At first, Lara Parker hated the role of Angelique.
"I always wanted to play the heroine," Lara laments. Lara won the role of the witch, Angelique, in the late fall of 1967 at an audition at the Dark Shadows studios in a love scene with Jonathan Frid. Even after joining the cast, Lara continued to want to play the heroine.
"Jonathan used to admonish me often. ‘You have the plum role. Don’t weep,’ he would say, ‘Don’t snivel and play the victim. You’re not the heroine, you’re the heavy!’" Jonathan advised Lara to dig deeper within herself to find the rage, hatred, and jealously that motivated Angelique. Lara took his advice and often credits Jonathan Frid for her realization that playing the part of the villainess was indeed the best role. As time went on, Lara grew to enjoy playing Angelique with, as she puts it, "a vengeance!"
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The introduction of Angelique occured a few months into 1967 following the introduction of Barnabas Collins in a flashback to the year 1795, which provided the backstory of how Barnabas Collins became a vampire. In that segment, Barnabas and Angelique, the beautiful, young servant girl of his fiancée, Josette DuPres, become lovers. Not realizing the lovely young woman is a witch, Barnabas discards Angelique to marry her mistress. Deep rage, jealousy, and a desire for revenge drive Angelique to unleash her dark powers against the inhabitants of Collinwood.
When Barnabas learns of her use of witchcraft and attempts to kill her. Angelique, believing she is near death, curses Barnabas to an eternity as one of the living dead, and he is fatally bitten by the bat she summons. When Angelique recovers instead, she deeply regrets the curse she has placed on him and attempts to remove it. Her powers fail her, and in a final attempt to spare Barnabas from his eternal doom, she goes to his crypt to destroy him. He awakens before the deed is done and in his incredible rage with the discovery of his new monstrous existence, strangles Angelique, killing her.
The character of Angelique quickly entranced viewers, which contributed to her evolution as an important, permanent Dark Shadows character who continues to return as an ageless immortal throughout the rest of the series. Hard to ignore, and atypical of the stereotypical caldron-stirring crone usually associated with witches, Angelique is beautiful, young, and brings some much needed sexuality to the show. As a result of Lara’s talent and popularity, she consistently places in the top 10 daytime TV actresses for her role on this groundbreaking daytime drama.
Today, Lara is seen as a cultural icon for her role on Dark Shadows and considers this very first professional role of Angelique to be the "best role she ever had" in more than 25 years of her active career as an actress.
Initially, Angelique is viewed as an inherently evil character and vengeful enemy of the protagonist, Barnabas. As she began to work through her rage at his betrayal, viewers began to relate to her as a woman scorned and badly treated by the man she loved. Angelique continues to believe in, and remains committed to, the love she shared with Barnabas and is determined to see it realized, despite his belief she is without the very capacity to love because of being a witch. He continues to reject her, failing to see the very similarity of their respective plights.
In an article entitled "Out of Angelique’s Shadow," Lara Parker wrote for the Dark Shadows Companion*, she observes, “Barnabas and Angelique are the perfect couple. Only they truly understand one another. They alone know one another’s darkest secrets. They could relate to each other as no other couple could.” The continued tension between Barnabas and Angelique throughout the series became an integral element of the show’s appeal and endurance.
In the same article, Lara explains how she arrived at her interpretation of Angelique.
"The witch…was a common character, or archetype, in literature and drama, going back as far as the story of Adam and Eve. She was often seen as a wise old woman or as an angry, righteous goddess in mythology. She was separated from the others by her intelligence.
"From this," Lara explains, "I began to think of Angelique as smarter than the others. She saw through their false protestations of virtue, and knew that even the best were corruptible. She was impatient with virtue, and saw it as hypocrisy, naivete, or simply weakness. Her irritation with others’ stupidity caused her to use her powers heartlessly, but her contempt for the tiresome and the obtuse kept her from feeling any guilt."
Dark Shadows devotees appreciate Angelique’s intelligence as a woman/witch who keenly recognizes the treacherous supernatural world that surrounds the inhabitants of Collinwood and threatens the man she loves. She is torn between her desire to punish Barnabas for his continued rejection of her and using her powers to protect him from the very evil she with whom she is aligned. She passionately believes in the redemptive quality of the love they shared and that if he could once again love her, the evil in her nature will be reversed. She often risks great punishment from her dark lords for submitting to the human emotion of love, and at one point is punished for loving Barnabas by being forced to live as a vampire stripped of her supernatural powers .
Barnabas, on the other hand, is convinced that Angelique's nature is evil and contemptible, and he can never again love her. However, in spite of his attempts to banish her from his life and destroy her, he finds himself,more often than not, imploring the lovely sorceress to utilize the very dark powers he despises to affect a desired result. Time and time again, Angelique rescues Barnabas and his family from the forces of evil and threats of impending doom, making her every bit the heroine to Barnabas’ hero.
Storylines illustrating Angelique’s intervention are important.
In a flashback to 1897, Angelique manipulates the fate of Quentin Collins, raising him from the dead, so his malevolent ghost will no longer threaten the present day Collins children. She frequently interferes with the plans of the powerful Count Petofi, refusing an alliance with him and destroying Laura the Phoenix, preventing her from killing her children, thus saving the direct line of Collins descendants that Barnabas went back in time to rescue.
