(interview by Rhett Bartlett on 11 August 2012)
Margot Kidder struck cinema gold in 1978 with her performance as Lois Lane in Richard Donner’s SUPERMAN – the second highest grossing film in America that year. She followed that up with performances in The Amityville Horror and Superman II.
DialM: On DialMforMovies we are joined by Margot Kidder. Hello Margot
Margot: Hello, how are you ?
DialM: I’m very well thank you . Have you ever been to Australia?
Margot: No and I am dying to go and I was going to go at the end of September (2012), but then I got a real movie. I’m kinda not in the position to turn those good parts down, they come by very rarely at this stage of my life. I’m excited. I go to work.
DialM: Can I ask about the movie ?
Margot: Yes, it’s called The Pride of Lions, it is about 4 Grandparents, and I am the only female. They used to be in the army and their grandkids get kidnapped by the Taliban and they realise the army is going to do dick getting ahold of them. So they pretend they are doctors and they go over and rescue their grandchildren. It’s a twist on action adventure, with 4 geezers over there, you know having to pee all the time and with their various joint problems, being the heroes of an action movie. So I think it is going to be fun. It stars Bo Svenson, Louis Gossett Jnr. It’s really going to be fun. Sidney Furies’ directing it. He directed Superman IV. I set off next Friday with my two older dogs and drive to Sault Ste Marie, Ontario , which is a mining town my grandfather used to run the mine in , in the 1930s. I guess we are using the old open pits as Afghanistan
DialM: Do you find that film roles are sparse for you?
Margot: Well I am a 63 year old woman who had a career and managed to trash it. But there’s not a lot of parts for 63 year old women and if there are, they all go to Meryl Streep or Susan Sarandon. Usually you have a part, two or three days and try and knock it out of the park and its really hard because you have no warm up. So this is a luxury and wonderful and I have a chance to work up relationships with other actors and work out what we are doing.
DialM: It’s interesting that you had the career and trashed it. Do you still believe that ?
Margot: Oh yeah. I was the worst movie star on the planet. I was a disaster. You are supposed to be mysterious and elegant and all that stuff and I am none of the above. Yeah, I kinda did. I had a lovely time, a wonderful life with some great adventures, but I didn’t nurture a career along. I didn’t know how to and I couldn’t bear not working so I tended to just grab what came along. Some of the films I am most proud of are the ones no one has ever seen, like small independent ones. I’m a grandmother now and have my grandchildren three blocks away. It’s kind of the best job I’ve ever had. I like working once in a while rather than a lot.
DialM: What are the films you are most proud of Margot ?
Margot: Oh I did ‘Heartaches’ which is one I don’t think anyone has seen. There’s a whole list of them. And then there are some really dreadful ones I made that have come on around 4 in the morning. Really dreadful.
DialM: Are you proud of your performance in Superman?
Margot: Yeah. The first one especially. And then the Dick Donner version of Superman 2 which is way better than the one they released.
DialM: How old were you when you did Superman?
Margot: I was 28 I think. It was my 10th american film. I am Canadian, so I had done a lot of work in Canada before I went to do my first american movie when I was 18.
DialM: How did a woman from Yellowknife Canada appear in the second highest grossing film of 1978?
Margot: I was in 2 of them. Both Amityville Horror and Superman. The top two grossing films. Our mother was very ferocious that we read good literature and that we not read junk. I grew up without television and pretty much without movies. The priest would show them in the church basement depending on which mining camp we were in. I think your imagination develops. And also when you are a kid in a small mining town you want out. All you dream of is the day you get out and go to some place where it is happening. I used to get the bush pilots to smuggle me movie magazines and I’d read them and hide them under my mattress, because my mother didn’t approve. She taught history and english at school. So I had this sort of this dream of going to Hollywood and I never lost it.
DialM: Do you remember who you used to look at in those movie magazines
Margot: Fabian, Troy Donahue, Carol Lynley , Sandra Dee. It was a whole strange world.
DialM: So they somehow found you for Superman?
Margot: Yes I was living in Montana and had done alot of movies and then I married a writer who lived in this town and the marriage was terrible. I knew I had to get out of it. But I didn’t have the intestinal fortitude to walk away. So I remember flying to England for the screen test and thinking ‘I have to get this part. It’s the only way that I am going to get out of my marriage’ And I was right. That was my motivating factor.
DialM: Was the experience of filming Superman as joyous as it seems when watching the film.
Margot: You know, it really was. It was everything. We took a year and a half . We were a year over schedule. I went through a divorce. Christopher Reeve had his first baby. There was just a lot that happened in terms of real life that we all went through as a family because we were all away form home. It wasn’t just joyous, it was everything. It is a corny cliche to say that a movie set is like family but this one really really really was. And Donner was big daddy. One Mother’s Day he would take all the Mother’s out to lunch, and Christmas we spent together. There was all sorts of intermingling of our lives and our work. It wasn’t just joyous fun on the set . It was a whole life. So when it was over, you really felt quite lost for a while.
DialM: How long did the shoot go for ?
Margot: The first one went for a year and half. But we filmed most of Superman 2. We filmed two movies
DialM: Did you get to meet Marlon Brando ?
