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Judith O'Dea: A Zombie Film Star for the Ages

by Photo of April Baptiste-Brown

Judith O’Dea shares her experience on being apart of Night of the Living Dead and the thought of a future Walking Dead cameo

Judith O'Dea: A Zombie Film Star for the Ages

Judith O'Dea, better known for her role as Barbara in George A. Romero's classic zombie film, Night of the Living Dead, has been apart of the zombie community for over 40 years. We sat down with her at the New York/New Jersey Walker Stalker Convention to talk all things zombie. We also asked if she would ever consider doing a guest role on The Walking Dead.

This event is such a big deal for zombie lovers and you were in one of the original zombie films, Night of The Living Dead. Back then, what was it like being a part of that process? Essentially being in one of the first zombie movies ever?

Well I don’t know if we were really the very first. I think there were zombie or Haitian zombie flicks way back when. But for whatever reason, ours turned the tide, I think, because of the way it was made. The fact is, now this is just my idea about it, when you saw horror films back then, you had to wait for the horror; maybe ten, fifteen, even twenty minutes in before you got to see either the monster or the what not. 

In Night, everything happened right in the beginning. The tension started. You didn’t have an explanation, but you saw it right in front of you, and that was apart of the terror. I think that too, the way Bill Heinzman and the other ghouls (as we called them) portrayed the zombie or the ghoul, was a bit different. As I said earlier today in the panel, Bill and the others brought more of a character to the zombie. You thought more about it, there was more depth to wondering why and what this was all about. That was different than the other zombie movies.

What was that initial process like for you and being a part of this film?

Being apart of it? Incredible. I had done a lot of commercial voiceover work with Karl Hardman at his studio, Hardman Associates, in Pittsburgh Karl, Marilyn (Eastman), Chuck Craig and I had a great relationship. Then I went off to California. To have Carl call and say, “Come on back to Pittsburgh Audition for this film. Let’s see what happens.”, was a very fortunate thing for me. To be accepted in the role, to have the thrill of doing your first feature film. 

It didn’t matter if it was a zombie film or for Calgon Bath Oil beads (laughs), it was a thrill. We all had a ball. I don’t think we realized, of course we didn’t at that time - that we were developing a culture. That culture would just blossom and bloom. It was amazing. As the decades passed, we got to see how it was growing. It was astounding. Just astounding. At times, I’m at a lost for words to think that we truly were apart of the birth of such an global phenomenon.

So what has it been like for you to be included in this convention and seeing all the people who have love for this newer show, The Walking Dead, because of a culture that you helped create?

I feel very honored. There's a humility about that too, to think how fortunate things fell into place and allowed me to be apart of this. I feel extremely grateful. I'm in awe that it has grown to be what it is. Horror fans are a unique breed, wouldn't you agree? There's just nothing like them! Whether they're zombie fan oriented or just horror film in general, these people are so dedicated and supporting of this genre. I marvel. I've never seen it, in any other genre; they're wonderful. I'm so glad to be apart of it.

If you had the opportunity and you were ever approached, would you ever want to do a guest spot on The Walking Dead?

Oh golly, wait let me think about that! (Laughs) When I did Walker Stalker (Convention) in Atlanta, there was some talk amongst people saying let's go to Greg Nicotero and say, "Greg, you've got to put Barbara in! Whether it's a little cameo or whatever!" Well, they went off and told him. I happened to see him later on and he said, "I'm going to work on that. I'm going to think about it." Today, he came up to my table and said, "I haven't forgotten you. We are still working on that." Who knows? (Laughs) Maybe Barbara will be in it - and yes, I would love to be apart of it!

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