Debra Christofferson Interview • February 12, 2005
Beth Blighton: Tell us, how fun is it to play a Bearded Lady? Is that beard uncomfortable? Or do you just get used to it being there after awhile?
Debra Christofferson: Yes, I do get used to the beard after awhile. In fact, sometimes the following day, if I’m not working, I still feel like I have it on. It itches. (laughing)
Beth: Oh, no! It’s like phantom beard! (laughing)
Debra: It’s very odd. The beard, actually, you forget you have it on for the most part. The first season, the very first beard we had for the pilot was one piece and it went all the way across, underneath my mouth, all the way across my chin. And when I would talk it would lift. You know, the glue wouldn’t stick. So, we were always gluing it down, and it was… I’d go home at the end of the day with a raw face from the glue and the alcohol, to get the beard glued down and then taken off.
Debra: So, that didn’t work real well. But we finally figured out to cut it into three pieces, and then glue it on my chin, and then on the sides. So, it works fairly well. But wearing the beard actually gave me Lila’s voice.
Debra: Well, I can’t move my mouth a lot. I have to be pretty closed-mouthed when I speak.
Beth: Ah, okay.
Debra: Myself, I open my mouth loud to talk and I have a big laugh. And I laugh a lot wider than Lila does. And the reason is, because I have to be as careful as possible so the beard didn’t lift. So, Lila speaks with a much more closed mouth than I do, let’s put it that way.
Beth: Yeah, that makes sense!
Debra: The beard actually determined Lila’s voice.
Beth: That’s really interesting! Now, I thought the curler in the beard was an inspired touch.
Debra: Ya know (laughing), that’s been a bone of contention! (Laughing hard)
Debra: Well, it was my idea. It was in the… Was it the first episode that was shot or the second one…? It was the first all night shoot that we did. I think it was episode two. Jeremy Podeswa directed it, so I think that was two. And we were woken up in the middle of the night to come out and see Apollonia, who was walking and had then collapsed. And so, I said, if Lila’s sleeping, she’s gonna have a curler in her beard. And if we put it in a pin curl it’s just gonna look weird. You won’t be able to tell what it is from the camera. And so, how about if I…? We didn’t want to do a rag, because a rag would bunch up, and the weight of it would pull the beard off. So, we put a curler in it. And the foam curlers (chuckling) aren’t period.
Beth: Nope, I suppose not. I guess those did come out a decade or two later, but I just don’t care, because that’s too funny!
Debra: I thought it was funny. And the show could use a little humor! (laughing)
Beth: Yeah! But ya know, I didn’t notice it that night. The first time I noticed it was when she comes to tell Ruthie the snake is on the loose.
Debra: Ah, okay…
Beth: And I was like, “Oh, my God! She’s got a CURLER in her beard!” (laughing)
Debra: Well, it gives it that nice curl… Cuz Lila has that fantastic curl in the beard. How else would you have it unless you slept with it curled?
Debra: Unless, of course she’s spending the night with Lodz…blah, blah, blah. (giggling) That’s when she puts it in AFTER!
Beth: Right, like you take the false eyelashes off and the hair extensions out AFTER he’s gone. (laughing)
Debra: Yeah, exactly!
Beth: Now, the trailer that we see her and Lodz in, in that first episode, when she’s begging him to read Ben’s dreams… Is that Lila’s trailer? Or is that Lodz’s? And where does Lila stay?
Debra: That was Lila’s trailer, which somehow disappeared between the pilot and episode two. (laughing)
Beth: That’s what I thought! I thought, poor Lila! She doesn’t seem to have a trailer anymore. Where is she…? Is she just shacked up with Lodz? And where is she going to be going now that he’s gone?
Debra: Yes, that disappeared and the chaise lounge that she reclined on for her act. That also disappeared. So, I’m not sure what happened there. But then, you’ll see in this season that Lila has a tent.
Beth: Oh, good! I was gonna say! They put her out of her house, it looks like… (chuckling)
Debra: Yeah, Sofie took over. But Lila does have a tent, and you’ll actually get to see a glimpse of that at some point. In this episode tomorrow night, I think.
Beth: Excellent! Now, have you read Lila’s bio on the HBO site? The one where they talk about her many, many marriages, and how she was even married to her ex-husband’s ventriloquist’s dummy?
