WAMG Interview: Kathryn Leigh Scott – DARK SHADOWS Star
In 1966 Kathryn Leigh Scott, fresh out of acting school and working part time as a Playboy bunny, was was cast as Maggie Evans the waitress-turned-governess on the ABC-TV cult serial Dark Shadows. In its prime, the Dark Shadows daytime series (which ran from 1966 to 1971) attracted 20 million viewers. The spooky, literate, romance and horror-driven show had universal appeal and came to be known as the program kids ran home from school to watch. Reruns and DVD releases of all 1,225 episodes have spawned new generations of Dark Shadows fans, who attend annual Dark Shadows Festivals where cast members reunite to celebrate the show’s unending popularity. During her tenure at the show, Kathryn Leigh Scott played several roles including Josette du Pres, the ghostly lover of Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid), who was killed at Widow’s Hill in the 18th-century flashbacks. After leaving the series, she co-starred in THE GREAT GATSBY (1974), and THE GREEK TYCOON (1978) and worked steadily on television in shows such as Police Squad!, Magnum, P.I., Space:1999, The Incredible Hulk, The A-Team, and Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Kathryn Leigh Scott has written several books about the series: Dark Shadows Memories to coincide with the show’s 20th anniversary, The Dark Shadows Collectibles Book about all of the merchandise associated with the show, Dark Shadows Companion as a 25th anniversary tribute, The Dark Shadows Almanac: 30th Anniversary Tribute, and Dark Shadows memories: The 25th Anniversary Edition. Her newest book, Dark Shadows: Return to Collinwood, co-written by Jim Pierson with a forward by Jonathan Frid, includes hundreds of rare photographs and behind-the-scenes anecdotes from Kathryn Leigh Scott (Josette DuPres), Jonathan Frid (Barnabas Collins), Lara Parker (Angelique Bouchard) and David Selby (Quentin Collins), who all appear in cameo roles with Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter and Michelle Pfeiffer in the new feature Dark Shadows to be released May 11th.
Kathryn Leigh Scott’s website with information about ordering her book can be found HERE
We Are Movie Geeks caught up with Ms Scott recently to talk about her new book and her appearance in Tim Burton’s film.
Interview conducted by Tom Stockman April 9th, 2012
We Are Movie Geeks: How are things in New York?
Kathryn Leigh Scott: Things are really good.
WAMG: And you’re getting ready for Monsterpalooza?
KLS: Right, I am indeed. Lara Parker and I are going to do that one together.
WAMG: They get a big crowd at that one. I’m going to follow the structure of your book a bit and talk about the new Tim Burton DARK SHADOWS movie first. Have you seen it?
KLS: I have not. I was invited to a screening but it coincided with the day I was flying to New York.
WAMG: The trailer premiered and I think most people, including myself, were surprised how much of a comedy it looks to be?
KLS: Yes, but I’ve said this all along, there’s a lot of inherent humor in DARK SHADOWS as we all recognize, but the show was certainly not a comedy, we didn’t play it for laughs but the humor was there, it’s always been there. I think that Tim Burton is going in that direction to bring in the audience so they wouldn’t think it was just another vampire movie. Burton always does films that are tough to categorize. If you think about it, there’s a bit of fantasy in all of them, there’s a bit of the macabre. I think it’s going to be a handsome mix.
WAMG: I think it looks great.
KLS: Everybody who has seen it says you don’t know what you’re in for.
WAMG: What can you tell us about your cameo in the new DARK SHADOWS movie?
KLS: We’re (Kathryn along with original series regulars Lara Parker, Jonathan Frid, and David Selby) guests at a party. It’s the same party where Alice Cooper is performing. It was really fun. We’ve got two little segments that were in. We worked with Johnny Depp and Michelle Pfeiffer.
WAMG: There’s a wonderful photo in your book with you, Lara Parker, Jonathan Frid, and David Selby on the set. How long has it been since the four of you were last together?
KLS: Oh, fairly recently because we’re doing these Big Finish radio dramas and those are on CD so every once in a while we all get together and out on our headphones and go to studio and do one of these dramas together.
WAMG: Jonathon Frid is 88. How is he doing?
