Here's an interview I did last month for the Dark Shadows News Page, discussing the Dark Shadows movie and my new novel, Wolf Moon Rising...
I never thought it would get made – I was so pessimistic. This is a reinterpretation, and I feel – with all humility – that it's to Dark Shadows' credit that someone can find a new way of doing it. That's what we did on the original show – we reinvented things like Dracula and Turn of the Screw and Dorian Gray...
Do you think this film is still Dark Shadows as we know it?
When I was on the set, seeing what was going on, I could tell that the tone was significantly different. I had misgivings, I’ll admit. I thought hopefully it would be OK, but it could be a real bomb. But then I saw the first trailer and was kinda taken with it! It's an homage – it's a recognition of the value of the original material, to have made Tim Burton's imagination take off with it the way it has.
Director Tim Burton has spoken a lot about wanting to capture the 'vibe' of the original show. What do you take that to mean?
I've been asked so many times what I think was the most distinguishing characteristic of the TV show, and I think it was that the acting was realistic. Now that's not true of everyone... There were some more arch performances – people like Grayson [Hall] (Julia Hoffman) and Chris Pennock (Jeb Hawkes) – but for the most part, we played it with conviction. We were encouraged to be believable, so when a bat came in the room – and it was a Halloween toy dangled by some anxious prop man – there was no question of rolling our eyes or letting the audience in on the joke. It was played with total conviction. So here were all these absurd situations – telling ghosts to go back to their graves – but played with total conviction. That gave Dark Shadows its tone. I think audiences are smarter than they used to be. Tim Burton is letting the audience in a little more on that joke.
He’s spoken several times about wanting the film have a balance between being funny and scary…
And that's the way Johnny Depp works as an actor. He lets you see that things are tongue in cheek – that it's meant to be witty. I think he's very, very committed to this movie. He and Tim Burton took this very seriously. You look at those sets and see the money that was spent. Movies are a harsh business, and they could lose all that money. They want this to succeed and have made choices that they feel will resonate with today's kids.
So did you feel at all proprietorial about the original series when confronted by those choices?
No – I have no sense of ownership. It's a little sad to see someone else play Angelique. But on the other hand, she's not going to do it the same way I did. I was so, so excited when I saw Eva Green in Camelot. She's such a marvelous presence – so sexy and beautiful.
And Angelique’s gone corporate in this story, running a rival business…
Eva Green mentioned playing Angelique as 'ballsy Barbie'. I guess if I'd have been asked to play her running a big company, I'd have acted sorta brittle too. Of course, there's this whole level beneath that, driven by Angelique's heartbreak. Her attitude represents the major banks and their attitude towards the world. I think there are several levels to the story.
We also have Johnny Depp’s Barnabas trying to restore the Collins family’s identity and uphold their heritage…
Yes, he and Jonathan Frid's Barnabas still have a lot in common – that love of the Collins family and the great house of Collinwood. And they also share a duality – of the monster who feeds on blood, and the man who feels wretched over his predicament. Johnny plays Barnabas bewildered – he's a fish out of water, which I think is great. They've decided to actually pay attention to the outside world here – the outside world didn't exist on our show. So Johnny has to face the fact that he's 200 years behind, and is totally mystified.
That sense of awkwardness does seem reminiscent of Jonathan Frid’s Barnabas…
I love that shot of Barnabas sitting in Carolyn's room on the beanbag! His body language just somehow reveals how uncomfortable he is – yet he's really determined to carry it off and get back on top of things. So there's still a duality, just like Jonathan had. Johnny Depp's an amazingly inventive actor. You look at that trailer, and he's just so spot-on in those moments.
So what was it like meeting him when you filmed your cameo?
Johnny Depp has a reserve. When we were on set, he was in costume and make-up, but he was also in character – with that white make-up, he looks like he's carved out of marble. He said a few nice things and was very polite, but he didn't really joke around or get into deep conversation. He wasn't cold, but he just didn't break character.
And presumably Pinewood was a step up from the old Dark Shadows studio…
I thought the sets were beautiful – I was staggered by the beauty of them. Also, Tim Burton shoots with smoke and a lot of colored lights, so everything takes on a painterly effect. I think it's gorgeous.
What are your hopes for the finished film?
I wish them the best, and I am just so thrilled that it happened. I hope they make ten of them! I hope that Dark Shadows lives forever!
And you’re going to be attending the US premiere at Grauman's this week…
Yes! [laughs] I have no idea what that will be like. I keep picturing the Academy Awards, then I realise it'll be nothing like that. I think that's the only red carpet I've ever seen. Hopefully I'll have a nice dress by then.
Can't you give us a hint?
[Laughs] Well… You're never sure till the last moment, but I'm putting this thing together. It's black silk and has some lace with it.
I’m sure Angelique would approve!
Yes, she would!
You've recently completed the manuscript for your new novel Wolf Moon Rising. How was the writing process this time around?
