Sunday, August 19, 2018

"Superman II" interview: Robin Pappas

In Superman II (1980), actress Robin Pappas played Alice, a Daily Planet employee.

She had only one line.

But even a small role in an iconic film is big enough to yield fascinating behind-the-scenes nuggets, especially with someone who has a big personality. Ergo, an interview with Robin:

What were you doing professionally prior to Superman II

Before, during, and after Superman II, I was a young jobbing actor, working in repertory theaters around Great Britain, generally enjoying the hi-diddly-dee lifestyle. The only bit of film work I'd done previously was in my first term at RADA [Royal Academy of Dramatic Art] in early '72—we students were used as extras in O Lucky Man! We got paid something like three guineas for the day and it was simultaneously thrilling and boring, mostly kinda wonderful to be part of the "magic of movie-making." [I also had] a small role in The Shining, but that's another story. Just to be in a movie, in any capacity, was a major kick.

Okay, you can't just casually toss out "I was in The Shining" as an aside without consequence. Tell me about it!

I played a nurse in an end scene, which was there for the LA and NY previews, then Stanley Kubrick deleted it, supposedly on advice from Warner's. I understand he destroyed the footage. That seems a bit extreme—I've always felt it would've been a better film with me in it. Ha ha, no really, I preferred the original ending. Jack Nicholson was not around [when I shot], but I got the impression he's a lot of fun on set; no Scatman Crothers, either—my scene was in hospital after the labyrinth scene. Shelley Duvall was super friendly, a very pleasant and down-to-earth person, Barry Nelson polite and easygoing, and young Danny just a normal kid who happened to be a really good actor. There were many takes, and Kubrick struck me as quiet, thoughtful, almost monk-like in his precision.

Back to Superman II…how did you get the role?

As I remember, first an interview with Mary Selway, the casting director, then a brief meeting with Richard Lester, the director, which looking back seems a lot of bother for them for a bit part player.

Were you a fan of Superman or superheroes?

As a child, comics-wise, I loved them all, but particularly the females. In film terms, I'd gone to the first Superman with my sister's five young sons and was tickled to see a couple of acting pals in small parts. The theater was packed and we had to sit in the front row. It was great, so immediate; at certain moments we were cheering and jumping out of our seats with mindless feel-good patriotic fervor, John Williams's music whipping us into a rah-rah frenzy. 

Any funny anecdotes about your Superman experience? 

I don't know that it's that funny, but we'd been burgled the night before. A bunch of us RADA actors were living down the street from the academy in a huge Victorian. The gypsies would occasionally come knocking and want money to tell your fortune. If you refused, you were liable to get a curse, so I always gave them something, and usually got an intriguing verbal bit in return—fascinating how clever at reading people fortune-tellers are. What I didn't realize was this routine was often also a gambit to size up a potential hit, which is what I think happened that night. We were all home and they managed to work around us, very deft they were. Cleaned me out and left a nail file and pair of scissors, which I'm told is a kind of symbolic intimidation tactic. Upshot I didn't sleep much that night, which left me dozing off the next day, sitting upright in a chair between takes.

Is there one story about your Superman experience that you tell more than any other?

Oh yeah. My one and only line was "Catch ya later, Clark." [On] the first take I guess I was thinking "Clark Kent" and the line came out "Catch ya later, Clunt." Very embarrassing.

What was your impression of Christopher Reeve? 

He seemed thoroughly engrossed, seriously committed to getting his character right, from throwing that hat onto the peg to working out his motivation, to such a degree that while he was talking to Dick Lester, I jumped in with some idiot remark like "I think he just feels left out and wants to be liked," which was not appreciated. He shut me down with a quick "Do you mind? I'm having a private conversation with the director." Also, he had a little battery whirly fan he took out of his pocket between takes to cool down. I backed off, sat down, and went back to sleep.

Margot Kidder? 

She did poke her head around her dressing room door at one point, as we little people were walking down the hall to our dressing rooms, and, after clocking us, ducked back in. 

Gene Hackman? 

As far as I know, he wasn't there that day.

Memories of any other actors on set?

Leueen Willoughby I knew from our time together with Cambridge Theatre Company. I shared a car to studio with the actor playing Jimmy Olsen, Marc McClure. He was very sweet. I was sorry there wasn't more of him in the final film. Sarah Douglas was a doll and invited us into her dressing room, offered us her phone if we wanted to call America, etc.; very generous. 

