Man & Superman: An Interview with Christopher Reeve

A column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: Clifford Meth

It’s difficult to talk about Christopher Reeve this close to his passing away without sounding maudlin, so you’ll forgive the melancholy. Like the rest of you, I was staggered by his accident—that tragedy which transformed his life into a daily battle to survive. Like the rest of you, I was broken each time I saw Chris after that—only once in person, but even those heartrending photographs described a loss that went beyond what most of us can ever imagine. And, like the rest of you, I was inspired by the man’s indomitable will; his ability to overcome and rebuild, if only by inches.

Part of that rebuilding was the acting and directing roles. Recently, I was jazzed when IDT Entertainment announced Chris’s involvement with its computer-animated feature film “Yankee Irving.” Chris was overseeing the production remotely, via videoconferencing and remote animatics. Fortunately, Morris Berger, IDT-E’s CEO, has promised The Associated Press that the film, Chris’s last, will remain in production. The project was perfect for him—it’s about a baseball-playing boy who overcomes hardships in order to fulfill his dreams. Chris described the project as “captivating, with the perfect blend of warmth and wit.”

I looked forward to interviewing Chris around the time of the film’s release (which is slated for sometime in 2006). No such luck. But in 1986, I was writing for the L.A. Times Entertainment Newswire when “Superman IV” was announced. Right away, I contacted my publicist pal at Warners and asked for the interview. And one week later, I was thrilled when my wife called me into the kitchen and said, “Superman is on the phone.”

While some of that discussion is no longer relevant, I’ve presented most of it verbatim as it ran in the February, 1987 issue of Starlog.

Meth: Did you read Superman comic books before making the first film?

Reeve: Back in 1977, I read a few, but they weren’t really that helpful. It’s so stylized when you have four panels on a page. It doesn’t help to make a three-dimensional film character. So, I did a little research, then filed it all away and started from what I wanted to see in Superman. You can only really play what’s inside you—what you know and feel and care about. I try to bring all that to the role instead of worrying about comic-book history.

Meth: Did you ever think about being Superman when you were a kid?

Reeve: No. Never. There were people that I admired, but nobody you ever would have heard of—just people in my life.

Meth: Any actors in that mix?

Reeve: Not really. When I was growing up in Princeton, New Jersey, I wanted to be an actor because I was so impressed by the works done at the McCarter Theatre Company that I was involved in.

Meth: Now that you’re making the fourth Superman film, are you starting to expect that Superman will be a regular film series—like, say, James Bond—and that you’ll be part of it for another decade or longer?

Reeve: I don’t think so. I don’t think there are that many stories.

Meth: Do you find yourself mainly being known as Superman to the public, or do they remember your other roles and characters?

Reeve: It’s about half and half.

Meth: Ever worry about typecasting? That this will hurt your career as much as it initially helped it?

Reeve: I don’t think that it will make that much of a difference. It’s nice to be remembered and have support from people, however it comes.

Meth: Do you prefer serious roles or comical roles?

Reeve: Comedy. The results are more gratifying. To make people laugh and enjoy themselves is a very gratifying thing to do. It’s also much more difficult than being serious.

Meth: Many people face a turning point at sometime in their career—that decision to either go for it or do something safe and secure. Did you ever have to face that?

Reeve: Well, the decision to play Superman was probably the most courageous career decision that I made because, at that time in 1976, the idea of a Superman film was laughable to many people. So the challenge was to turn around their expectations. I remember feeling that the odds were very much against trying to pull off that first movie. But I also believed that by working together, we would be able to make a character out of this, and make it romantic rather than macho—make it funny rather than pompous or one-dimensional. People were really thinking it would be a joke. I think that converting the people who laughed at the idea was quite an achievement. I was doing well in theatre at the time, so to go into films as Superman was a pretty bold choice.

Meth: How do you think you dealt with the subsequent fame?

Reeve: Pretty well. It’s nice to be recognized and applauded. Actors work for the gratification of having people enjoy what we do.

Meth: Some actors complain of the downside—of sometimes missing the anonymity.

Reeve: I really don’t have that problem. I’m not that famous. People who see me and recognize me are nice and respectful. People tend to come back with whatever attitude you put out. It’s a two-way street. I’m pretty open and friendly with people and I get the same thing back.

Meth: You’ve been acting since your teen years.

Reeve: Right. I became an actor at 15 and decided that I would act for a career by the time I was 16, but I wanted to go to school, as well, so I went to Cornell where I studied English and music.

Meth: I’ve read that you’re a classically trained pianist. But you haven’t played in any of your films yet.

Reeve: It hasn’t been needed. People would think it was dubbed anyway [laughs]. They’ll think it’s fake. People think everything’s fake. If I were to sit down and play a Beethoven sonata in a movie, the audience would think that someone else had recorded it.

Meth: Can you still play a Beethoven sonata?

Reeve: Not brilliantly. I don’t practice but, you know—I can play okay.

Meth: I particularly liked Somewhere in Time [with Jane Seymour]. What are your memories of that film?

Reeve: Somewhere in Time is really just an old-fashioned romance—it doesn’t even have to make much sense. It’s just that when you take two people in an impossible situation and they fall in love you’ll always feel a pull because one of the main ingredients of romance is that love has to be impossible. You can’t have them ending up in the suburbs and going to PTA meetings [laughs]. But I like the story and I think we played it with a great deal of feeling.

Meth: The ending disturbed me very much.

Reeve: Yes. He has it made and suddenly he’s zapped back into the present. The movie didn’t do well when it first came out in the theatres, but it has really done well on cable and at the video stores.

Meth: What do you attribute that to?

Reeve: Some movies play better on TV. Also, in time, people will discover a film on their own regardless of what happened to it during theatrical release.

Meth: Superman was geared for a large screen. How do you think it plays on video?

Reeve: People say it plays okay. I haven’t watched it. I know that kids rent it and watch it three or ten times, so it must be okay. I haven’t compared it, but you would just figure that because it’s designed to be 70mm entertainment, you’re going to lose some of its scope on TV. But the point is, if the characters work and the situations are interesting, it’ll play well no matter how you look at it.

Meth: After Superman IV, do you know where you’re going next?

Reeve: The next film I would like to do would be a contemporary comedy, because I’ve only really done comedy in the theatre. And then I would like to move on to directing.

Meth: The Superman character has been around for almost 50 years and is probably the single most recognizable hero icon in pop culture. How do you define a hero?

Reeve: For me, personally, a hero is somebody who will make sacrifices for others without expecting a reward.

Meth: Superman is all that.

Reeve: That’s what I try to play.

Meth: How about Christopher Reeve? Is he a hero?

Reeve: I don’t know. I can’t start leaping to those conclusions.

© 2004, Clifford Meth

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