By MICHAEL GINGOLD
10 years ago, Jeffrey Combs first took to the stage to play Edgar Allan Poe in NEVERMORE, a one-man show (directed and written by longtime collaborators Stuart Gordon and Dennis Paoli respectively) that became a word-of-mouth smash, extending its Los Angeles run four times. The actor has since reprised the role across the country, and he brings his acclaimed performance to New York’s Sleepy Hollow Film Festival this Saturday, October 12; see details at the fest’s website. In the second part of this exclusive chat (read the first here), Combs discusses NEVERMORE and other projects he might or might not have coming up…
Are there still any challenges when doing a new production of NEVERMORE?
Well, when I haven’t been in the fling of it for a while, it takes a little more focus and intensity to gear it back up. And there’s also the challenge of coming someplace new, with completely new people, and trying to articulate and get everybody in sync in a very short period of time. The show isn’t about the lights; no one walks away from the show going, “Whoa! Incredible lighting,” you know what I’m saying? But at the same time, there are a couple of cues that really need to work right, and that takes time. So all that tech-y stuff kind of gets me a little anxious. But I’m looking forward to getting back into the skin of Poe and speaking his words to the world.
You haven’t done NEVERMORE in the New York area since your Lincoln Center performance on Halloween night 2011? Has there ever been talk about doing a full run of the show in Manhattan since then?
That would be a lovely thing to do. Some years ago, I did attempt that. I tried, in my meager way, to make it happen, and I found it very challenging. There are a few things at play here. One, I’m not based in New York, and so me, an actor from the West Coast, saying, “I’d like to bring my show to New York” is challenging at best. New York theater is kind of a closed system, and it’s very competitive, and they see to themselves in a sense, so that was a bit of a hindrance.
I also believe it has to do with people’s preconceived notions of what a Poe show might be. I notice that when I tell people I do a one-man show of Poe, this glaze goes over their eyes and they look off in the middle distance, and I can see them thinking, “Well, that’s a turgid kind of thing. That can’t be fun.” And that’s wrong; there’s a lot of humor in my show, and I think it’s quite witty, but people don’t generally know that. So I’m put in a position of saying, “No, really, it’s good! It’s fun! It’s everything. It’s sad and it’s heartbreaking, but it’s also joyful. Believe me!” Sometimes it just doesn’t compute.
It’s kind of frustrating for me—which I can use in the show, because Poe lived with a lot of that frustration: “What’s a guy gotta do?” Basically, the underlying theme of the show is, here we have this genius, and he was unappreciated and lived in utter poverty for almost his whole career. I mean, you figure that out, because I can’t. All of those writers who thrived during his era are for the most part forgotten, and he soars above them. Yet during his lifetime, that was not the case, and he lived with unfairness and frustration about that. Because if there’s one thing I think Poe did know, it was how good he was. And when you know how good you are, and it’s not coming your way, that can just work on you in an unhealthy way.
Have you talked with Stuart Gordon about doing any other Poe projects in recent years?
I have talked to him, and we’ve been toying with the idea of trying to capture this show in some form. Again, that has proven challenging for a number of reasons. Opportunities seem to arise, and then they kind of fall apart, or other factors come into play and we just can’t come to a consensus. So that is still up in the air. It’s a tricky one, because the show is literary, it’s verbal, and a lot of people who would maybe want to produce this thing for film—I hesitate to say film, because that barely exists anymore—but they see film as less verbal and more visual, and there are challenges in adapting something literary to a visual art form. A lot of people just don’t trust it, you know? They just think, “Oh, that’s a lot of words!”
Have you considered taping the show as is and showing it on Shudder or a similar network or service?
Yes, I have, but I’m here to tell you Stuart does not believe in that. He has resisted that, because he feels that if it’s going to be filmed, it should be expanded, opened up and turned into cinema. He feels very strongly about that. There was a Kickstarter campaign some years ago, and the initial idea when that was first brought forth was that we would capture the show, and we took that to Stuart and it was immediately, “No, no, not that. We need to do a movie.” And that at least triples the budget, and triples the challenges involved, and it becomes much more difficult to achieve.
Is there still any talk about bringing back RE-ANIMATOR or Herbert West in a new film?
There’s a little bit of talk about it, maybe a little more than there has been before, right now. But I would say that’s still a little bit in the future at this point. Things are a little unformed, and I don’t want to get my hopes up, or anyone else’s hopes up, until it’s a real thing. I’ve been down that road too many times to think that this is going to be… Getting a movie made is hard, and challenging, so there’s talk, but whether that comes to fruition, I don’t have the power to know that. I guess the short answer is maybe.
Have you been in touch with anyone involved in the CASTLE FREAK remake?
No, not at all. I’m not involved with that in any way, shape or form. I did talk with Barbara Crampton [who’s a producer on the project] a number of months ago about it. It’s interesting; I never would have thought there’d be a remake of CASTLE FREAK [laughs], but I guess they’re done with principal photography, and I’ll be interested to see that.
In addition to NEVERMORE, you’ll be taking part in Dana Gould’s staged reading of Ed Wood’s PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE.
Yes, because I know Dana. He hired me for an episode of STAN AGAINST EVIL a couple of years ago, and I had a great time with him. He actually asked me to do PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE with him in LA about a year ago, and I was all set to do it, and then something came up that took me out of town so I had to bow out. But now I’m getting a chance to play in Dana’s sandbox.
Do you know which characters you’re going to be playing?
I have no idea! I’m in Dana’s hands, and I’m just gonna let Dana slap me around any way he wants—but not too much! I’m just glad that he wants me to be a part of it.
Do you have any other horror projects coming up?
Well, I’ve got this little movie that’s opening in LA this weekend called HOLIDAY HELL [then coming exclusively to Tubi October 15 and digital/DVD November 5 from Uncork’d Entertainment]. I play a curator, the owner of a curiosity shop, and a woman comes in on Christmas Eve desperately looking for a special gift for her sister. I proceed to show her around my shop, pointing out to her that everything I sell has a story behind it; otherwise I don’t sell it. When she’s interested in an item, I start to tell her the backstory and then we see it. It’s a clever device to tell a trilogy of tales with a wraparound.