My absolute favorite memory of the day was meeting Jackie Cooper, a legend from the golden days—how they threatened to kill his dog to get him to cry for [the 1931 film] The Champ, as a teenager being seduced by Joan Crawford, Our Gang for chrissake! This man was so real in the midst of such artifice, so genuine and interested and polite, gritty as a truck driver—complaining about coming over on the Concorde and how the food was shitty ("We can put a man on the moon and we still can't get a decent meal on an airplane"). Very friendly, gave us a ride over to the commissary in his car. I'm not sure if I watch his performance admiringly because he was so nice to me or [because he was] such a delightful actor—probably both. 

Did you attend the premiere, and if so, what was that like? 

Lord no, wasn't invited!

Did your opinion of the movie change after it opened? 

Strangely, I was less excited about Superman II— didn't think it worked as well as the first, for whatever reason, and there wasn't enough of me in it.

Have you been interviewed before about this specifically? 

No I have not. Thank you for asking.

What was your favorite acting gig? 

Mother Courage [in the play Mother Courage and Her Children] because it's impossibly hard and Madame Ernestine Von Liebedich (Little Mary Sunshine) because it was such fun. The best gigs are in my mind.

What are you doing these days?

Feels like I'm working harder, but maybe that's just the nature of getting older…too much responsibility! By nature I'm a bum.

Where do you live?

In the picturesque Pocono Mountains, PA. Wish the winters were milder, otherwise it's lovely.

Tell me about your children/family.

Hey, everybody's healthy. I'm the luckiest woman in the world.

Have you participated in any Superman-related event (reunion, convention, documentary, etc.)? If not, would you be open to meeting fans and signing autographs at an event like San Diego Comic-Con?

Would love to. If only I could charge $50 a photo like Carrie Fisher.

Are you still in touch with anyone from the cast?

No, and it's depressing how many people have died already.

When was the last time you saw a member of the cast, and was it on purpose or by chance?

I don't believe I've seen anyone from the Superman II shoot since that day.

When was the last time you watched Superman II? How did you think it held up? 

It's a fun movie. I think it works on its own terms, but I do sense a certain disjointedness—even the Thin Man films suffer from sequel syndrome. 

Do you have an opinion on Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut?

I've never seen it, so can't say. Of course I have loyalty to Dick Lester—this man directed A Hard Day's Night! But again, when I met Lester to get approval for the gig, he was (like Jackie Cooper) so unpretentious and self-deprecating. I told him I admired his work and he came back with "There are so many people involved in making a film it's ridiculous to give any one person the credit." I couldn't help but be impressed by his humility and intelligence.

Do you have any mementos from the experience such as set photos, a script, or anything from the set?

That's painful. I had the scripts from The ShiningSuperman II, Chariots of Fire (didn't have one for Reds)…but, along with play scripts, the pile became huge and heavy and I think I threw them out even before I left England—dumb move.

What did you think when you first heard from me? 

"Oh god, not more homework."

How do you look back on your Superman experience? 

I've embarrassed myself so many times I'd like to think I learned something…what can you do? Try to get smarter. Working on a film is always sort of thrilling because it's pretty glamorous as work goes, and ultimately it's about creating magic, but it is tedious and fragmented and you can feel like you're in a really nice prison, which is why it's wonderful when you happily connect with the people you're confined with. That's entertainment!

If the experience changed your life in any way, how? 

Well, yeah, for most actors, one is unemployed more often than not, so if you're lucky, it's kind of like having an affair for the duration of the job…then it's over. But you always remember that special relationship, day, tension, scene, moment—and the beauty of film is it's in the can forever. That is, if you don't get completely cut out of the movie, sob sob. Thus, like Cinderella, it changes your life, and then you change back.

Anything you'd like to add?

If you get offered a film role, do it.

See also: my interviews with cast members of Superman: The Movie.

1 comment:

thedarknight said...

That was very cool. Glad you could catch her for the interview, and she gave great advice at the end. It was really interesting to hear how Reeve actually practiced the hat toss, and I liked how they were peeved of her input attempts haha, it's a lot of stress and he's a consummate actor while donner has pressure, thanks for posting this!