Here's the rest of my interview:
21. Basically, you were the entire Leviathan storyline.
CHRIS: A big responsibility, and it was all new to me. I’d never played to a camera just a foot away, looking directly into the lens. It was ‘learn as you go’, and there were mistakes in judgment on my part. Sometimes, I’d call forth intense rage and craziness and hold nothing back. Other times, I’d be mellow to the extreme. There was no halfway point.
22. Thanks to Jeb, you soon found yourself smiling from the pages of 16 Magazine--
labelled as Dark Shadows’ newest hunk.
CHRIS: What would we have done without Gloria Stavers, the editor, to promote us? When you opened a 16 Magazine and saw a spread on Jonathan Frid, who was middle-aged and not exactly available, it did raise some eyebrows. But the publicity was free, and turning down free PR is a no-no.
23. DS lore has it that you were so nervous, your heart visibly palpitated.
CHRIS: That’s true. I felt it bursting out of my chest, man! You can see my shirt thumping in several scenes. I was jacked up on adrenaline; the stress was unfucking believable. Just horrendous. One of our directors, Henry Kaplan, was downright mean, always yelling and very confrontational. He had me in tears many times.
24. What, you weren’t giving them what they wanted?
CHRIS: I tried my darndest, but expectations changed with the weather. Jeb Hawkes was a monster, the ‘thing in the box’ that grew from a tiny seed into this creature so horrid, it couldn’t be shown on-camera. Playing from the angle of a monster who might snap any moment struck me as the right way to go.
25. It wasn’t?
CHRIS: No. In mid-stream, the writers had Jeb to do a 180. He no longer embraced his monster origins.
26. Jeb exuded all of Dean’s moodiness, with the added edgy danger of a psychotic.
Going from that to soft and sympathetic is an acting stretch.
CHRIS: It was…but the fans spoke, so Jeb underwent an attitude adjustment. He fell in love, married Carolyn, and it looked like he’d beaten his Leviathan destiny. Until Angelique sent a shadow creature after him.
27. Oh, yeah, the shadow creature. She cut a shape from construction paper, and it came
to life and chased Jeb.
CHRIS: Try projecting vulnerability and fright when you can’t even see what’s after you. Not easy (laughs)!
28. Ever watch the show?
CHRIS: I forced myself, an excruciating ordeal. Aargh! By the time I played Gabriel, however, I was Christopher Pennock’s biggest fan (laughs)!
29. Looking back, you must have fond memories of that period in your life.
CHRIS: Rod, Dark Shadows was the most fun I’ve ever had as an actor. Sad thing is, I’ve been consistently disappointed since! None of my roles on episodic soaps like Somerset and General Hospital and The Guiding Light held a candle to the raw energy, the synergy, the wildness of those Dark Shadows days.
30. It was a heady time. Chaotic but infinitely memorable.
CHRIS: Oh, yeah. So many cultural and social changes. We’ll never pass that way again, which is probably a good thing. I don’t think I could take a repeat of the 60s.
31. We’re survivors!
CHRIS: Like remnants of an ancient age, battle-scarred and weary.
32. I wonder…are you a quick study?
CHRIS: No, I’m not. Never have been. Memorizing lines is an obstacle I’ve faced from day one. I was recently diagnosed with ADD, which makes all the sense in the world. Now, at least, I understand what I’m dealing with.
33. DS had the handy-dandy teleprompter, an actor’s best friend!
CHRIS: Thank God! I’m not classically trained, like Frid, Selby and Louis. Joan had been a golden age movie star! They were comfortable with the dialogue. Not me. Dark Shadows was a grand theatrical training ground.
34. I assume economics prevented the horrific Leviathan creature from ever being shown
CHRIS: You assume correctly! They did a good job of suggestion--using light, shadow and sound--and leaving the rest to imagination. I envisioned a creepy, multi-tentacled creature, kinda like in The Dunwich Horror (AIP, 1970), the movie that was out around the same time. Yummy!
35. Loved it when you summoned the demons of Hell to deal with pesky Barnabas
Collins. Jeb meant business!
CHRIS: I gave those moments everything in my emotional arsenal. There was a lot of self-convincing going on off-camera. Lots of pep talks between me and the mirror. You’re Hamlet! Show these people what you’re made of! More. Mooore! Moooooore!
36. The famous line! And I believed every minute of it.
CHRIS: Didn’t we all, man, didn’t we all.
37. Jeb tried holding onto his humanity by marrying Carolyn, but the die had been cast.
CHRIS: A case of too little, too late. The Leviathan storyline pushed the envelope too much, and ratings dipped. So did my fan mail.
38. In came Parallel Time!
CHRIS: Yep. Parallel Time came next. The two plots intertwined, for a while. It was planned very carefully.
39. Were you sketched out that Jeb’s days were numbered?
CHRIS: Absolutely. I was very insecure about my position with both Dark Shadows and Dan Curtis. One minute, everybody’s praising me, and the next, I’m on the outs. So, up to Widow’s Hill I trudged.
