March 12, 2015 Interview – Lori Cardille of Day of the Dead
Through the years, the portrayal of women in film has altered dramatically with the evolution of human thinking. Once stereo-typically shown to be weak and fragile in earlier cinema, it was during the 1960s when women’s movement reshaped perception as many stood up against domestic and sexual violence. For charismatic actresses Lori Cardille, her casting in 1985 George Romero film Day of the Dead would be a stepping stone for the future of strong fearless women in Horror films; no longer would women be looked at as just screamers. Cardille’s role as Sarah became revolutionary, putting the upper hand and intelligence in the women’s court. Recently we sat down with Cardille to talk her role in Day of the Dead, her personal life experiences which shaped the woman she is today, art, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – Your acting career began in 1978 when you starred in the television series The Edge of Night. You later went on to your most pronounced role in 1985 when you were cast as the lead in George Romero’s Day of The Dead. Tell us a little bit about your inspiration to begin a career in acting?
Lori Cardille – My father, whose name is Bill Cardille – Chilly Billy they called him. In Pittsburgh, he was one of the first Horror hosts on television and was actually one of the pioneers of television. My father did all kinds of things, but he was known for that. So, I grew up in the industry. My grandfather was in vaudeville, so it was part of our lives. I heard that Carnegie Mellon had a really good acting school, so I auditioned and I got in. Then I just fell in love with theatre, and that is where my training was. Right after that I came to New York and I started doing shows on Broadway and off Broadway. I got the Soap Opera, The Edge of Night, and that was what I became known for. I did The Edge of Night (1978-1979) and then I did Ryan’s Hope in 1982. I did a lot of the night time television. 1985’s The Equalizer was one of them, and a lot of other ones. I had a really nice career. George Romero had seen me in a play called Reckless by Craig Lucas, who is now a great American playwright. At the time, we were all these young kids. Rachel Fitzsimmons was the name of the character I played, she just took the stage and she never got off. The character was very complicated, up and down and all around. He was in the audience and he said, “There is a part for you. I would like you to do this.” That was how he knew I could carry something like this. That is when he offered me the role. I did not audition or anything. George saw me in that play.
CrypticRock.com – Interesting, so George had actually written the part of Sarah particularly for you?
Lori Cardille – I will tell you what he was doing. He was running with the more flamboyant special effects with explosions, and they did not want to do it because it was much too expensive. He started developing the character of Sarah, and the characters themselves, because he did not have the money to do all of the special effects. Instead, he really developed the characters, and yes, he wrote the character for me. He was writing it at that time and he molded the second script around me.
CrypticRock.com – What is interesting about Day of The Dead is it was perhaps one of the darkest of Romero’s “Living Dead” films. Extremely creepy and frightening as well. Going into the making of the film, did George make it clear to the cast that this was going to be a much darker film than in his previous efforts?
Lori Cardille – No, he did not really talk about that. It is funny, because, of course, you watch the precursor to the film. I knew Night of the Living Dead (1968) because my father was in it. Then Dawn of the Dead (1978), I saw. I had no expectations, and George did not really say. We read the script and he directed us. We knew there was something about the depth of fear and the gore, but, you are just playing that part. Little did we know that, at that time, the audience was expecting something a little more like Dawn of the Dead, with that humor in it. They were a lot of people very disappointed because it was not Dawn of the Dead. That is what makes George so interesting, because he was always switching and making the audience think. That is what he is known for.
CrypticRock.com – Considering the fact that about 90% of the film is shot underground, what was that working environment like?
Lori Cardille – It was horrible! When you say “underground,” it is funny, you go into a mountain, basically. It was not like you went down into the ground. You go into this mountain, which was a limestone cave, that had twenty-four miles of lakes. There was water dripping down the limestone. It was cold, dank, damp, and it really added to the atmosphere. You could see it in the film. What you see was what you got. We all got sick…
CrypticRock.com – Wow, sounds like a tough environment to work in.
Lori Cardille – I remember the scene where I come out at the Ritz with Terry, and he is doing that monologue about the tombstones. Well, that day I had a hundred and four temperature. I was so sick! I could hear my voice, it sounds so nasally.
