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  • THE VERONICA CARLSON INTERVIEW

  • 6 DEC 2011|BY MARK REDFIELD
  • Don't Be Afraid Of The DarkHammer star Veronica Carlson has been added as a guest at the Monsterpalooza Convention in burbank, California April 13-15, 2012! Here is an interview with Veronica by Mark Redfield, conducted earlier in 2011.

  • Imagine Truly Scrumptious, played by Sally Anne Howes in Roald Dahl’s adaptation of Ian Fleming’s Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang (1968), trapped between the lethal black thorns of Christopher Lee’s Dracula and Peter Cushing’s Frankenstein, and you have Hammer heroine Veronica Carlson. Born in Yorkshire, England and discovered by Hammer honcho James Carreras and swiftly cast in three of the studio’s films in the late 1960s, Veronica Carlson was the embodiment of the classic English Rose for the studio and is fondly remembered for her beauty and appealing screen presence. Pitted against the feral vengeance of Lee’s Count and the cold cruelty of Cushing’s Baron (and helping launch Ralph Bates as an all new--and very different – Baron, in 1970), Carlson would appear in only a few more films before leaving a burgeoning career behind to marry and raise a family. Considering that most women’s roles in genre films of the time were written as foil-like supporting characters in order to develop the themes as played out by the script’s male protagonists, Carlson’s portrayals in Dracula Has Risen From The Grave (1969), Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969) and The Horror of Frankenstein (1970) are considered by Hammer critics as nuanced and richly played. Today she lives in the United States, painting and quietly considering offers to return to the screen.

  • Mark Redfield: You liked to draw from a very early age.

  • Veronica Carlson: Yes! I never stopped drawing. I don’t remember ever starting, but I’ve never stopped!

  • Redfield: Is that what you wanted to be, an artist?

  • Veronica CarlsonCarlson: You know the options for me when I was going to school were limited. I remember standing up in class—we always had to stand when we spoke to teachers—the question was “what would you like to do?” I said, “An archeologist” because my father had a friend who was and I was fascinated. I was eleven years old. And the whole class laughed and sniggered. I was just told to sit down again. I think my options then were secretarial, something like that. It was a teacher in my high school who rescued me when I was 16. She told my mother “Your daughter has a gift and I think this is what her life should be.” And to my relief, I was taken out of school, while the others went into their final two years in high school. I went into college and got through because of my work and I’ve never looked back, really. It was wonderful for me, and it’s something (as my mother has said) that will sustain you for the rest of your life, whatever else you choose to do. She was right.

  • Redfield: What medium do you work in?

  • Carlson: Pastel, watercolor, oils—I use all media. Portraits are my love!

  • Redfield: When did the acting bug bite?

  • Veronica CarlsonCarlson: It was always there. When I was in college we did some stage work. The music director, a man named Godwin, started a group who wanted to sing. I went down and auditioned. We did operettas--all different kinds of things. And also, a dear friend, David Alder, he was in fashion design, he started a group that did revues and he choreographed everything. We rehearsed whenever we could, in between classes and evening times.

  • Redfield: How did your modeling career start and how did that lead to films?

  • Carlson: I was walking around town one day and two guys took a photograph of me who said they were working for The Daily Mirror. They had a girl in it every day and they wanted me to be one of the girls. Father wasn’t very happy about that! In fact, he was quite ticked off. But I begged and pleaded and he said, “Well, don’t use my name”. I didn’t. I had one other photograph taken—that lead to small roles. I auditioned for a film at Pinewood Studios called The Magnificent Two. They wanted a girl who knew judo and I just happened to know a bit. I was still in college and I went to the soundstage where the audition was being held and I was dressed in these olive green slacks, very simple looking, and a lacey white knit sweater—and I went in and there wasn’t a girl in there that wasn’t in a bikini! I cringed! I thought—oh my god—I’ve got this wrong! ‘Cause I thought they wanted somebody who knew something about judo! (laughs) So I slunk back against the wall when the producer beckoned me forward. He said, “Now, show us what you can do.” And there was a girl there dressed as a bona fide judo person, so, knowing some judo moves I threw her over my head—and I got the job! And I just went on and on. Had a photograph taken down on the south coast somewhere, by a lovely photographer called Ben Jones. That was on the front page of the Sunday Mirror, a very important tabloid then. Jimmy Carreras saw it and said “I want her in my next movie” and that was it.

