Patricia Tallman Interview
All I wanted to be was an action hero, and women just didn’t do that. The only time they did do it, it was a real sexy thing and you had to be half-naked, which wasn’t my idea of true power.
Thus, Patricia Tallman describes why she took on the role of Barbara in the 1990’s remake of Night of the Living Dead and later as the tortured telepath Lyta Alexander in the classic sci-fi series Babylon 5.
Whatever thoughts you may have on remakes, Barbara in the Tom Savini version of the Night of the Living Dead was a vast improvement. Whereas Judith O’Dea whimpered Barbara into the background during the original, she was far more strongly portrayed in the remake, due in no small part to the strong-willed demeanour of Patricia Tallman.
“Whatever I lost, I lost a long time ago and I do not plan on losing anything else. You can talk to me about losing it when you stop screaming at each other like a bunch of two-year-olds.”
Patricia Tallman, Night of the Living Dead.
In addition to being a fantastic actress, Pat is a successful stuntwoman, having worked on multiple iterations of Star Trek, as well as various films such as Jurassic Park and Army of Darkness (namely the possessed witch in the well).
Peter Ray Allison recently caught up with Patricia Tallman whilst she was taking a break from her charity Be A Santa.
Note; some of our more sensitive readers may wish to proceed with caution, as the interview turns somewhat fruity towards the end.
Is it rare for someone to be an actor and a stunt-performer?
To have a successful career, as far as I know, I am the only one [Jackie Chan is an actor who does his own stunts, but he does not perform stunt work for others]. There are terrific actresses and stunt people, but they have not the opportunities that I have had.
I had serious acting chops before I started as a stunt-person. I had studied at Carnegie Mellon University and then I went onto New York where I worked as an actor, which is where I did Knightriders. I was already working as solidly as a real actor when I met some stunt people and started working doing stunts.
Most actors need to have another way of making money, even if you have a few years where you are really well. I had gotten tired of waiting tables and doing retail, so when some stunt people asked me to work with them, I jumped at the opportunity. It was also in my Union, as it covers stunt people and actors, and it was also on a set, so it worked perfectly for what I wanted to do.
Besides, being an action actor is something I have always wanted to do, as I am a very physical person. I still kick-box and work out every day, so I think I am a hybrid of all these qualities.
I kept these worlds separate, because if [directors] know I am stunt person, I know they are not going to take me seriously as an actor. They think that if you are an actor who does stunt work, then you cannot be a very good actor, and vice versa. When I am on a set as a stunt performer I am always doubling another actress; it is not like they would recognise me, as I am wearing a wig and a costume.
Luckily I met stunt people who I apprenticed with and learned the trade, so I kinda had this dual-life going on, even when I was working on Babylon 5 as a series regular, I was still going over to Star Trek and stunt doubling for Nana Visitor, Gates McFadden and Terry Farrell.
What drew you to Babylon 5?
Joe Straczynski had seen me in Night of the Living Dead and had phoned my agent to ask me to audition for the part. I didn’t think I was going to get it, as I thought it was such a good role that it would go to a higher star. As things turned out, there weren’t any other stars in the pilot, there were only accomplished actors.
Were you aware there was going to be a gap between the pilot and returning later on in the series?
When you do a pilot, you never know if you are going to have a series. So you shoot a pilot and hope for the best. We were hoping it would go well and get a lot of eyeballs when it aired, so that we would get a series order.
However, on the Warner Brothers side, there was one guy who didn’t like me because I didn’t want to sleep with him and he made sure that I go kicked off the series.
Joe Straczynski had been out of town for a bit and he was told by the production office that I had asked for an exorbitant amount of money. What they didn’t realise, was that Joe and I were friends, as he was with most of the actors. When he got back to town I gave him a call about how they had kicked me off the show and told him the exact figure what my agent had asked for.
That’s why in the second season, when Andrea Thompson (who played Talia Winters) decided to leave the show, Joe called me up and asked if I would like to come back as he had no hard feelings, and hoped I did not, and it worked out really well.
What defined Babylon 5 for many was that very first scene between you and G’Kar (Andreas Katsulas).
That was the scene Andreas and I auditioned to when we came back to audition for the suits. That was when I realised that guy, the one who wanted me to sleep with him, as he was one of the two suits in change of our show. I got the pilot, and I am not sure why or how Joe pushed that through, but he insisted. It was when we went from the pilot to the series; there was a year gap in which he was able to get me off the show. Shit happens in this business, and they specifically told Joe that they did not think I was sexy enough.
What did you learn from Babylon 5?
I learned about sustaining a character and being part of ensemble on television series, which is a long-term family-thing, and it was a lovely to have that. I have done a lot of theatre, as that is my home and you are always an ensemble in theatre, and since that was my training I really loved that on Babylon 5.
Going back and forth between from the Star Trek to the Babylon 5 sets, it was nice that the Babylon 5 was small and kinda autonomous. Warner Brothers never really understood what they had in Babylon 5. Paramount had Star Trek, which was a massive franchise and when they had Star Trek: The Next Generation, they were planning on it being something special, so there were a lot of fingers in that pie where they oversaw everything. I loved working over there, but it was a different corporate feeling, whereas Babylon 5 was more of a family-owned business.
