Fans of Zombie Zone News are probably aware of my deep affection for Night of the Living Dead. It’s the cornerstone of all things cannibalistic zombie—and EVERY zombie fan is obligated to sit down and watch it in its entirety. For serious. Don’t make me hunt you down. For your watching convenience, I’ve attached a link to the film that you may view legally (and repeatedly).
Caution **this interview contains spoilers of Night of the Living Dead**
I was over-the-moon happy that Judith O’Dea was kind enough to answer a few Q’s for us. Ms. O’Dea portrays Barbra in the film, and has since gone on to do lots of film and theatre. She currently owns and manages her own business, and can occasionally be spotted at conventions. I was delighted to find that she’s a real nice lady.
WLF/ZZN: Hi! Thanks so much for taking the time to answer our Q’s. It must be awesome to be a part of something as enduring as Night of the Living Dead. When did you first realize that you had starred in a classic?
I don’t believe I realized that until some decades later. What an awesome, thrilling surprise that was!
WLF/ZZN: I understand that you were pursuing an acting career in Hollywood when you were asked to return to Pennsylvania to audition for a horror movie. As horror was not a well-respected genre at the time, did you have any reservations about participating?
No, I didn’t have any reservations about participating. It was such an exciting opportunity for me to audition for a ‘feature’ film, that I didn’t really stop to think about the genre’s ‘reputation’ at that time.
WLF/ZZN: You’ve mentioned being particularly frightened of 1953′s House of Wax. Vincent Price could scare anyone. Are there any modern horror films that you find equally scary?
Anthony Hopkins’ film “The Rite” shook me up a bit, but nothing like good old “House of Wax.” Not too much really scares me nowadays. Maybe I’m just getting too old and jaded. I DO enjoy the paranormal films that are based on true events. “Paranormal Activity 3” had some good moments.
WLF/ZZN: I’d like to move on to some specific Q’s about your performance in Night of the Living Dead. Barbra pioneered the horror convention of the heroine falling down during the chase. Was that fall in the script? Were you surprised at how imitated that was, and is?
The first fall was NOT scripted. I just slipped and went down like a stone. We added the second fall to allow me to kick off my other shoe…it made it easier to get around barefoot.
WLF/ZZN: The relationship between Barbra and Johnny is incredibly truthful. He’s kind of a jerk—complaining the whole way, sleeping late, eating all the candy and **gasp** skipping church, but they are fiercely loyal to each other. As such, I feel more sad than frightened when Johnny comes back zombified. Did you have that intention in mind when you played that scene with such anguish?
To be honest with you, no, I did not have that intention. As I think back on that scene, I believe I was feeling more shock than anything else. Here I was finally snapping out of my catatonia, trying to help Helen and Ben, when my brother comes back and is about to kill me. Yes, anguish, shock, and maybe even a little anger that, after all we had survived in that unbelievable nightmare, it was my own brother who was about to ‘take me out!’
WLF/ZZN: The artist who did the Night of the Living Dead comic, Tom Skulan, includes a wonderful frame of zombie Johnny and zombie Barbra. (That round thing, BTW, is Sherriff McClellan’s hat; they are totally about to eat him)
Is it reasonable to presume that Johnny and Barbra would stick together, even as zombies?
That might be reasonable to presume, but then again, something tells me that once one becomes a ghoul, emotional ties rapidly give way to just wanting to eat living flesh.
WLF/ZZN: My absolute favorite bit of Barbra dialogue takes place during the low point in the film, after Tom and Judy are gone. Can you tell us what inspired your delivery of that speech that ends Well, we’d better leave soon…it’s ten minutes to three!
At that point in the movie, I am still safely buried within my mind. But still conversation from the conscious world is getting through. The line delivery comes from a combination of what I was perceiving in both the real world and my own ‘safe’ world…a place where I am working through to understanding what is actually happening around me. Does that make sense? (WLF note: Totally! Wow…)
WLF/ZZN: I also love the scene with the music box. Any idea where that music box is now?
