In the living room of her L.A. condo, Patricia Tallman thumbs through an album of pictures showing the off-camera antics on the set of her film Night of (he Living Dead. There’s a shot of a guy with a crowbar through his head, just goofing around. Oh, and here’s ol’ Uncle Rege—a short, fat, bald man in overalls whose mouth and throat look like the leftovers at a feast for wolves.
Tallman laughs affectionately. But, she says, “it was tough eating next to guys who looked like zombies.” More than her appetite was affected. “I had nightmares,” she admits. “I’d be trying to load my rifle, but I’d have the wrong size shells. I could hear the zombies moaning, approaching. It was an anxiety dream, I guess.”
Understandable. Overnight, Tallman went from a $400-a-week job playing the warrior character Red Sonja on the Universal Studios Hollywood show to starring in Dead, executive producer-writer George Romero’s $4.2 million, scream-for-scream reworking of his 1968 black-and-white cult classic about seven people stranded in a remote farmhouse around which the deceased step from their graves with a serious case of the munchies. Tall-man, 33, plays Barbara, Miss Meek in the original but—in Romero’s one big script change—now more like Rambo. “She sort of turns into Sigourney Weaver,” says Tom Savini, the first-time director tapped by producer Romero (who was busy on another project) for the remake.
Though most reviewers were lukewarm about the movie, they were hot for Tall-man. “That Patricia Tallman is so good in this role is part of what is wrong with this remake,” observed USA Today. Similar notices brought the 5’9″ actress a slew of inquiries, mostly for horror roles. “Am I the next Scream Queen?” she asks with a laugh. “If Jamie Lee Curtis can go from Scream Queen to A Fish Called Wanda, I’d be happy to do the same.”
Tallman, however, boasts another credit: She also served as Dead’s fight director. An accomplished stuntwoman, she has taken a shotgun blast that sent her through a window in Another 48 Hrs. and doubled for Daphne Zuniga in Last Rites. The walls of the two-bedroom condo that she shares with fiancé Chris Durmick, 29, a stuntman who played Young Conan to her Red Sonja, are covered with swords, sabers and broadaxes. “It takes its toll,” Tallman says of her more physical career. “I have aches and pains I’ll have to live with for the rest of my life.”
Tallman’s tough side was apparent when she grew up as the oldest of four in the rural community of Glen Ellyn, Ill. “I was kind of a geek,” she says, “kind of tomboyish.” Her father, Jerry, had been a director and her mother, June, an actress, before they gave up New York City for the Midwest and jobs that ranged from disc jockey to doughnut maker. In 1966 June was diagnosed with cancer. Though her mother would live for 16 more years, 9-year-old Patricia had to step in as a surrogate mother to her two younger sisters and newborn brother. “Something in me closed off, and I got very angry,” she says.
In response Patricia threw herself into all manner of classes—dance, horseback riding, viola lessons. During her high school years, she decided on an acting career. But that choice, she suspects, was a reaction: “When you grow up in a house with someone so ill, you don’t get to express yourself. You don’t get too angry. You don’t get too happy. You don’t get too loud.”
In 1975 she went off to Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh. “The first time I saw her, she was kicking the s—out of some guy in [stage combat] class,” recalls fellow student Savini. College was where she saw the original Dead. “I can’t even remember parts of it,” she says, “because it scared me that bad.”
Moving to New York City after graduation, Tallman did some acting but paid the rent by modeling bridal gowns. Using the Savini connection, she broke into film stunt work on Creepshow 2 (“I like that danger”). Then in 1988 she took off for L.A. and landed a small part in Patrick Swayzz’s Road House before turning her hand to Red Sonja. “She was stunning,” says boyfriend Durmick. “I thought I was out of my league with her.” But no, last fall they started dating and they now plan to marry next spring.
Tallman continues to take stunt jobs—including a bit for The Flash TV series—but she yearns to be less physical. “I know there will come a point when I won’t be able or want to do action work anymore,” she says. “Then I figure I can start taking those Jessica Tandy roles.”
—Tim Allis, Craig Tomashoff in Los Angeles