People look to Babylon 5 as the start of serialised storytelling in television, don’t they?
Joe really brought the five-year arc to the world and he has said that Blake’s 7 was hugely influential for him. He really did know exactly where he wanted to go, and yet he was able to change things as necessary. He had a plan for my character, but when I wasn’t able to come back to the series, he was able to change for Talia [Winters], and when Talia left he had a plan, so he could be flexible and work with whatever came up.
He really felt strongly that when the five years was up that was it for Babylon 5. He had a very clear vision of what he wanted.
You keep in touch with the cast of Babylon 5, don’t you?
One of the best things I took away from the series was my friends. They are really great people, and it has been fun to watch us all evolve as we get into middle-age and so on. We still talk to each other, see our kids growing up, careers taking off or stalling for a while and talking care of each other.
You have an interesting social media presence, including being banned for three days from Facebook.
I used to post a lot more sexy stuff, but what happens is that anybody can complain – randomly – and that Facebook doesn’t look into it, they just shut you down. There is no Facebook court where I can say it was just a cleavage shot and I wasn’t breaking any laws and there wasn’t any nudity.
If I could, I would post really crazy stuff, as I am a big advocate for sex and for more openness about sex. To be able to ask questions, and have discussions, about sex is important. It is a human need and a big part of who we are. We have now got into a weird place with it, where it is either shut down and you have to be politically correct, or it is hugely in your face and is too much. The pendulum swings from one to the other, but we, as human beings, should have more of a chance to be in the middle.
We need to express ourselves without being judged about it, so I think that is a responsibility for people who have a social platform like I do to stand up for something reasonable. We should reasonably be able to talk about sex.
You even post about spanking!
Yeah, spanking is fun! It is amazing that we do not talk about things like that. Fifty Shades of Grey was a bit stupid, but what was great about it was that it started a conversation around the more straight-laced people and gave them permission to talk about what is a bit more alternative.
I really wish more people had the ability to express themselves. I have friends who were brought up in the mid-west and they have never had the chance to ask “What about spanking?”, “What about getting tied up?” or “What about anal sex?” We do not get a chance to talk about any of that stuff and so have to go online. Maybe I need to form a community about that!
Can you tell me about your book?
Pleasure Thresholds is a book about the five years I was on Babylon 5 and as I was also going back-and-forth doing a lot of stunt work over at Star Trek and then doing Jurassic Park and Forrest Gump, as well as having a baby.
Right now it is out of print, as I am working on my charity, but I am then going to be talking to the woman who helped me publish the first [edition], as we have enough material for another run of three hundred books. However, I need to raise the money to do that, so I am looking at seeing if I can pre-sell enough to allow me to print them.
This book has two signature pages in it, one that Joe signs and another that I sign. I sat with Joe in his theatre for two days signing the first run. It also comes with a DVD and a souvenir post-card, so it is more of a special package.
What do you have planned for the future?
I have a new company called Quest Retreats, where I do adventure retreats for nerds like me. [Last time], after we had gone to Hawaii Con, we did loads of fun stuff, like zip-lining, helicopter ride over lava and scuba-diving with manta rays. We had an science fiction celebrity along with us and I will be doing that again [next year].
I am coming to the UK in November 2016, but would love to come sooner. I have got tickets for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, so I am going to take ten people to the play, and then we do some other stuff, like a Jack the Ripper tour and some Sherlock stuff, as well as going to Stonehenge and Bath.
What I want to do now is to help people realise their dreams and this is what these adventure retreats are about: getting people a little bit out of their comfort zones.
The people who went to Hawaii still keep in touch with each other. I want to form communities that make friends and support each other as we make changes in our lives, sometimes in subtle ways and other times in not to subtle ways.
Change is scary, but you’ve got to make changes. Like when we were just about talking about sex and how do you make that happen? If we can talk about it and help each other through that, then through supporting each other we can try to make some positive change in our lives.
Be A Santa is another example of positive change, isn’t it?
I’ve been volunteering at Penny Lane since the late eighties and I started the Be A Santa programme in 1996, because the kids didn’t really get a holiday. These kids all live in group homes, there is a main facility with fifty beds and there are also ten satellite houses, each with six kids in a house. The kids are aged twelve to eighteen years old and cannot be placed into foster care because they are so damaged, either emotionally, physically or sexually. So they need a lot of supervision.
My idea was that, if you had a community out there, which is saying “we are here for you and want you to have a nice Christmas” and the whole community was my friends and family doing this.
I think it is remarkable that a hundred people can take these 120 kids and give them a special Christmas holiday package of books (Kevin Anderson donated 120 X-Files books that he wrote) and a gift card allowing them to go shopping, have a dinner party, put trees up in their house and get to feel like someone gives a shit. I love that this is coming from the science fiction community.
Patricia Tallman, thank you very much.