Oooooo, I think Kyra told me about that, but my memory is not serving me well today. I bet she’ll be able to clear that up for us. (WLF note: Kyra reports that the music box is with a collector now. She’s not at liberty to divulge who. Many thanks, Kyra Schon!)
WLF/ZZN: Do you have an opinion on the impact Barbra has in terms of feminism and horror films? Do you think it’s likely that a young woman in Barbra’s predicament would do a lot of the same things today?
Wow! That’s a powerful question! Bottom line: yes, I think Barbra had an impact. Remember, this was filmed in 1967/68. Women didn’t carry Uzis back then. They either cowered and waited for a man to save them, or their inner strength eventually emerged by stoically enduring, towing the line until it couldn’t be towed any longer. THEN they made their move. That’s what Barbra did. She went inside herself to gain some kind of understanding of what was really going on…to get a handle on this new, horrific something happening in her world. Would a woman today do a lot of the same things Barbra did? Maybe, maybe not. Each of us is totally ‘individual.’ Women today seem to anger more quickly, lash out more rapidly…strut a ‘bravado’ and impulsive action women from earlier decades might not have exhibited. Maybe this is good…then again? Bottom line: each person is going to react according to all that past experiences have brought her to today. Who knows what that might be?
WLF/ZZN: A lot of people are talking about your appearance at ZomBcon. What’s your favorite aspect of the conventions?
My favorite aspect is meeting, greeting, and getting into really wonderful conversations with the fans.
WLF/ZZN: Are you helping out at all with Gary Streiner’s project to Save the Evans City Cemetery Chapel?
What Gary Streiner is doing to ‘Save the Chapel’ is, in my mind, absolutely wonderful. Being as far away as I am makes personal appearance involvement more difficult. But showing my support via the Internet is the next best thing.
WLF/ZZN: I imagine you’re aware of how many people now have zombie preparedness plans thanks to Night of the Living Dead. Do you think zombie preparedness is a good idea, and if so, care to share any tips? ☺
Having lived in California for over 40 years has made me very aware (especially after the Whittier and Northridge earthquakes) of how important it is to BE PREPARED! My gut, at this point in time, doesn’t quite believe we’re heading for an eventual zombie attack. But who knows?!! If what survival goods I currently have in my car and home help down the road…GOOD FOR ME!
WLF/ZZN: You have parlayed your stage and screen skills into a successful communications consulting company. Can you talk a bit about how performance skills apply to the world of business?
Great question! Person-to-person, face-to-face, body-to-body communication is still one, if not THE, most powerful, meaningful methods of ‘connecting’ with others on this planet. This is what stage and screen performance is all about. Everything I’ve learned on stage and in front of the camera – how to move, how to speak, how to listen – has led me to a second career in ‘presentation’ communication that I have found more meaningful than I can adequately describe. No matter how ‘electronic’ we become in business, positive body language, speaking honestly and powerfully to make your point, and listening effectively rather than just ‘hearing’ someone speak are still considered some of the most important attributes of successful business people in today’s global market.
WLF/ZZN: As a theatre major, I have to ask: Who’s your favorite character in Top Girls? (WLF note: I played Dull Gret in this play in college.) How much do you LOVE that show?
Wow…you know “Top Girls!” That’s GREAT! It’s been a long time for me, but Marlene was a favorite character. (Okay…so that was the role I played!) What I really loved was all the discussion, thought, and character evolution/awareness that occurred in the play.
WLF/ZZN: Thank you so much for taking the time for this interview. Before we close, is there anything you’d like to say to your hordes of fans?
My heart thanks all of you every single day for accepting NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD as important and impactful enough to support all these decades!
WLF/ZZN: Many thanks, Ms. O’Dea!
And now, as promised, Night of the Living Dead!
(Courtesy of HULU, and a whole bunch of ads: