Wednesday, September 5, 2018

"Superman II" interview: Leueen Willoughby

In Superman II (1980), actress Leueen Willoughby played Leueen (yes, same name), a Daily Planet employee.

A small role, one of her few lines is one of the most fun to quote: "The big one's just as strong as Superman!" It's made even more memorable because it's followed by Lois shoving her which, alas, is not in the only clip I found online:

What were you doing professionally prior to Superman II?

I was working in theatre: repertory at the Bristol Old Vic and Farnham Repertory theatre.

around the time of Superman II

How did you get the role? 

Through the casting director.

Were you a fan of Superman or superheroes?

Not really. I was familiar with Superman but not exactly a fan.

Any funny anecdotes about your Superman experience?

There was a day when the set (the E stage at Pinewood Studios) was getting very hot and the Director of Photography kept saying they needed to turn light off to reduce heat. No one listened to him and the fire sprinklers went off, pouring water everywhere. That got all of us an extended break from shooting. I think we all just went home that day.

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

Yes! I tell the story about how Christopher Reeve decided he was going to do a bit of funny business with his Clark Kent hat—taking it off and fumbling it onto a coat rack. During a break in shooting, he worked and worked on getting it just perfect. When it came time to shoot the scene, he had it down perfectly and made it look like a clumsy Clark Kent move.  

What was your impression of Christopher Reeve?

I thought he was a very nice man. He seemed to be polite, pleasant, and, despite being exceptionally handsome, not the least bit egotistical. [The] accident later in his life was tragic. When he said he would walk again, I thought that if anyone could succeed, it would be him. I based that on his discipline and work ethic as an actor. But sadly, it was not to be. 

Margot Kidder?

I think Margot Kidder was having a difficult time in her personal life while we were shooting. 

Gene Hackman?

He had an end date for the time he was available to work on Superman. On his last day, some special effects things got bogged down, as often happened. He was sitting on top of a row of filing cabinets, a relaxed Lex Luthor, reclining, feet up. Every once in a while, he would say in quite a loud voice "5:20 [pm] and it's adios for me." I had to smile at that. However, it did not speed up anything. 

Memories of any other actors on set?

One day we were all waiting while some special effects were being set up. The "bad guys" were sitting opposite me. Terence Stamp said to no one in particular "I haven't worked for four years and now I'm here making an idiot of myself." He said this, I think, because he was having a lot of trouble with the flying. The harness was fitted around the actors' midsection and they had to balance themselves when flying. He was having trouble crashing through the windows of the Daily Planet and landing on his feet. I think that was why he felt he was making an idiot of himself. I wanted to tell him he was not and that one of the stunt guys could probably give him some help, but he was a famous actor and I was a bit part player so I said nothing. I regretted that later. 

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

I did not attend the premiere. 

Did your opinion of the movie change after it opened?

Not really. I [last saw it] maybe ten years ago and it does look a bit dated because computer generated special effects were not available when the film was made. 

Have you been interviewed before about this specifically?

I have been asked a few questions about Superman as part of a longer interview, but not a specific Superman interview.

What was your favorite acting gig?

That is a tough one! I loved playing Mrs. Molloy in The Matchmaker in the West End in London. I also did nine months in The Rocky Horror Show in London and that was a hoot. Later in my career, I played Lady Macbeth, and that was memorable as well. 

What are you doing these days?

I gave up acting over 30 years ago. I then worked in the financial markets as an equities trader. I retired when I was 50. I now ride and compete in dressage with my horse Biasini. I ride with him at the FEI level, an international level. But I am just an amateur rider! I also have a blog, Horse Addict, [which consists of posts] about my own riding, interviews with international riders, reviews of horse books, reviews of horse products, and posts on horse history and photography. Next week I will be going to the World Equestrian Games in Tryon, NC. This is a huge championship with 70 countries taking part and about 1,000 horses. There are eight disciplines: jumping, eventing, dressage, endurance, vaulting, driving, reining, and para-dressage. I have media accreditation for the games and will be there to cover the dressage and to take photos of the dressage competitors for my blog.

Leueen and Biasini competing at the Global Dressage Festival, 
Wellington, FL, March 2018; photo credit Susan Stickle

Where do you live?

I live in Southern Ontario, Canada, just north of Toronto. 

Tell me about your children/family.

My husband used to work for the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) and is now retired. We met when I was still acting and came to Toronto to take a leading role in a CBC drama about a woman with breast cancer. We have two children who are now adults. Our son is 32 and lives in London. Our daughter is 30 and lives about two hours from us. She is married with a four-year-old son and two stepdaughters. Both of our children have full-time careers involving marketing and social media. 

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?

I have not. I once went to a Star Trek convention in Toronto as our kids were Trekkies. I thought it was a lot of fun. 

Are you still in touch with anyone from the cast?

No, I'm not. I have lost touch with most of my acting friends.

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

I honestly cannot remember. 

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

[NOTE: Leueen's "big one's just as strong" scene is not in this version of the film.]

The Richard Donner cut? I did not know such a thing existed. Richard Lester directed Superman II and I did not know that Dick Donner [who directed Superman: The Movie] had a cut. However, I do remember that Richard Donner was "Dick" Donner and Richard Lester was always "Richard, never Dick." That's what they used to say.

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

No. I wish I did. 

What did you think when you first heard from me?

I googled you to see who you were. I get a lot of requests for autographs on small collectors' cards for Superman; some are from okay people but others are from people on the fringe. I wanted to make sure you were not "on the fringe."

How do you look back on your Superman experience?

It was a very interesting experience. It was a chance to be on the set of a big film and see the workings of it. I learned a lot about the process of filmmaking that stood me in good stead for later film and TV work.

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

It was an interesting education about film and film actors but not exactly "life-changing."

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