Honestly? It was hard – grueling at times. This is a complicated story and there are four or five points of view from various characters, so it was much harder to write. I gave myself a difficult task, to take this whole group of characters and have their stories intertwine.
When you're writing, do you have any tricks to get you into the story?
I always pick a season. For The Salem Branch, it was fall and the trees... This time it's the dead of winter – everything's white and covered in snow. David has a snowmobile he dug out of the garage – he's quite handy with mechanical things. So he drives this snowmobile quite recklessly through the woods behind Collinwood and the sea road on the way to the Old House.
In The Salem Branch, you explored a more adolescent version of David Collins than we saw on the series...
I tend to be much fonder of my own characters – they're much more alive for me. I think that the 16-year-old David is really my creation now. When we last saw him [on television], he was eleven or twelve, but had certain characteristics that are still there. He's quite self-centered and full of himself, and thinks himself to be very smart.
What's in store for him this time around?
There's a romance between David and the young girl, Jacqueline, who are both 16. David is totally besotted – he's so in love with her that he can't think straight. But she's distant, because she's troubled by the fact that she remembers her past lives – she's actually a reincarnation of Angelique. She can remember being in Salem, being on the scaffold and Martinique and swimming in the ocean. She's very schizophrenic and unpredictable.
And what's happening to Collinwood's other characters?
Barnabas is a vampire again and his character has changed – he's colder and crueler and more despondent than ever. Quentin is suffering under the werewolf curse because his portrait is missing and he's desperate. A big part of the novel takes place in the 1920s. The kids find an old Duesenberg in the Collinwood stable, and it takes them back in time to the Prohibition era.
Sounds exciting. How did you go about capturing that period?
I had to do a lot of research. You think you know about that period in American history until you start to write it and realise you don't know all the little details – the idiosyncratic moments that make it seem real, until you start reading people's diaries or watching films.
Do you find that a new setting helps to suggest new directions for the characters?
It was really fun to expand on what I knew about Quentin's character. He's a womanizer and a rake, and of course in the 1920s he's a bootlegger. Quentin is in love with the young Elizabeth, who is 19. She's a flapper. She's wild and crazy and beautiful and full of life – she has 'it', as Fitzgerald would say. There's a raid and they're taking liquor in a hearse to the Collins family mausoleum, where they can then pry open the caskets [laughs]. Of course they find the secret room in the mausoleum and open that casket, and guess who's in it! [laughs]
So we'll be meeting a different Elizabeth in the 1920s?
She's wonderful, courageous... she climbs up on the running board of the car, shoots the cops – just like a Fitzgerald heroine. That's a complete invention – I don't think Joan Bennett was really like that. I read her biography and, time and time again, it was said that she was the Bennett sister who was reserved and patient and dependable – even though, my God, she had so many affairs! But there's a little bit of Joan in there.
How much do your experiences of working with your co-stars on the original episodes inform your writing?
The source is the person I worked with, and their physical presence in my mind, yes. But then it's my invention that Quentin's heart was broken by Elizabeth and he never loved another woman. And she grew old, while he didn't age – I find that very poignant. She turned into the Joan Bennett that we all know, while he stayed young because of this portrait. This is the part that worries me, because I think some of the fans hate it when things get re-invented.
Speaking of re-inventions, readers of The Salem Branch might notice a few similarities in the new Dark Shadows movie – including a hippie group in town and a newly-constructed McDonald's...Yes. Maybe it's all just synchronicity – who knows? I could have written schlocky little books just re-doing the Dark Shadows stories, but I didn't do that. I've always tried to do something much more ambitious. So I just think it's amusing – I'm not greedy, so my reaction was to be amused. I wish them well. I am so thrilled that this movie got made.
And, to tie in with the movie, your first two novels have been reissued...
I'm so incredibly lucky, to have been able to do these books and have them published. I'm over the moon that Tor decided to reprint Angelique's Descent, because it's been out of print for 10 years now. HarperCollins just kinda dumped it – I didn't feel bad at the time, but so many fans have told me that they spent 70 or 80 dollars for a copy.
Looking back, how do you feel about those first two books?
Angelique's Descent was my first attempt, so it was kinda an outpouring of passion for my character. It seemed to appeal to the fans quite a bit. Then when I was writing The Salem Branch, I was doing my masters degree in creative writing, so I was in an atmosphere where there was a lot of respect for literary fiction. My teachers were very excited about a vampire story, and so supportive – because no one else was writing anything like that at Antioch University – it was all heavy stuff, very literary. Nevertheless, I'm very fond of it, mostly the section in Salem. It was really an attempt by me to become more of a literary writer.
Does that approach carry through to the third book?
Of the three novels, the new one's by far the most interesting, though I don't think it's very literary. I think there are lot of good scenes in it, some of which are really scary. Whether the fans will think so, I don't know. I'll just have to wait and see.
Interview by Stuart Manning, originally published on the Dark Shadows News Page. Dark Shadows: Wolf Moon Rising is out in October and can be ordered by clicking here.