Quantcast Zelda Rubenstein interview - POLTERGEIST

Zelda Rubenstein!!!

Zelda Rubenstein is best known for her role as short-in-stature, strong-in-mind psychic Tangina Barrows from the “POLTERGEIST” series. As the original film celebrates it's 25 th Anniversary with a new re-mastered DVD, Zelda chatted with Icons of Fright, as well as several other horror publications for a roundtable interview about the blockbuster 1982 film, as well as some of her work since in the horror genre. - by Mike C. 10/07

Russell Trunk:

Q: This was your first spotlight movie, how was the role presented to you back then?

A: It was by audition, I was actually screen tested several times before I was entrusted with the role and I do not know who my competition was.
Q: Tangina's declaration of “This house is clean” has to be one of the most famously spoken-too-soon miscalculations in film history. All these years later is it ever a burden to have your name associated with that infamous quote?

A: No, it’s neither a burden nor a pleasure. People identify me that way and they also easily identify me on the street because of my short stature. So I get picked out in many ways and it's in no way a burden.

Rick Bently:

Q: In this day and age movies are made with a lot of high-tech computer special effects. Can you talk about the special effects in your film. Was it a lot of low-tech stuff or cutting edge stuff?

A: The special effects were added after I had finished my role. I only worked 6 days and since this was my first real role I kept my mouth shut and ears open and let things play outs. I'm not a technology maven, I couldn't give a rats behind about technology. It's a necessary evil...

Q: Could you talk about Tobe Hooper as a director?

A: I don't think I can because during the 6 days that I worked Steven Spielberg primarily took over the helm. Like I said I only worked 6 days and I don't know what happened the other days. It was a year before I saw these people again.

Q: Can you talk about working with Steven for those 6 days?

A: Oh he's magnificent. His image gets on the screen. What I found is that what he wants to show is what gets up there the way he wants it. There's no deviation from that. I don't know the man well, I love him dearly, he was very influential in handing me a career. I'd love to work with him again. I mean, as far as I'm concerned he's the best film director I've had so far.

Gabriel Debeitra, Fear.net:

Q: Coming off the success of POLTERGEIST, what was it like working on the film ANGUISH?

A: I loved doing ANGUISH! ANGUISH was shot in Barcelona, Spain. Everything was done to make the Americans involved in it very comfortable, both on screen and in our time free. Bigas Luna is a magnificent director and we all had a very good time. I'm still good friends with Michael Lerner, who was the male star in the film. It was just a wonderful experience. It was my first work experience abroad.
Q: Would you be willing to go back for another POLTERGEIST film?

A: Oh, of course, but you know we don't have the little girl. We lost the Carol-Ann (Heather O’Rourke) in 1988 and that's the end of the series.

Edward Hill:

Q: What was the impact after you got this role, and then you saw your performance a year later. How did you react to that? What was the major impact?

A: Well, it was very traumatic when I saw the film at a screening for cast and crew, I practically had to be carried out of there because I realized it would change my life. It did cost me a 14 year relationship that I was involved in because neither one of us knew particularly well how to handle this. But I feel, looking back, hindsight is great. It was a fabulous experience. I didn't know many people because I only worked 6 days and I didn't socialize with anybody from the film. There was an attempt to connect all of the unfortunate things that happened to some mystique and I never saw any of that.

Q: You're talking about the rumors where there were really curses...

A: Yes, that is what I'm talking about. I'm very pedantic and I don't believe in any of that. I believe there are phenomena we don't understand because we have no way of measuring them. I don't believe there was any kind of a curse going on.

Q: How did each POLTERGEIST in your role with the special effects differ? Did it become easy with each film in the series?

A: Well, every one was different. I like the first one best of all, then the third one. I was least content with my role in the second one.

Chris Haverman:

Q: On this anniversary DVD that's about to come out there's not going to be any commentary tracks, and there's only one featurette on it. Are you featured on any of the material on the DVD?

A: Not as far as I know, unless they've extrapolated it from other interviews.

Q: Did anyone contact you to do any interviews?

A: Not yet, well, not for the DVD.

Q: Would you have wanted to participate in a commentary track if they asked you to?

A: I would have been happy to. It's a good product and I believe it in and I would be very happy to promote it in any way.

Q: I think a lot of fans were looking forward to a little bit more, particularly from you since you have such a big role in it and a lot of fans. Would you be willing to do commentary tracks for special editions to the sequels as well?

A: Of course.

Q: You said Steven primarily directed you during the six days you were working there. Was Tobe around at all?

A: Tobe was there all the time. As I saw it, and I was not an experienced person at the time, it seemed that Tobe set up every shot, and Steven made adjustments to every shot. I was very happy for his input.


Q: When you were first making POLTERGEIST did you have any idea it would become such a big hit, and that 25 years down the road you'd be still doing interviews for it? What do you think makes it so enduring?

