Film · Horror · Interview

Pet Sematary’s Zelda

andrew-hubatsek-zelda-pet-sematary

An interview with the actor Andrew Hubatsek, who played the properly terrifying Zelda in Pet Sematary and psychologically scarred a generation in the process. One of a trio of interviews with horror actors (the others were Robert England and Tony Todd) for the Empire website at Hallowe’en, 2014. Since deleted, along with all other text interviews, when the Empire site was revamped and relaunched, so here it is in full. I was especially pleased to track down and speak to Hubatsek, since I don’t get the impression he does much press or thinks about Zelda (basically a single day’s work more than 25 years ago) very often…

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Mary Lambert’s adaptation of Stephen King’s bleak Pet Sematary arrived in 1990. Despite a screenplay (and a cameo appearance) by King himself, the film didn’t quite land with horror audiences… but nobody ever forgets Zelda. Rachel Creed (Denise Crosby)’s disabled sister, hidden away like a dirty secret in a back room, is the true stuff of nightmares (and nightmarish flashbacks), and she’s made all the more weirdly grotesque by the fact that she’s played by a bloke. Andrew Hubatsek, now a central member of Pennsylvania’s Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble, endured the grueling make-up for a single day that would haunt generations of viewers. In a rare interview, he took us back to the Goldman house…

How did you end up playing Denise Crosby’s sister?!

I don’t know why they wanted a male to play Zelda, but I do remember that the initial audition room was full of boys of twelve or so. I was around 25 at the time and remember thinking ‘I better get this or call it quits’.

The only practical reason I can think of is because the makeup took so long, around 14 hours, and required the back and upper chest, face and hands to be glued on by the two makeup artists: this in a very cold trailer in Maine. So I was shirtless for most of the time. Would’ve been harder for a young woman or girl, modesty wise. Also, switching the gender may have made it a bit more strange.

What was your experience on set – given that your scenes are flashbacks did you even meet the rest of the cast?

My experience on the set is a bit of a blur. I got there in the last couple of days of shooting, was put into makeup for at least 14 hours, filmed straight for what seemed like another 18 and then had to be unglued with a solvent for another 6. I was exhausted, sick and in an altered state and I think that might’ve come out in the film. I did get to meet Fred Gwynne who was as nice as you would think, and Denise was extremely kind and supportive, giving me my lines in back of camera and encouraging me. Mary Lambert was also wonderful.

Given her short screen time, Zelda makes a hell of an impression: even people who aren’t entirely enamoured of the film will always allow the caveat that Zelda is genuinely terrifying. Why do you think that is? Is it something you’re aware of? Does the continued attention surprise you?

I’ve gotten phone calls and mail over the years, some strange emails, too. I’ve also done a couple of horror conventions in the States and when people recognise me as Zelda, after the initial disbelief at seeing I’m a man, things go something like this-

“You totally traumatized me, you effed me up when I was a kid, even now I can’t watch it, my sister still calls me on the phone and does your voice, so when my kid turned five I showed it to her.” That’s the interesting part for me. It seems like Zelda holds both real childhood terror and delight for people. It’s weird to have something you did for a few hours have such an effect on people, and so many, while theatre work is there and then gone forever.

You’re obviously highly successful and active in theatre, but IMDb only lists you with two film credits: Pet Sematary and Blue Steel. Is that accurate? Did you not really pursue film work? Why do you prefer theatre?

I have named or featured parts only in those two films, but did extra work on a few others.

I did go out for other films for years, but never got any roles. I certainly would have done them if I got them because I love movies and am interested in the immediacy of the process. But I was doing theatre long before that and am still doing it all these years later, and I do think they are two different beasts. I feel I would be way too big and hammy on a film now.

What have been your biggest achievements / favourite roles on stage?

Every play is a new world and there are so many favourites for different reasons. I know it’s a cliché, but I got to do Hamlet three years ago and spent a good year preparing. I had the best time and it is the test for any actor’s mettle. I think I was the worlds happiest Hamlet, which of course, is totally wrong.

What are you working on currently?

Right now I’m playing King Gorgeous III in Charles Ludlam’s The Enchanted Pig. I got to see Ludlam perform as Camille in drag when I was a teenager and it’s great to tip my hat to him in a small way. After that, I’ll direct The Merchant of Venice. I’m working on it right now, here in the theatre when I’m not rehearsing.

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