  • Redfield: So that story about Carreras seeing your picture in the paper is true?

  • Carlson: Absolutely. He said, “I want that girl in my next film.”

  • Redfield: There’s a similar beginning with Caroline Munro.

  • Carlson: Oh yes! She was a model. She’s beautiful.

  • Redfield: With her it was an advertisement--

  • Carlson: --for rum.

  • Redfield: Lamb’s Navy Rum—that’s right. Tell me about your audition for…

  • DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968) Director: Freddie Francis; Producer: Aida Young; Screenplay: John Elder; Director of Photography: Arthur Grant; Supervising Art Director: Bernard Robinson; Music Composer: James Bernard. CAST: Christopher Lee (Dracula), Rupert Davies (Monsignor), Veronica Carlson (Maria), Barbara Ewing (Zena), Barry Andrews (Paul), Wean Hooper (Priest), Marion Mathie (Anna), Michael Ripper (Max), John D. Collins (student), George A. Cooper (landlord).

  • Carlson: I auditioned with Barry Andrews. I was SO nervous. (Producer) Aida Young was there and (Director) Freddie Francis was there. The audition went very well and then we all went to a little diner place and I had an omelet—I can’t remember what was in the omelet –and I was still nervous. I didn’t want them to have to say, Veronica Carlson Christopher Lee“Look, it’s been very nice meeting you, but we really don’t want you.” So, to save them that embarrassment, I suddenly got up, paid for my meal and rushed out without a word! And then I walked and walked and walked, and thinking that I’ve suffered the biggest embarrassment of my life, ‘cause I loved Hammer movies so, and I rang home very late. I thought my mother would be worried about me because she knew I’d gone to the audition. “Where on earth have you been?” she asked and I said I didn’t know. I really didn’t remember where I’d been walking… She said there’s been a ‘phone call. They want you for a film role! Of course I nearly dropped the ‘phone and had tears just running down my face. “They want me! They want me!” That’s all I could think!

  • Redfield: You were a fan of Hammer films before you worked with them?

  • Carlson: Oh, very much! We were all like that in college, our crowd that did all the musicals and revues. When something new was on at the Odeon, we’d all skip class to see it. We loved them so! Once, when the lights came up I looked over and saw our lecturer was sitting there, too!

  • Redfield: What memories do you have of your first days on the set? It must’ve been like the first day of school.

  • Veronica CarlsonCarlson (laughing): I was so nervous. I had NO experience of being the person of note in a movie. I’d always been in the background but this was so different. And—all eyes were on me and I had my special make-up and hair and everything. I was fitted for my clothes…I was somebody. The whole beauty of Hammer was that it was like a big family. You were cherished. Freddie (Francis) was fantastic. I was fortunate to get him as my first director because I’d had very little confidence and experience, really. He trusted me. And I trusted him. See, I was alright after that. Working with Christopher (Lee), a gentleman who I adored, well, I’d looked up to him for so long, I was nervous that he was going to be aloof and unapproachable—he was the EXACT opposite of all that. He was absolutely delightful and Marion Mathie, who took the part of my mother, could not have been kinder. She took me under her wing. She was lovely. Rupert Davies--I used to refer to him as ‘Uncle Rupert’. All these people were marvelous.

