AOL Online Chat with Christopher Reeve

Tuesday, May 1, 2001 at 8pm ET

It's been 22 years since the original 'Superman' was released in theaters; now all four movies of the series have been released on DVD. To celebrate the release, the 'Superman' star himself, Christopher Reeve, chatted about the films and the special DVD footage. See what he had to say below! Scroll down to read the full transcript...



Superman DVD Host: Well, welcome, everyone, to AOL Live. In celebration of the special 'Superman' collector DVD releases, we bring to you none other than the star of all four of those films, Mr. Christopher Reeve. Thank you for joining all of us tonight.

Christopher Reeve: My pleasure. Hello, everybody.

Host: It's been 22 years since the original 'Superman: The Movie'. Can you believe it?

Christopher Reeve: Yeah. That's amazing. It's half my lifetime ago, which is pretty amazing.

Host: You know, I wanted to start with my question first.

Christopher Reeve: Sure.

Host: I can remember watching that opening title sequence and never really experiencing anything quite like it as a youngster -- watching that up on the big screen. What was it like, premiere night for you, when you were all sitting there as the cast and crew, watching 'Superman' premiere for the first time? And what was the reaction from the crowd?

Christopher Reeve: Well, we didn't finish shooting the film until late October of 1978, and it premiered on December 10, 1978. So, literally, they were cutting the negative and doing the final dubs in that very short period of time. So there was no chance to preview the movie. 'Superman' never had a preview. And the premiere was in Washington at the Kennedy Center and President Carter was there, and important world leaders. A huge audience. And that was the first time I saw the film. And with that crowd at the premiere in Washington, it was absolutely amazing. It got a standing ovation at the end. And I'll never forget that moment when Superman flies for the first time at the Fortress of Solitude. That got tremendous applause, that Superman had finally taken off.

Host: You won't forget it. We won't forget it, either. Let's take a question from an online fan. MauriceSpaceCwby says: What was it like to be one of the very first people to wear such a recognized and popular symbol of American culture?

Christopher Reeve: Superman, since the 1930s, has been a very important figure in our culture. In the 1930s, he was a beacon of hope during the Depression. In the 1940s, soldiers in the trenches read Superman comics as a morale booster. And in the 1950s and 1960s, he was a larger-than-life hero in a difficult time. And then in the 1970s and early 1980s was more of a romantic figure and someone you could count on, a friend. And so I feel that the character is more important than the actor who plays him. But I feel that it was my privilege to be the custodian of the character in the late 1970s and early 1980s. And I... that was my time to be Superman, and if there were ever to be more Superman films in the future, that Superman should reflect our culture at the time. But I think he will always endure.

Host: You know, one thing that I think is so fascinating -- something that everybody can always comment -- that you were so perfect in that role. In fact, people, you know, saying that you reminded them of a Cary Grant. It was a perfect match. I wonder, was it really that easy of a fit? Were you getting this role as Superman just that easy?

Christopher Reeve: Well, I only got a meeting with the director after the casting director, Lynn Stalmaster, had put my picture back on the pile about 10 times. Because the producers and the director, Dick Donner, they kept looking at my picture, and I was tall but very skinny. And so they kept putting my picture and resume on the bottom of the pile. And finally they were getting desperate, and Lynn Stalmaster persuaded them to meet with me. And I came in for a meeting with Dick Donner and Lynn Stalmaster. Next thing I knew, I was asked to go to London for a screen test. And I wore a Superman costume that they must have gotten from a Halloween store or some Woolworth's or something, because it was, you know, really, really not right. And I looked very skinny -- very skinny. One of the pleasures you'll find in the DVD is that you will see my screen test, both as Superman and as Clark Kent. And you'll also see the screen test of all the women that tried out for Lois Lane. When you see my screen test, you'll see that the creative team made quite a leap, and... a leap of faith in casting me in the part. But I think one of the reasons that I got the part was because I thought it was so impossible, that I didn't get nervous. And that actually ended up helping me.

Host: Another online guest, KellyAnnduno: While playing Superman, did you ever feel like Superman? And I wonder, maybe this is a good lead-in for you to talk about how unglamorous glamorous Hollywood can be in doing some of these films and working hard at Superman.

Superman II DVD Christopher Reeve: Well, to tell you the truth, as an actor, I always concentrate very hard when I'm working, and I always do a great deal of research for every part. But there wasn't much research to do for Superman. The challenge was to transform my skinny body into a believable shape for the part. But I must say that when I was in shape and wearing the costume, I used to think that if they were to cut the wires during a flying scene, there wouldn't be a problem, I'd just keep going. So I was dangerous to myself and others, because when I had the suit on, I just totally bought into it. And I think that shows on the screen, that I was never making fun of the character, even having to say difficult lines such as, "I'm here to fight for truth, justice and the American way." I tried to make those real concepts instead of a slogan. So yes, the effects were difficult, they were dangerous, but I was 24, and it was a golden opportunity. Now I look back and realize that I was taking a lot of risks. But I felt that I could fly better than the stunt people. So I always asked to do all my own stunt work. They let me, because I guess a 24-year-old is expendable. They can always find somebody else.

Host: Now, of course, there is a total of four films made between 1978 and 1987.

