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In part one (see here) of our exclusive interview with multifaceted actress Diane Salinger of DARK HOUSE (available everywhere as part of FANGORIA FrightFest’s eight-title collection on DVD from Phase 4 Films and via video-on-demand), the thespian discussed her turn as the heinous foster mother Miss Darode, working with director Darin Scott and other scary tidbits. Salinger continues her discussion below, sharing stories on CÀRNIVALE, working with Tim Burton, news of a third REST STOP movie and some bizarre on-set experiences with the notorious Klaus Kinski!
The actress revealed her screen time in DARK HOUSE as the product of total chaotic freedom, but her approach to getting inside the character of the catatonic fortune-teller Apollonia (for the HBO series CÀRNIVALE’s second season) included some heavy handed research that demanded she assume yet another role: certified psychiatrist. “A friend of mine has a brother who’s a psychiatrist, and he made a call to a psychiatric ward that I was a visiting psychiatrist. That’s the only way he could get me into this mental ward. So they allowed me to just go into the grounds where there were people in this outer yard area and patients were being issued back into the hospital part. Then there were some patients who were left outside talking to a wall or talking to a tree, and I stayed with them. When I came back into the hospital with the last patient, one of the men who was in charge of getting them back in actually thought I was one of the patients!” [Laughs]
Tapping into the depths of a catatonic state remained daunting, until a new exterior locale provided Salinger with just the right model for the woman she’d been chasing. “Another friend of mine directed me to another kind of home, and in the cafeteria of this place, there was this one woman in a wheelchair,” she recalls. “Her legs were turned in, her hands were curled up, her feet were curled in, and she had her eyes open, she was conscious, but a psychiatrist I was with said she’s in another dimension. As soon as I saw her, I knew she was my way into the character. I went over to her and gently touched her leg, and she got into this mode of anxiety. She was making all kinds of movements with her mouth without any audible noise, but I could see she was very anxious because I was bringing her back into this world, and she didn’t want to come here. After that, I let her settle down and she slipped back into that alternate state. What I’ve found is she’s very, very alive, and her world is extremely engaging, if not more so than this world.”
This uncanny psychological state wasn’t the first case in which Salinger took cues and lessons from some figures as dark and unorthodox as they are strangely alluring. The actress’ first credited film role was in director William Malone’s alien ripoff CREATURE in 1985, starring Werner Herzog’s BEST FIEND, Klaus Kinski. “Klaus taught me a great deal!” Salinger laughs. “We were wearing these padded, quilted space suits, and he taught me how to act [in them] with my back. I knew he was brilliant, but he would never hit his marks. He was basically ‘F**k you, I’m the actor, you’re the camera. I’m not gonna follow you, you follow me.’ I remember Bill saying to me that a lot of the great, brilliant footage that he had of Klaus he couldn’t use, because he was out of focus.”
First films can always provide their performers with enough stress and anxieties to start, but Kinski’s behavior stacked more to cope with than the usually expected first time jitters. “He said outrageous things to me that seemed very inappropriate—that I can’t necessarily repeat, because they would be semi-pornographic,” she says. “You couldn’t get more obscene. While we were walking on the way to craft services, I’d just say, ‘Oh, Klaus. Oh, Klaus,’ and that’s how I handled it. I was very innocent back in ’85, and it was my first film. I didn’t want to get fired, but I also wouldn’t allow him to continue this behavior and say obscene things to me, so I handled it in several ways.”
Probably the last place she would anticipate resorting to with the former NOSFERATU vampyre was physical confrontation, but where the means called for it, Salinger obliged. “He sort of jumped on top of me when I was resting on this operating table with my quilt space suit on. It was about 115 degrees outside, and we didn’t have air-conditioning, so I was lying on the table, and he jumped on top of me. I didn’t want to cause a scene, but I totally wanted this behavior to stop. I got off the table, and I had these high police boots on from the ‘20s, and I was over 6 feet in these boots, and he was very small. I just picked him up and jostled him a couple of times, and that sort of squelched it.”
Despite some volatile ups and downs, Salinger describes her view of Kinski to have significantly changed once she was able to step outside production. “He was a genius,” she says. “We were having trouble reaching him before shooting because he was in a cabin with no electricity. They would have to send him telegrams, and he was sleeping on straw. He was a very primal, wild man who gave himself permission to go to any extreme, like you do in a horror movie. He was a lot like Aleister Crowley—‘Do what thou wilt.’ That was Klaus Kinski more than anyone I’ve ever met, where he just acted on his impulses, no matter what they were, and I loved that about him.”
Salinger also recalls working with another man of his own distinct artistry, director Tim Burton, by whom she was directed in both PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE and BATMAN RETURNS. “[Tim’s] a great director,” she says. “When I’m in the dinosaur with Paul [Reubens], he told me quietly—and it seemed very technical at the time, but it really had an effect—‘Lower your voice,’ before I recited my lines, so I did. It was just a technical thing, but it had a huge effect on the scene. Tim is his own man, and he has a certain vision. On BATMAN RETURNS, he had done all the storyboards himself. He showed me his painting of Michelle Pfeiffer having fallen from the heights and being surrounded by all these cats who were licking her. Years later, I went to the exhibit of his paintings and there was Tim, and there was the picture of Catwoman. He’s got an incredible eye and incredible view. The definition of a genius is someone who loves what they do, and Tim Burton loves what he does.”
Glimpsing into the future, Salinger, in addition to recently wrapping the high-school comedy TERRY with John C. Reilly, alludes to what might be in store for her Mother character if the REST STOP film series continues. “I spoke to John Shiban [writer/producer on both REST STOP films and director on the first], about doing a film that centers around the Winnebago family,” she says. “There’s never been a family created like that at all, this quirky, southern kind of religious fanatics living in this Winnebago with these two boys in their suits, and the little boy Scotty. The other characters come and go, but that family to me is probably the coolest part of the REST STOPs. I know that interest has been expressed in doing a third REST STOP where the Winnebago family would be the central feature. I’m looking forward to it; I love playing that woman, and these characters have never been seen in their own film before.”
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