Fantasia 2021: A Chat with KING KNIGHT’s Barbara Crampton

As far as bucket list interviews go this was definitely one for me. I’ve been a fan of Barbara Crampton since I first saw Re-Animator, and while I was happy to see her return to horror after a brief break from acting in Adam Wingard’s You’re Next, her career’s trajectory since has been been even more interesting as a fan. Barbara’s not just acting now, she’s producing and even writing a regular column in Fangoria. She’s become a positive female force in the horror space, that shows there might be some hope for genre fans yet.

I got to chat with her earlier this week for her latest King Knight, the latest by Richard Bates Jr. about a coven of witches that definitely is definitely a comedy, which has some horror leanings. Barbara plays Ruth here, the mother of the leader of the coven, who harbors a dark secret from his followers. I thought King Knight was a hilarious send up of what I would consider hipster Wiccans that while biting, was also done with a lot of love. Think of it as What We do in the Shadows, meets Hail Satan!

When I got the chance to chat with Barbara about her role, I couldn’t help but not only dig into her renaissance as an actor, but her thoughts on the evolution of the industry. Enjoy!

Dan: Hi Barbara. First off, congrats on the film. I really enjoyed it.

Barbara C: Thank you.

Dan: So there’s a real consistency in the projects that you involve yourself in. What do you look for in a role specifically? And what about King Knight interested you as an actor?

Barbara C: Oh, is there a consistency? I have no idea. Thank you for saying so.

Dan: You know, if I see your name on something, I can kind of trust it?

Barbara C: Okay. Well, that’s good to know if you’re saying yeah, that you think it’ll be a good project.

I mean, Ricky Bates Jr., who wouldn’t want to be in a movie that he directed and wrote? I mean, he’s one of the most creative, unique voices out there today. All of his movies are cool and interesting and say something about people and society, and they’re all different and they’re artistic. He’s just one of the most creative guys I’ve ever met. I got a call from a friend and he said, “look, Ricky wants to talk to you about being in a movie”. I thought, wow, that came out of the blue.

Ricky told me about the movie, and how he and Matthew(Gray Gubler) were putting it together themselves, and what the movie was about and I would play Matthew’s mom. I just thought that all sounded amazing. So I read the script and really liked it, and thought it was just charming. It was a little more whimsical than some of his other movies. But you know, with certain people you just trust them.

Like you trusting me to say Barbara Crampton would only be in a good movie or it’ll have some merit.

I trusted that Ricky would make a good movie. So that’s first and foremost, what I look for, like who’s making the movie and what’s their track record. If it’s somebody, I don’t know. I have worked with first time filmmakers, then, just a little more research or digging is to be done. First and foremost is the script has to be good. That’s the basis for everything. I have made a couple of mistakes in my life, I have, where I’ve cringed and said, oh, why did I do that? But people are trying their best and everybody is trying to make a good movie all the time.

But I knew with Ricky it would be good, and I really liked my character. You know, she’s a little bit, ethically compromised and you don’t really like her and I wanted to try to exercise playing a part like that. I’ve only done that a few times in my life and I’m always glad when people see me in a different way than other people see me, and just having the opportunity to play a multitude of types of characters. I do think that in the movie, you also understand why Ruth is the way she is and where she comes from. She’s really not nice in the beginning, but then you kind of see a side of her and you get why she is the way she is.

That kind of supports the bigger theme of the movie and understanding the character of Thorn and why he’s the way he is and him reconciling his past, present and future. I was happy to be a small part of that, to help realize the whole, and even, you know, with a small amount of screen time, show a full-body character.

Dan: Definitely.

Dan: Was this shot during COVID?

Barbara C: It was not shot during COVID. It was actually shot before we shot Jakob’s Wife.

Dan: Oh, wow.

Barbara C: Yeah, Jakob’s wife was the last movie I did right before COVID and I did a couple of since then. We finished shooting Jakob’s Wife in February and March is when that explosion happened.

Dan: I thought Jacob’s wife was great. And I love that since you’ve returned to acting, even though you do play the mom in some of these films, you also do these kind of adventurous lead roles. I was wondering, do you find it’s getting easier to find genre roles that celebrate more established actors like yourself rather than sort of relegating them to more supporting roles, like the mom?

Barbara C: Well, I’m always going to play some supporting roles and you know, I’m happy to play a lead in a movie or a supporting role, really. I mean, I think it is true, there are no small parts, only small actors. I do think that’s true.

I think at a time when I was in my middle thirties, I really wasn’t getting a lot of work and that’s kind of when I left the business for a time, because I wasn’t the young femme fatale any more and it hadn’t quite grown into playing a mom. Even though Stuart Gordon, would let me play whatever I want. (Laughs) I played a mom in Castle Freak when I was around 27 and when I was around 30, in From Beyond, I played a psychiatrist and everybody thought, “oh, she’s too young, she can’t play that”. So age was never a determining factor for Stuart, but it is a determining factor in Hollywood.

Age has a lot to do with everything. How old is the person to play this role? I think there was a period of time where, you know, 20 years ago, 25 years ago, there weren’t a lot of roles written for women who were between the ages of 30 and 40.There was nothing for me. So I kind of stepped into exile, because of that. As I’ve gotten older, I’m playing a mom more often or, you know, a crazy caretaker or, a person in Beyond the Gates, like in a game show, or like in Jakob’s Wife, a movie I helped produce. There I am playing an older woman, trying to reconnect with herself, and having a post midlife crisis, menopausal crisis. I guess there have been more roles for me recently, than there were in the middle part of my career.

So are there more roles being written for women in general? Probably so, yeah, I would say yes, that’s true. Do you see more women carrying films now? I’m seeing more women at the forefront.

Dan: Okay. So in keeping with the crux of King Knight, what were you like as a teen? Were you popular or would you be more at home in Thorn’s coven?

Barbara C: That’s a good question. I was probably the person that was in all the different groups, you know, like I didn’t belong to one group. I was really friendly with the cheerleaders and the jocks. I was really friendly with the artistic and creative people, the theater department, because I’ve been doing theater since I was about 15, and I was also friends with the stoners, and the people who drank a lot and did drugs. (Laughs) You know, maybe that’s why I became an actor. I just sort of understand all the different groups and so I was friends with all of them.

Dan: Well, it definitely comes through in your performances cause it feels like you’ve kind of got a little bit of everybody in there and a little bit of everything.

Barbara C: Yeah. I enjoy that. I really do.

Dan: So finally, in bringing it back to King Knight and to Ruth. You have three kids yourself , what is some motherly advice we wouldn’t expect to hear from horror icon Barbara Crampton?

Barbara C: I don’t know if you wouldn’t expect it, but I would say that you just have to be creative and be yourself and don’t worry about what other people think about you. I do think with my own children, I noticed in the younger parts of their life, they’re worried about what their friends will think of them. As you grow up, you worry about what society is going to think about you. But I think you just have to try and not worry about what people think about you and just be the best person that you can be, and follow your own voice. There’s too many people trying to make you fit into their boxes of what they want you to be.

Maybe that’s the bigger theme of the movie too, you know with Thorn, and he’s trying to reconcile his past and present and future and who he is and just worried about where came from and who he is. I think you just have to try and give up those labels and the history that you have. Anybody can be whoever they want to be. You just have to listen to that voice inside of you.

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