Ingrid Pitt is one of the true legends of cinema. Hailed by critics and adored by fans she had a huge screen presence and brought some of horror’s most famous characters to life. During the Zone Horror Fright Fest 2006 we presented one of her classic movies, Countess Dracula which will soon be given a DVD release to be proud of thanks to Network. Zone Horror caught up with this enigmatic lady to talk about her past accomplishments and plans for future productions.
ZH: Many film fans associate you with the horror genre but few may know that you actually experienced real life horror at a very early age as you were detained in a Nazi Concentration camp. Do you think these events shaped your personality, made you a stronger person?
IP: Everything that happens in your life has a bearing on how you end up. Especially in your childhood. So I guess it has.
ZH: How did you get into the movie industry and what were your first impressions of the Hollywood system?
IP: I was at a bull fight in Spain. I was sitting close to the barrier and when I saw the poor bull being mutilated I got into a bit of a state and a photographer took my picture. Ana Mariscol, a Spanish director, saw it on the front page of EL Pais and gave me a part in Los Duendes de Andalucia as a drunken American in love with a bull fighter. I had done a lot of stage work in the US but couldn't speak a word of Castelleno. I soon learned. First impressions of Hollywood. Not Good! But that was my fault because I was so stupid.
ZH: How did you get involved with Hammer and Amicus Productions?
IP: I had just finished Where Eagles Dare and was having my dib at being a Premiere Queen. Going to all the Premieres, getting photographed and telling everyone how inundated I was with work offers. At the after show party for the Premiere of Alfred The Great I sat next to James Carreras, boss of Hammer. I didn't know who he was but I gave him the treatment. He asked me to come to his office - he might have a couple of jobs for me. I'd heard that ploy before but in reality I hadn't anything on the hob so I went. And was totally surprised when I walked out of the door with Vampire Lovers a quarter of an hour later.
ZH: The Vampire Lovers, Countess Dracula and The Wicker Man are considered as classics of the genre, did you think at the time that these movies would become so revered?
IP: I don't think you think like that at the time. It's a job of work. You get paid and get back in line and wait for another part. I'm grateful to the cinema fans who have kept all three in the public eye. It helps out in my old age.
ZH: Is there one movie or performance that you are particularly proud of?
IP: Proud? I don't think so. My movie career has been much like the rest of my life. Someone offers me something, I do it and then do other things until something else pops up. I'm lucky. I have a stable home life, have found out that people like what I write so I try to push out a book a year when I'm able and get just enough cameo parts in films to keep it interesting.
ZH: Have you ever had any reservations about nudity in your films?
IP: None whatsoever. And I don't plead the caveat that I have done it because it was essential to the films' integrity. I just like getting my kit off. As Confucius should have said. "If you've got it, flaunt it!"
ZH: Were you nervous working alongside actors such as Clint Eastwood, Peter Cushing, and Jon Pertwee?
IP: It's nerve making enough just shooting a film. I don't think I had any nerves left over for my co-stars. But I was very appreciative. I suppose the three actors who made the greatest impression were Clint Eastwood, Alec Guinness and Richard Burton. For very different reasons. Clint is the consummate professional. When he's working on a film he is totally dedicated to every aspect of it. Alec Guinness was also dedicated but only to what ended up on the screen. He was selfless and didn't mind if he wasn't in shot as long as it was good for the work as a whole. And that is saying something for a leading actor. And Richard Burton? I found it desperately sad that an actor of his talent hadn't sufficient control of himself to stop drinking.
ZH: You have appeared in many television programs, do you prefer this medium to movies?
IP: Not that many that I could give a considered answer. I suppose film work usually pays better and is less hectic. In TV I have usually played guest stars. Very flattering but usually, in a series, just furniture for the lead actors to bounce off. One of my favourite TV parts was as the bitchy film star in The Zoo Gang. Well it was the South of France and I did have some lovely actors in support.
ZH: You have become (like it or not) a cinema icon, is this label hard to live with?
IP: I don't live with it. And if you read the Hammer website forum you will soon be informed that I don't merit the accolade. I guess that is why I no longer have Ingrid Pitt - Icon on my calling cards.
ZH: Did being associated with horror movies ever hinder your career or do you think it helped it?
IP: I don't think it hindered it. It didn't help my career that I married and then divorced a top executive at Rank. I couldn't get work in this country because my husband warned producers that if they had me in a film it wouldn't get shown. I don't blame them for taking the warning to heart. I went and lived in Argentina for a few years and came back after he died. But the boat was over the horizon by then.
ZH: You say that you like playing “baddies” in movies, why is this? Do they always get the best lines?
IP: The best lines - usually. But you definitely get remembered. It was something new in film when I came along. Before that women were usually there to fuel the male testosterone. I was extremely lucky to be on the cusp of a new wave. Remember the Modesty Blaize movie? It came out in 1966 and was fractionally before its time. It kicked off too early. The audience wasn't prepared for a ballsy woman. I'm amazed no producers have tried another shot at it now. I think it might be a winner.
ZH: You have regular columns in Shivers Magazine and The Cricketer (to name a few) and have embarked on a successful career as an author. How do you find time for all these outlets and still have time to attend the number of conventions that you do across the world?
IP: Writing is easy. I don't read a lot now. I lost the sight in one eye a few years ago and the other is very light sensitive. So instead of reading I get a big pad of paper and a thick black pencil, think of a subject and just let go. If you think about it too much that's all you do - think about it.
ZH: Tell us about your time with a tribe of Indians in Colorado.
IP: My transition period! I had been working the American cow towns with the Pasadena Playhouse. My first husband, a US Marine Major at the time, had gone off to Viet Nam - again. I had a baby daughter and an old Oldsmobile and the clothes I lolled around in. And I was mad that my husband had decided to go off and fight an unpopular war. When the touring company ran out of money I did a bunk. Driving north, with the little money I had running out, I was desperate when I got a puncture. Luckily it was near a little Indian village that sold worn out tyres at the road side. They realised how desperate I was and insisted that I stayed over until I was feeling better. I finished up staying for about a month. They were fabulous. They had practically nothing but what they got from the government, and that went to the liquor store as soon as it arrived, but they looked after us as if they had loads of cash and we were visiting royalty. It's a wonderful memory. But it was finally time to leave and I went on my journey which would finally deposit me in Madrid.
ZH: What are you working on at the moment?
IP: My big project is THE HAMMER XPERIMENT which I am writing for Hammer. It has been delayed a bit because I have been having a few spells in hospital that didn't help. But it is now, more or less, in First Draft form and I hope to deliver it to Hammer next month. (August 2006). I've also got another book, science fiction, with MacMillen. The good news in that it has been with the Managing Director for over two months - which means it hasn't been rejected out of hand. The bad news is that it has been with the managing director for two months - which means it hasn't been wholeheartedly accepted for publication. Fingers crossed on that one. I've also optioned a Horror script to a film company and there are a number of things with Hammer that are in the preparation stage. Who knows. I might become rich yet.
ZH: What advice would you give to young actresses just starting their careers? Were there any mistakes you made and people could learn from?
IP: Learn to type. Go to an acting school. The business has changed now and it is harder to break into unless you've a drama school you can slip into the conversation. Men in the entertainment industry are no more predatory than in any other walk of life. They just get better opportunities to take advantage of a situation. So save it for the real McCoy. or flaunt it as you wish. Remember that any old biddy like me never listened to anything our elders and betters told us so why should you. Just remember that when you get to my age it's too late to make any adjustments - so go for it. It's not a rehearsal.
ZH: Ingrid Pitt, thank you very much.