  • Redfield: How directly did that film lead to…

  • FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969) Director: Terence Fisher; Producer: Anthony Nelson Keys; Screenplay: Bert Batt from an original story by Bert Batt and Anthony Nelson Keys; Director of Photography: Arthur Grant; Supervising Art Director: Bernard Robinson; Music Composer: James Bernard. CAST: Peter Cushing (Baron Frankenstein), Veronica Carlson (Anna Spengler), Freddie Jones (Professor Richter), Simon Ward (Karl Holst), Thorley Walters (Inspector Frisch), Maxine Audley (Ella Brandt), George Pravda (Dr. Brandt).

  • Veronica Carlson
  • Carlson: They offered me the script and of course I read it and I thought-- oh working with Peter (Cushing)—here are my two heroes! Christopher and now Peter, and I thought this can’t be happening! So obviously they liked me in Dracula (Has Risen From the Grave). I had a different director of course, Terry Fisher, who was SO different from Freddie. A little bit intimidating at first because he expected me to know what I was doing! Thanks to Freddie, I almost did!

  • Redfield: What do you remember about working with Terence Fisher?

  • Carlson: The first day of that movie I was dressed up, all ringlets and everything, and my first scene was in the cellar with Peter. And Terry just matter-of-factly sat us on the edge of the set and he asked, “Exactly how would you like to kill her, Peter?” And they had this bizarre conversation about me as if I was not there! How Peter thought he would like to secure my demise after me damaging his creation. And it was very surreal and I was looking between Terry and Peter and I thought, oh I love this game! I was in my element. Just like when I was in art school.

  • Redfield: Did you watch how Cushing prepared and how he worked?

  • Carlson: He came so prepared. But his preparedness enabled you somehow. We’d always do a walk-through or maybe a couple of rehearsals. Terry reminds you what’s just happened before, what you’ve just done, what you just must’ve been feeling. Armed with that, and armed with what you know Peter’s going to do… he was just flawless. We often only did about one take—two was okay—three, you’re pushing it. Do it right the first time. That’s how it had to be. We had to do it in 6 weeks.

  • Redfield: A brisk schedule but never rushed.

  • Carlson: Brisk, but never compromised. That was not an option. We had to get rid of that set as soon as possible, you see, because it would cost money just to stand idly by. It would have to be right and so that really kept us all on our toes, which was a good discipline. If you cried, you had to cry the first time. You had to die right the first time and everything else. (laughing)

  • Redfield: Freddie Francis, your first director, was a good teacher, then?

  • Carlson: He was an excellent teacher! He taught me gently, carefully. He never stamped on my feelings. If I’d had a director that had done that I’d have been totally crushed. Freddie was kindness and gentleness itself—and that helped me to deal with Terry, and not because Terry was nasty, not by any means. In fact I wanted so much to work with Terry Fisher again because he really gave me “my lead”. He gave me reign. He loved to see how far I could go. But of course when I did another Hammer it was with Ralph Bates and Jimmy Sangster. Each person I worked with I learned from.

  • Redfield: Is it true that someone other than Terrence Fisher directed the notorious rape scene, because he found it distasteful?

  • Veronica Carlson
  • Carlson: We were all disgusted with it. Jimmy Carreras came onto the set one day obviously upset because he’d had word from the higher-ups, the distributors, that there wasn’t enough sex in the movie; there had to be a rape scene. Terry thought he was quite cross—I remember that—and I thought that was out of character for Jimmy, ‘cause he was a lovely, all-fatherly figure. Peter Cushing said, “Darling, I don’t like this any more than you do”. So we worked out how to do it, between us. They wanted him to strip me, to take hold of my neckline and tear it down to my waist, you see. Peter said, “I’m not going to do this.” That’s why we worked it out between ourselves. We assured Terry that we knew what we were doing. He let us do what we were comfortable with. After we shot the scene, Peter just held me. I was trembling and HE was trembling. We were both so upset. We just stayed there, very, very still until we composed ourselves and then we got up and walked out. It was the only time that I felt such a somber atmosphere on a Hammer film. It was terrible to remember, actually.

  • Redfield: When in the schedule was this thrust upon everybody?