40. Where the ghost of Nicholas Blair and Skye Rumson put an end to Jeb Hawkes,
ruining the Leviathan’s nefarious plans.
CHRIS: Rumson tossed me to my death, and Carolyn saw it all go down in a dream. Jeb was dead…for good.
41. On Dark Shadows, nobody ever just woke up by opening their eyes and stretching.
They bolted upright, while the music blared. Sometimes, they screamed bloody
CHRIS: Haha! You’re right! Astute observation.
42. Parallel Time: an unused room in the dusty, locked off east wing of Collinwood, is
a portal to another dimension. DS gave a nice nod to Rod Serling and The Twilight
Zone with that one.
CHRIS: A definite Twilight Zone vibe going on there. Once Barnabas stepped over into parallel time, new possibilities and new characters presented themselves. Goodbye, Leviathans. Hello, Dr. Jekyll!
43. Cyrus Longworth and John Yaeger and the duality of Man’s nature! You tackled both
roles with panache.
CHRIS: Thank you. Cyrus Longworth was a young scientist in love with his assistant, Sabrina Stuart (Lisa Richards), and obsessed with the notion that man has two personalities: good and evil. But how to separate them? A bubbling potion is concocted, Cyrus drinks it and--wait for it--transforms into the evil John Yeager!
44. Who bore more than a passing resemblance to Jack Palance.
CHRIS: That was intentional. Palance had played both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde for Dan in a separate production.
45. Any difficulty developing Cyrus and then Yaeger?
CHRIS: Very, very difficult! I’d been given a character outline on Cyrus before Jeb was even killed, and our director, Lela Swift, would tell me, ‘Cyrus is too much like Jeb! You’ve got to do something!’ I’d run into my dressing room, stare at myself in the mirror, and mutter, ‘David Niven, David Niven! You’re David Niven from Separate Tables!’
46. As in quiet and reserved? A proper gent?
CHRIS: More reserved than Jeb could ever possibly be. Cyrus represented sanity--calm, cool and collected--while John Yaeger was pure evil. Not enough evil for Henry Kaplan, though.
47. You were still butting heads with him?
CHRIS: The man simply refused to recognize my amazing acting abilities (laughs). He’d get on me about not being evil enough. “Can’t you play anyone but Jeb Hawkes? Yaeger’s evil, Chris. Eeeevilll! More, more, mooore!”
48. Haha! Did you like the character make-up for Yaeger?
CHRIS: Well, the big nose didn’t do much for my ego. Vinnie Loscalzo, our gifted make-up man, toned it down, and Yaeger and I took off.
49. There are some rightfully notorious bloopers involving Yaeger. He removes a
picture and can’t hang it back up, and later, there’s that sticky wicket with his
CHRIS: It’s like performing live. Whenever a prop malfunctions, you go with it. The picture frame was nerve-wracking--it just would not hang on the nail correctly! But the cane gave me serious problems. They’d built two of them, one a dummy and the other with a hidden knife inside. My scene with Elizabeth Eis, I’m threatening to slice her neck and was supposed to use the dummy cane. But, noooo. They’d given me the genuine article, and I almost killed the poor girl!
50. What was her reaction to all this?
CHRIS: A good sport, until the camera stopped, and she freaked out. ‘What were you trying to do?’ she shrieked, ‘kill me, you armadillo?!’ I don’t blame her!
51. Yaeger and Longworth met their deserved ends, and when we next saw you, it was
back in regular time, the fall of 1970, to be precise…as Sebastian Shaw, astrologer.
Elizabeth (Joan Bennett) commissioned Sebastian to write her horoscope, and he
uncovered a horrifying future for Collinwood: utter destruction!
CHRIS: Thus began the build-up to 1840, with Gerard Stiles (James Storm) and Daphne Harridge (Kate Jackson).
52. Sebastian looked like Jeb’s twin. A tad perplexing!
CHRIS: The writers played off our resemblance. Carolyn suspected that Jeb had come back to her. Was I really Jeb? Oooo! An element of mystery! Only a handful of Sebastian episodes transpired before they officially went to 1840.
53. Where you essayed a truly despicable character, the “crippled” Gabriel Collins.
CHRIS: Gabriel rocked! I did a variation of him in Night of Dark Shadows, too.
54. The film adaptations went for the jugular. Dan didn’t spare any blood!
CHRIS: Dan was an ingenious innovator. Working with small budgets, guts, and chutzpah, he delivered like a pro, and of course, we gave them our all because we wanted to please him.
55. We caught a glimpse of you in House of Dark Shadows, during Carolyn Stoddard’s
CHRIS: My big film debut: a silent, grief-stricken pallbearer, seen for all of two minutes! I’m lugging this empty casket and thinking, why the hell am I freezing my ass off, doing a bit? They were spraying us with water! Upstate NY is not one of the Northeast’s hot spots in March, and standing under a fire hose accentuated the pain.
