A Long-Awaited Reunion With Christopher Reeve

By Jo Addie


People who know me know I am spontaneous, and determined "to go for it", as those who read my story (INSITE's July '91 issue) can attest, and I guess I proved them right again, when I flew off to New York with one day notice to have a "reunion" of sorts with Christopher Reeve, who I hadn't seen in person since the making of Somewhere In Time, 14 years before. At the SIT Weekend, INSITE member Bob Simonson told me of a one-night class hosted by Reeve, offered by The Learning Annex, at the Roosevelt Hotel on November 11, 1993 and I asked him to send me the information. When I received it, I decided I had several reasons to attend the class, "Christopher Reeve, On Acting and Show Business". As an actor, I felt sure I would learn some things I could use, and I also desired to tell Chris about the Weekend, as well as give him some mementos as an 'INSITE Ambassador'.

I couldn't have been more pleased at the results of my endeavor - the evening that Chris provided for the approximately 90 in the audience was fascinating, and he was delightfully animated while relating to us anecdotes along with his philosophy of acting he has acquired throughout his career, what he refers to as his "journey".

Chris came into the room just moments before being introduced. He was wearing a grayish-lavender matte silk shirt, a grayish-blue silk sportcoat and olive, purple and gray-blue tie, and his ever-present jeans. I at first thought the class would be more "structured", with a format perhaps, but Chris began with a brief history of how and why he got into acting, and then just allowed us to bombard him with questions, for two and a half hours. And the group, a mixed bag of ages and backgrounds--the majority of them actors, (and would-be hopefuls)--provided him with a good variety of topics to respond to, which made for a well-rounded program. I must say how impressed I was with his grace and ability to field questions. He was both eloquent and entertaining.

Chris was "12 or 13" when he first got interested in the theatre, 1964 or 65, where there was a phenomenal theatre community in vicinity of his home town of Princeton, New Jersey. He feels "lucky to have been exposed to a high caliber of acting" so frequently, and he thought then, "That's for me . . . if you play yourself all the time, you're missing the excitement and the challenge of going on these journeys, and they take you to so many wonderful places."

"The exciting thing to me about acting is that it's something you never finish learning how to do, it grows as you do, and the only limitation is your imagination or lack of, whether you take on a new adventure or not" . . . "I'm interested in change, I'm interested in exploration, I'm interested in creative risk. I've certainly managed to avoid the formula to stay 'on top' in Hollywood, and that's OK, because I think I've had a more interesting time doing what I do."

Starting his journey in regional theatre, Chris followed his parents' edict and went to Cornell, then studied under John Houseman at Julliard. Chris feels his first big break came in the fall of 1975 when he landed a coveted role with Katharine Hepburn in "A Matter of Gravity" on Broadway. She chose him to play her grandson, "and then began a very intense, demanding, rewarding, intimidating, satisfying year of my life." He does a sterling impression of her, which delighted the audience.

He related something extraordinary he learned from Hepburn, that year, "how interesting it is when an actor does the opposite of what you expect him to do...really good acting is 'dangerous', . . . anything can happen, . . . and the trick is you make that happen on stage with words you already know." . . . "This kind of unpredictability within the format of who the characters really are, allowed me to see for the first time what improvisation can be, what spontaneity can be, what living in the moment can be on stage."

When asked if changing your appearance for a role is important or not, he said, "If you believe that acting is about transforming, as opposed to the part plays me, then the answer is yes . . . What I'm concerned about is whether this is a recognizable human being--it's not me, so there's no risk, none of this is me, it just comes from imagination and observation, and we're able to mimic how people behave, and we should be judged on our skill in doing that and that's it--but speaking for myself, that's what turns me on about acting, so in fact, hair color, clothes and actions are among the first questions I ask."

Roughly a third of the way through the class, someone mentioned how they loved him in Somewhere In Time, and spontaneous applause broke out in the audience, which elicited a very knowing smile on Chris' face. He said, "I'm very pleased and rewarded that Somewhere In Time has been found by the audience, in spite of the critics, because let's face it, this movie came out, and bombed so badly, it left a crater on 42nd Street! You know how we remember our bad reviews? Vincent Canby said, 'Christopher Reeve looks like a helium-filled canary; one more film like this and it's back to the cape forever.' "He's defrosted a bit in the last decade . . . but I don't know, I think the timing may just have been wrong--it was so unabashedly romantic. In the late 1980's out came Ghost, which is constructed from the same kind of cloth really, and people ate it up. But you look at it (SIT) now, and the music!- that film in retrospect, was played straight from the heart, it's played honestly, and that's what you see on film. It's beautifully photographed, Jane Seymour is gorgeous . . ." And then he mentioned the island, "it was a magical summer, where we just disappeared, reality was suspended, and it was very easy to insert ourselves into the world of the movie." "This film is still so popular, you may not know it, there is this group called INSITE"-- Bob quickly held up one of the latest issues, and Chris came over to get it and held it up for all to see. Chris very proudly launched into a five minute "commercial" for INSITE, and how we honor the film with our quarterly newsletter and the annual weekend at Mackinac, and its' events. Right then and there he asked us if we'd been there, and if we'd had a good time. Then he said, "Video can drive you crazy, because it's where your turkeys live, and you wish they would go off the shelf, but I'm really happy that Somewhere In Time not only is there, but still in demand."