Most importantly, she releases Barnabas from his curse when she creates a doppelganger of him that is destroyed instead of the real Barnabas when Charity Trask drives a stake through it's heart.
In the present time, Angelique twice defeats the powerful warlock, Nicholas Blair, as he attempts to carry out their dark master's plan to create new races of humans through Adam in 1968, and the Leviathans in 1970.
Finally, in 1840 Angelique defeats her most feared enemy when she successfully battles the disembodied warlock, Judah Zachary, who possesses the body of Gerard Stilles. In doing so, she saves the entire Collins family of that period and preserves the Collins present day and future line. Angelique does so at the ultimate sacrifice of her own life when she reverts to human, is fatally shot ,and dies in Barnabas' arms, never hearing the long-awaited profession of his love for her. In each of these storylines
1840: Angelique, as Valerie Collins, arrives in Collinsport to find Barnabas's crypt empty and sends her Gypsy servant, Lazlo (Michael Stroka), to find Barnabas.
Angelique is the heroine. That there is a present day and future of the Collins family is due largely to due to her intervention.
Angelique is easy to demonize, but we are enthralled when she propagates evil and thrilled with the horrific special effects we see reulting from the use of her powers. We resist viewing Angelique as a heroine, despite the role she plays in resolving conflicts in Barnabas’ life because we are taught to reject and fear such power as being the work of the devil and, therefore, evil. Lara Parker's nuanced and multi-leveled portrayal of Angelique enables us to overcome our cultural predjudices and find her an attractive character, not merely for her physical beauty, but for the strength and conviction she demonstrates time and time again. She represents an intriguing paradox that shatters many stereotypes relating to women, and she is certainly anything but the typical fairytale ugly, broom-stick-riding crone.
Dark Shadows originally aired in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the women’s movement in the U.S. marked a great shift in women's thinking about their role in our society. Women began to assert themselves for equal rights and sought appropriate validation in the male dominated world. The notion of the stereotypical gothic heroine just didn’t appeal any longer. The turn Dark Shadows had took toward the supernatural, and the meteoric rise to popularity of the vampire Barnabas Collins, made him the perfect hero for the series. The only other character who was able to influence the evil prevalent at Collinwood was Angelique, who became, in an odd and completely unexpected way, a role model for women.
Tough, yet feminine, Angelique was independent of the man she loved, but certainly dependent upon his love to make her whole--the quandary many women in the women's movement faced. Anything but subservient or weak, she was her own person, unafraid to assert herself or demonstrate her intellectual skills. She was a far, far cry from the prototypical helpless innocent normally associated at the time with the notion of a heroine, and this continues to intrigue many followers.
Angelique excells at the game, protecting herself and those she loves by inflicting profound consequences on anyone choosing to cross or hurt her. Who among us can honestly claim that we haven’t occasionally wished for a voodoo doll representing someone who has hurt us, or treated us badly? Male viewers saw Angelique as mysterious and dangerous, yet alluring, and ultimately desirable. She was a very clever strategist who played at the highest level, excelling at game while taking incredible risks.
The enduring appeal of Dark Shadows seems to rest in its realistic portrayal of the human condition, despite its fantastical setting. No fantasy happy family of the Ozzie & Harriet sort here; no, Dark Shadows gave the viewers people not that different from themselves, with disappointments, heartbreaks, and fears that were easily recognized and understood from their own experience. The people of Collinwood represented a combination of good and bad, people struggling with the duality of their own natures, and characters deserving of examination beyond the acceptance of a cultural stereotype.
Lara Parker's portrayal of Angelique is that of a woman who possesses enormous power which she can exploit at will. Yet, with so much power within her grasp, she would forfeit it all for true and enduring love. Angelique is not by her nature a do-gooder. She does what she does for her own ends and makes no excuse, and she is well aware that she might be called upon to pay a very high price for the use of her powers. She triumphs as a heroine, not just because she puts an end to the conflict Barnabas fights for, but most importantly, because she demonstrates great perseverance and strength of will as she wages war with her own duality. She resolves the dilemma by choosing a higher course of action she is sometimes reluctant to take, but one which not only saves the inhabitants of Collinwood, but also in many ways provides redemption for past acts, as well as demonstrating the depth of her commitment to Barnabas.
Lara Parker always says she wanted to play the heroine, and in Angelique, she did--certainly not the classic stereotypical heroine Lara had originally envisioned, but a heroine nonetheless. Consciously and subconsciously, Lara plumbed her personal depths to create a character far darker than she was personally, but also endowed Angelique with a humanity that enabled us to identify with her and, yes, grow to love her. By eschewing the stereotype, Lara Parker created a haunting and enduring archetype which has enjoyed an unprecendented popularity for more than 40 years.
Lara Parker has grown to understand that in the role of Angelique she had the best of both worlds: the plum role Jonathan Frid told her she had, and the heroine she always wanted to play—all rolled into one character.
Krista Conaway Kniker
*Dark Shadows Companion, published by Kathryn Leigh Scott, Pomegranate Press Ltd., 1998.