KLS: He’s doing just fine for an 88 year old. He’s showing his age though. (Jonathan Frid died four days after this interview)
WAMG: I’ve always wondered this about Frid. When he left DARK SHADOWS in 1971, it seems like he could have become a big horror star along the lines of Vincent Price and I’m sure he was offered horror roles. But he chose to move to Canada and not make films (with the exception of Oliver Stone’s 1975 shocker SEIZURE). Do you know why?
KLS: He just wasn’t interested. First of all, I don’t think he liked the genre at all. He came on DARK SHADOWS to do a Gothic drama and it became what it became but I think he really created something that was remarkable, but I don’t think the horror genre was something he cared about. He didn’t even want to do the second DARK SHADOWS movie (NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS) in 1972. He though the first one was too violent and he fought against that the whole time, he made no bones about that with Dan Curtis. He was very disappointed with HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS which was quite a successful film. It saved MGM the year it came out, it was a huge success.
WAMG: They hired Dick Smith for the makeup on that one, which probably wasn’t cheap and they wanted to get their moneys worth.
KLS: Smith and Rick Baker were the go-to guys for good prosthetic effects but the film was done on a miniscule budget. We had a tiny budget.
WAMG: Where was that mansion where the movie was filmed?
KLS: In Tarrytown New York in the old Jay Gould Estate, and that is where we’re having the Dark Shadows festival.
WAMG: When is that?
KLS: The weekend of July 28th.
WAMG: Is Jonathan Frid going to be there?
KLS: I believe so, that certainly is the plan now, we’ll see what happens.
WAMG: I’ve read that Christopher Lee has a small part in the new film. Did you meet him?
KLS: We didn’t work with him but he’s in the same scene we’re in.
WAMG: How would you compare being on the set of the new film with being on the set of the TV show over 40 years ago?
It’s the difference between a 46-year old daytime soap opera shot in a cramped studio and working at Pinewood on a lavishly budgeted film where an entire city of Collinsport has been built. When I was on Widow’s Hill searching for Barnabas and so on, it consisted of about five square feet of dirt, gravel, and rock and when you’re doing a big budget feature, you’ve got everything.
WAMG: Why does the script for the new film take place in 1972?
KLS: Jeff Graham Smith does a good job of explaining why johnny Depp and Tim Burton felt so strongly about doing that. They said that it was just a very interesting year. And it happens to coincide with the year after Dark Shadows went off the air.
WAMG: Did you meet Bella Heathcote who is playing Victoria Winters/Jossette in the new film?
KLS: Yes, and she’s only a year older than I was when I originated the role.
WAMG: Did she ask you for any advice concerning her portrayal of this character?
KLS: Oh no,ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â none of them did nor would any actor do that because it’s 46 years ago and here’s this young girl at the beginning of her career who’s already had some experience and she’s going to make it her own. And the same is true of Johnny Depp though he’s playing as homage to the original, but he’s definitely making it his own as well.
WAMG: Bella Heathcote looks just great in the trailer.
She’s beautiful! She’s got such a winning personality, just charming, but I need to say that she plays the Jossette role and the Victoria Winters role. You remember that Maggie became the governess, so that’s kind of fun because she is playing the roles that I played.
WAMG: Okay, let’s go back in time now to June of 1966. The first episode of Dark Shadows airs. Were you in it from the beginning? Were you in the first episode?
KLS: I was in the very first episode.
WAMG: How did you get the role?
KLS: My agent sent me on an audition. I had done an audition for something called ABC Repertory Company which never came to be but I did a successful audition and they liked me very much and then not long after that, my agent sent me to meet Dan Curtis. I had several auditions. I remember at one audition Louis Evans and Alexander Wolf were there and I remember seeing Nancy Barrett at one point at an audition and then I screen-tested with Mitch Ryan and another actor who were both up for the role of Burke Devlin. I think at that point, they pretty much just decided on me. I think I was too young to realize it at the time, but I think they had already decided on me, they were just deciding on which of the two Burke Devlins to hire.
WAMG: What experience did you have at that point?
KLS: I had none! I had done a television commercial for a hair spray and I had graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and one season of summer stock and I was working in a restoration comedy that was destined to go to the Eugene O’Neil Festival. That was a very busy year.
WAMG: And weren’t you working as a Playboy Bunny as well?
