By Tim Parks
Margot Kidder’s quintessential portrayal of reporter Lois Lane in the Superman films during the ’70s and ’80s, not only redefined the role of how a damsel-in-distress could prove to be just as resilient as her superhero counterpart, it is also very indicative of the woman herself.
While Kidder doesn’t have the ability to have bullets bounce off her chest, ala Clark Kent’s alter ego, or to thwart attempts by villains hell-bent on world domination; she has had to deal with the very real difficulties associated with being manic depressive.
And when a particular manic episode became very public, circa 1996, Kidder proved she was every bit as strong as The Man of Steel – by dealing with her mental illness, and soldiering on, continuing her acting career and fortifying an enriched life from an event that might have derailed most people.
I spoke with Kidder regarding her acting life – from her turn as Superman’s main squeeze, her days as a scream queen in thrillers such as The Amityville Horror; and to her latest role as Dorothy, a tough-as-nails lesbian in the here!TV film, On The Other Hand, Death: A Donald Strachey Mystery.
We also chatted with the actress about her real life, in which she resides in Montana and revels in being a grandmother, and prior to our interview Kidder was involved in setting up a dunk tank for her grandson’s birthday party. Throughout the entire interview Kidder was very candid, open and warm.
Nowadays, Kidder stated that what keeps acting fresh for her is “that the whole thing of it is fun, its different everyday – compare that to actually working? It’s just that I love everything about it, I’ve been hooked on movies and movie-making forever.”
And, that love affair with movies began for Kidder at a young age in her birthplace of Canada.
“I was a little girl in mining camps in Canada,” Kidder recanted. “And in Quebec in those days, kids weren’t allowed to go to the movies. So, the only way you got to see movies was when the priest would show them in the church basement. I saw a couple of movies, and one of the bush pilots brought in a movie magazine, and I decided I wanted to be a movie star.
“I didn’t know anything about acting,” she said. “Then when I was 11, my mom took us kids to New York, and I got to go see Bye Bye Birdie with Dick Van Dyke and Michael J. Pollard, and I sat there and said, ‘That’s what I’m going to do.’ It was just something that I always knew I’d do, and I never let it occur to me I wouldn’t be successful; I was so single-minded and dumb about it, when I was young, I didn’t know there’d be a chance I’d fail – so you just kind of plow ahead.”
And what Kidder saw in that great metropolitan city, buoyed by her determination, gave wing to her eventual flight to fame as Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane in 1978’s Superman. Kidder gave us her thoughts on why her version of Lois Lane was so different than previous incarnations.
“She was so well-written,” she exclaimed. “And that was Tom Mankiewicz, who did the final rewrite, although he’s called a creative consultant – and he brought this fabulous, almost ’30s sensibility to it, so that there was a wit to the lines, and it was amusing on many levels. When you’re given lines as delicious as the ones he wrote for me, you kinda can’t lose.”
Another win/win situation was that Kidder was able to bring her own sensibility to that particular characterization, as well.
“All I knew to bring to it was, when I was in love with a guy, I acted like a total asshole around him,” she said with a laugh. “And when I had a guy in love with me, who I wasn’t interested in, I was rather curt at full strength. I applied that personal reality to my portrayal. Luckily, I have no more hormones left, so I don’t have to go back to those days.”
Kidder’s resume is also peppered with a great many thrillers, such as: 1973’s Sisters, 1974’s Black Christmas and 1979’s The Amityville Horror. And this film genre was not one she specifically gravitated towards.
“No, I didn’t really at all,” Kidder stated. “I think they are funny, I think horror movies are ridiculous – and if they are not funny, what’s the point in watching them? I think I found a niche, when I was very young as a scream queen. And there are a lot of fans who are passionate about those kinds of movies – so that’s fun at my advanced age to look back and see how things turned out.”
Something that Kidder did describe as “horrifying,” was the aforementioned manic episode, which thrust her private situation into the public spotlight.
“I don’t have any problems when anyone says, ‘What was your most embarrassing moment?’ And you go, ‘Flipping out in public!’ It kind of takes the cake.”
And Kidder has made herself better by circumventing traditional medical paths.
“The way to go about making yourself better is different in every single individual’s case,” Kidder described, “I subscribe to a type of medicine called orthomolecular, in which you see those certain things, emotional swings and thought pattern disruptions, as symptoms of something organically wrong.
“So you find out what it is that’s wrong, and what’s causing those symptoms, and you fix it organically. I am very much not an advocate of what is now mainstream psychiatry, which is basically ‘hears a one-size-fits-all drug, and let’s just down everybody out.’”
In Kidder’s case, you certainly can’t keep a good woman down, as she has appeared in a number of popular TV shows over the last few years, returning to her Superman affiliation with a guest spot on “Smallville,” appearing on “The L Word,” and most recently as Sally Field’s friend on “Brothers & Sisters.”
Kidder is also a subscriber to truth, justice and the American way; so much so, that the actress became a full-fledged U.S. citizen in 2005, in order to be able to vote, and have her voice be heard regarding the political state of our nation.
She is not a fan of George W. Bush, and was once quoted as saying, “God, George Bush makes me want to slash my wrists. He’s so embarrassing I have to leave the room when he’s on the news. What a monkey.” In fact, Kidder is a part of a woman’s political group in Montana, which was originally called “Bushes against Bush,” but was changed to “Montana Women For,” and includes a number of lesbian members.
Her own socially conscious public persona was right in line with her most recent role in On The Other Hand, Death, as her character and the character’s lover, Edith (played by Gabrielle Rose) are faced with dealing with a hate crime head-on.
The film series has been lauded as groundbreaking for its gay protagonist (Chad Allen) going against type as a hard-boiled detective, and this third installment in the series also addresses problems facing younger members of the community.
Kidder was drawn to the role because of its “really rip-snorting script and the character was interesting.” But, she also sees the film as a platform to address a whole new gay and lesbian generation, and to get beyond labels.
“The younger gay women have not experienced as much discrimination as the older women,” Kidder explained. “And I think it’s such a hopeful sign of how far we’ve come; I think it’s really wonderful. But it (discrimination and hate crimes) certainly exists in small towns in the same way it’s portrayed in the movie. There are some towns in Montana, where it’s pretty rough.
“It’s about changing attitudes,” Kidder encapsulated. “And I think there have been such leaps forward made in this arena – that there is such a thing as having these wonderful shows and this series, where the primary thing isn’t about the lead character being gay – it’s kind of an afterthought, which is really refreshing. I had such a great time doing it; I’d work for that channel again in a heartbeat.”
This interview was first published in August 2008.