Margot: I did. I had met Marlon Brando before that. Because my then Montana husband, Tom McGuane, had written the script for ‘Missouri Breaks’, that Marlon was in. And Marlon had decided at the last minute that he was going to play a character like Robert E Lee, but as an Indian. And we had to fly down to Hollywood and convince him that he couldn’t. We got up to his house and his pet wolves were around the outside, which were kind of thrilling. And he came to the door and he was just enormously fat and had egg all over the front of his sweats. But in 20 minutes you were just eating out of his hand. There was something so charismatic and amazing about him. I just adored him. I then was in charge of directing, the ‘making of Missouri Breaks’ and I got to spend alot of time with Marlon. He was really something special.
DialM: What are your thoughts on the Superman sequels ?
Margot: Oh! Well Superman IV was awful. It was terrible. And Superman 3 didn’t quite work. And Superman 2, the one that got released, you can tell which part of it Dick Donner shot and which part of it Richard Lester shot. Two totally different styles. Lit differently. My hair is different. Personally I liked the Donner version of Superman 2.
DialM: You are not in Superman 3 very much ?
Margot: No I’m not. Because I said that the ‘producers were beneath contempt as human beings’, to the press. It wasn’t a smart move politically. Part of the package of me being a really bad movie star. They fired Dick Donner, which was just stupid, absolutely shameless. They didnt want to pay him and they fired him. He turned in this glorious movie for them that made them a fortune. I thought it was a disgusting decision, so I was quite vocal about it.
DialM: I sense you are a person who speak her mind?
Margot: Yah! Of course.
DialM: So that got you into trouble for Superman 3
Margot: But they had to pay me. It was a pretty good deal for me. They didn’t want to put me in that film at all, but then Warner Bros said ‘you have to put her in. The audience really likes her’. So I come in at the beginning, say ‘Bye, I’m going on holiday’ and I come back at the end with a tan. I have 11 lines and one of them was ‘Oh Clark’.
DialM: Did you stay in touch with the cast of Superman
Margot: I stayed in touch with Chris. And I bump into Gene Hackman here and there. Donner I stayed in touch with , and Tom Mankiewicz. We lost Tom last summer which is heartbreaking. He remained one of my dearest friends until he died.
DialM: What was life like before you shot Superman and after.
Margot: Well good grief dear that was a long time ago. I am 63 and I shot it when I was in my 20.
It changes immediately in the sense you are getting more money and you are getting offered more movies. Your life expands and you are giving opportunities that very few people get.
One of my big attitudes about life is always been, the point of living is to use yourself up. When you die, you don’t want things you didnt try out. I love a good adventure and there is nothing better than charging off and making a movie in a foreign country. You get to travel, you get overpaid. It’s a pretty cooshy life, there’s not much to complain about.
But I was so naive, I just assumed that because that’s what I decided I was going to be when I was 10, that of course it would come true. I didn’t like being famous as much as I thought I would. It was kinda creepy. It was like being a monkey in the zoo and having people stare at you all the time and feelig very much like your flaws were on display, which was a big surprise, I thought I would turn into a princess and suddenly be this glorious person like people I read about in movie magazines. Infact, I simply felt exposed.
DialM: There’s no rule book in how to handle fame
Margot: No there’s not. But what there is, is this famous people’s club in California, where most people in the club know what they really are is kind of a nerd or a dork, but they have to act cool or suave, because that is what people expect of them. And there was this great strain, I found, because I wasn’t cool or suave , and never will be. Some people are very good at putting on a social glamorous mask and not letting it slip. I found it much more uncomfortable than I thought it was going to be. It was kinda creepy actually.
DialM: What, all the fans ?
Margot: No, fans are nice. It’s just that sense of being peered at all the time. There’s a recurring dream actor’s have -that they get on stage that they first of all can’t remember what play they are in, and secondly, they are naked. It does feel a bit like that. You suddenly feel terribly exposed in a way I didn’t, stupidly, anticipate. Im not a cool collect person. I like to have fun. I’d fit in well in Australia.
DialM: What the difficulty in handling fame one of the reason why your film career never took off in the 80s and 90s.
Margot: No, it didnt take off because I made alot of bombs. If you dont make money for the studios they won’t keep hiring you. And I wasn’t on top of my game.
DialM: Looking back now, does that worry you.
Margot: Nah! I had one of the most blessed lives that anybody could ask for, with a few rather public bumps here and there. But, you know, c’est la vie. Everything turned out just the way it was supposed to somehow. I dont know how. I screwed up enough god knows. I have exactly the life I should be living, And then loving it and having a great time. Whatever happened to get me here somehow must have been the right thing.
DialM: You now seemed settled in your life.
Margot: Yes, I’m very settled and very happy. And I supposed, I’m probably very dull.
DialM: I found some footage of you on the Dick Cavett show.
Margot: When I was 18 or 19! , with Janis Joplin and Gloria Swanson. I remember ahead of time watching Gloria Swanson put this wig on and pull her face up under the wig, thinking ‘oh god I dont ever want to be an ageing actress’. And then I got to go out with Janis Joplin and her band, it was a glorious night. I had my first tequilla and my first cocaine. Dick Cavett show had sent some minders , because I was underage, who very firmly at a certain point, pulled me out of this party and said ‘We are taking you out!’.
DialM: Are you aware of the new Superman film being made ?
Margot: Of course, with that sexy wonderful guy Henry Cavill. Who was so wonderful on The Tudors, and Amy Adams who is a wonderful actress
DialM: They haven’t phoned you to make a cameo
Margot: I don’t live in that world anymore. My life is not driven by my career anymore.