A-lister Adrienne Barbeau has never been one to shy away from bold, outspoken roles — whether it was playing tough-talking Rizzo in Broadway’s Grease, Bea Arthur’s feminist daughter on Maude or as the badass star of films like Escape From New York and The Fog. So it’s no surprise that after giving birth to her son Cody in 1984 with her first husband, director John Carpenter, she made another bold move — to step back from acting.
“My career has always taken second place to being a mom,” Adrienne exclusively tells Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now. “When I had Cody, I made a deliberate decision that there were certain jobs I could not take.”
That decision held true when, at age 51, she gave birth to twin sons Walker and William with her second husband, playwright Billy Van Zandt, whom she divorced last year. Now, as she’s becoming an empty nester at the age of 74, she’ll be appearing in small-screen versions of her film hits Swamp Thing and Creepshow while continuing the writing she began in her 50s. “It was a whole separate career that happened late in life,” she tells Closer. “You’ve got to live in the moment!”
Scroll below to read our exclusive Q & A with Adrienne!
You’ll be in an episode of Swamp Thing on DC Universe on July 19, and in Creepshow on Shudder later this year. How did it feel to go back to your roots?
It really was great fun. It all came full circle!
Most people know you from Maude. Why was the show so controversial?
We dealt with the same things we’re dealing with today: the ERA, abortion rights. We dealt with homosexuality and manic depression before anybody did.
What are your memories of Bea?
Oh, I loved Bea. I’d never done TV, so I took for granted how professional and giving she was. She’d be the first one to say, “I think this joke might be funnier if Conrad [Bain] said it.” It was all about what made the show the best. And there are still times when I hear Bea’s delivery coming out of my mouth. I learned so much about comedy from her.
Nice! How about on a personal level?
I don’t want to say she was like a surrogate mom, because we were more like close friends. She made the best chicken salad you could imagine! She was really a homebody. What she cared about most were her children and her dogs and being at home.
When did you know you wanted to become an actress?
I don’t think it crossed my mind that you could be an actress as a career. When I was 15 I joined a community theater in San Jose, California, and their touring company was chosen to entertain the armed forces. So two weeks after I turned 18, I was on the DMZ singing for GIs who got killed by the North Koreans after our show. It was an experience.
I’ll say! What happened next?
A woman who’d been on Broadway said, “You ought to go to New York to study.” I thought, if nothing happens by age 25, I’ll teach drama … but I ended up on Broadway!
You made your debut with Bette Midler in Fiddler on the Roof in 1968. Did you think either of you would become big stars?
Bette Midler played the scene where she has to beg Papa not to force her to marry, but let her marry the tailor instead. Every night I was in tears. Then she started putting together her club act, and I just knew she’d be a superstar.
What are your memories of Grease?
Yes, I was the original Rizzo! Most people don’t know that we opened on Valentine’s Day, and then on February 15 they posted the closing notice. The original newspaper reviews were not good. It was only through the machinations of the fantastic producers, who thought they could keep the show open long enough for word of mouth to take off, that we were able to survive and go on to be the longest-running show on Broadway for a long time. Grease had an enormous effect on my life. My closest friends are still the people that I worked with in the original show!
How would you rate these costars: Burt Reynolds, Kurt Russell and Swamp Thing?
[Laughs] Well, Swamp Thing is the only one I had a love scene with! Kurt Russell was fantastic. Burt Reynolds I had a relationship with [in the mid ’70s] and he directed me onstage in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest before we did Cannonball Run. It was not my favorite experience, but it didn’t have to do with Burt. I was intent on creating a character — everybody else was just having a good time!
How was it being directed by John Carpenter?
I met John on a TV film, so we worked together before we got romantically involved. We did four films, though most people don’t realize I was the voice of the computer in The Thing! We have a son together, and they just finished an international tour of John’s music. It was such a joy for me to watch the two of them work together.
How are your twins doing?
Walker is at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in L.A., so I see him quite a bit, and William is just graduating from Brown [University], on his way to a career as a music producer. He just said, “I think I’m coming back to live in the house until January,” so I haven’t lost them completely!
And how are you feeling these days?
I’ve come to a point where I’m very happy. I spent a lot of time in therapy. You get to understand your part in whatever’s going on in your life, why those patterns are repeating, and then begin to change them.
Is there anything left you’d like to do?
I wrote a series of vampire novels in my 50s, an entire new career which I never anticipated. It happened quite by chance: In 1998, I lost my closest friend — a film editor — to breast cancer, and she left a real void in my life.
On the first day of preschool for my twins, a woman walked onto campus who looked just like her. I thought I was going to pass out and she asked if I was OK. I told her about my friend, and she said, “I’m a film editor and I have breast cancer.” The next day she told me about a writing class, and I had no idea people could learn to write. I had such a strong feeling that she was my [late] girlfriend that I had to take this class, and nine months later I had a publishing deal. A producer optioned my second novel and asked me to co-write the screenplay, and now it looks like it might get on the big screen!
That’s amazing! What else is coming up?
I have two new films at festivals [Apple Seed and The Chain], and I did a wonderful guest role on a Netflix series with RuPaul called AJ and the Queen [out in 2019]. I just keep on keepin’ on!
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