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Christopher Reeve


Interviewer: Francesco Scavullo

Scavullo on Men

Mr. Reeve: I have to make one apology for myself - I'm afraid I'm not much of a dresser. I wear very strange sizes. I'm thin, and yet broad-shouldered, so nothing fits. I have to have everything tailor-made for me, every jacket cut. Frankly, however, clothes have never been that important to me. I go around in jeans, in sweaters. I've had this sweater since I was fourteen. I've just been cast as Superman, and one of the PR guys said they wanted me to make one of the Ten Best Dressed next year. I said, "You're going to have to do a lot of work."

As far as I'm concerned there is Superman and then there's Christopher Reeve, and I'm not interested in having them merge. What I'm interested in is acting.

I'm twenty-four; I've been working since I was fourteen; I studied at Juilliard. I wasn't Superman before and I don't plan to be Superman after.

Mr. Scavullo: Were there any feats you had to accomplish as Superman in your screen test?

No. Didn't have to knock anybody down or leap over any buildings. The hardest thing I had to do was jump off a balcony at about four feet while keeping my hair in place and speaking at the same time. But in the film there will be an enormous amount of stunt work - flying and fighting especially - much of which I will do myself.

What do you do when you get up in the morning?

Take a shower, shave. I use soap and a brush. Just from habit I've always used Ivory soap. I use Head and Shoulders shampoo. I brush my teeth with whatever I find at the drugstore. Then I face the day.

As an actor you have to wear make-up. Does you skin suffer?

I was on TV for two years on Love of Life--I quit when my contract was up. But the make-up didn't bother my skin at all. I would just clean it really well afterwards. Soap and water, then Albolene cream - let that soak for a while - and then soap and water again. In terms of my skin condition, I have no regular program of lotions or treatments. Every now and then I look at my face and say, "My God, it's getting really dry," and hunt all over the place for a bottle of skin cream, that Vaseline Intensive Care stuff, and just slop it on.

Do you like to drink?

I don't really care about drinking, though I will have a couple of drinks. Now, last night I really tied one on; that's rare for me, but it was somebody special.

To relax I play the piano. I've played for about ten or twelve years. I can do an hour every night, and sort of drain away the day. I also find that a nap in the afternoon is essential. I come home every day - I don't care what happens. If I have to be at the theater at seven-thirty, I take the phone off the hook and I sleep from four-thirty to six. I need to recharge my battery. I want to go to the theater feeling that it's the beginning rather than the end of the day. I get to the theater very early, and basically I do an Alexander technique, which I studied with Judy Liebowitz at Juilliard. It is a way of releasing tension in the body, through the joints. If you think of the body as a well-oiled machine that runs on very precise ball bearings, it gets them functioning smoothly. It gives you a kind of liquid freedom from muscle tension. What tension does is restrict the joints from moving naturally; you can see it in the way people sit sometimes with their neck jammed down or stand with their knees locked.

What I do every day before the performance is lie down on the floor, widen the back and length: you know, the head gets back up on the shoulders, the shoulders drop down into place, the voice settles, and you get ready to go! The first time I did Alexander I stretched out about an inch and a half. I used to have a psychological thing about being tall; I was sort of apologizing for my height. I've gotten over that.

But other than that, for my head, I fly glider planes to relax. I also have my own airplane. I simply drop out of life, seven or eight thousand feet up in the sky. I go wherever I want to go. I usually take friends, though when I'm really down and out I go up solo. Otherwise I like to share it with people. I usually take a friend and a thermos full of chicken noodle soup. There are little tiny airports all over the country, where you can just drop in. I flew back from California this summer, just puddle-jumping from place to place.

I find the same release in sailing. I've sailed all my life; I'm very grateful to my father for teaching me to sail from the time I was four or five. I grew up racing in international competitions. I'm very lucky - you see many people who don't have ways to get out - I've always had the means, I've always known people, there always has been a way out for me.

Are your parents rich?

No. My father's a professor, a novelist and a translator. My mother's a newspaper reporter. My stepfather's a stockbroker, which is not exactly the most secure business these days. It probably sounds like I play with a lot of toys, but I don't spend a lot of money. I have a tiny apartment. I live like a squirrel, because sailing and flying mean more to me. The two years I spent in the soaps has pretty much given me the means to do what I want to do.

Do you have a girl friend?

I'll pass on all that. There's something going on, but it's very private.

What kind of people attract you?

I certainly don't like fat women. I do have a preference for tall women; they just make me feel more comfortable. I don't like to feel like a giraffe. I also tend to be attracted to people who aren't wasting time in their lives, those who have figured out something that they want to be. I have very little patience with people who just lie back and let life happen to them. The opposite can also be a problem. I remember one of my early girl friends, who will probably end up as the first woman Justice on the Supreme Court. She didn't really leave me in the dust, but what happened between us was that we were too competitive.

