Pat Tallman is proud of the fact that she has only rejected one role in her entire career. “The only job I ever turned down was a film for a small movie company where they wanted me to be totally naked,” laughs the actress/stuntwoman. “It was silly. I said, ‘You don’t hire me for that; you hire a Playboy bunny. You need to get somebody who looks spectacular naked, and I don’t.”
Tallman is exhibiting her brand of self-deprecating humor during a lunch break on the set of the horror film DEAD AIR. This gig is notable for a couple of reasons: The first is that Tallman plays one of the leads, and the second is that this is Tallman’s first work of any consequence in 10 years. “You’re right, people haven’t seen me in a while,” Tallman tells Fango. “I didn’t plan on being away from the business for this long. There’s no real explanation for it. I always worked and then, all of a sudden, I didn’t. A lot of actors go through that, and most of them never come back.”
Best known to horror fans for her starring role in the Tom Savini-directed remake of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, Tallman had carved out a long career as both an actress and stunt performer in, largely, horror and science fiction movies such as KNIGHTRIDERS, CREEPSHOW 2 and JURASSIC PARK. But things changed after her long run in front of the camera on TV’s BABYLON 5 came to an end in 1998.
“I hit the wall after BABYLON 5,” she recalls. “Ageism is huge in this town, so I’m sure that had something to do with it. After all, I was in my 30s by then. But whatever the reason, the phone calls stopped coming right after BABYLON 5. I couldn’t get an agent. I couldn’t get a job. Everything just stopped.”
A single mother, Tallman found raising her son a short-term solution to keeping herself emotionally sane. “But I had always worked, and was used to having an income and feeling safe and secure in that I could pay my bills. So I had to get busy.” Tallman reluctantly returned to the one thing that would always keep her in demand: stuntwork. In that capacity, she appeared in such films as AUSTIN POWERS: THE SPY WHO SHAGGED ME, THE GENERAL’S DAUGHTER and BEWITCHED. “Stunts were my equivalent of a waitress job,” she says. “I would do them for money, and did just enough to keep me going. But I would come home from those assignments in so much pain that I couldn’t hold my son without wincing.”
The actress was determined to stay in the business at any level; during the down years, she would occasionally emerge in little-seen short films such as SLICE OF LIFE, BODY ELECTRIC, JENNIFER IS DEAD and, adding insult to injury, an uncredited turn in 9MM OF LOVE. There was also a one-shot guest-starring role on TV’s SHEENA and a series of appearances on WITHOUT A TRACE. Tallman also acted in a pair of independent, barely-seen films, FOR PETE’S WAKE and NEVER DIE TWICE, opposite another BABYLON 5 actress rarely seen these days, Claudia Christian. But despite the occasional blips on the radar, Tallman admits her profile in the industry was pretty low. “I would have done things just for the money at that point, but I wasn’t even being offered those kinds of jobs,” she says. “I never had an agent for very long. They would come and go. If you were not making money for them, they would drop you.”
At one point, Tallman started up a business that helped actors with their marketing and audition techniques. “That helped. But, for a long time, I was just barely getting by,” she says. The drought temporarily ended this year when she was cast opposite Bill Moseley in DEAD AIR. “But after this, I don’t know,” she says. “Who knows? I’ve been dealing with this stuff for 10 years. I really wish I was doing more, and maybe DEAD AIR will do that for me.”
In the meantime, Tallman continues to look to her horror and science fiction roots as a source of pride. “Horror was something I never planned on getting into, but I’m proud of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD,” she says. “That was good work on everybody’s part, and it was an effective movie. And I can’t complain too much, because that led to BABYLON 5. I’ve never been afraid of being typecast as the tough chick in horror movies—because being typecast means you’re working.”