KLS: I was, but by that point I was just doing that on the weekends, just trying to make enough money to pay my rent. It was a busy time in terms of auditioning. I was studying acting with Uta Hagen also.
WAMG: How did Dan Curtis come up with the concept of Dark Shadows?
KLS: He claims that he was staying at the country home of an army buddy of his and that he had a dream about a girl on a train. He also claims he saw a ghostly presence, so the house was supposedly haunted and he saw this presence. He was very open to that sort of thing.What’s odd is that in person he never seemed like the type of person whoÃ‚Â would be attracted to having anything to do with the paranormal. He was a big bear of a man. He was a very sensitive person but he looked like a big bombastic athlete
WAMG: You were in about half of the 1225 episodes of the original Dark Shadows.
KLS: Yes, about half which means I worked a couple of days a week and when I left, I worked without a contract for about 6 months. Dan wanted me to sign another contract and I felt that I had been on the show long enough and then of course I starred in the first Dark Shadows film. I really felt I had done Dark Shadows enough. Then of course it went off the air five months later.
WAMG: How long after an episode was filmed was it aired?
KLS: They always tried to be two weeks in advance. It depended though, it there were a natural disaster, it could be delayed. We butted up against the 4 o’clock news so if anything came up we wereÂ preempted.
WAMG: Did everyone take a break on the set to watch the show while you were filming?
KLS: No. Almost nobody watched them. David Hennessy would always watch. If you git out of your make-up in time and you went into the green room before rehearsal you might watch some, but it was rare.
WAMG: There was a ton of Dark Shadows merchandise. Trading cards, boardgames, jigsaw puzzles, etc. You wrote a book on that stuff, correct?
KLS: Yes, The Dark Shadows Collectibles Book
WAMG: Do you own a lot of that stuff?
KLS: No, I’m not a collector of anything. Once in a while, people have given me things. I think I’ve got a Josette’s music box and a couple of cookbooks.
WAMG: I saw that Josette’s music box going for a couple of hundred dollars on ebay.Â Has anyone ever asked you sign one?
KLS: Always, and I’ve learned how to cram my signature so it fits on the packaging.
WAMG: Why did Dark Shadows go off the air after just five years? A lot of soaps last for decades.
KLS: I think for a number of reasons. One, I think Dan was ready to move on. Two, the show got incredibly expensive, it was much cheaper to do a talk show or a game show. And three, the audiences got confused when we started doing that leviathan thing. When we went off to do the movies, the show continued in our absence. And they were trying to do both and I think they got into some story lines that were so convoluted. I don’t think I was ever in the leviathan thing. I think that occurred when I was shooting the film. So I think it was a matter of the plots getting very complicated and the show becoming too expensive and I think itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s time had just run out.
WAMG: You were born Kathryn Kringstad. Is it true you were named after a box of tissues.
KLS: Yes, that’s true. Lady Scott Tissues, it’s in the book.
WAMG: Are you surprised at the show’s enduring popularity?
KLS: Not anymore. I certainly was. I went to France and England after I left the show to do some TV and film work and when I came back I was astonished how popular the show was after it had been off the air for fifteen years and David Selby and Lara Parker told me how phenomenal this all was with reruns on PBS stations and syndication. Then we started having Dark Shadows festivals. Lara brought me to my first one. Then I realized that the show had a last power.. I think the strength came from the stories we did. I think it all comes down to story at the end, and the stories we did, even though children watching may not have understood the references to Wuthering Heights or Picture of Dorian Gray, Rebecca, or Turn of the Screw, they still recognized that it was a good story.
WAMG: What’s next for Kathryn Leigh Scott?
KLS: I’m doing two books. One is non-fiction, one is fiction. I’ve got a couple other projects brewing and I’ve decided to go back and take an acting class. It’s been a while since I’ve acted and I’m loving it. My husband passed away less than a year ago. Next week it will be a year and this had been a year of putting my life together
WAMG: You’re keeping busy.
KLS: I am keeping busy and there have been a lot of wonderful distractions. It’s been a year when one realizes one is now flying solo.
WAMG: Well, good luck with the book and everything else and thank you for taking the time to talk to We Are Movie Geeks.
KLS: You’re welcome.