Do you agree with the statement that Truman Capote made once that actors are stupid people?

I think that you can't be a good actor and be stupid; to be an actor is to understand enough about other people so that you can represent them.

Do you want to be a star?

Not a star. I'm sure you've heard this eight million times, but I want to be an actor first. If I become a star, terrific. But that hasn't entered my head yet. In a year I might be sitting here with a mohair jacket and cigarette holder and a driver waiting outside - talk to me now before I turn into a complete schmuck.

Could you?

No, though the last year it might have been possible. Last year I was really a pretty insecure person. If life is a roller coaster, I was on the downgrade. But this break came very early in my life. I've always secretly thought that I would get a break, but I didn't think it would hit until I was around thirty. I really feel ready for it.

Does anything worry you?

No. The only thing I'm afraid of is . . . I would hate to be a really old man. I would hate to have my second childhood. I don't want to be reduced to eating Gerber's Baby Food, attended by a nurse around the clock. My grandfather is in that state. He's in a nursing home, just hanging on. All he can remember is World War I. As far as I'm concerned, he doesn't exist anymore. It may sound callous, but I don't want to see that person. When I see very old people I get a very uneasy feeling in my stomach. I'm also afraid of anything that has to do with blood, and dissection, and medical things like that.

I'm afraid of . . . I used to be afraid of, I'm doing better now - one major fear is: I want to really make sure that my professional life and my personal life meet in a happy place. I don't want to be a successful person who has to compensate because he can't keep his personal life together, and at the same time I wouldn't give up what's going for me now for somebody else. I'm going to have to find out how to put those together. That's one major, central anxiety - how's it going to work out? I used to think that in a few years I'd get married, and I'd want a little place in the country. Now the whole possibilities of my life are different. So I wonder, how am I going to keep it together? Am I going to believe in different things? I would rather look forward and think positively and accept the experience than back into it. I've got a choice to dive in find out how the water is, or to stand at the end of the pool, dipping my foot in, backing into it. I've backed into a lot of situations in my life. I backed into the soap opera. I backed into the play--A Matter of Gravity--wriggling and squirming all the time. I could have backed into Superman, too, but I feel better just to say, "Here we go!"

Do you fear death?

I do. It's funny, when I was a kid, around eleven or twelve, I was so afraid of dying that I wanted to die so I wouldn't have to die. It hits me every now and again - I'm buying cookies in the grocery store or I'm talking on the phone or looking out the window, and suddenly a little voice inside says, "You're going to go away one day, you're not going to be here, so take a good look." And I just shut him up, and he goes away.

Do you watch television?

I'm really pretty allergic to television. I used to watch myself on the soap opera: I loved to do it and then go home and watch it. I learned a lot from it.

What do you think of soap operas?

I don't want to put them down, because the training for the actor is terrific. My reservation about the soaps is the blandness, their calculated inertia, the way in which they move nowhere.

What about Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman?

I think Mary Hartman's a disgrace. It's ludicrous that it's so close to the reality of American life that it can be that important. I get physically ill when I watch that show.

Are there any men or woman you admire?

One of the things that's had the most to do with my life is a tremendous respect for my father, with whom I've gone through the whole gamut of feelings. Starting from intense hate and competitiveness - he used to treat me as if absolutely nothing I could do was right, whereas my mother treated me like everything I did was right. I knew they were both wrong. You know, I'm between two families; I have a Princeton family and a Connecticut family, and it's great. When the water gets too hot in one tub I'll go to the other, back and forth. My father's my best friend in the world. He's like my brother; we are just yin and yang.

Also, I respect Richard Chamberlain for what's he's done with his career, for getting out of Dr. Kildare and going to work on himself as an actor.

Do you have any secret desire for a particular role?

I think the world can be spared my Hamlet. The first thing I'm going to do after Superman will be totally nonheroic, nonwonderful, not larger-than-life, because I've always been allowed to play those parts before. In the theater in New York I played a very frail, introverted, shy grandson of Katharine Hepburn; the leader of Hitler's personal bodyguard in a play about Hitler; and a young farmer from Wisconsin. In the same year, in the same city.

Do you ever take drugs?

Absolutely never. There's a psychological connection there; of three very important people in my life one died and two were very, very badly messed up because of what they went through with drugs when we were growing up together. I'm pretty much a balanced person, anyway; I don't tend to be sucked into what other people are trying.

Do you have a lot of friends?

Yes. I used not to - not their fault, my fault - because I couldn't accept them. A lot of people offered me friendship, and my reaction was, "What's it going to cost me?" And I realized that what I was doing was saying, "I like who I am, so I'm going to hold on to it. I'm not going to give any away." And what happens is, friendship dies; it dries up and dies. I've since realized that the more you give away, the more you have.

1977 Random House


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