CrypticRock.com – I guess that happens when you are in damp environments like that.
Lori Cardille – Well, because we were like family, we were all so close to each other. So everybody got it.
CrypticRock.com – Females are often portrayed in Horror films as weak or fragile, but Romero has always been bolder with his female characters. If you look at Fran in Dawn of the Dead, she started off weak, but eventually became a very strong character. As for your role of Sarah, you were perhaps the strongest and most intelligent character of the entire film. How did it feel for you to portray such a strong character and silence the closed-minded stereotypes about women?
Lori Cardille – It was really an honor to do that! I love that George wrote that part. It was a great part! The thing about it, people probably do not even know that I am really tall. I am five foot nine, and I have a deep voice. In the theatre, I was always cast as the leading lady because of my physical stature. I was trained for that, also. On stage, I played a lot of strong women. Going into playing Sarah was an extension of that for me. It was a time when Alien (1979) was around with Sigourney Weaver. It was a time for women to shine. It is such an honor and I am so grateful. A lot of the women who are in film school, they are getting their PhDs, and they will study Sarah and the complexity of her character. I am thrilled to have been a part of that. I am very honored.
CrypticRock.com – As you said, at the time, there were more strong women characters. Many embrace that. How much can you look at women running and screaming? It is old fashioned and not the way things really are.
Lori Cardille – It is really cool, “Girls with Guns,” I guess. I was one of the first “Girls with Guns” in the Horror movies.
CrypticRock.com – Personally, you have dealt with issues early on in life, and in 2001, you released a book called I’m Gonna Tell: … An Offbeat Tale of Survival. This book is very revealing, but also inspiring. How difficult was if for you to recount these memories and do you feel it was part of a healing process for you?
Lori Cardille – It was totally a part of the healing process. It was in 1986 when I really started opening up to myself and to my family about what happened. During that time, of course, it was extremely difficult to face that stuff when it is someone that you know that someone you loved was abusing me sexually. At the time, when I started talking about it, people just did not talk about stuff like that. I felt it was one thing I could do, to offer my strength and experience so that it would help other women – or men – who had been abused or raped as children. Most people that abuse children are bullies, there is an element of being a bully, that people think that they can get away with this. They cannot anymore and it is getting better.
CrypticRock.com – Reality is reality. People are not always what they seem to be.
Lori Cardille – That is true, Oh my goodness, you would be amazed. I have to say… most of the people that I have met in the industry, people who have fame and fortune, a lot of people are wonderful people. They are really down to earth and good people. People that abuse that status, that is a shame, because that is the power they have, where they can get whatever they want in their sick way. It is very sad and a very sad situation. Like The Walking Dead people, they have an obligation… we have an obligation to do good in the world, to take that platform and do good. In fact, I heard that Norman Reedus took all of the artists who were inspired by The Walking Dead, and he published a book with all of the artists’ work in it. That is a great way to give back, really nice. I always watched my father. He always loved the fans, and he gave back to the community. He was a great role model to me.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely, as you stated people with public status should do good, as anyone else of course. Seeing that you are living proof that a person can overcome abuse and still live a healthy, happy, and productive life, what is a piece of advice you would give to someone coping with abuse?
Lori Cardille – That is a great question. I would have to say that, with the love of my family, I was able to get rid of the shame. There was a lot of shame with it, and you think you did something wrong as a child. I got professional help. That is what I would encourage people to do. You do not necessarily have to stand on the mountain tops and tell everybody. Pittsburgh Action Against Rape, that is where I went to get help, they had groups, and we would talk about it. Whatever it takes, really, you need a professional to walk you through it. It is a lifelong process. Back in the ’80s, they were talking to me about, “You have what the Vietnam vets had.” You know, there was not even a word, there was no PTSD or anything like that. They said, “You are having flashbacks like the Vietnam vets.” That was a great thing to understand, because I thought I was going crazy. When you have all of the symptoms that you display in your psyche, it is very natural and normal if you have gone through that, if you have somebody who can walk you through it so you do not think you are crazy. Eventually you find your voice, whether it is just to tell your family, or not, or to tell other people. For me, what I did was, when I was having all of these difficult memories, I would sit down and write these essays, draw, and take photographs. That is the end result of my book, I’m Gonna Tell: … An Offbeat Tale of Survival. I put it together as a mish mosh of what the brain goes through to remember.