56. Tell us about Gabriel.
CHRIS: There were three Gabriels: 1840, Parallel Time 1841, and Night of Dark Shadows. 1840 was my favorite. Confined to a wheelchair and hating everyone! Mysterious killings abounded at Collinwood, and nobody suspected him because, hey, he couldn’t walk. I based the character on Geraldine Page in Tennessee Williams Sweet Bird of Youth. Arrogant, sort of androgynous, incredibly creepy and fascinating.
57. The big reveal with Louis Edmond as your dad rang a few dramatic gongs.
CHRIS: Louis raised the bar in our confrontation scene. He humiliated me, said that I was no Quentin, etc. Right in the middle of his tirade, I threw off the blanket covering my healthy legs and stood up. ‘Yes, father, haha, I can walk!’ I stumbled over and killed him!
58. What a dynamic scene! Sent a chill up my spine.
CHRIS: One of the rare moments when it all came together for me.
59. The second Gabriel, from Parallel Time, lasted until the series’ unfortunate end.
CHRIS: 1841 PT was, by far, the shortest chapter in Dark Shadows history. Boom! We were cancelled. No time to resolve anything, and I wouldn’t be coming back as a new character. I’d grown used to that challenge, that fun. Without it, depression overwhelmed me, and I gained a green slime of weight. Dan was aghast. ‘What the hell? You need to lose weight fast! We’re shooting ASAP!’ So, I got my lazy ass busy, lost fifty pounds and shot Night of Dark Shadows on the Hudson. One last gasp before Dark Shadows faded into the sunset.
60. Savages came right on the heels of NODS, an ensemble piece. Very strange. Not at
all like the period dramas Ivory later directed.
CHRIS: James Ivory’s first American film. I can’t describe the plot--it defies description.
61. How about this: Savages is an experimental allegory about our modern-day society,
where we’re headed, and where we’ve been?
CHRIS: Ok, that works. And I’m dressed in drag again (laughs)!
62. You went on to a very successful acting career post-Dark Shadows, but let’s face it.
DS is what you’re most loved for; you created iconic characters that have survived
almost half a century.
CHRIS: DS is a warhorse; there’s never been anything like it. From original fans, like yourself, to people who’ve just discovered us, the cycle of re-birth continues. I can’t believe we’re about to celebrate its 50th anniversary! A bittersweet milestone.
63. I plan on attending the big Fest in Tarrytown.
CHRIS: Good. Sit with me.
64. Save me a seat! Oh, and I gotta compliment you, Chris, your comic book series--Fear
And Loathing on Dark Shadows--is not only an eye-opener for its grand and
revealing autobiographical content, but damn, dude, it’s one of the funniest things
I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. You’re a superb caricaturist, with style and flair
CHRIS: Thanks, my friend. I appreciate those comments; cartooning is very close to my heart. I also drew a chapter called Fear and Loathing on Facebook!
65. Read that one, too. Gut-bustingly hilarious. What else do you have in your creative
CHRIS: My imagination’s limitless. When inspiration hits, I will heed the call!
66. Lately, you’ve been collaborating with triple-threat director/writer/producer, Ansel
Faraj--Dr. Mabuse II: Etiopomar and Madame LaSoeur.
CHRIS: Ansel contacted me with a part just before he started the first Dr. Mabuse, but I turned him down. He wrote back and asked if I’d be interested in Doctor Mabuse II: Etiopomar. My character would be ‘the Librarian,’ who goes up against Mabuse in a battle of the titans. It was a powerhouse role, and I signed on. Ansel’s single-handedly rejuvenated my acting career! After we shot Mabuse II, he approached me with a short film about The Madness of Roderick Usher, which led to a series called Theater Fantastique. For that, we did A Descent into a Maelstrom; The Murderous Mahones, starring Sally Kirkland, and our newest one, Madame LaSoeur.
67. The Murderous Mahones is a hoot!
CHRIS: Glad you liked it. I chewed the scenery and tore down the walls. Hysterical! We premiered at the Vista Theater, a beautiful old movie house in LA.
68. Madame LaSoeur was incredible--very atmospheric! So good to see you with your
fellow DS alumni, Jerry Lacy, Lisa Richards, and Lara Parker.
CHRIS: A lovely homecoming. The film’s dark and frightening, with some effective jump scares.
69. Speaking of scares, the sun’s gone down. Notice all those lengthening shadows? Brrr.
70. The castle isn’t friendly after nightfall. What’s say we seek warmer climes and catch
a bite? To eat, that is.
CHRIS: Sounds good to me, buddy.
71. Before we do, let me say this: on behalf of our readers--old, new and in-between--
thanks for all you’ve so freely given us. You’re one in a million, Chris.
CHRIS: My, my, that’s quite a send-off. I appreciate it!