The Death Rattle: A lot of people who mainly know you though HELLRAISER II may not know this, but you have an extensive background in classical mime. What attracted you to studying mime and eventually becoming part of the SHOCK troupe?
Barbie Wilde: A friend of mine recommended that I try out some classes at the Dance Centre in Covent Garden London when I came over for a year to study as part of the Syracuse University drama program. My friend particularly liked Desmond Jones’ mime classes, so I attended a few and really liked the physical discipline. Eventually, I was asked to join his mime troupe, SILENTS, which I accepted enthusiastically. I never went back to Syracuse University. London was far too interesting.
After a couple of years doing Fringe Theatre and then forming a mime duo called DRAWING IN SPACE with my then partner Tim Dry, we were both asked to do a show with Robert Pereno, LA Richards and Karen Sparks who were performing as dancers in a group they called SHOCK. We added our mime techniques, Karen left to be eventually replaced by Carole Caplin, and then mime artist Sean Crawford joined. (At the same time they were in SHOCK, Tim and Sean also developed a robotic double act called TIK AND TOK.)
The New Romantic Movement in the early 1980s began and we were all intrigued by the music and the fashions. Robert knew Rusty Egan, who became our producer along with Landscape’s Richard James Burgess. SHOCK signed with RCA and recorded a couple of singles, “Angel Face” and “Dynamo Beat”, along with a B Side called “Dream Games”. (“Dream Games” was recently re-released on the album, Trevor Jackson Presents Metal Dance Industrial / Post Punk/ Ebm: Classics & Rarities ’80 – ‘88.) Sadly nothing much happened with our music career, however, we performed all over the UK and Holland and even did a residency in the famed Ritz Club in New York City. We supported such artists as Gary Numan, Ultravox, Depeche Mode, Adam and the Ants, Famous Names and Classix Nouveaux.
Death Rattle: What are your favorite memories of touring with SHOCK and supporting different musical acts?
Barbie: I loved exploring new music and movement with SHOCK. We not only used our own music, but mimed and danced to artists as diverse as Wilson Pickett, Talking Heads, Marilyn Monroe, Visage, Kate Bush, Landscape, Fad Gadget, Tomita (a Japanese electronic music composer), Queen and The Yellow Magic Orchestra.
Touring is always a bit arduous, but performing with the marvelous group Famous Names (starring Steve Fairnie and Bev Sage) lifted us out of the rounds of cabaret clubs and into the rock and roll (or pop) circuit, which was great. Doing the 'People's Palace Valentine's Ball' at the Rainbow Theatre with Ultravox was also a high point, as well as performing at Wembley Arena with Gary Numan. The Ritz Club in New York was just fantastic. The American audiences were really enthusiastic about us and it's a bit of a shame that our record company didn’t exploit that residency more, but it’s a common story in the music biz. Although we were constantly doing live performances and appearing on TV, SHOCK never had that big breakthrough into the charts.
Death Rattle: Did your experience with robotic mime factor into you becoming an actress?
Barbie: Actually, it was the other way around. I was an actress who became a mime artist, who then went on to do robotic mime. Two of the better known TV shows where I performed robotic mime were “The Sooty Show” and “The Morecambe and Wise Show”.
Death Rattle: One of your earliest roles was as one of the many Punks in DEATH WISH 3. This is a favorite and I'd love to know how that role came about for you.
Barbie: My agent sent me to an audition with Michael Winner, who said that he could find me something to do in the movie, so I became the Female Punk, who ended up as the girlfriend of the chief baddie, Fraker. Poor Fraker (Gavan O’Herlihy) must have had the worst haircut in movie history (a kind of “negative Mohican”), other than Javier Bardem in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN of more recent times.
Death Rattle: What was it like filming DEATH WISH 3? Was it as crazy as it looked, and how many legit Punks and New Wavers were there as opposed to actors who were playing dress-up? I ask because a lot of them looked convincing.
Barbie: I realized early on that the more time I spent on set, the more screen time I got, which was a bit bizarre, to say the least. However, at least I was able to demonstrate one of my talents, which was screaming REALLY REALLY LOUD at the end of the movie, when Fraker gets exploded out of a building by Charles Bronson and his M17 Law’s Rocket Launcher, which Chuck just happens to have handy in a cupboard in his apartment.
A lot of the punks came from Bovver Boots, an agency that specialized in punks and skinheads, so they were actors, but they lived the part, if you like, as I did. I didn’t dye my hair red and black for the role -- that’s how I looked on a day-to-day level at that time. For every part I might have missed out on because I had purple, or red, or blue hair, I got just as many auditions because of my appearance.
Death Rattle: Of course, your most well-known role is "Female Cenobite" in HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II. How did your involvement come to be? Was there a casting call for this role, or were you approached by someone in particular because you had a certain look that they wanted?
