Original ‘Dark Shadows’ TV actress remembers past lives

Alexandra Isles remembers her character on "Dark Shadows" as being, well, dumb.

Isles has spoken exclusively to Yahoo! Movies about the new Tim Burton film, based on the wildly popular — for its time -- late sixties-era gothic soap opera on which she once played the female lead. She also discusses the show's leading man, who recently passed away and was honored by new-school "Dark Shadows" lead Johnny Depp.

"We were accidentally camp," cheerfully explains Isles -- then Alexandra Moltke -- who on the original television show, which aired on ABC, played the young Victoria Winters a/k/a Vickie.

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Isles admits she hasn't yet seen the film, but judging from the trailer, Burton's update seems "deliberately camp." And she wholeheartedly approves. (I ran this impression past Burton when I spoke with him during an interview the next day. He rejected the term "camp," but admitted he drew out humor from the story. Burton also told me he, Depp and co-star Michelle Pfeiffer were huge fans of the original show.)

The film stars Depp as a romantically-tortured vampire Barnabas Collins in a role that was first made famous by the late Jonathan Frid -- who has a cameo in the film. Frid recently passed away on, of all dates, Friday the 13th (in April, at the age of 87). Admitting she hadn't made the connection of the significance of the date of Frid's passing, Isles adds, "I'm so glad he was able to be in the movie... That must have been fun for him. To be appreciated. I'm sorry that he's not around to enjoy the opening. He probably had the best of it in a way... having Johnny Depp appreciate him."

Depp, who worked with Frid on the set of the new film and has said he used to run home from school to catch the show, acknowledged his sadness over Frid's death. In a statement, Depp called Frid "a true original," and went on to say, "His elegance and grace was an inspiration then and will continue to remain one forever more."

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Isles, now 65, remembers Frid as being extremely professional and that his stage-acting roots drove his work ethic. "He was a little reserved, terribly nice, gentlemanly... [He had] a quiet sense of humor," Isles recalls. She also remembers that Frid had trouble with his lines and out of sheer terror would stare into the teleprompter giving a look of yearning. "People misinterpreted that as a different kind of yearning, worry and concern," she says, adding that viewer fan mail reaction to his apparent vulnerability prompted ABC to have his character written as more sympathetic.

The show developed a strong fan base. Fans would follow Frid, Isles, and other cast members to set and even to talk show appearances. Isles recalls that one of her hairs was plucked by a fan as a souvenir. She also remembers, while shooting a television movie with Peter Fonda, getting more recognition than him when they were once walking in public together.

In the new "Dark Shadows" film, Vickie (as she was often referred to on the show) is played by Australian actress Bella Heathcote, and is the object of Barnabas' crush. Isles says she simply hopes Heathcote had as much fun with the role as she did: "I hope it leads to other great things for her."

With the popularity of the "Twilight" franchise, and TV shows "Vampire Diaries" and "True Blood," vampires have invaded pop culture… again. Vampires, Isles explains, "are sexy," plain and simple.

Isles left the show in its second year in 1968 to start a family, and she has never returned to acting. Today, she is an award-winning documentary filmmaker who focuses on untold stories of disenfranchised people. Her films have covered subjects including the Holocaust and the lack of African-Americans on radio and television during the 1940s and 1950s.

And for those diehard fans, the entire "Dark Shadows" series is now available on DVD -- but with limited copies it's priced at $600. Surely that's worth it to those who attend the show's convention, which has been held every year since 1983.

[Photos: 'Dark Shadows' premiere and movie stills]

Of all the colorful characters on the show, Isles admits that Vickie "wasn't a really fun part to play." Isles was the only character on "Dark Shadows" -- at least for the first few seasons -- who narrated the opener. Vickie was the outsider and served the purpose of telling the audience's point of view, Isles explains.

And on Vickie being "dumb," Isles recalls with giggles, "if there was a creak in the middle of the night she'd get up and she'd put on her wrapper and go out to look for whatever the creak was and wind up locked in an attic or something."

Watch a clip of the original 'Dark Shadows' in which Barnabas finally fangs out on Vickie:

Watch clips from the new 'Dark Shadows':
Clip: Known You Forever Clip: Too Weird Clip: Wretched Soul Clip: Ruling Class