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Here's Lookin'
at You, Kidder

Here's Lookin'
at You, Kidder


Since rising to stardom in the '70s, Margot Kidder has left her mark on some of American cinema's most iconic roles. Now making her home in Montana, she returns -- as a lesbian -- in On the Other Hand, Death.

Margot Kidder soared to movie stardom in the 1970s, a decade commonly regarded as one of American cinema's finest. With her feisty wit and striking looks, Kidder made a strong early impression in the horror classics Black Christmas and Sisters before becoming a household name for her iconic performance as Lois Lane in 1978's smash hit Superman. Since then she's appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone, hosted Saturday Night Live, and starred in numerous films and television series. It's been quite a remarkable life for someone who grew up in Canadian mining camps dreaming of becoming a movie star.

Although Kidder left Hollywood a few years back for a calmer existence in rural Montana, she still answers its call from time to time, making memorable appearances in such hit television series as Brothers & Sisters, Smallville, and The L Word, Most recently, she received glowing reviews for her portrayal of one half of a lesbian couple dealing with antigay prejudice and a rising body count in here! TV's entertaining and politically minded murder mystery On the Other Hand, Death: A Donald Strachey Mystery, debuting on DVD this month. recently spoke with Kidder about the experience of "playing gay," her illustrious career as both an actress and an activist, and how "coming out of the closet" as someone struggling with bipolar disorder changed her life. So, Margot, I understand you're living a nice, quiet life out in Montana, far removed from the Hollywood circus ...Margot Kidder: I am indeed. It is the last best place.

Well, we're lucky to see you back on-screen when we can. Tell me, what drew you to On the Other Hand, Death: A Donald Strachey Mystery ? Well, besides it being a job offer, which is always nice [ laughs ], it just seemed like a really great mystery, and I loved the character. It passed the Kidder "Is it socially acceptable?" test -- you know, does it treat women in the proper way? And it ended up being one of the most joyous experiences I've ever had because the guys who run here! and the director, Ron Oliver, treated me like a princess, so I was a very happy camper making this.

Now, is this your first time playing a gay character? No, I've played a couple gay characters. In fact, I was a gay character in a movie called Never Met Picasso. And what's to play anyway? Someone's sex life is, you know, what happens behind bedroom doors -- the rest of it is you playing a person. So I don't see it as a big leap.

Was there anyone who inspired your characterization of Dorothy Fisher in the film? I based some of it on a very dear friend here in Livingston, and then we watched it together and she cracked up. She said, "Here I am, a gay woman, watching my straight friend portray a gay woman." And I hadn't told her I based it on her [ laughs ]. So it was fun. But you know, the thing that people tend to jump over when they talk about portrayals is that, generally, if the script's well written, the portrayal can be found in the writing. If you look at the writing of this particular piece, which is very good and very sophisticated, she's there.

The Los Angeles Times wrote a review of your performance that reads like a love letter. Did you see it? I did see it, thank you. It was very nice.

Are reviews something you've heeded throughout your career? No, because when you get the bad ones they're devastating. I remember one from my mid 20s that began "Margot Kidder, with her unfortunate thighs," and I remember going "ahhh!" Eh, it's just people writing their opinions.

Let's go back to the beginning. So how'd a nice Canadian girl like you end up in Tinseltown? Well, at a very young age I decided I was going to be a -- I didn't say actress to myself, I said movie star. I was living in mining camps in the Canadian north, and I'd look at these movie magazines, which fascinated me with this wonderful world of these people in Hollywood, and I wanted to be like them. My diaries, my little-girl diaries, are full of things saying "I want to go to Hollywood and be a movie star." And I didn't even know what acting was, but I knew that somehow came with the turf. So I was in school plays and stuff. I was two years ahead of myself in school, so I was at [college] at 16 and then I went, That's not how I'm going to find my fortune, here in Toronto. And from there I went to Hollywood, at 18, and then kept on working. I was too dumb to know that I could possibly fail, because I was so young and naive [ laughs ].

Early in your career you shared a beach house with actress Jennifer Salt at Nicholas Canyon Beach in Malibu that served as a hangout for not-yet-famous filmmakers like Martin Scorcese, Brian De Palma, and Steven Spielberg. That period has become the stuff of Hollywood legend, hasn't it? I guess it has. For us it was just a bunch of broke kids passing the hat for dinner. We didn't think we were unusual, although we had a great degree of cockiness. We were sure we could change the entertainment business and the world and everything else all at once. It was a wonderful time, and we had a great sense of community. After it all sort of fell apart and everybody got successful and went off to do their own thing, I never got that sense of community again until I moved back to Livingston. I think it's an essential in the human experience.

Any anecdote you can share from that particular period that gay readers might get a kick out of? Oh, well, once I dropped mescaline and lost my boyfriend to another man. Oh, no, it wasn't mescaline, it was the love drug. What the hell was the love drug?

Ecstasy? MDA. It wasn't ecstasy because it didn't have speed in it. In those days, the pre-cocaine days, we took drugs only once in a while. The guy who wrote the book [Peter Biskind, author of Easy Riders, Raging Bulls ] makes it seem like we were all loaded all the time, which wasn't true at all. I mean, pot, maybe. We were very innocent. We were deeply innocent people. So we took the love drug to find love or something, and I remember looking over and there was my boyfriend necking away with another man, so the love drug worked for him [ laughs ].

Early in your career you appeared in the TV series Banacek, and there's a moment where you make fun of the fact that George Peppard's detective character goes by one name, "like Superman," which now plays like some kind of cosmic hint at your future. Do you think you were fated to play Lois Lane? No, I don't believe in that shit. I think I went and worked hard and auditioned and got the part because I did a good audition.

