August 1, 2019 Interview – Patricia Tallman
Almost as if a seed was planted in her soul from birth, Patricia Tallman was destine to be creative. Growing up with television shows such as Star Trek and Dark Shadows, she would later follow her impulse for performing arts, finding success as both an actress and stunt performer. Well known for her stand out role as Barbara in the 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead, Tallman would go on to find a home on the popular Sci-Fi series Babylon 5, but also perform stunts on a list of films ranging from 1993’s Jurassic Park to popular series Angel.
Finding her niche in the Horror, Sci-Fi, and Fantasy world, Tallman continues to satisfy her creative hunger with Quest Retreats; a self-produced program where she hosts epic adventures in different corners of the world, not only bringing fans to the sights of their favorite movies, but also offering renewed vision to life. A inspiring person full of goodwill and hope, Tallman recently took the time to talk about her interesting career in entertainment, the work that goes into stunts, helping others, finding purpose in life, plus a whole lot more.
Cryptic Rock – You have been involved in film/television professionally for nearly four decades. Before going any further, what inspired you to get involved in acting like you have?
Patricia Tallman – I don’t know if actors or artists have any choice, I think that we are just possessed as spirits when we are born. We’re made that way, we’re born that way, it’s not a choice, it’s like your sexual preference, it is what it is. It was sort of a matter of which direction I was going to focus because I was very involved with music; I played viola for many years and played in the Chicago Youth Symphony. I had already started acting when I was fifteen and did some professional theater, and by the time I got to college, it had pretty much taken me over as an art form.
For the past seven to eight years or so I’ve been writing more and creating my own projects. Not necessarily as entertainment, but I’ve created this travel company, which is very much still using all my creative genes. I’m using writing, vision, and I use a lot of my acting as well as acting exercises working with people. It’s kind of all come together for me in this new way the past few years.
Cryptic Rock – That is great. You have certainly done a lot through the years with acting as well as other projects. You have worked in a good portion of Horror and Sci-Fi related things. That said, let’s talk about 1990’s Night of the Living Dead. Arguably one of the best remakes ever, what got you involved with that film?
Patricia Tallman – I met Tom Savini when we were at Carnegie Mellon where I went for acting. After I graduated I went to New York City and auditioned for a movie called Knightriders (1981), that was a George Romero project and I met him on that film. When George decided to remake Night of the Living Dead, and he had Tom slated as director, Tom wanted me as Barbara because he thought I had the elements he liked for her. It’s not that George wasn’t on board with it, we had to go through an audition process though; the casting director was pushing some New York actress, I don’t even know who. I had to submit a tape and go through the whole process of auditioning, but I did know George and Tom before that project came up.
Cryptic Rock – Very cool. As mentioned, it really is one of the best Horror remakes done over the last two or three decades. The 1990 version of Barbara was a stronger woman. Refreshing to see, what was it like playing that strong female lead?
Patricia Tallman – Yes, but I would like to go back a little bit, for the original 1968 version, Judith O’Dea was amazing as Barbara. It was a tough role, but it was kind of appropriate for the troupes at the time. When George was re-writing this script, he changed Barbara so there was this curve or character development to her, and that’s the only thing that made it interesting to me. Because as a stunt person, I double a lot of women in the Horror genre, and they are always making dumb choices, running around screaming in their underpants, and then they get murdered by the killer. It’s just not how I would like to see women portrayed, so when Tom begged me to read the script, he said, “It’s different.” I said “Judith O’Dea already did it and it’s great, I’m not going to do that, it’s not me.”
I obviously read the script and it was much more exciting and interesting to me. That is what I was hoping would happen for women in film in general, that they wouldn’t just be a tool, wouldn’t just be the sex kitten, that they would be actually part of the action and part of the answer to the problem. That was a big step forward in 1990. Sigourney Weaver had done it in Alien (1979), but we hadn’t seen much of it much prior to that.
Cryptic Rock – Right, and you did a great job with the role. You also were a part of the Babylon 5 series. Do you enjoy working in Horror and Sci-Fi? The two genres seem to go hand in hand in many ways.