Barbie: Again, my agent called me and I just went to an audition. I believe that actors who had mime experience were sought after by producers and directors for roles that required prosthetic makeup. (Maybe they thought mime artists were more patient than regular actors. NOT the case, as far as I was concerned!) I’d previously auditioned with a lot of other mime artists for some of the ape roles in the film GREYSTOKE: THE LEGEND OF TARZAN, LORD OF THE APES. (Luckily, I didn't get the part, as it would have required me to wear a furry ape-suit while filming in Africa.)
During my audition with HELLBOUND director Tony Randel, I corrected him about the origins of the word cenobite. He thought it was a word that Clive had made up, while I knew that it meant a member of a religious order, because I’d looked it up in the dictionary. Who knows, maybe I just got the part because I was snippy to the director and fit the costume! It was the same outfit that Grace Kirby had worn in the first HELLRAISER movie. Only my Cenobite makeup and skin jewelry were slightly different.
Barbie: I wasn’t really given any direction on how to play the part. I asked Tony what my motivation was --(Honestly, I did! I guess I was trying to appear like a “method” actress) -- and he just said: “You’re dead.” Short, sweet and to the point!
Death Rattle: Speaking of which, have you ever met or talked to Grace Kirby?
Barbie: No I haven’t. I gather that she didn’t like the prosthetic makeup process and I can’t say that I blame her! It took four hours to apply, which is fairly grueling.
Death Rattle: It wasn't until the 20th Anniversary Edition DVD of HELLBOUND a few years ago that the curtain was sort of pulled back to reveal the faces of yourself and the other actors who played the Cenobites, and it was interesting to hear you all talk about the complications of the make-up and costumes and whatnot. What was the most challenging thing for you as far as playing the Female Cenobite?
Barbie: We all had really early morning calls at Pinewood Studios for the makeup application process. You had to sit very still in a chair for four hours or whatever, which was tough for me because I am a bit of a chatterbox! Then half an hour to get laced into the costume and then… the waiting… the waiting. We’d often sit around until 6 or 7 PM until they were ready for us on set, which is very tiring. I think the lack of sleep was a major problem. It made me feel pretty dead, which of course, helped with my character!
I was lucky because I did get breaks from filming, as I was presenting a film review show for London Weekend Television at the same time called THE SMALL SCREEN.
Death Rattle: What kind of approach did you take to playing the Female Cenobite? Did you do any preparation or perhaps study the actress who preceded you, Grace Kirby, or did you go for a more organic and unique approach?
Barbie: I only saw the first film once and I didn’t base my performance on Grace’s. I did read Clive’s novella, “The Hellbound Heart”, which the HELLRAISER movies are based on. And then I just took each day as it came. Because Andy Robinson (who played Kirsty’s Dad in the first film) had dropped out of the movie at the last minute, we got pink pages (changes to the script) every day. We all had to remain fluid and prepared to improvise a bit when it came to our roles.
For the Female Cenobite, I just had to remain “dead”, i.e., very still, very centered, just “say the lines and not bump into the furniture”, as Spencer Tracy once said. (The difference between mime and dance is the difference between stillness and movement – another reason why mime artists are often used in roles like these.)
Death Rattle: I've heard rumors of a planned documentary/retrospective on the HELLRAISER series in the same vein as NEVER SLEEP AGAIN for the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET series and HIS NAME WAS JASON for the FRIDAY THE 13TH series. Have you heard anything about this?
Barbie: I was approached a couple of years ago about a documentary and I believe they filmed a fair amount of footage with Clive, but then it all fell through. Probably for financial reasons, sadly.
Death Rattle: In general, what was the experience like for you as far as working on HELLBOUND and do you have any amusing anecdotes from the set that you'd like to share?
Barbie: It was a great experience, but as mentioned before, it was a exhausting one. However, the mythology has proved enduring in people’s imagination, which is wonderful. Put it down to Clive’s genius in creating such incredible characters.
Personally, I feel very lucky about the HELLBOUND experience as I loved the people I worked with. The makeup crew were unbelievably patient and talented. My fellow actors were all so charming, cheerful, helpful and professional. It was a privilege to work with all of them and I’m still friends with most of the people that I worked with all those years ago.
Amusing anecdotes? Well, as mentioned before, participating in these kind of prosthetic makeup effects is pretty draining for everyone and we all tried to keep ourselves amused. Recent video footage that Geoff Portass put up on his Image Animation Facebook page shows me singing ‘Mein Herr’ from CABARET at the top of my lungs – in full make-up: Cabaret Cenobite!
My memories were of Doug Bradley in his dressing gown, wearing his glasses and full Pinhead make-up, smoking a cigarette using a cigarette holder --- looking like some kind of infernal Noel Coward. (He had to use a cigarette holder as the smoke would have compromised the makeup around his mouth.) Simon “Butterball’ Bamford doing the Cancan and Nicko “Chatterer” Vince keeping up all our spirits with his infectious sense of humour and his amazing laugh.
