On May 31, there is the premiere of The Chain, a disturbing psychological thriller directed by David Martín Porras, who was previously nominated for the Goya Awards for his short film Inside the Box. John Patrick, Neus Asensi and Ray Wise star in this film about the fear of becoming what we do not want to be and the confrontation with fate and its murky consequences. We got the chance to talk with Adrienne Barbeau, Broadway's original Rizzo in the musical Grease and well-known actress for her career in horror and science-fiction films, and who in this case plays Emma.
“The Chain is a film about one of the most terrifying nightmares of the human being: the fear of being our father. This idea scares us a lot because it doesn’t just mean inheriting certain odd habits. It goes beyond that. It is to succumb to our destiny, it is to follow a path that has been written for us, it is to let your dreams escape and settle for something smaller”, says the film director David Martín Porras.

Mike decides to put an end to his life when he discovers that he has the same neurological disease as his father. For this, he will enter an obscure chain of assisted suicides that operates under one rule: if you want to die, you have to kill someone first.
As a renowned actress and author of four best-selling books, appearing in more than fifty films and numerous series including The Fog, Escape from New York, Argo, Grey’s Anatomy or Revenge, what is it in The Chain that makes it special for you?
Well… the director (laughs). Yes, David Martín Porras. It was just a wonderful experience working with David and getting to know him. What drew me to the project itself was the words he had written. And then, when they made me the offer, they sent me a copy of David’s short film Inside the Box. I thought it was horrific! So that plus my affection for the script… Oh! And also, for Ray Wise – the fact that he was doing the film as well. Ray and I worked together in 1982 on Swamp Thing, and it was the first time I’d see him since then. So all of these things came together and made me say yes.
You came to prominence in the 1970s as Broadway's original Rizzo in the musical Grease. However, in the ‘80s, you began appearing in horror and science fiction films, stating that you’d rather appear in films that "explore the human condition" and "deal with issues”. Indeed, The Chain is a disturbing psychological thriller that is developed around a neurological disease. What is it that attracts you to this type of film genre? And how does it relate to you personally?
The first television series that I starred was a comedy called Maude, which was written and produced by Norman Lear. It was extremely socially significant, especially for that time – 1972 until 1978. So I think right from the beginning I was attracted to things that had something to say. Even though it was a comedy, it wasn’t a slapstick comedy. The possibility of making a statement of influencing people’s lives or bringing support, having an impact on people’s lives is what I started with.
And actually, my first Broadway show was Fiddler on the Roof. Again, it is a show about something extremely powerful in history and in all of our lives. I guess right from the beginning that’s what I started doing and it’s what I am always attracted to. I think I have taken roles for other reasons – because I had to pay the bills, for example – but obviously, it’s so much more gratifying to be involved with something that has a purpose.
Could you tell us a little bit more about how you were introduced to this new film of David Martín Porras? What was your first reaction when you read the script?
I had no idea what the script was about at all when they first got in touch with me, so the whole thing was a surprise. I found that it was very well written and complicated; there are so many layers to it. And I think about David’s work as a director and how with every scene he had to go back and make sure that it was logical in terms of what was going between the characters and each of their points of view. And working with him was just a wonderful experience.
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That’s exactly what I was about to ask you. How has it been working with David for the first time?
It was fantastic! He immediately created an atmosphere of trust. I felt that he knew what he wanted and he knew how to express what he wanted to all of us, the actors. So he got what he was looking for. And I trusted that what he wanted was exactly right for the film.
Thirty-five years after Swamp Thing, you are once again playing opposite your friend Ray Wise. This time, in The Chain, you play Emma, Mike’s mother, a humiliated and resigned woman who is destined to take care of her husband. How do you prepare yourself for such a role?
She is a woman who has stayed in, maybe not a physically abusive marriage, but an emotionally abusive marriage from many, many years, but has now come to the point where she is resigned to being there. When her husband first started showing signs of mental illness, there was no question that she was going to be there. So her life is all about taking care of him, that is her position.
