Yo, Adrienne! She's famous for playing kickass broads — from Broadway's original Rizzo in Grease to divorcee Carol Traynor in the landmark sitcom Maude to the snake charmer Ruthie in HBO's Carnivale — and now Adrienne Barbeau is doing it again on General Hospital. She joins the ABC soap August 12 as Suzanne Stanwyck, a Christiane Amanpour-type foreign correspondent who runs an organization that helps exploited children. And she doesn't need Angelina Jolie. Suzanne's goodwill ambassador is international mega-model Brenda Barrett (Vanessa Marcil Giovinazzo)! Barbeau is a pro at conquering new genres and winning new fan bases. After Maude, she turned horror-flick scream queen (The Fog, Creepshow, Swamp Thing). Later, she became a big hit on the 'toon circuit as the voice of Catwoman on Batman: The Animated Series and the follow-ups The Adventures of Batman & Robin, The New Batman Adventures and Gotham Girls. And now, in addition to her acting career, she's a novelist. Her second vampire tome, Love Bites: Vampyres of Hollywood II (St. Martin's Press), hits the market on Labor Day. The bodacious Barbeau spoke with TV Guide Magazine about her visit to Port Chuck — and we found out she knows that town pretty damn well!
TV Guide Magazine: Your first soap! How's it going so far?
Barbeau: I didn't expect it would be such great fun! On my first day people kept asking, "Are you OK? We move fast and do a lot of pages in one day. It's crazy here." But I'm having a great time. I spent years working in low-budget horror films. [Laughs] When you've done Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death, you can handle anything!
TV Guide Magazine: How did you manage to miss the soap scene back in your struggling New York days?
Barbeau: I came close. I auditioned for one soap during my first year in New York and it came down to me and Andrea Marcovicci.
TV Guide Magazine: She did Love of Life. Was that the show?
Barbeau: I really don't remember which one it was, because three days later I was cast in Fiddler on the Roof, my first Broadway job, and I never looked back. I would have happily done a soap but it seemed like the universe had a different plan of me. After Fiddler, I did Grease, and because I got a Tony nomination, Norman Lear came to see me in that show and interviewed me for Maude. So I left New York with a job in L.A. I took it for granted at the time. I didn't realize other actors went through periods of unemployment. [Laughs] That came later!
TV Guide Magazine: Grease is still hot after all this time. There's even a new sing-along version in movie theaters now. Did you ever imagine it would last this long?
Barbeau: Who knew at the time? It's the same as my horror films. It's wonderful at this point in my career to realize there are pieces of work that have sustained themselves all this time. [Laughs] I'll run into people who say, "We watch Swamp Thing once a month!"
TV Guide Magazine: How did you get into the wild world of vamp lit?
Barbeau: I wrote a memoir in 2006 — There Are Worst Things I Could Do — which had chapters on Maude and Grease and Carnivale, my marriage to [film director] John Carpenter, dating Burt Reynolds, all that stuff, and when it hit the bestseller list I was approached by an Irish author, Michael Scott, and we co-wrote Vampyres in Hollywood . It's about a old-time film actress — coincidentally like me an Armenian scream queen! — who happens to be the leader of a clan of show-biz vampires, including Orson Welles, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and Rudolph Valentino. When someone starts killing off her A-list friends, she hooks up with a Beverly Hills detective to solve the case. I wrote the sequel, Love Bites, by myself.
TV Guide Magazine: The world has gone crazy for bloodsuckers!
Barbeau: It's been great timing because we got started on the first book before True Blood and Twilight exploded. I had never read any vampire books. I don't even go to horror films. I love appearing in them but it's not my thing as an audience member. So I wrote a female vampire heroine who is basically the same character I have played in so many of my films and even on GH — a strong, ballsy woman who takes no prisoners.
TV Guide Magazine: You gave birth to twins at age 51. That must keep you current.
Barbeau: They're 13 now, so I know every rap song ever recorded and I've seen every raunchy movie comedy that's out there. My sons have never seen an episode of Maude. They don't even want to watch me in Swamp Thing or Creepshow because they consider them "old movies!" But now that I'm on a soap opera with James Franco, I have arrived. I'm suddenly cool! And wait until they see how gorgeous Vanessa is, and the other girls on the show! [Laughs] There may be a new appreciation for what Mom does! All I hear about is Megan Fox!
TV Guide Magazine: Tell us about Suzanne. What brings her and Brenda Barrett to Port Charles?
Barbeau: She's a journalist who has seen so much tragedy in the world where children are concerned and she establishes an organization, the Alliance to Save Exploited Children, that concentrates on the victims of sex trafficking. Brenda becomes the spokesperson who's out there bringing attention to the cause and bringing in corporate endowments. One day in Rome she is attacked while appearing at a press conference. We don't know who did it but her life is clearly in jeopardy and it's pretty much up to Suzanne to take care of Brenda and make sure it doesn't happen again. Suzanne is going to hire a bodyguard who may be someone from Brenda's life back in Port Charles.
TV Guide Magazine: Well, have Suzanne start flirting up a storm while she's there. That's how to stay on the show!
Barbeau: I hear Suzanne is going to find someone in Port Charles very attractive! I don't want to say too much, but [head writer] Bob Guza has mentioned to me that she will lay her eyes on one certain guy in town and suddenly it's "Oh...maybe it's time to put on some makeup!" [Laughs] So we'll see.
TV Guide Magazine: Have you ever been a soap watcher?
Barbeau: Years ago when I was doing Maude at CBS, The Young and the Restless was taping next door, so I got to know and hang out with a couple of the actors. I have a girlfriend, Meg Bennett, who is now a writer on GH, who was on Y&R as an actress at that time. We were in Grease together! And of course when Luke and Laura got big I was watching GH like the rest of the country, so it's great to see that Anthony Geary is still on the show. My sister is still a GH fanatic — she's a schoolteacher in Northern California — and I've watched it when I visit her. And, since I got the offer, of course I've been watching every day and really enjoying it. There even was a moment around 1986 when I dated one of the actors on GH. [Laughs] But he shall remain nameless! Very short term, very nice guy. So, in a way, I've always had an association with the show.
TV Guide Magazine: Sounds like it was meant to be!
Barbeau: I'm realizing that a soap offers so many opportunities for a woman my age. At this stage in my career, the roles that are available tend to be the judge or the doctor or somebody's mother — that's what happens when you're the guest star of the week. But GH reminds me in a way of Carnivale, where we never knew what was coming next and it was always exciting and fascinating. There's a lot of meat on this soap!