I remember walking up to Ken Cranham (Dr Channard) one day. We were both in full Cenobite makeup and costume and had never been formally introduced. I thought I’d introduce myself by saying: “Hi Ken. My name is Barbie. Why don’t we get married and have babies called Skipper and Pepper.” (The dolls Barbie and Ken. Get it?) He was a bit underwhelmed because he was on the phone to his wife at the time! I think I must have been a bit hysterical with tiredness by this point.
Death Rattle: Aside from acting and mime, you were also a television personality and singer, and now you're an author. Is there a particular field of the arts that you find to be the most satisfying or rewarding, or do they all fulfill your creative and artistic needs in their own ways?
Barbie: My favorite moments were being on stage with SHOCK; writing and presenting my film review and pop music shows for television; and now writing dark crime novels, short horror stories, stage plays and screenplays. Writing is the creative high for me, depending on whether I can find the ideas, that is!
Death Rattle: As far as your fictional writing, you dabbled in short stories and now you have your own novel called "The Venus Complex". Have you always had a desire to write or was it something that you developed a fondness for as time went on?
Barbie: I’ve been writing since I can remember. I wrote all the reviews and scripts for the TV shows that I hosted in the 80s and 90s (except for the film history program, “Sprockets”).
I have Paul Kane, my editor on the “Hellbound Hearts” Anthology (which includes my short story “Sister Cilice”), to thank for getting me started writing short stories in the horror genre, as I was more interested in crime back then. I’ve been working on “The Venus Complex” for a while, as it was a difficult journey since you’re locked in the head of a very disturbed person for the whole book. (It’s now been published by Comet Press.)
Death Rattle: What is "The Venus Complex" about and what inspired you to write it?
Barbie: Here’s the tagline: “Enter into Michael's world through the pages of his personal journal, where every diseased thought, disturbing dream, politically incorrect rant and sexually explicit murder highlights his journey from zero to . . . psycho.”
And here’s a review that Paul Kane wrote. He is an award winning fantasy and horror author and my editor for the “Hellbound Hearts” anthology and “The Mammoth Book of Body Horror” anthology.
“The Venus Complex” by Paul Kane: “After purposefully killing his wife in a car accident, art professor Michael Friday finds his perspective on things has become a little…warped. Via his personal journal, we’re allowed into his mind to slowly watch the disintegration of it, bearing witness to his unnerving sexual cravings and ideas about killing: intertwined with the paintings he loves so much. As Michael writes, he’s “turning into something dead”; but at the same time he wants to be somebody, not a nobody.
Using his diary to rant against the world in general – including everything from banks to popular culture, from national holidays like Christmas to politics – he reveals more about the big, gaping hole in his own life. But as the novel goes on the first person narrative tensely builds up, displaying his dark dreams and innermost thoughts; his way of filling that void and presenting his grisly “works of art” to the world. As intelligent and cultured as Hannibal, easily as disturbing as American Psycho and infinitely less ‘reassuring’ than Dexter, this is a sexually-charged real life horror story that will definitely stay with you.”
The inspiration to write “The Venus Complex” came from a friend of mine, who was a New York dominatrix and sexual therapist (with a Master’s Degree in Human Sexuality). She once confessed to me that her greatest sexual fantasy was to sleep with a serial killer. I was appalled, but I have to admit I was also intrigued. It was this confession that started a train of thought that eventually led me to write “The Venus Complex” … from the killer’s viewpoint.
Death Rattle: Thanks a lot for taking the time to answer some questions. Do you have anything you'd like to say to your fans, and do you have any projects you're working on in the near future?
Barbie: I’ve had the privilege of meeting some wonderful fans on the horror convention circuit in the last few years, both in Europe and America. I just want to say “thank you!” for your endless support and enthusiasm for a low budget, 80s’ British horror movie, albeit a film conceived by one of the true geniuses of the genre, Clive Barker.
I’m working on a screenplay and stage play of a musical drama at the moment – along with developing one of my short horror stories into a film. I also hope to release a collection of my short horror stories sometime later next year.
I’m working with Eric Gross and Eric Fabiaschi, as well as Max Lichtor of the Pyramid Gallery, co-designing a musical puzzle box dedicated to my female cenobite character from my story “Sister Cilice”. The box is called “The Cilicium Pandoric”. I’ve also written a “Further Adventures of Sister Cilice” story to go with the box, which should be realized as a musical box soon. You can find the story and the amazing drawings of the box at: http://followers-of-the-pandorics.com/the-toy-makers/philippe-august-rene-lemarchand/the-cilicium-pandoric/
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My short stories include: “U For Uranophobia” from the Phobophobia Anthology, “American Mutant: Hands of Dominion” from the Mutation Nation Anthology, “Polyp” in The Mammoth Book of Body Horror and, as mentioned above, “Sister Cilice” from the Hellbound Hearts Anthology.