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Judith O'Dea

Judith: "I've always wanted to act and sing...
ever since I was a little girl".

Conducted by Phil Davies Brown
July 8th, 2004

Part 4...
< Read Part 1  < Read Part 2
< Read Part 3  Read Part 5 >

“They’re coming to get you Barbra”

The immortal line first heard in 1968’s Night of the Living Dead which is not only one of the best horror films ever made, but well respected and credited as being one of the best films ever made.

I had the absolute pleasure of chatting to Judith O’Dea about the role that made her a household name amongst film thespians and genre fans the world over.

Read on for all the details on how she became involved in a little film, which ended up earning itself a big reputation.

Did you always want to act or did you just stumble into it?
I've always wanted to act and sing ...ever since I was a little girl. It was the most natural thing for me. I'd practice on my own every day. My parents never had to ask. That love of performing spans generations. Great Grandfather Stanley, on my mom's side was in British Vaudeville and my father...well, there was nothing better for him than minstrel shows and four-part harmony singing. We used to perform little shows together for the neighborhood. Such great memories.

How did you first hear about 'Night of the Living Dead'?
Karl Hardman called me. I was in Hollywood at the time hoping to make it big in movies. Now, that's sort of a strange twist, isn't it? Karl asked if I'd like to come back home to audition for a film he, Marilyn (Eastman), George (Romero), Russ (Streiner), and Jack (Russo) were planning to make. All of us had worked together over the years doing commercial work in Pittsburgh. I said, "Sure!" And the rest is history.

Assuming that you went for an audition, what were your first impressions about George Romero and the project?
I did have to audition. George...everyone involved took the whole process very seriously. I felt they all wanted to make the best film they could with what limited resources they had. If this project was successful, then it could lead to bigger and better efforts.

When did you find out that you had the lead role of Barbara, and how did you feel?
I don't quite remember when I found out, but it couldn't have been too long after the audition. I CAN tell you though that I was absolutely thrilled. All I wanted was the chance to be the most believable "Barbara" that I could possibly be.

Did you have long to prepare?
There was no advance preparation that I recall, at least on my part. We would talk through what was expected in the shot(s), and then go for it. That included much of the dialogue as well.

How long did the shoot last, and did it go smoothly?
For me the shoot lasted a steady two weeks or so. Then I was called back a month or so later to do some pickups. Everyone helped out...makeup, film loading, etc. I'm sure there might have been some rough moments, but for the life of me I can't remember when or what they were.

Did you get along with your fellow cast members?
We all got along just fine. It was a monumental GROUP effort.

Do you still keep in touch with any of them?
I see Karl, Marilyn, Kyra, Russ, Jack, Bill, and George on rare occasions when we all show up at a horror convention at the same time.

Judith: "I understood exactly why many people
were quite upset with our story.".

Did you ever think about leaving the project due to conditions?

What were your feelings about audience reaction when the finished film was finally released?
Having been terribly scared by a horror film when I was growing up (THE HOUSE OF WAX with Vincent Price), I understood exactly why many people were quite upset with our story.

Were you surprised by the films success?
Totally surprised...and extremely grateful.

How does it feel to be the star of what is considered one of the best movies ever made?
Wow, what a question. It's hard for me to get a handle around that, Phil. But if something must be said, it would be that I feel more grateful than there are words to adequately describe. Making NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD has affected my life in so many, many wonderful and unique ways. I just want to say THANK YOU.....thanks to ALL of you who still believe it to be a very special film worth remembering.

Have you seen the sequels and what did you think of them?
I haven't seen all of them, I'm embarrassed to say. But got a kick out of the one I did see (DAWN....)

What did you think of Tom Savini's re-make in 1990?
To be honest with you, I see it as something a little different than a re-make. Tom modernized the story...so much so that Barbara's character changed dramatically. That took it out of the re-make category for me.

Do you feel that Patricia Tallman handled the role well? It can't have been easy for her as she had a lot to live up to!!
Patricia did an excellent job. She made the role her own.

Did you like the fact that the character was able to become a version of the modern woman?
Well, now.... sometimes even modern women have "stalled" moments until they can pull it all together. We're all different though, aren't we? Each of us will act in her own unique way.

Have you seen the recent re-make of 'Dawn of the Dead'?
Not yet. But I will.

You recently participated in Jason Paul Collum's documentary 'Something to Scream About'. Were you flattered to be asked?
Yes, I was, very much so.

Did you enjoy the attention again?
I'd be a huge liar if I said no.

Do you admire your fellow scream queens? After all they have had to work at it for years, whereas you have only really had one role and will forever be remembered.
God bless them ALL!

Are you surprised when people such as myself, who was born almost 15 years after the movie was made, are familiar with you and your work?
Indeed I am, Phil.

Judith: "It's not that I shied away from it...believe me".

Why did you shy away from further film work?
It's not that I shied away from it...believe me, I absolutely love film work. It's just that most of my work calls were for the stage or commercial voice overs. Guess I just wasn't seen as a 'Hollywood' beauty. But oh, how I would have enjoyed doing character work. Who knows, maybe there's still hope for me yet.

You made an appearance in Mark Tapio Kines 'Claustrophobia' (I've been talking to Mark for about a year now, and am interviewing him too....it's a small world!!) How did you become involved in the film and how did it go?
Boy, that's a rather convoluted story. Ask Mark. I think he'll remember far more clearly than I do. It all happened around the time he was releasing his first film FOREIGN CORRESPONDENTS (Verify that title for me, would you Phil?) and I was trying very hard to produce my OWN movie PLAY ME AGAIN, SAM. Mark gave me some very helpful feedback to keep me headed in the right direction.

You are also appearing in 'A Moth to the Flame'. The film has an excellent cast. How is that going?
Principal shooting will not begin until the fall. I'll know better then.

Can we expect to see a lot more of you then?
Oh my, I sure hope so. :)

"Thank you ever so much for taking part in this interview Judith.
And we wish you the very best of luck in the future."

You can visit Judith's official web site right here: www.judithodea.com

Read Part 1:
Grayce WeyInterview
right here >>
Read Part 2:
Julie Strain Interview
right here >>
Read Part 3:
Tiffany Shepis Interview
right here >>
Part 5:
Linnea Quigley Interview
right here >>

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