“Oh, from your lips,” says Barbara Bingham, teasing from her Sydney home when we tell her that she’s enjoying her most productive years of her career.
Moving to Australia with her husband in 1996 and working as a model and actor for commercials and print, along with running her company Corporate Actors Australia, Bingham is back in front (and behind) of our screens in a couple of short films and a feature.
“As a teenager I did musical theatre, and that was my love. I went to college to be in musicals. That was my life plan. And I had starred in all the musicals in my hometown in Hawaii. One of the girls I did The Wizard of Oz with actually won a Tony. So I went to college, and the problem was that the talent pool was much bigger in California and much better, and I couldn’t sing and I couldn’t dance,” she laughs today about her entry into the business.
“So, I thought, ‘fine, well then I’ll just act’. I knew I liked front and centre onstage. They kept putting me in the chorus, and I kept saying, ‘No, no, no, no, no, you don’t understand. I belong up front’.”
One day when shooting a commercial, the producer introduced her to the makers of Hawaii Five-O, which gave Bingham her first screen credit. Although Bingham’s acting career in the States hardly took off, her consecutive roles in 2 horror films of the late ‘80s – Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan and Claudio Fragasso’s Beyond Darkness – has made her royalty in the beloved genre’s rabid fanbase.
“It’s really funny because throughout my twenties and thirties, I was putting … No, I didn’t … What horror film? I didn’t know what horror film you’re talking about.
“A couple of years ago, I got asked to go to a horror convention in the States,” she tells us. “They’d asked me to come for years and years and years, and I’d always said, ‘I live in Australia. I can’t get there. It’s just too awkward’. And this kid was so relentless, and he said, ‘Barbara, you’re the only one from Jason Takes Manhattan that people don’t have your autograph’. And I said, ‘yeah, but I don’t want to be at that table where other people have lines of fans, and I’m the one and there’s nobody there’. He said, ‘Don’t worry, don’t worry’. So, I went to Atlanta and, oh my God, who knew?
“Fans are phenomenal, and they love and connect with that character. And then to hear person after person come up and say, ‘Oh, the first time I saw that movie, I just loved you. I just wanted a teacher just like you, who cared so much’. You don’t think that a character is going to resonate so deeply. It really surprised me.”
And it was Barbara’s association with Claudio Fragasso that got her foot in the door of the local industry.
“I followed [filmmaker] Enzo Tedeschi on Instagram. I’m very good friends with Simon Tedeschi, the pianist, and I thought that they were cousins or something. One day, Enzo posted a photo of Michael Paul Stephenson, who was the child actor in Troll 2, that Claudio Fragasso directed. And anybody who’s a horror nut just goes nuts for that movie, because it’s so bad. I just typed in to Enzo, ‘Funny, I played Michael’s mother in Beyond Darkness, another movie that Claudio Fragasso directed’. We met for a coffee, he didn’t have anything going on, I didn’t have anything going on, and he said, ‘Let’s just keep in touch’.”
Tedeschi was good to his word and got in touch when plotting his horror web series Deadhouse Dark.
“I have an episode with Nicholas Hope. We’re on a date through an online matching site…It doesn’t go well,” laughs Bingham.
The Hope/Tedeschi collaboration continued for short film Over the Edge, which Bingham wrote, executive produced and also starred in.
“Where this house is, we look out over Garigal National Park, and across the valley from me is this escarpment. I’ve always thought, ‘What would I do if I was standing at my kitchen window, and I saw a couple of people on the escarpment, and somebody pushed somebody off?’
“My nephew, who I was very close to, died last March. He had cancer, and it was just terrible. But his last words to me were, ‘Auntie Barbara, it feels like your career is just starting. It feels like you’re just getting your rhythm’. It was what I needed. I came back, because I was in Hawaii with him, and I emailed Enzo and said, ‘Can I run an idea past you?’ He listened and said, ‘can I direct it?’ I was like, ‘well, yeah, of course you can direct it’. He said, ‘all right, write me a script, and let’s do this’.”
Another role we can look forward to seeing Barbara Bingham bring to life is a supporting part in rom-com Romance on the Menu, which marks the directorial debut of actor/producer Rosie Lourde. “I’ve known Rosie for years through my corporate training,” says Bingham. “We met through that, and then we were both working on Deadhouse Dark. She was directing an episode, and I was acting in an episode, and she came to sit one day and said, ‘You know, there just might be something’. So, I went up to Brisbane and auditioned and… got the role.”
In Romance on the Menu, Bingham plays mom to Cindy Busby’s ambitious New York chef, who must come to Australia to inherit a beachside café. The role meant that the actress could use her natural American accent, which Bingham reckons has been a barrier to work for her in Australia.
“We are part of the landscape,” she says of Americans. “We’re part of the storytelling. There are going to be more Enzos in the world that are going to go, ‘I don’t care about your accent, but I want you, because you are perfect for the part’.” And with the government’s recently announced incentive for offshore productions to shoot here, there may also be work for Bingham there as well.
Before we bid farewell to the charming Bingham, she wants us to note her excitement over the 50% women on the set of all her recent productions. “All had equality on sets, which we certainly didn’t have in the ‘80s. Then, you just knew that you were in a male-dominated world, and I’d make friends with continuity and with makeup, because those were the only two females that were on this set of 100 people. It was wild.”
And speaking of wild, we ask Barbara Bingham whether she experienced any harassment on set during the ‘80s? “No, all my sets were very, very professional,” she replies. “I had a not so nice encounter with Robert Evans, who was the president of Paramount Pictures. He was doing Urban Cowboy at the time, and really wanted someone to move in and be his girlfriend. He had seen a photo of me and brought me into Paramount, and was going to put me under contract. And I could see my whole life ahead of me, except that I didn’t really want to move in with him and have him as a boyfriend. And I was banned from Paramount for about 10 years.”
Romance on the Menu is now streaming on Netflix