Patricia Tallman – Yea, I think it’s so interesting how it all came together. I was later reflecting on that, but when I was young I loved Star Trek and Dark Shadows. Those were my big go-to shows, and back in those days you had to watch TV when it was on, there was no recording, no VHS, and no cable as we have it now. There would be this racing home or racing to get my homework done to watch Dark Shadows. That was your only opportunity, when it was actually airing.
I would play Star Trek or Dark Shadows with my cousin and my Barbie dolls. My cousin and I would act out Star Trek scenes and we would create whole new story-lines. With my old Barbies, we would use gum wrappers and things to make uniforms. We would get so immersed into the world, and the same thing with Dark Shadows. I don’t think there is any mistake that my career ended up being in Horror and Sci-Fi, I really don’t. I’m not sure how the universe works, but something was at play there.
I’m a huge nerd. (Laughs) I race to the Marvel movie openings, see all the Star Wars, I read all the books. I love Fantasy, and my next trip is all The Lord of the Rings. It is my world, I love being in that world, and I’m very grateful for it. What else can you do in life that you would get to be invited to conventions and have people dress up as your character? When does that happen except in Sci-Fi, Horror, and Fantasy! It is a very specific niche that I ended up in and I’m very grateful.
Cryptic Rock – It is really true that the Horror and Sci-Fi genres have such a dedicated, passionate fanbase. It is amazing to see how people remember and love films that are decades old. You spoke a little bit about your stunt work. Stunts are not something the average person necessarily thinks much about, but are very vital to an overall film. What is like working in stunts behind the scenes?
Patricia Tallman – It’s two different worlds, they didn’t mix back in my day. I got to work with some of the biggest name directors like Steven Spielberg on Jurassic Park (1993) doubling for Laura Dern. Getting to be able to do that, and be on those sets, was pretty phenomenal. It was an insanely cool thing to be able to do and I loved it! That’s sort of another avenue I hadn’t expect my career to have this side-job. It was not something I anticipated at all.
Cryptic Rock – There is a level of risk involved with stunts. What kind of shape do you have to be in for stunts?
Patricia Tallman – That’s a good question, it’s absolutely true you need to be in really good shape, you have to know how to work with your body. You have to know what your body is going to be required to do – flying through the air, but you have to hit your mark, you have to land where they tell you to land. You have to know how to fight, ride a motorcycle, there is a lot of really interesting and very specific skills you have to have.
The other piece, for women especially, is being the right size. As you are probably aware of, a lot of A-list actresses are very thin. Laura Dern is size 2-4, she’s tiny, so not only do I have to be that size, but I have to put pads on under my clothes because I’m hitting the ground. You have to be in shape, but you have to be really thin. You have to be able to maintain a weight that allows you to be able to double these actresses, that was my niche. There are stunt people who are bigger because they do more background or maybe they drive cars, so you don’t really see them. My part was really doubling the actresses, so I had to be as skinny as I could.
Cryptic Rock – That is fascinating to hear. Beyond your work in film/TV, you have raised money and awareness for abused children. Tell us about your work in this field.
Patricia Tallman – I’ve been working in that for almost thirty years. It’s called Penny Lane Centers, they work with families and children of all different stripes now. They have branched out and grown to the need here in Southern California, Nevada, and kids up North. I specially work with a group of very hard to place kids because they’ve been so emotionally, sexually, and physically abused. They can’t be placed in regular foster care. So, where do they go? They could end up in juvie or a lock-up situation, but Penny Lane is sort of that last stop before they end up in a lock-up. They get to have therapy, school, and they live with therapists and supervisors. They have group therapy daily, they really work on themselves, learn skills to stay in school, and they are motivated to do better and have hope.
What my program does is we provide a holiday for the kids around December. We’re non-denominational, we are just there to help the kids know that there are people out in the world who care. They’ve been betrayed by everyone that should have been there for them including their family and we’re there to say, “There’s still hope, people do care and you can do it.” That’s what I’ve been doing with Penny Lane for a quarter of century. I guess I am getting old now. (Laughs)
Cryptic Rock – That is a wonderful thing to be involved with. Hope is very important. What inspired you to become involved with the program?