  • Carlson: This was the final week! I said, “Terry, if I’d KNOWN this was going to be---my reactions to Peter would have been so different all the way through, and I’m going to look like a terrible actress!” It would’ve made my performance SO different, and that’s what I regret, too. You know what I’m trying to say, Mark?

  • Redfield: I do. You would have chosen to react to Frankenstein differently in the scenes you’d already shot. But you don’t come across as a “bad actor”; in fact, the way it’s cut into the film, your very next scene with him, with you avoiding any eye contact, works very well. But it’s out of character I think, to have Frankenstein rape somebody, even if it is to terrorize them or control them.

  • Carlson: Oh. Peter was furious about that. He researches the psychology of the people he is portraying. And he KNEW that this wasn’t in character and he remonstrated with Terry and Terry said “What can I do? WHAT CAN I DO?” And it was sad but I certainly don’t hold it against Jimmy Carreras. I have nothing but respect for Jimmy.

  • Redfield: On a happier note, what are your memories of the premiere?

  • Carlson: Well, I nearly didn’t go.

  • Redfield: Oh!?

  • Carlson: Yeah. Now, you see, not many people know that. Peter (Cushing) wrote my parents a beautiful letter, complimenting me and my mother called me. I was working in Rome on Pussycat, Pussycat, I Love You with Ian McShane. I felt I’d come across as a person “trying to act” and I felt I just let everybody down. I was scared to death! My mother said, you’ve GOT to come. You’re the leading lady! Of course I did go. I am proud of that movie.

  • Redfield: Sounds like your parents were supportive, your mother especially.

  • Carlson: You’ve got that right. You’ve nailed that, Mark. My father…I think he was in denial about my career. He said to me one day, “Oh, gosh had I known that was what you really wanted to do I’d have sent you to RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art).” And mother looked at me as if to say “like hell he would” (laughing). I don’t know father’s opinion of me. I don’t really know. I adored him. And I know he loved me, unreservedly. I was very close to my parents. But I think he was a bit Victorian in his way. And certainly going on stage is not what one did. He had very strict ideas.

  • Redfield: Did he ever see any of your films?

  • Carlson: Oh yes! Well, he had to! He had to come to them!

  • Redfield: Tell me about Simon Ward a little bit since you spent a lot of time acting with him in that film.

  • Veronica CarlsonCarlson: Yes! Yes! Well, of course he went on to become a most amazing stage actor. And he went on to play Winston Churchill, and of course these were early days for Simon and he went on to do these wonderful things. A remarkable actor…Sometimes I wish I’d never left the industry, I really do. Sometimes I think “What could I have done? How far could I have gone?” But we’ll never know now, will we?

  • Redfield: Why did you leave the business after these films?

  • Carlson: It was never my intention to. Because I thought I was really going places. The film industry changed for one thing. There was a lot of nudity introduced and I wasn’t into that, because I’d had a very strict upbringing and my father was a retired air force officer. He worked in the Ministry of Defense. It was all very—I had a very strict upbringing. I wouldn’t think of taking my clothes off. But it seemed at the time that was going to be the only option, for certainly any more Hammer films. Although I did a nude back view in The Ghoul, working with Freddie Francis and Peter Cushing again. But that’s all beside the point I suppose…So my options were limited. But I’d met somebody, a gentleman who I’d grown to love; it took me a long time to learn to love him, because I…I don’t know…

  • Redfield: If you don’t want to talk about that…

  • Carlson: No, no, no—it’s no secret. You don’t trust people sometimes in this business so well, do you?