A: The first script was very good. Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais, and Mark Victor wrote a magnificent script. That's always the basis of everything that's going to be good in a film. He picked people that were in a position to support that script, and I'm just so thrilled that I was allowed to be apart of it. It was a new experience to me and, like I said I only worked 6 days, but I learned so much.

Q: There's been so many ghost movies over the years, and POLTERGEIST is still at the top of the class. What do you think it is about it that makes it “the ghost movie” of the last 25 years?

A: It's hard for me to say. I know that my role was one that was very sympathetic. I'm always surprised when people say it's a horror film. There were some astonishing things in it that you don't normally see, but I think the thing that made it so memorable was the quality of the acting. JoBeth is so fine, I was brand new, I'm glad I was picked to do it, otherwise I'd still be doing it under a streetlamp.


Q: What kicked in within you that made you realize you were an artist and destined to be an actor?

A: I had an epiphany one night, overnight, in my sleep. I don't know what the epiphany was but I went to be a blood banker, and an artist and had no idea what my discipline would be. I went into work that morning and I quit my job. I had no idea what I would do after a two-week notice was worked out, and then serendipity happened. I met an agent who sent me on a couple of interviews and within two weeks I got my first first job on “The Flinstones, because of this most unusual vocal instrument.

Q: Since POLTERGEIST, primarily your only stand role was in PICKET FENCES, which I imagine had to be a very pleasurable experience for you?

A: Yes, I was there for two years and as a regular in the cast. I loved doing the role of Ginny Weedon, she was a few bubbles off plum. I fit into that very well. I have since learned that I am basically a comedian, which has been very helpful in getting along with this society if you're different from most folks.

Q: So can we expect to see you doing a routine some day?

A: Oh no, I'm not a stand-up comedian, I'm a life comedian.

Q: On PICKET FENCES, did you expect that your character would meet her demise by falling into a freezer?

A: No, no. Not at all. I was not invited back for financial reasons. The two main leads required a salary increase and they took it out of me. I think by doing that it changed the whole homeostasis of the series and I don't think it improved it.

Mike C – Icons Of Fright:

Q: So, Zelda, what kind of preparation did you do for the role of Tangina, did you explore the world of psychics? And since this was your first role you had, what did you know about developing a character?

A: I developed the character under the ficus tree in my living room. I did not know how to develop a character, but I decided to do something as it looked like a really good opportunity. So I hid under there and developed and equilateral triangle in my mind. The base of the triangle was her knowledge, one side was her life as a boring Odessa, Texas housewife, and the third side was her dream of becoming a dealer in Las Vegas. I kept her dead center in that triangle, and those were my guidelines. I don't know where I got them from, but those were my mental image. That's how I developed the character. After I screen tested I didn't hear back for weeks, and she'd gotten so big inside me that I would have been ready to perform her under a street lamp on the street.

Q: Tangina led to you continuing on in a lot of other supernatural roles. One of the others films that's become a cult-classic is “TEEN WITCH” where you played Madam Serena...

A: Yes, but I didn't think she was so psychic. It was more of a teeny-bopper film but I liked the people I worked with, I'm still excellent friends with Alana Lambros, who produced it. I didn't feel it had any real connection to my other role in “POLTERGEIST”. I mean, I'm not a psychic, I have a hyper-sensitivity but I'm not a psychic.
Q: What about the rumors that multiple endings had been shot for “POLTERGEIST III”?

A: The ending that I did was what I saw on screen. If there were other endings it must have been done because Gary Sherman wasn't happy. Gary's a good director, and he's also remained a good friend.

Tim Claudfelter:

Q: Do you get people coming up to you on the street expecting you to know about psychic phenomenon?

A: Just the crazy ones (laughs). No, but shortly after the film came out a lady came up to me in the market and said, “Please come to my house, it has things wrong with it”. I had to let her know that I wasn't who she thought I was. I found that rather amusing.

Steve Barton – Dread Central:

Q: Up until “Poltergeist” haunted house films were in a shambled house, in complete states of disarray. This was a normal house with crazy stuff going on in it. Another thing that made the movie special was the family dynamic, can you comment on how that dynamic was on the set?

A: The set dynamic seemed very normal. I did not have a lot of experience to rely on. I think the brilliance of the script is what made it so terrific. It was written in a way that everybody was just a few bubbles off plum and worked well together. It was an exceptional phenomena. The other two sequels did not have that available.

Q: What was your favorite moment, the one thing you took away with it?

A: That I had worked with the best.

Q: And where do you go from there?

A: That's what I asked myself. I feel I've been given a rare opportunity to work with the best in all disciplines.

Tony Farnella:

Q: I heard you had an eerie situation on “POLTERGEIST III”, where you found out your mother had passed away?