How'd it feel taking on a character that had already been in the cultural zeitgeist for over 40 years [in the Superman comics, TV series, and early movies]? I wasn't really aware of that at all. I wasn't allowed to read comics as a kid, and we didn't have TV. So I was way up in the Canadian north, and although I'd heard of Superman, I didn't really know anything about him or Lois Lane -- not till I got the part. Even then my knowledge was sketchy and I based my character on the script and what the writers wrote.

One of my favorite moments in the series is when you punched out that bitch Ursa in Superman II. Was that punch as good for you as it was for audiences? Oh, you liked that? At one point I actually hit her, which was a great to-do on the set. It was by accident, of course. She's fun, Sarah [actress Sarah Douglas]. She's a good girl.

At the end of Superman II, Superman gives Lois a kiss that eliminates her memory of their romantic relationship. Do you think we'd all be better off if our relationships ended with an amnesia kiss? Oh, no! You don't want to forget. I mean, you get to my age and you look back at this tapestry your life has made, which everyone has (unless they've locked themselves in a closet and never gone out), and all those romances, failed or not -- well, they're all failed, I suppose, because they all end -- are part of it. You don't want to forget any of that. Although they do have a pill coming out that erases people's bad memories. God save us all, they want to use it for post-traumatic stress victims. What will the pharmaceutical industry think of next?

In Superman III, Lois Lane appears only briefly before disappearing on a vacation to Bermuda- [ Interrupting ] That's because I called the producers contemptuous human beings in the press!

Well, the movie lost me at that point, because as a young kid I was more interested in following Lois on her Bermudian adventures. Think she had fun? She did. She had a good time [ laughs ].

In 1979 you starred in the horror classic The Amityville Horror, based on the real-life account of the Lutz family, who fled their supposedly haunted Long Island home after 28 days. It was later discovered that they returned on the 29th day to host a garage sale. What do you think -- Amityville horror or Amityville hoax? I don't believe in any of that stuff; I just thought it was a good horror movie. It was a movie [ laughs ]. I don't think people have to think it's real to enjoy it.

At this point, Amityville Horror,Black Christmas,Sisters, and Superman have all been given the remake/reboot treatment. What do you think was special about the 1970s that makes it so difficult for the remakes to replicate the magic of those films? Now, I am not in the movie world anymore, so I don't know what the hell's going on down there -- [movies] are just fun to watch. One of the problems, I think, overall, is that movies cost so much money. I mean, we made movies for $300,000. Now the budgets are as much as that of a small nation. The desire of the studios to make nothing but blockbusters is the problem; you can't take risks on small movies if you're required to make a blockbuster.

I know you've been an outspoken opponent of some of our government's military efforts in the past few decades. Why do you think society celebrates Lois Lane asking tough questions on the big screen but resists when the actress playing her does the same in real life? First of all, it's very American. It's very odd, this notion that artists shouldn't talk about political stuff, as if it doesn't affect us as much as it affects everybody else. In most countries artists are de facto involved in the political process because they often lead the way -- they often write the articles and are at the forefront of a lot of the voices that are objecting to Neanderthal policies, such as the ones we were stuck with for the last eight years. I think it's easier in a comic book to go, Oh, this isn't real.

I understand you recently became a U.S. citizen? I did. I couldn't stand back and watch and not be able to vote any longer. The last eight years were so bad -- it was like being in a nightmare we're just waking up from. People didn't want to look. We suffered a collective amnesia. And now one of the results of that, one of the many, is this hideous economic collapse. I'm working now with our political group -- our website is ; you should go look us up, we're pretty hot! -- and this month we're focusing on our food pantry; at this point every town and city has got to make all politics local.

In the film On the Other Hand, Death, a character says "We don't pick our fights, our fights pick us." You're an inspiration to many for your courageous fight to understand and come to terms with bipolar disorder. How did "coming out of the closet" as a public figure dealing with this very common issue change your life? Well, coming out of the closet was not my idea [ laughs ]. I mean, it was all over the news. It's not like I had any options. But it was great -- it was the uncaging of a secret that was not a secret to anyone who knew me, but it was a big weight off my back. I didn't have to pretend any longer or try desperately to go into hiding when the symptoms hit. One of the things that allowed that piece of my story to be easy was that I got letters from all over the world from people. They all started out "My family doesn't talk about this, so I've never talked about this," and I go, Wait a minute -- there are that many people whose families have this so-called deep dark secret? Why aren't we all talking about it?

Everybody knows somebody who's been through something like this. So it was very easy to speak about it, and now it's just part of my story -- it's not hard at all. It's been almost 14 years now since that happened. No, 13, without an episode of either bipolar or depression or mania, so I think I can safely say I'm cured. I now speak in opposition to conventional psychiatric wisdom that says you have to stay on all these drugs to manage your symptoms for the rest of your life, even if you feel like a vegetable. I think that's a hideous, hideous extension of the prejudice against people who suffer from so-called mental illnesses, and it's one of the great travesties in our society and it's all done so the pharmaceutical industry can make extraordinary profits and I find it obscene.

Well, Margot, you truly are an American iconaEUR| You angel! I just lasted. I just got older and lasted this long, that's all.

If you could tell the young girl from Canada all that lay before her, would she have believed you? Yes, she would have when she was young [ laughs ]. You know, I was only in Hollywood a week when I got the ingenue lead in a big movie Norman Jewison directed [ Gaily, Gaily ]. I was so naive it never occurred to me I should realize how lucky I was. It took me until my mid 30s to realize, You really lucked out, Kidder, instead of going, Oh, yeah, this is what's supposed to happen. That's the wonderful thing about being young: You don't have a clue!

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