Debra: (laughing hard) Well, yes I have! When we did the pilot, Dan Knauf had a bible he let us read. And so I knew that Lila had been married many, many times. And the original concept was that Lila had recorded everything in letters to family and friends, and even her daughter, and this reporter who was going around, collecting information about “Carnivale” – which was what this bible was – used the letters that Lila had sent as a basis for his story.
Beth: Ooh, interesting.
Debra: So I knew that Lila had been… quite prolific, shall we say?
Beth: (laughing) She was the Liz Taylor of her time.
Debra: (laughing) She was! But then, when you saw the bio last year, there wasn’t much there for Lila, just the hirsute lady, and that was pretty much it. And then Dan rewrote the bios. I think in December he wrote me a little note that said, “I rewrote your bio.” And that was quite fun, cuz I have a last name – Villanueva. I have a last name, and I have more of a history now.
Beth: Yes, she does! (laughing)
Debra: She’s even got a family!
Beth: So, she’s got a daughter… Now, where’s the daughter?
Debra: Well, that was in the original bible, so that’s not in the current bio. So I don’t know if that’s completely gone or whatever. You’d actually have to ask Dan that.
Beth: Now, it seems to me, just based on all these wonderful men she’s had in her life, that she’s got a little more of a grudge against Samson – even BEFORE Lodz disappears. Could those two have had a history together that pre-dates Lodz?
Debra: I would say that would be entirely possible. But I haven’t seen any of it. There was a nice little scene between Michael and I that got cut out of it last season, where we were kind of chatting and I was flirting with him to get some information. It was a real cute little scene. So, that leads me to believe that there wasn’t an antagonistic history. So, that’s my best guess!
Beth: Because there are a lot of people thinking about the Samson and Delilah angle, and…
Debra: (laughing hard)
Beth: And was there something going on? And did she do something to take his power away? And will he cut her beard off to take away HER power? (laughing) And I just thought that was an interesting take on things!
Debra: (laughing) Ya know, I can’t even believe I’m going to say this… But I NEVER even thought of Samson and Delilah. It never even crossed my mind. (laughing)
Beth: Well, we’ve definitely formed a few theories. (laughing)
Debra: Well, of course you would. But that’s funny cuz Michael calls me Leela sometimes. He doesn’t even go to Delilah. (giggling)
Beth: Now, do you think that it was Lila who let Ruthie’s snake out the night that Lodz wanted to get in there and read Ben’s dreams? Or do you think she was just a pawn? And as far as she knew, the snake was simply on the loose?
Debra: I played it that it was me. In my head, it was me who let it loose. Lila’s not evil, let me make a statement here. Lila’s not evil, she’s just drawn that way.
Debra: She was doing Lodz’s bidding, and Lodz needs to get in and talk to Ben. So, in my head… Now, this wasn’t anything that was written down anywhere…But that was my determination that Lila, in fact, had let it go. But, it was NOT her who put the snake in the bag that killed Ruthie.
Beth: That was gonna be my next question.
Debra: Not in my mind.
Beth: Cuz it seemed to me that she was more of a pawn in that scenario.
Debra: Well, if you recall, Lodz wouldn’t tell her what they were going into town for. And when he went and got the snake, he shooed her off. So, Lodz was the one with the snake. As far as I was concerned, Lila knew nothing about the snake that killed Ruthie. In fact, I don’t even think Lila knows Ruthie died.
Beth: Yeah, I was gonna say… Did Lila deliver that bag? Cuz he took a big chance, if he had her deliver it. But then, him delivering it himself would have been kind of hard, too.
Debra: Yeah, but I think, if she delivered it, the weight of it, with a snake in it, might not have been that much different from the laundry. But I can’t imagine it would have held still.
Beth: That, and he would have taken a chance of Lila opening it up to see what was going on or sticking her hand in there.
Debra: Yeah. But in my mind, at the very most if, in fact, she did deliver it, she didn’t know there was a poisonous snake inside.
Beth: Right. And I’m wondering if she’s going to start thinking… Cuz she knew Lodz was very concerned with Ben, that Lodz and Management were concerned with Ben. She doesn’t seem to be at all suspicious of Ben, now that the Professor has disappeared. You may not be able to answer this, but do you think she’s going to start looking at Ben, too? Or is she just hyper-focused on Samson, because he’s obviously lying to her?
