Jan White, star of George A. Romero’s “Season of the Witch”, appeared at the Music Box Theater on October 9, 2010 in Chicago — her first ever appearance at a screening of the film. She answered questions from the host and from the audience.
Transcription by Gavin Schmitt.
(I missed the recording of the first question. Basically, Jan explained how when George Romero wrote the script, he made it fairly pornographic, with the reasoning that this would attract investors. When it came time to shoot, though, he had no intention of following through on that script.)
Music Box: What is it like going from doing commercial work to carrying a film, especially one with so much tension and violence?
Jan White: Well, I had done soap operas, so I was familiar with some of that. But i had done nothing to the extent of where I carried the whole film. George was very supportive, and we went through the entire script before it was shot. He went through what he wanted to see, and I said what I wanted to do, so that was how I got through it, with his help.
MB: When did you first learn there was a cult following of this film and Romero’s films in general?
JW: Actually, before this film was released the first time, I had gone to the Cannes Film Festival. I had two films in that festival, and I really found out at that point that George was world-renowned. In fact, I don’t know if you noticed the title on this film — it doesn’t say “Season of the Witch”, it says “Hungry Wives”. Which sounds like a porno film… But the distributor they sold it to insisted in calling it that. I actually flew out to California and personally asked them to change it back to the title we shot it under, which is “Jack’s Wife”, and to put George’s name over the title. He refused to do that.
MB: And it was released a second time…
JW: It came out again as “Season of the Witch”, and that was fifteen years later. But it was a very short release, I never even knew it out under that title.
MB: How much was ad libbed?
JW: Very little was improvised. George wrote this script, he did a really good job. We might have put in a couple words, but the script is George’s. And you may have noticed I didn’t have a lot of dialogue. He wanted me to be the very submissive woman. And to have that kind of silent… you know…
MB: Was it hard for you to be submissive?
JW: No, not really. It’s certainly not my own personality, but it was not hard. You know the scene where Jack slaps me in the face? I asked him to slap me for real. That was stinging, but I got even with him as a witch. When he walked on once, the lights fell down on him.
MB: Is there anything else that really stands out from being on set?
JW: The last scene was actually shot in the middle of the film. And I told George to give me some direction because I knew it was an important scene and I really wanted to get it right. And he said, “Oh, let’s see what you do first.” I got the makeup and all that on, go into the shoot, and planes kept flying over. I shook my hand in the air as a fist and yelled, “Bug off!” And the ceiling cracked, I swear to God! At any rate, once we started working, we filmed the final scene once and he said, “That’s a wrap.” I said, “What?” I wanted one more. The next day we were shooting one of the nude scenes with the nude model. She’s twenty years old, and she’s scared. I said “Honey, don’t worry. No one will know it’s you, they’ll think it’s me.” From there on, I told everyone i had the body of a 20-year old.
MB: Larry Cohen was here recently, and he was saying he felt it was much more difficult for females to carry on in the field as they get older…
JW: I do believe that’s true. Of course, women age differently than men. Men seem to go on longer and get more distinguished looking. As opposed to women who get… you know. In my case, it was my decision to back out. I haven’t been acting for a long time, but it was my choice.
MB: What sort of research did you do?
JW: No research. I knew a lot of women who were like that. Maybe that’s research? George and I talked about, he told me what he wanted to see, and that’s what I did.
MB: What was under the mask?
JW: There’s a guy named Bill Hinzman, who has been in a number of George Romero’s films. That’s him!
MB: An amazing piece of trivia… thank you!