Character actress Zelda Rubinstein talks about the Poltergeist phenomenon and the iconic character she created

Zelda Rubinstein has appeared in almost 50 movies but it is her work as Tangina Barrons in the Poltergeist films that really has made this lady the icon that she is. As a woman who helps a family deal with the fact that their house has been haunted by evil spirits, this 4 foot 3 inch actress darn near steals every scene she has in the film franchise. On the eve of the 25 Anniversary DVD release of Poltergeist, Rubinstein took part in a conference call to discuss the effects of the film and her character on modern pop culture.

How was the role of Tangina Barrons first presented to you?

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Zelda Rubinstein: Well, it was by audition. I was actually screen tested several times before I was entrusted with the role, I do not know who my competition was.

Tangina's declaration, "This house is clean," is one of the best known lines from that movie. After all these years what's it like to have people still associate you with this character and Poltergeist?

Zelda Rubinstein: It's neither a burden nor a pleasure. It's work. I'm not a southern lady, I'm from Pennsylvania and we speak sort of correctly there. People identify me that way and they also easily identify me on the street because of my short stature. I get picked out in many ways and no way is a burden.

Coming off of the success of Poltergeist, what was it like doing the movie Anguish?

Zelda Rubinstein: I loved doing Anguish. It was shot in Barcelona, Spain and everything was done to make the Americans involved with it very comfortable both on screen and in our time free. Bigas Luna is a magnificent director and we all had a very good time.

Why do think Poltergeist has endured over the years?

Zelda Rubinstein: The first script was very good. Mark Victor, Michael Grais and Steven Spielberg wrote a magnificent script. That's always the basis of everything that's going to be good in film. They picked people who were in a position to support that script. I'm just so thrilled that I was allowed to be a part of it. It was a new experience for me. Like I said I only worked 6 days but I learned so much. I was very happy to be involved.

What kind of preparation did you do for the role of Tangina?

Zelda Rubinstein: I developed the character under the ficus tree in the corner of my living room. I did not know how to develop a character but I decided I better do something because it looked like a really good opportunity. So I sat under there and I developed an equilateral triangle in my mind and the base of her triangle was her knowledge. It was what she was doing. One side was her life as a boring Odessa, TX housewife and the third side of the equilateral triangle was her dream of becoming a dealer in Vegas. I kept her dead center in that equilateral triangle at all times. Those were my guidelines. I don't know where I got them from but that was my mental image. That's how I developed the character. After my last screen test I didn't hear for a couple of weeks. I was getting ready to perform under a streetlamp on the street. She had grown so big in me.

Can you talk at all about dynamic on the set?

Zelda Rubinstein: The set dynamic appeared very normal, it was my first major role. I didn't have a lot of material to rely upon from personal experience. I think the brilliance of the script is what made it so terrific. It was written in a way that everybody was just a few bubbles off plumb and worked well together. I think it was an exceptional phenomenon as I look back. The other two people did not have that available to them.

What was your favorite moment from the set? What was the main thing you took away from it?

Zelda Rubinstein: That I had worked with the best.

What do you for Halloween?

Zelda Rubinstein: I go to a hotel under an unknown name and I stay there until the next day.

You don't give out candy to the trick or treaters?

Zelda Rubinstein: Well, I live in an area where there's a gate and we don't get them. It's a very small building I live in. There are no children here. There aren't a lot of children in the neighborhood. I feel very vulnerable at Halloween. I feel that people who might come to the door might not have candy intentions. I'm a little lady and I can be overcome. I don't answer the door for some stuff at home and I usually go elsewhere unless someone was here.

You said you feel sensitive to the psychic side of things, do you have any stories about that you could share?

Zelda Rubinstein: While I was filming Poltergeist I was in an auto accident. I was driving a little Volkswagen, a Beetle, and just as the two cars impacted I felt my deceased father reaching through the roof of the Beetle and grab me like a puppy by the back of the neck and pull me out. After the collision he set me back down. That was as close as I've had to any extraordinary experience.

What would it take to get you to remake Poltergeist?

Zelda Rubinstein: It would depend on how I felt at the time about the script. I don't think anybody is permitted to go word for word what's already down. I don't think that's in the public domain. I'm 25 years older! I don't quite look like Tangina looked at that time. At the time I looked younger than my actual age. I think I was 48 when I shot it, I'm 74 now. I'm in pretty good shape and facially I look the same, maybe a little chunkier.

The Poltergeist: 25 Anniversary DVD will hit stores on October 9 from Warner Home Video.

In promotion of this it will play in theaters across the country for one night only on October 4.

Dont't forget to also check out: Poltergeist

Evan Jacobs at Movieweb
Evan Jacobs