A: Well, my mother had been ill for five weeks following open-heart surgery. She was alive, but not with us, for those five weeks. I knew she was dying. I went home every weekend to Oakland, California, and I did not have that experience. The director did. Gary Sherman was taking pictures with a still camera, I think they were Polaroid’s. Over one picture there was a very diaphanous shadow and it scared a few people. If that was her spirit, it didn't bother me. I had a superb relationship with my mother.

Q: How do you feel about the current state in Hollywood?

A: The tendency is to worship the beauty and forget about the depth. There are some very good performers in Hollywood, and some very excellent writers. I love the work of Paul Haggis. Among my own personal friends I feel are some of America's best directors. I think Hollywood wouldn't be in such bad shape if they had a few good scripts and they could get off the body image.

Q: You mentioned earlier how you're an artist. What scripts get your creative juices flowing?

A: Romantic comedies! I'd love to do a romantic comedy that would show how different people could really have a fine relationship, as I do in my own personal life. I love films that allow people to be people.

Emily Christiansen:

Q: Could you expand upon what your first impression was when you got to the POLTERGEIST set?

A: I thought it was OK, I could function there. I didn't think it was too different from the strange jobs I've had in my life, like when I was traveling abroad. I was excited by it, and I loved the opportunity.

Q: Anything else you took away?

A: Yes, I should keep my mouth shut and ears open because I have an opportunity to learn. I was made very welcome by everyone, the children, Craig T. I felt very much at home, this is my world.

Q: How would you feel if they presented a remake of the first POLTERGEIST?

A: I don't know if I would be invited to be involved in any way. It's very rare that the sequel is better than the original or the second issuing. I just saw a film “3:10 To Yuma”, and thought this was a better film. It depends into whose hands the direction falls. I don't see why they would remake it.

David Marlett:

Q: What do you do for Halloween?

A: I hide. I got to a hotel of unknown name and I stay there until the next day! I feel very vulnerable at Halloween, that people who might come to the door might not have candy as their intention. I don't answer the door if I'm stuck at home, but I usually manage to go elsewhere.

Q: Any personal experience that has led to that?

A: Just caution. I love children, and people, but not everyone has good intentions.

Q: You said you feel “highly sensitive” regarding the psychic world. Besides the story of your mother did you ever have any other experiences in that realm?

A: Well, I do have one, I don't know why it happened. While I was filming POLTERGEIST I was in an auto accident. I was driving a little Beetle at the time and just as the two cars impacted I felt my deceased father reach into the roof of the vehicle and grab me like a puppy by the back of the neck and pull me out. That was as close as I've had to any extraordinary experience, personally. I mean, I'm sensitive. I stood in front of my mirror once and I felt something pulling at the hem of my dress, and there was no one present with me. I'm aware that things happen, and we have no way of measuring these things.

Russell Trunk, again:

Q: Is it true that you filmed a scene in 1995's “ CASPER” as Tangina being shot out of chimney yelling 'Don't go into the light'? I read about this on the internet...

A: I never did “ Casper”, that was not a movie I was involved in. I did not do that film. I think I was booked to do it, and there was a strike going on, and I would not cross the picket line. I am from Pittsburgh and we do not cross picket lines. The internet lies!

Q: You recently worked with two up and coming directors. One on “BEHIND THE MASK”, Scott Glosserman--

A: Yes! He's wonderful!

Q: And Richard Kelly who directed “SOUTHLAND TALES”--

A: An amazing man, amazing. You have to walk behind him and take notes you can learn so much. Richard Kelly has a different drummer operating in him. “SOUTHLAND TALES”, I believe is coming out November 9th. His vision is several bubbles off plum, but it works. I saw it first at the Cannes Film Festival in 2006, and at that time it was a very long film. It's been re-edited, but I think the movie is better. I thing Richard Kelly is brilliant and Scott Glosserman too. He has a firm vision, he really gently guides you into what you want.
Q: Was it their appreciation for your role in POLTERGEIST or did you audition for the role like everyone else?

A: No, I didn't audition for either film. It's very rare that I audition for a role, and I pick and choose very carefully. Scott Glosserman picked me because of my experience in the horror genre. Richard Kelly came to me at the wrap party for “SOUTHLAND TALES” and said he never imagined anyone put me in the role I'm in because I deliver things in a very flat manner like Buster Keaton, and I thought, well, that's a compliment!

Q: What was it like working with Peter Medak on “TALES FROM THE CRYPT”?

A: I've seen him several times since! He knows what he's doing, he's wonderful. I loved doing that episode of Tales from the Crypt. It was quite a good thing to film.

David Marlett:

Q: What other scary movies do you like?

A: I don't particularly like to watch scary movies. Basically I'm a gentle soul and I don't go out to scare myself. I like films that tend to be uplifting. Some of the scariest things are living through the 21st century with the administration we have currently. That's scary. The nightly news! I keep my TV at home tuned to CNN and it's hair-raising. Absolutely hair-raising. We live in a time that it's just miraculous that we find ways to survive.

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