If there were ever a competition to come up with That 70s Actress, Karen Black would be near the top of the bell-bottomed list. The star of classic 70s films like Five Easy Pieces, Nashville and Airport 1975 specialized in high-strung, unstable women, all qualities that made her a natural for horror films like The Pyx, Burnt Offerings and Trilogy Of Terror. Black has worked sporadically since then, but she has popped up recently in horror films like Rob Zombie's House Of 1000 Corpses.
Acknowledging her cult status - and the DVD release of Trilogy - she takes part in Shades Of Black, a talk with Richard Crouse on Sunday (September 3) at the Bloor, and appears at the Fan Expo Friday to Sunday (September 1 to 3; see Daily Events, page 33).
What's the secret of surviving in the business?
Integrity. If you're a waitress who doesn't care - if you'd rather be, say, a roller derby star - you'll be miserable and you won't last long. When my character has an accent, I do tons of research. For Five Easy Pieces I showed up at the town where we were shooting a week early to study hairdos and accents.
You were in two of the seminal films of the early American independent film, Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces. Do you miss those days?
I do. But if a movie like Tarnation can get into theatres, and with Sundance around, maybe something wonderful can still come along. I think there's fear at every level. Filmmakers feel like they have to imitate what's come before, so we get things redone and rehashed. A film like American Beauty is perfect but very carefully plotted, with not one loose thread. We need more movies that are free and loose and insane.
Did you ever think you'd become a cult horror figure?
Never. I don't even like the horror genre. I can't imagine what's interesting about people losing a hand or getting knifed.
What kind of actor did you start out wanting to be, then?
I didn't have a clue. I let others make decisions about me and make me into something. I didn't take a stand or say no.
How does it feel to have the punk/goth group the Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black named after you?
I went to see them in Alaska and was surprised that they were all naked, with their bodies all painted. They were noisy but good.
The DVD for Trilogy Of Terror came out this week. How do you explain its cult appeal -- especially the third section, where you battle the African doll?
The plot was high-concept but direct. It keeps you interested and alert. Maybe what kills people in the end are small things - things you can never get rid of or stop.
You were in Hitchcock's final film, Family Plot. How was he to work with? He was avuncular and loved to have fun. He loved games. We traded limericks. He used to try to impress me with words he thought I didn't know, like "perspicacious." He was shocked when I knew them.
Favourite leading man?
Jack Nicholson was great, very convivial. But I loved Richard Benjamin - he was one of the funniest men around. So was Omar Sharif, who was a chauvinist but charming and generous.
One of the campiest scenes in movies from the 1970s is the one in Airport 1975 where you play a flight attendant flying the plane. Did you think when you were filming it, "This is ridiculous"?
On the set nobody seemed to be concerned at all about making it look real. So I realized it was up to me to care or there'd be no movie. I was so into it that my legs were shaking.
You took two breaks in your career to raise children. Do you regret how that affected the momentum of your career?
Kinda. But my son still thanks me for spending a lot of time with him. Kids require a lot of attention. I'm selfish. I love playing with children. I still colour with my 18-year-old daughter.
Wait -- you colour, as in colouring books?
Yes. People ask me how I relax. I don't smoke weed or drink. I like to draw in colouring books.