Debra: As far as I can tell you (giggling), it’s all about Samson. Vengeance is all about Samson, because she feels that he’s the one who’s responsible, at this point in the storyline. It’s a few episodes til the end of the season, though. So that may change.
Beth: And she’s probably pretty hesitant to barge into Management’s trailer and demand to know from him exactly what went on… Cuz nobody…
Debra: Nobody goes in to see Management!
Debra: That would be a HUGE thing, if she walks through that door to talk to Management, cuz nobody talks to Management but Samson. So, to get Lila to walk up those stairs would take an enormous amount of courage, or bravado, or arrogance, or whatever, to go over Samson’s head.
Beth: Because Jonesy did it the once, but it got him nowhere.
Beth: And it only caused more problems. And Lila’s weapon of choice really seems to be gossip. Now, is that gossip going to get her more than she bargained for, do you think? Cuz she’s really workin’ it!
Debra: Yes, she is!
Beth: She’s not done yet. And I was thinking, why is she showing Stumpy, of all people, that wad of cash that belongs to Lodz?
Debra: (laughing) They actually cut the end of that scene, which is Stumpy is sort of hard up for money, and everybody else leaves, and he turns around with the intent to ask her for a loan. He’s looking at the money, and she’s like, “What?” And he’s, “Oh, nuthin’… nuthin’” So, it might have been foolish to show that money.
Beth: And not just to him, she’s showing it to the whole crowd! And that was quite a lot of money… What was Lodz doing with all that, anyway?
Debra: I don’t know! It sure looked like he had a stash, but I didn’t know what it was.
Beth: He’s been hoarding for a while! And maybe it was just my imagination, but it looked like, when they brought Sofie back and she moved into his trailer… The night she came home, he had a nice little glass of absinthe sitting there, all ready to go.
Debra: Yeah, you remember the scene where I walked in and got the smoking jacket out of the armoire? The scene originally started when I came into the trailer, and I pulled back the curtains, and there was this gorgeous light coming in. It was so pretty. And I kind of touch the glass that was there, just like he was ready to have a drink. And I put a record on the turntable. So, that was set up. That was there because he had left it. Because he didn’t intend to die when he left his trailer that night.
Beth: Right, because the two of you were sitting in there together, when Lodz was called by Appy… The record he was playing went flying across the room and burst against the wall – didn’t it? Then the next one started playing “I Want You…” or something? I’m trying to remember how that part went myself!
Debra: All the stuff you’re saying, I can’t even remember all of that! (laughing) Go, Beth!
Beth: (Laughing) I can’t believe I remember it either, at this point. But I think Lila is capable of fear.
Beth: And I think things that happened around him actually made her afraid, at times.
Debra: I think there was a part of her that was afraid of him, too. Because, remember the scene where he beat her….
Beth: Right! That was shocking!
Debra: And that was kind of hanging in mid-air, and never got talked about again! (laughing)
Beth: Yeah! And that was a surprise to see him beating her, because you just never got the feeling that was part of their relationship, up to that point.
Debra: Yeah! Yeah, I know! (laughing) It was a surprise to me, too.
Beth: But the one thing it did make me think was that he beat her like someone would beat an animal, one that they were trying to control. And that made me think, “Oh… Aha! Yup, you had a bear at one time in your career, my friend! Didn’t you?”
Beth: So, what was it like working so closely with Patrick Bauchau?
Debra: Oh, it was fun! I had to lead him around a lot…
Beth: I bet! So, he can’t really see through the white contacts then?
Debra: He had two or three different pair of different opaqueness. And one set that he wore, he could kind of see shapes. And then there was another set that he wore that he couldn’t see a thing. So, he literally had to be led around.
Beth: Well, I guess that helps with the performance! But I also think that it’s nice that the series has showcased so many people who are not the classic Hollywood model type, gorgeous people.
Debra: They’re all real!
Beth: Yeah, they’re real!
Debra: They’ve got the look.
Beth: Exactly, and I think it’s great that they’ve cast for everyone to look genuinely period. Because nobody had big fake boobs back then, or washboard abs, or a bunch of plastic surgery in the 30s, I’m guessing… And yet, they’ve made each of these characters sex symbols, in their own way. These people, no matter what their conditions, weren’t just sitting there going, “Woe is me… I have a beard. What now?” They were living full lives, they all had relationships. And obviously, Lodz & Lila were pretty frisky with one another.