A lady asked him how he was able to do the scene at the end in the chair, and Chris said he "talked to a psychologist about it, asking how a healthy guy could just sit in a chair and waste away, and he said somebody who's had that kind of a shock would go in such a state of denial, the body would just shut down. I got into the chair about an hour before they needed me, and I tuned out all the fussing around with the lights, and worked on stillness and breathing, made the world disappear - meditated."

Later on, when he was asked about his favorite leading ladies, Chris went on about his special working relationship with Jane Seymour, how easily they "clicked" and how they remain friends to this day.

One could detect a real frustration, bordering on exasperation, in him when he honestly admitted an angry spell some years ago, due to the reactions he got from people, everywhere, because of his fine performance as Superman. He endured the surprisingly frequent incidents of men (strangers/fans) who would approach him and challenge him, physically, "wanting to take me out". How did he respond to this? You could see in his face he was reliving it in his mind, "I'd tell them 'If you want to hit me and knock me down, go ahead. I have nothing to prove. I'm not Superman, I'm an actor, it's a role!'" And women would sidle up to him provocatively, saying, "So you're Superman, huh?" It just got very tiresome for him. He's justifiably proud of the job he did in Superman, but has a hard time understanding how the audience will allow actors like Gene Hackman to be someone new in his next film, accepting Hackman in his latest incarnation, yet he (Chris) isn't afforded the same freedom.

He constantly returns to the stage in between movie and TV roles, where he always feels "I'm home". (Chris is one of the few actors today who work regularly in all three media.) He's been busy of late promoting Remains of the Day, with Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. Because of Chris' height and physical characteristics, he has most often been offered "leading man" parts, but he feels they aren't the most interesting and now that he's 41, he is able to find more "real characters" to play. He and his wife, Dana, are raising their eighteen-month old son, and in his free time he rides horses on his farm and participates in horse shows, which he finds rewarding.

He told us briefly about the three projects he's planning . . . "one in script form and two in development, that are very close to a couple of things that happened to me, or things that I care very deeply about. Finally after years being a "closet director", I'm finally going to be able to try it, and I'll be directing myself in a film I'll shoot in Africa this Spring.

After the class, many immediately approached Chris for autographs and pictures, and Bob and I decided to wait until most of them had dissipated to have our time with him. When my turn came, I told him my name, and started to remind him who I was, and that we'd gone flying together on SIT, but he interrupted me with, "Of course I remember you, Jo, and I read your article!", which was both startling and gratifying for me. I then told him on behalf of INSITE, we all missed him at the SIT Weekend, thanked him for sending his video message to the attendees--how we enjoyed it, and he started asking questions about the Weekend. I gave him the Plaque Dedication program, and it was obvious in his voice he was moved by all those listed who had donated for it, when he said, "All those people,...Oh, that is so nice." Then I handed him photos from the day he, Jane, costumer Greg Hall and myself went flying together, which brought the memory even clearer to him--he seemed genuinely pleased to have them. Then I was able to briefly bring out an enlargement of him I'd taken that day, and he signed it for me, along with my latest prize from my collection of SIT memorabilia, the Japanese program of the film, which he also signed, after admiring the many beautiful color pictures in it. (Funny thing, I show up in one of the photos myself) And I also presented him with a copy of the SIT Souvenir Video (1992) that my husband Jim and I produced. Chris asked me where I'd come from, and when I answered, "Chicago", he said, "This was so nice, thank you so much," and quite unexpectedly gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek! He signed Bob's poster, and off he went. I want to personally thank you, Chris, for wonderfully hosting the class, and your continued support for INSITE. We'll always treasure your performance as Richard Collier, while we wish you much success with your future projects! I waited fourteen years to see you again, but it was worth it!


- Originally published in January 1994 issue of INSITE -