To horror fans, Barbie Wilde is most known as the Female Cenobite from Tony Randel’s Hellbound: Hellraiser II, the sequel to Clive Barker’s S&M classic Hellraiser. With a background as a successful mime artist, Wilde began acting in the mid-eighties, with small roles in Death Wish 3 and the Indian hit Janbaaz. Other appearances would include such cult TV shows as Morecambe and Wise and The Sooty Show.
Over the years, Wilde has also become known for her work as a TV presenter on the movie show Hold Tight! in 1987 and Sprockets in the early nineties. More recently, Wilde has become an author; having written her debut novel, a crime thriller called The Venus Complex, as well as contributing a story to the anthology Hellbound Hearts.
Barbie Wilde discusses her experiences as a Cenobite and her work as a writer.
Had you always wanted to be a performer and what kind of actors or artists were you inspired by as you were growing up?
I became interested in acting when I was around twelve after starring in a school play called The Mighty Germ. I played a teacher with a severe head cold and I just loved making the student body laugh at the ridiculous sneeze that I invented for the part. I’d been pretty nerdy up until that point. I took part in all the school plays after that and attended the Syracuse University Drama Program in New York.
I adored unconventional actors like George C. Scott, Rod Steiger and Orson Welles when I was young. My favourite movie actress when I was growing up was Ava Gardner, but I also adored Anne Francis (as TV detective Honey West), Lee Meriwether (as Catwoman in Batman), Diana Rigg as Mrs. Peel in The Avengers and, last but not least, Caroline Jones as Morticia in The Addams Family.
Later on, when I moved to London, I was inspired by the stage work of Steven Berkoff. I saw an early production of his extraordinary verse play East in 1977 and it spurred me on to take mime seriously.
How did your work as a mime artist with Shock during the early 1980s lead to work in the movie industry?
After Shock, I think that Greystoke was the first movie specifically casting for mime artists that I auditioned for. The audition process went on for weeks and included watching all the Jane Goodall TV documentaries and spending hours with other mime artists pretending to be great apes. Of the twenty British mime artists that I trained with, I believe that only Ailsa Berk made it into the movie. She played Kala, Tarzan’s Primate Mother.
Another film where my skills as a mime artist proved to be useful was Predator: The Concert (Predator: Grizzly II, filmed in 1984), the so-called Holy Grail of unfinished and unreleased eighties horror. My boyfriend at the time, Richard James Burgess, was producing the music for the band that appeared in the film and he was going to play the drummer of the movie band, but was called away to Sweden to produce Adam Ant. He drafted me in at the last minute and he gave me some basic lessons about drumming.
How were you first made aware of Hellbound: Hellraiser II and do you feel that your background in mime was significant in you landing the role of the Female Cenobite, which required little dialogue?
Mime artists were often sought out for roles like the Cenobites, because they were considered to have more control physically, although I can’t speak for Doug, Simon and Nicko, as far as their training is concerned. Mime artists were used to portray the apes in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and since that film was so successful, mime artists were often asked to audition for roles that required little dialogue, heavy prosthetic makeup and physical control. They probably thought that mime artists were more capable of enduring the lengthy makeup process, which was a mistake as least as far as I was concerned, as I hated sitting in the same spot for four hours.
Were you already familiar with either Hellraiser or Clive Barker’s original novella The Hellbound Heart prior to your audition and do you recall anything specific about reading for the role?
I’d seen the first film and it made a big impression on me. I loved Clare Higgins’ portrayal of the sexually-obsessed Julia, but the Cenobites were too scary as far as I was concerned! I found The Chatterer particularly horrible.
One of the reasons that I think I got the part was that I actually knew what the word Cenobite meant (a member of a religious order) – and not a word that Clive had made up.
The make-up for the Female Cenobite between the two films is significantly different, with the throat in the first movie being pinned open. Was it explained to you whether or not it was supposed to be the same character and what kind of instructions were you given?
I wasn’t consulted in the make-up process, other than having to attend the preparation sessions. The prosthetic makeup had to fit my face perfectly, so they had to cast a mold of my entire head; a horrible, stifling, claustrophobic process that I wouldn’t like to repeat.
Although I believe I wore the same costume as the first Female Cenobite (perhaps another reason why I got the role? I fit the costume!), the makeup artist made subtle changes to the makeup and my Cenobite jewellery. After all, Grace Kirby and I were very different facially and I suppose they wanted to reflect that in the makeup. My throat was also pinned open, but with a simpler design for Cenobite jewellery.
Did you study Grace Kirby’s performance and how did you develop the movements of your character?
I didn’t base my performance on Grace’s, as I’d only seen the film once when it first came out. I was told to be very minimal with my movements and facial expressions, as the character was, basically, dead. Also, the costume and makeup were very limiting, so it wasn’t very easy to move or speak, which coloured my performance in many ways.
How uncomfortable was the applying and removal of the make-up and do you recall how this was achieved?
The application of the makeup took four hours and the costume took thirty minutes to put on. Taking off the makeup took an hour. It was pretty gruelling and uncomfortable, but Ken Cranham had to spend six hours in the makeup chair, so I got off easy, I guess.
What are your memories of working with Doug Bradley and the other Cenobites and how long were you present on set for?
I loved working with Doug, Ken and Nicko Vince. They were very funny; keeping all our spirits up in the dressing and make-up rooms by telling jokes and stories. We had to do quite a bit of waiting around. Normally, we were called at 6 AM for makeup and often not used until 6pm. I don’t think I met Simon until after filming. The poor guy was encased in his Butterball fatsuit all the time.
I briefly met Ashley and Clare on set, but we didn’t have that much interaction off set. I only got to know Ashley years later at conventions and what an extraordinary, adorable and talented person she is. Her paintings are amazing.
I think that the filming of my role was done over a two or three week period, but I wasn’t used every day.
Was Clive Barker present during the shoot and do you feel that he was very influential with the director, Tony Randel?
Clive was present on set occasionally, but I think that Tony was pretty much running the show. I wasn’t really privy to any consultations they may have had together during the filming.
Do you feel that Hellbound was a worthy successor to Hellraiser and were you ever approached about appearing in any of the sequels?
For me, the first film was extraordinary, but Hellbound had a lot of problems; one of the main ones was the fact that Andy Robinson (who played Kirsty’s father) was a lead character in the second film, but then – for reasons that I’m still not sure about – his character was cut out, so that left a lot of pages to fill. Personally, I think that there are too many scenes of Kirsty and Tiffany running around the corridors of Hell, but Hellbound does fulfill the brief of a sequel nicely. I know that a lot of Hellraiser fans prefer the second film.
After Hellraiser II, the franchise moved filming to L.A., so other than Doug Bradley’s Pinhead, I think they wanted to create new and different Cenobite characters. I wasn’t asked about appearing in any of the sequels.
And finally, here are some of my more recent projects, in case that might be of interest. Last year, I was asked by Paul Kane, the co-editor with Marie O’Regan of Hellbound Hearts, to contribute a short story to the anthology, which is based on Clive Barker’s novella The Hellbound Heart, the basis for the Hellraiser franchise. The story is called Sister Cilice and here’s a synopsis of the story: A woman is placed in a convent against her will and fantasises about power, domination, sensuality and freedom – all the things that are forbidden to her. She finds a key to the Schism that can bring forth the Order of the Gash and she fearlessly summons the Cenobites, who are astounded at her willingness to trade her humanity for infernal, eternal sensation.