Debra: (laughing) That was some relationship, wasn’t it?
Beth: Wasn’t it just? You and the hookah… (laughing)
Debra: (laughing hard)
Beth: That’s a well-traveled hookah. I figure that hookah has seen some things!
Debra: Yeah, no kidding!
Beth: But I wonder if this show will break some of those Hollywood stereotypes, or make television & films think in a broader way about what’s sexy?
Debra: I don’t know… I hope so. I remember sitting around the monitor, in the episode where the ladies were dancing, and I said to Ron Moore – who was the executive producer, at the time – I said, ya know, I am just so pleased that you have picked women who look like real women. And Carla’s tiny… She’s tiny. But they also have Cynthia, and at the time, Amanda. They looked like real women! Bravo!
Beth: And even Carla… Even though she’s tiny and thin, she looks natural! She’s not all silicone, and buff muscles. She looks like a real person of her size and shape.
Debra: She looks like a real woman.
Beth: Right, she’s got some softness about her. She doesn’t look like she goes out and kills herself lifting weights, like she’s on her way to an audition for the next “Terminator” movie. And even the men! They didn’t seem to be determined to find the next Brad Pitt or Casper Van Dien. They got normal looking guys!
Debra: I dunno… Have you seen Tim DeKay with his shirt off? (laughing)
Beth: Well, certainly, Tim DeKay’s NOT too hard on the eyes… (laughing) But still, you buy him as a regular Joe. He’s not some pretty little Adonis. And they’ve got him in the leg brace and the dirt, so it’s just not the usual Hollywood thing.
Debra: Right. That’s one thing, I’m just so pleased about the casting of this. We have a brilliant casting director, John Papsidera. And the people that he brought in were real people. And bravo to the producers and HBO for being true to the period, and picking people who really look like they’re of that period.
Debra: Nick Stahl looks like he’s from the 1930s. He’s got this wonderful character… He’s a good-looking guy, but at the same time he’s got this character in his face that totally fits that time period.
Beth: I think it was Clancy who has pointed out that he looks like a young Clark Gable, and I’m really starting to see that this season.
Debra: I’ll have to take another look!
Beth: And it’s nice that everybody seems to get their own relationships – however bizarre, in some cases. Shoot, they even gave Brother Justin a sister to lust after… (laughing)
Debra: (Laughing) Well, I they say “Incest is best!” (laughing)
Beth: Oh yeah, that’s a pretty twisted pair there.
Debra: Yes, it is! It’s been a lot of fun to watch that develop.
Beth: Now, I’m guessing we’ve got some big surprises coming on the Carnivale end of things…
Debra: Big surprises… I don’t know if I would call them surprises…Twists, maybe.
Beth: Ah, twists!
Debra: Yeah, I think that word works for me. (laughing)
Debra: And this season there’s just so much going on, so much information that’s being put out there, that I think it really twists the story.
Debra: There’s a whole bunch of stuff happening in this next episode. This is going to be a pivotal episode, I think.
Beth: And this is the episode when we get the folks from the other carnival coming in?
Beth: Well, that’s gonna add some color to things, I bet.
Debra: Yes, it does! (laughing)
Beth: And it gives them more people for Lila to gossip to!
Debra: Oh, count on it! Count on it! (laughing)
Beth: (laughing) She’s good… I love the way she’s just always right there and has got a little something to say, every time.
Debra: Well, I like to think that Lila is really the one in charge. Because, if you look at the people she attaches herself to, she’s really manipulating things, you see. (laughing)
Debra: On a very high spiritual level... You’ve got the devil, you’ve got the Brother Justin evil, you’ve got Ben, and the good. You gotta have somebody overseeing the whole thing!
Beth: Yeah, somebody has to take names and keep lists…
Debra: Right. And who better than Lila? She is the gossip! She ought to look at it from that perspective. She really is running the show. (chuckling)
Beth: And she really thought she had the Queen of the Carnivale title coming to her.
Debra: She did, she did…
Beth: And poor Lodz…
Beth: Just kicked unceremoniously into a ditch!
Beth: Which, I’m still waiting for that one to come back to haunt them.
