’m very proud to be a part of and I’m glad you enjoyed it.
Lisa Fremont | Twitter: @lcfremont
Lisa Fremont | Twitter: @lcfremont