  • Redfield: No…

  • Carlson: And we got together. We were going to be married and I was working on a movie, Vampira with David Niven, a spoof thing. But my husband became very ill, and he’d had a history of stomach problems before but they’d not affected him. But this time it was different. This illness affected him and I was becoming exhausted—I didn’t realize it at the time because he had become so ill and I was there to make sure he made it through the night. And his illness, it sort of dogged him and it took me further and further from the business and I – I don’t know, maybe people just forgot me; maybe I withdrew. And it was just a gradual thing. A different lifestyle with him in Coventry, rather than London. See, I used to go to the studios, travel 100 miles each way everyday to film a series I’d got called A Spider’s Web. Every day, 100 miles there and 100 miles back and I never thought anything of that. But it became problematic. People knew I wasn’t living nearby in London. It was sort of a step by step moving away from this business—until I didn’t realize that maybe it was too late. I married in ‘74. Had my first child in ’76. And of course then I became a fulltime mother, and…

  • Redfield: ..and life takes over.

  • Carlson: I took up my painting again. I used to take my sketchbook onto film sets and I’ve got lots of sketches and, oh, dear, yeah, so that’s what happened.

  • Redfield: How quickly did HORROR come on the heels of DESTROYED?

  • Carlson: It was quite fast. I did Pussycat, Pussycat and I had another interview for something else, one of the Bond films. I can’t remember which one that was now. I think I was exceedingly fortunate to have three Hammer movies offered me. And of course then I met Ralph Bates. Jimmy Sangster who’s the biggest load of fun you could ever hope to work with. He knows I didn’t think he took that movie seriously enough. I took Hammer very seriously.

  • Redfield: But Hammer didn’t always take Hammer seriously. Let’s touch on…

  • The Horror Of FrankensteinTHE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN (1970) Director: Jimmy Sangster; Producer: Jimmy Sangster; Screenplay: Jeremy Burnham and Jimmy Sangster; Director of Photography: Moray Grant; Art Director: Scott MacGregor; Music Composer: Malcolm Williamson. CAST Ralph Bates (Victor Frankenstein), Kate O’Mara (Alys), Graham James (Wilhelm Kassner), Veronica Carlson (Elizabeth Heiss), Bernard Archard (Professor Heiss), Dennis Price (grave robber), Dave Prowse (The Monster).

  • Redfield: Was it supposed to be a black comedy? Or did that happen on the floor while you were making it?

  • Carlson: It happened on the floor as we were making it! Because Jimmy and Ralph had a great sense of humor. They just ran with it (the humor). But I like them both so very much. It should have been played straight. And Jimmy knows I’ve said this but, he shouldn’t have sent that film up. You see, a person would never pass out while watching that movie. For example, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed was showing at a nearby town and my mother said, “Hey, let’s go. You and me.” So we went. And a woman passed out during the scene where Peter was doing the operation on the head and was sawing the skull! (laughs). She fell off her chair and had to be taken out! In an ambulance. And that wouldn’t have happened in Horror of Frankenstein (laughs)!

  • Veronica Carlson
  • Redfield: It’s those grisly sound effects that make that moment gruesome.

  • Carlson: Exactly. It’s what you don’t see that’s scary, right?

  • Redfield: Do you watch the newer horror films? Would you like to do some more films?

  • Veronica Carlson Christopher LeeCarlson: They’re too scary for me! I like to be “safely” horrified—that’s how Christopher Lee used to say it. Today the horror films are much too real. I think my kids like ‘em. Too much reality nowadays, isn’t there? As for more films? I’d love to do some work again, of course I would! With the right script. I don’t want to do anything silly. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I did? Oh, I’d just love to get back into something like that!

  • Redfield: We’ll see what we can do about that! Thank you very much, Veronica. You’ve been delightful and generous and it’s been great to get to know you a little this way!

  • Carlson: I hope I haven’t been too dusty—or repeated myself too much. I’m very enthusiastic about Hammer and I’m torn between the way I’d been brought up-- not to talk too much about myself-- and yet I’m delighted to talk about these films, ‘cause I’m so happy to have been a part of them!

  • Redfield: A final question to you, Veronica, strictly as a fan: do you prefer Dracula or Frankenstein?

  • Carlson: Frankenstein!

  • End.