Beth: I thought, wait… You tied him up and left him in the tarp, then you kicked him into the ditch. Wouldn’t it make more sense to unwrap the guy so it might look like the blind guy simply tripped and FELL into the ditch?
Debra: What’s he gonna do, come back to life and untie himself?
Beth: Right! I was like, “No, no!!! Now it definitely looks like a murder!” Bad way to cover your tracks…
Debra: Yeah… (laughing)
Beth: And then Ben, you be sure to throw your bloody shirt down there, while you’re at it! (laughing)
Debra: I know! (laughing hard) What was that about?
Beth: But maybe I’m just reading too many mystery novels…
Debra: (laughing) Well, ya know, there’s a lot of levels in the show. I found out last year… When we read the script, we read it before the episode starts, and they make so many changes by the time the episode is a finished product that it’s a new episode to me when I watch it.
Debra: Not huge changes, but just in the way it’s edited, and things do change. So it’s just like watching a fresh episode that I hardly know anything about when I watch it. And I really benefited from watching it more than once, because I got so much more from it. And I hear that comment from a lot of people, that people watch it more than once because it’s so rich and layered.
Beth: And I don’t know if I would be thinking half of the stuff I only THINK I know, if I didn’t have this whole group of people to sit around with online and discuss it all.
Beth: I’m still kind of curious what the Professor was warning Lila off from when she thought that maybe she should show that young pup Ben some new tricks.
Debra: (evil laugh) I’m kind of wondering that, too! (laughing) I don’t think we’re going to be able to find out!
Beth: Yeah, maybe it’s time for Lila to find out, I think! (laughing)
Debra: I agree. Last year, she had that fun little scene with Ben where I was really coming on to him and talking badly about Ruthie, dissing Ruthie to him. But I don’t know!
Beth: That was a fun scene. Boy, she got that beard right in his face! (laughing)
Debra: I had so much fun with that. Ben was just so uncomfortable! He just played it so beautifully, he was so uncomfortable, that he could hardly STAND being there!
Beth: She had that little beard kind of tickling up right next to his ear, and she’s going, “When you’re tired of Grandma…” (laughing) Lila is a great character. She’s great fun. And I’m glad she’s there.
Debra: Thank you. Me, too!
Beth: I think she brings so much fun to it. And now that I’ve finally gotten my hands on a high definition television, I can really appreciate some of the absolutely gorgeous costumes Lila gets to wear, too! They’re so elaborate!
Debra: I’m tellin’ ya, they did such an amazing job, an AMAZING job this year! I have several beautiful dresses that I get to wear. And they were so fine when I got to try them on and everything, and then I get them, and they’re all distressed, and I’m like, “Aw, I wanted to keep this one! But there’s holes in it now…”
Debra: The wardrobe department and the costume designers have just done an amazing job this year, and I was just so delighted. I love the show costume that they revamped for me. It is just stunning.
Beth: Is that the velvet one?
Debra: Yes, it’s like a burgundy velvet with a dusty rose bodice that I wear for when I’m in the show.
Beth: That’s gorgeous. And wasn’t it in the pilot where she had a big feather boa…
Debra: The big boa?
Beth: Yes! Man, I never saw the detail in that until I got to see it in high definition.
Beth: I love her clothes! I would raid Lila’s closet, if given the chance.
Debra: Yeah, so would I. Of all the time periods, the 1930s is my very favorite for clothing. To have the opportunity to wear that kind of style, and those fabrics and everything, it’s just so much fun. I’m so blessed.
It’s just without exception, across the board. Everybody is just amazing at their job! And I think the industry sees that. That’s why we won five Emmys out of the seven nominations that we got. It’s such an incredible production, that the level is like a feature film. It’s not like regular TV. It’s not just TV! It’s HBO! (laughing)
Beth: Was there anything you wanted to say to the fans in parting?
Debra: Thanks for watching! Thank you SO very much for watching, and for your interest in the show. Because we love what we do, and it’s an extraordinary experience to work on this kind of a project. It just doesn’t come along very often. And thanks to HBO for picking it up, cuz it’s something that would never appear on network TV. And our fans really brought us back for a second season. So, thank you, thank you very much, from the bottom of my heart.
Beth: Well, thank you so very much for being so supportive of the fandom and for everything you’ve done to help us make this convention the best it could be.
Debra: My pleasure.