What I had to do… I remember that I had just finished reading a memoir of an American actress who had stayed in an emotionally abusive marriage for many years. She was married to a well-known American actor, and it was such a clear description of what in her childhood led to her enduring this kind of interaction with the man that she married or why even she married him. So whether or not I understood why someone stayed, what I had to do was going back in my character’s life and in her history and understand what it was that led her to being there and that kept her there. Once I understood that, then it was easy.
Part of the director’s proposal deals with existential themes such as suicidal thoughts or psychological discomfort. Was there any scene during the filming that was particularly hard to play?
Actually, there was one (laughs). It was the hardest to play emotionally and I think that we were really happy with it, but because the movie was running so long, David had to cut it. So you are only going to see it in the DVD, in the director’s cut. Right now, I couldn’t tell you exactly what it was that made it hard to play; even my son was asking me why I stayed, but I don’t remember – it’s been so long since we filmed it.
I just remember going to the screening and thinking, ‘Wait a minute, wait a minute; what happened to that scene?’, and David was like, ‘I’m so sorry but you’ll see it in the director’s cut.’ But for the others, they weren’t hard to play because the words were so good that, you know, you just say them like you mean it. I always felt that if the words are there and I make myself accessible to them, they pretty much just allow the feeling to come up.
What do you think people are going to take from The Chain?
Let’s see… Well, it’s a very tense film, some of the scenes are not easy to watch. I think it’s also a film that people are going to come back to because it will only be enhanced by seeing it a second or third time. There’s so much going on that you don’t realise it’s going on until you get to the end. You know, there is the reveal of something that we didn’t realise was going on at all. And in terms of a larger philosophical picture, maybe people will think about having the ability to bring an end to your life if you are suffering, if you are in pain.
I remember years ago, I had a girl friend who lived in Oregon, where assisted suicide is legal. And I said to her, ‘I’d like you to put my name in one of your utility bills so that I have established residency in Oregon, in case I ever get to the point’. I have two relatives who ended their lives with Alzheimer’s disease and I think we should be able to move gracefully from one life into the next without the interference of the government or without anyone telling us you are committing a crime. So perhaps this film will make people think about that as well.
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The cinema industry has changed and evolved significantly since the beginning of your career. What are the greatest differences you experienced first-hand?
Well, I’m not an expert on this; I am not a big television viewer or moviegoer and I certainly do not watch horror films. I love to do them but I don’t like to watch them. Had I not been in The Chain, I don’t know if I would have gone to see it because I don’t like to feel all those emotions that unveil. The one thing I do see is that when I began my career, I was one of just a handful of women that were playing powerful, physically strong women – heroines really. These were roles for the guys back in the ‘70s and ‘80s. And now, it seems to me it’s a women’s world out there.
You see things like Black Panther, Wonder Woman and many of other films now have female heroines and that’s great. One of the reasons I think many of my early films like The Fog, Escape from New York, Creepshow or even Swamp Thing were successful is because there were women characters in them. I mean, there were people in them that you got to know and care about. And now, it seems like we are coming around again. We’ve got some really classy horror films like A Quiet Place and Get Out.
Adrienne, you’ve had a pretty eclectic career so far. What would you choose as your major highlight?
One of the jobs that I loved the most or one of the roles that I loved the most was Ruthie, the snake dancer in HBO’s Carnivàle. I was just so proud of the whole series and loved doing it. So for me, that was a personal highlight. In terms of the things that people know, well, I am very proud that I was the original Rizzo in Grease and I loved the character Billie in Creepshow just because she’s so memorable and so outrageous. And I loved the things that I did with John Carpenter: Maggie in Escape from New York, and Stevie Wayne in The Fog. Those things stand out for me.
And is there anything you have yet to achieve?
At one point, I said on my website that the only thing I had left to do was be in a circus. And then, I went on the road for a year with Pippin and I was doing a trapeze actress. So you never know (laughs). I think I have six or seven films still to be released and I just did a wonderful episode of a new Netflix series called AJ and the Queen with RuPaul that I’m looking forward to seeing just because the series itself was so wonderful.
I also did an episode on the new Swamp Thing series, which returns for a second season, and I might be doing more. And I just did an episode on the new Creepshow series, so those things are coming back! I’m at a point now where I can take things solely because they interest me or there’s filming in a country that I wanna go filming. So I don’t know what the next thing will be, but I’m open to anything.
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