Interview: Judith O’Dea, Night of the Living Dead

Judith O’Dea is an American actress known for her role as Barbra in the George A. Romero film Night of the Living Dead (1968). In addition to her signature role, O’Dea has appeared in the television movie “The Pirate” and the films “Claustrophobia”, “Evil Deeds”, and October Moon. She also appeared in November Son, “The Ocean”, and Women’s Studies. O’Dea owns and operates O’Dea Communications, a firm which deals in oral communications training.

I was put in contact with Judith in mid-April 2011 through writer-director Jason Collum, and she was more than happy to answer a few questions about her career.

GS: Do you mind if we have an interview where no questions are asked about George Romero?

JO: (Chuckling) Absolutely not, Gavin. But I must say that doesn’t happen very often.

GS: “Night of the Living Dead” is obviously legendary, and most horror fans own a copy. Yet, it somehow fell into public domain. Would I be safe in assuming this wreaks havoc on the cast’s ability to get royalty checks and such?

JO: Very much so. Due to some sort of terrible mistake made shortly after the film was released, the copyright was left off subsequent copies. That was the killer! Since then the film has made literally millions of dollars, but the cast and investors have received only a minuscule percentage of that.

GS: I believe Patricia Tallman played Barbra in the 1990 remake. Did you speak with her at the time, or have you since then?

JO: Yes, you’re right, Patricia Tallman played Barbra in the remake. I was very fortunate to have been invited to the premier of the film in San Jose , CA , with all the new cast members in attendance. We had an absolutely GREAT time together sharing stories about our experiences in the making of both films. Since then, I haven’t had many opportunities to speak with Patricia, but when we have connected, it’s like old home week.

GS: I know you have done some conventions, including Flashback Weekend in Chicago a few years ago. At what point did you realize that to a certain group of people, you were a “big deal”?

JO: I wasn’t even aware that horror conventions were held all over the country and the world until many years after NOTLD’s release. I guess because I was living and working out in California and all the rest of the cast was still in and around Pittsburgh ; it was possibly an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ situation. Eventually, I was invited to attend a convention and was honestly blown away by how popular NIGHT (and I) still was. Meeting so many people who really care about and support our movie truly amazed me. And now, anytime I receive a convention invitation, I do my best to be there. One of the coolest things for me at these shows is to hear how fans feel about ‘Barbra’s’ character and why she behaved the way she did. We’ve had some great conversations about that, and it has been very enlightening for me.

GS: I haven’t seen “The Pirate”, but Eli Wallach appears in it… did you get to meet him at all?

JO: No, unfortunately. I didn’t have any scenes with him. What a thrill that would have been.

GS: How did you come to work with our mutual friend, Jason Collum?

JO: Jason and I first connected when he asked to interview me for his book “Assault of the Killer B’s” back in 2003, I think it was. We hit it off just great and soon began talking about working together in a film he was writing. That eventually became reality when we filmed OCTOBER MOON in 2005. This was the first in what Jason hoped would be a trilogy of psychological horror films. Not too long after that, we got together again to shoot the second in this trilogy – OCTOBER MOON 2: NOVEMBER SON. In both, I play the homophobic mother of her ‘straight’ son who falls in love with a gay man. Keep your fingers crossed that Jason figures out he’d like to end the series, and that I can be lucky enough to participate. Let’s see…what might he call it? How about “Year’s End: December Sorrow.” KIDDING! Jason is the absolute BEST.

GS: Jason’s films have — for good or bad — been given the tag “gay horror”. Do you have any thoughts on this as a subgenre?

JO: To be honest with you, Gavin, I haven’t thought much about that. But now that you’ve asked… It has been and still is, in so many ways, a long and arduous journey for the film industry (even as heavily gay populated as it is!) to produce interesting, challenging, well-crafted gay-themed mainstream cinema. God bless “Brokeback Mountain”! Think how many years it has taken for black storylines and characters to become common pl ac e in today’s films. Jason did his best to produce a film that anyone – gay or straight – could find entertaining. That his pictures are now being labeled as “gay horror” is sadly narrowing. But what the heck, if that’s the way it is for the time being, then so be it. At least Jason has had the cajones to tell such a tale that just happens to involve GAY characters. One day, if moviemakers like Jason keep on keeping on, maybe we viewers will stop trying so hard to focus on whether something is gay or straight, and just allow ourselves to get thoroughly involved in and entertained by a well-told story.

GS: You worked with another friend, Raine Brown, on “Beast”. I think she’s a sweetheart and works hard on her craft… can you prove me wrong?

JO: You won’t catch me trying to prove you wrong, Gavin! Here again, I didn’t get to work directly with Raine Brown. My little cameo was shot while I was attending a horror convention with Timo Rose. We filmed the scene in his hotel room in between autograph signings and special appearances.

GS: “Underground Entertainment: The Movie” has a cast that sounds like the greatest party of all time — so many horror icons that I cannot even list them. What sort of wild set was this with Wil Wheaton, Ron Jeremy, Robert Englund and a dozen others?

JO: You must have me confused with someone else, Gavin. I was not a part of that cast, but certainly wish I could have been.

GS: So, just to be clear, can you confirm or deny that you worked with Jim O’Rear or even know whom he is?

JO: My mind may not be quite a sharp as it used to be, but I’m sure I would have remembered working with Jim O’Rear and “Underground Entertainment.” I cannot confirm what IMDB says.

GS: Well, there we go, folks… nipping an IMDB rumor in the bud!

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