Patricia Tallman – I think it was a series of fortunate events. I was part of a group of stunt people who came in and did a show for them way long ago. They were on my radar, so I said, “What is this organization? This is really cool.” So I started to have conversations asking, “Should I be a mentor, volunteer somehow, what can I do?” Over time, I decided that I saw a need for something to happen around the holidays.
Penny Lane does the best they could for them, but there is only a certain amount of money. I thought, I can raise money, I have a fanbase and all these wonderful people who would resonate with this message. They give everyone from five dollars to five thousand dollars; I have a donator, who will not be named, but he gives ten thousand dollars a year. We go out, do the shopping, put together a gift bag for each of the kids. I have anywhere between one hundred to one hundred twenty five kids with teenagers between 12-18 years old. We make a holiday party happen for them, they get gifts and letters.
Cryptic Rock – It is really inspiring to hear about such a wonderful program. You mentioned your retreats. What are those all about?
Patricia Tallman – I tell you, this has been such a joy for me. I had a nervous breakdown around 2013. I just realized everything I was doing wasn’t working and everything I thought I knew was bullshit. (Laughs) My life fell apart all at once, so as I was crawling out of that pit of despair, one thing I chose to do was a lot of online free classes and look for inspiration. I read work from life coaches named Martha Beck and Mastin Kipp, both who I’m so grateful to.
I did all the free stuff, but I decided I’m going to find the money to do retreats. I went out with Mastin one year and Martha another; both those trips changed my life. I thought, I want to do this! I want to do something that helps people change their lives, if they want to. I love traveling, I’m super good at taking care of people and organizing things, so it was kind of a zen diagram of all my interests and skill sets. I’m also a huge nerd and my fans are nerds, so I thought I had this built in group that would maybe really like this.
I started in 2015 taking people to Hawaii, then I did a Harry Potter, a Doctor Who in London, and now I’m doing The Lord of The Rings in New Zealand in November. It feels like it’s the perfect thing for me to do. I do these conventions so I meet all these actors in the movies/TV shows we love, so I can walk up to them and tell them, “I’m doing this thing, would you like to come meet them?”
I have this really weird ability to create these beautiful experiences for people that include some of the heroes from some of the shows that we love. It’s this really interesting niche I’ve fallen into. It’s nerve-wrecking as all hell because planning something like this is epic, but I love it! It lights me up and I have a bigger purpose behind it besides making money, I want to change people’s lives.
Cryptic Rock – It sounds like a blast. It seems like you have a great passion for it. Just from speaking with you, it seems your passion is driven by helping others. Is helping others something you have always wanted to do?
Patricia Tallman – I don’t think I consciously decided that, it just turns out that way, maybe I’m just being blind. (Laughs) I want to help people who want to be helped; I’m not going to try and force it on somebody. I also walk the walk, because I’ve been there. I don’t say this is the answer to everything, but this is what I’ve done, this is what I’ve tried that didn’t work and this is what I’ve tried that did work. I encourage people to sort of take the bull by the horns and make some changes. You have to do it yourself, no one is going to do it for you, but you don’t have to do it alone and you can do it with guidance and support. That’s what I create in the group, we create our community and support system. We’re all there together!
Cryptic Rock – That is very cool. What better way to give people help than from your own life experience. Last question, what are some of your Horror and Sci-Fi films?
Patricia Tallman – I loved Alien with Sigourney Weaver. We think we’re going to go off in this direction and then the captain gets killed and you are like what! Wait a minute, the chick is going to be the hero? I love that! One of my favorite things I recently saw was The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix, it was so good. I don’t like gore, I love scary. I think a well told scary story with a ghost or something is awesome, the gore is too much for me. I loved Get Out (2017), I thought it was so smart.
For Science Fiction, I’m a huge Star Wars fan and I love Star Trek. I also love Game of Thrones. I love Doctor Who because it has such an intense heart. There is a lot of love in it, despite of all the craziness.