Up in the sky and back again
DateJune 7, 2013 (1)
Read laterStephen A. Russell
When Margot Kidder signed on to play Lois Lane to Christopher Reeve’s Clark Kent in the 1978 screen version of Superman, her expectations were low. “I thought it was going to be a big turkey.”
Kidder had grown up in Yellowknife, Canada, with a mother who held no truck with comic books, forbidding her five children from reading them.
I got very famous, overnight, and it was weird. It’s a very strange thing, being famous.
So the famously raspy-voiced Kidder had no idea what she was letting herself in for when she joined director Richard Donner’s set. “When we made it, I thought, ‘Well, this is an odd movie’,” she recalls with a laugh
The former Lois Lane will take part in a question-and-answer session before a screening of Superman. The film, by the then-up-and-coming Donner, was a hit critically and commercially, rivalling the success of Action Comics, on which it was based.
In June 1938, the first issue of Action Comics hit news stands, introducing Superman to a public hungry for such a protean saviour. Written by Jerry Siegel and drawn by Joe Shuster, the title was published by DC Comics, the stable that would soon introduce Batman and Wonder Woman. At the grand old age of 75, Superman, aka the Daily Planet’s investigative reporter Clark Kent, still manages to captivate audiences worldwide.
Margot Kidder: ‘I got very famous overnight, and it was weird.’
His feisty co-reporter and sometime wife, Lois Lane, has been portrayed by a number of leading ladies. On TV, Joan Alexander took on the role in the 1940s, followed by Teri Hatcher in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman in the mid-1990s. On the big screen, Kate Bosworth played the role in Bryan Singer’s poorly received cinematic revival Super-man Returns, and this year Amy Adams will take up the dictaphone in Zack Snyder’s forthcoming Man of Steel.
But for a generation brought up in the 1970s and ’80s, Margot Kidder will always be the hot-headed Lane.
Kidder had already achieved critical success with films including Brian De Palma’s thriller Sisters and 92 in the Shade, directed by Thomas McGuane, who would go on to be her first husband and the father of her only daughter, Maggie. But she was ill-prepared for the level of public scrutiny that followed Superman.
“Suddenly there it was, it was a huge feature,” she says on the phone from Montana in the lead-up to her Melbourne visit. “I got very famous, overnight, and it was weird. It’s a very strange thing, being famous.”
She found some solace in the shared experience with co-star Reeve. “Working with Christopher was fun. We did four films together, so you get to know someone pretty well,” she says.
Kidder is still perplexed by the enduring love felt by fans for the great double act of Lois and Clark, but wonders if they tap into some universal archetype.
In 2007, Kidder briefly returned to the Superman mythos, not as Lois – that role went to Erica Durance – but as Dr Bridgette Crosby in Smallville, the television serial that followed the young Clark’s life. Reeve had portrayed Dr Virgil Swann in the series but, after his death in 2004, Kidder came on board for a couple of episodes.
How did it feel stepping back into that world? “It was pretty boring, frankly,” she confides. Some things are best left alone, it seems.
Horror buffs will remember Kidder for 1974’s Black Christmas, in which she played a sorority girl stalked by a serial killer, and 1979’s The Amityville Horror. She also popped up in the 2009 remake of Halloween II. “I’m a real scream queen,” she laughs.
Cameo TV appearances in The L Word and Brothers & Sisters were a bonus, the 64-year-old actor admits. “At my age, if you get to work, it’s pretty nice,” she says. “I’m an old broad, man, and I love it.”
As we speak, one of her dogs is snuggling up to her in bed. After three short-lived marriages – to McGuane, actor John Heard and French director Philippe de Broca – she’s on record as saying she prefers canine company these days. “I wasn’t very good at marriage; in fact, I was a disaster,” she says. “After a certain point I had to go, ‘You know what, you’re not very good at this, Kidder’. I’m best without it.”
Kidder has in fact lived with mental illness most of her adult life, having been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and had a very public breakdown in LA in 1996, which received tabloid coverage of the most sensationalist kind. I wonder if the intervening years have seen greater awareness about the issue in the US? “I don’t really think it has, and it’s ridiculous,” she says.
Still, she is pretty excited about her first time on Australian soil. “I’m thrilled, let me tell you.”
Superman with Margot Kidder is at the Astor Theatre, St Kilda, at 7.30pm on June 25.