CrypticRock.com – It is great that you wrote the book, and probably helped a lot of people.
Lori Cardille – I think it does. I’m happy. That is what life is about.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely. That is great that you found the strength to write the book. Besides your father, who are some of your influences as an actress?
Lori Cardille – I was always an artist, a physical artist, I did drawing. It is a funny thing, because it was very much an internal recognition of an ability. I actually was working at age fourteen. I was tall and I did runway modeling. I remember assuming the character of the clothes. I thought, “This is really cool!” I did not want to be a model. That is when I heard about Carnegie Mellon having such a great drama school. It was right in my backyard basically, so I auditioned, and when I got in, like I said, it was an internal thing. I think, because of my abuse, it was always easy for me to assemble a character and play on stage and display my emotions in the theatre, rather than in my own mind. In a way, it was a therapeutic thing. I never said, “Ooh! I want to be like that actress or that actor.” It was never like that for me. It was more of an internal process.
CrypticRock.com – When it comes to acting, or music, or any type of art… it is such a release for anyone. It is definitely therapeutic and more than just entertainment. It is a part of who we are.
Lori Cardille – It is part of who we are. That is beautifully said. There are people who are not even actors who become famous, just because they look a certain way. Then you find the true artists – I do not mean to say I am a true artist – but, like I said, it was an internal process. Once you are an artist, you are always an artist. When I stopped acting in my late thirties, I had to get it out some way. That is how I became a photographer and artist, because it has to come out. I find that the true artists, they have a need to say something. They have a need to express something, that is where it comes from. I am really proud, happy, and grateful that I had the opportunity, that I still have the opportunity to do what I do.
CrypticRock.com – It is great that you can still express yourself through photography and such.
Lori Cardille – I am writing now, too. I have written a script about real life horror juxtaposed against the industry of horror. It is about a woman who comes back to her hometown, she was a makeup artist and special effects person. She has all of these memories of her past, and she is doing a remake of the old Night of the Living Dead. She has these memories of 1968, and actually, of my dad, and of Chiller Theatre and what it was like then. All of these people loved Horror. They have these lives that are filled with real life horror. So this movie that I have written with my partner, Amy Hartman, is about that mixture. Hopefully, it will be produced within the year.
CrypticRock.com – That sounds excellent, definitely something to look forward to. My last question for you is regarding films. CrypticRock.com is a music and Horror news site. Are you fans of Horror films? If so, what are some of your favorite Horror films?
Lori Cardille – I have become a fan of the genre. I do not like Slasher films, or torture porn, or anything like that. Really, I just do not. I will tell you, one of my favorite movies is Let the Right One In (2008), the original Swedish version. That is one of my favorite films. It is thoughtful, beautiful, and it is about children, loneliness, and I guess I related to that.
CrypricRock.com – It is a very dark, quiet film. A lot of Swedish films let the film breathe a lot.
Lori Cardille – I love that! I have to keep struggling with my partner. She is a playwright, a really accomplished playwright, but I keep telling her that we need to keep it loose. It needs to have that space, that breath, like you said. I have more of the cinematic eye, the photography, and she is much more literal. She is a really good writer, but we are always back and forth about that.
CrypticRock.com – That should be a great film. Have you heard there discussions of actually remaking Day of the Dead for the second time.
Lori Cardille – I keep hearing that. I wonder, are they?
CrypticRock.com – This time around, they said they were going to stay more true to Romero. There is not going to be zombies climbing walls like World War Z (2013) according to reports.
Lori Cardille – Oh, good! I think they should cast my daughter Kate Rogal. She is guest starring in all of the TV shows and she is really a very good actress.
CrypticRock.com – That would be a great homage to you. Two generations of Sarahs! Maybe we will give them an idea.
Lori Cardille – Exactly! Yes, let’s give them the idea. She looks like I did when I was her age. Actually, more beautiful.