Christopher Reeve: Right.

Host: A lot of [technological] improvements then. And LiveFrmNY1 wanted to ask: Mr. Reeve, Adam here. The special effects in the 'Superman' films are groundbreakers for their time. I'd like to know what you think of modern digital effects, especially the possibility of computer-generated figures replacing human actors.

Christopher Reeve: No, I don't think that will happen. Yes, there will always be fantastic animated films, you know, like 'Aladdin' or the films that the studios were putting out that are -- that have actors speaking for animated characters. But I think we're always going to want to see people that we can identify with on the screen. However, the special effects, just to give you one example, that most of the flying was done on wires descended from a crane. And the wires had to be painted by hand exactly the right color for the background. And if the color was wrong and the wires showed, we had to retake the shot, because it was too expensive to hand-paint the wires out later in the laboratory, frame by frame. Now, today, with the use of computers, you can make the wires absolutely disappear every time. And if we'd had that technology in 1977, we could have shot the whole movie in five months instead of a year and a half.

Host: In the DVD that's coming out -- the DVDs that are coming out, do we get to see any of these making of the special effects that you're talking about?

Christopher Reeve: Yes. You see the screen tests. You see the special effects. You see the -- how we flew, in great detail. There are about four or five different ways we did the flying. You see the miniatures, like of Krypton blowing up, how all that is done. It's really fascinating. I just saw all the material day before yesterday. I was there and I remember it all vividly, but it was really fascinating to see it again and to have it explained to you by the experts.

Host: Experts being Dick Donner and --

Christopher Reeve: No, the people like Roy Field, who was in charge of optical effects. There were different units in charge of different kinds of effects, and you see all of that clearly on the DVD.

Host: There were 20 people just to do the hair, right?

Superman III DVD Christopher Reeve: No. No, the very difficult thing to do, actually, was when we were flying in the studio, that it was hard to keep the cape moving well. So there were -- you'll see how we did that. You know, all kinds of ways to keep that cape moving.

Host: You know, just looking at some of the people that were involved. I mean, Richard Pryor, Valerie Perrine. I mean, it's just so fantastic. And Karl Minehan wants to know: Who in the Superman cast and crew is the biggest joker, and/or what was the funniest story from any of these productions? Is there one or two that stick out?

Christopher Reeve: Gosh. I would say that the biggest joker was Dick Donner, the director. We always called him the biggest kid on the block, because he had such energy and such enthusiasm. And he talked in the DVD about his feeling of being responsible to keep the ball up in the air. You know, there were some 200 people working on this movie over a very long period of time, and he had to keep everybody pumped up and into it. So I don't remember anything right off the top of my head. But you'll see, when you watch the DVD, you'll see how much fun he was and what a great leader he was. And it was because of him the film has kind of a... the kind of energy and spirit it has.

Host: Let's take another online question. Tucker41883 asks: What made the kryptonite glow in the movie? It was always this eerie green stuff.

Christopher Reeve: Right. That's simply a piece of -- you know, plastic with a gelled light inside it. And when I'd be holding it, I was -- I had a battery pack in my back and wires running down to the crystal object, and I just held it up. So that was really quite simple. Just a mechanical effect.

Host: MailElmo wants to know: Have you ever thought of writing another book? And we know that you had your hand in the 'Superman 4,' in regards to partially writing that film. But are we going to see any more work from you?

Christopher Reeve: I don't think I'll be writing another book in the near future. But I certainly -- when and if I feel I have something to contribute, then I will. The question now is, how hard is this journey that I'm on, that I've been on for the last six years. How far that will go? I'm very optimistic. The progress in research has been unbelievably good. And I really am not putting any expectations or limitations on what my future will be. But I do believe that, in the not-too-distant future, that I will be on my feet again, and certainly, if that happens, I would think there's another book to talk about that and the whole process that led up to it.

Host: And there's a lot of chatter online right now, too, from people saying, well, that means 'Superman 5' with you. That's what they want.

Christopher Reeve: They want 'Superman 5' with me?

Host: Absolutely. With you starring in it.

Christopher Reeve: That's a wonderful idea. But don't forget, Superman is permanently 30. Always has been and always will be. And I've said good-bye to 30. Unfortunately.

Host: You know, I think since you last spoke with AOL, you were mentioning your cause and what's going on in your life. The Christopher Reeve foundation merged with the American foundation. Can you tell us a little bit about that merger?

Christopher Reeve: The Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation -- and you can reach us on the Net by going to paralysis.org, that takes you to our Web site, and you can learn about the latest progress in research. You can learn about what we're doing at the foundation. There's updates on what I'm doing and the plans that the foundation is making. So I invite everybody to go visit the site. And if you feel you could make a contribution, however large, to help us, that would be greatly appreciated.

Host: It would also be good to note that we are pointing to that link, if everyone goes to the AOL Live promotion, they'll be able to go directly there via AOL Live.

Christopher Reeve: Oh, that's great.

Host: Also, they can learn the answer to how many neuroscientists does it take to change a light bulb.

Superman IV DVD Christopher Reeve: That's right.

Host: So if they search, they'll get that answer. We'll take another question here. Well, AOLJanaM wants to know: What did you think of the special DVD footage? You did mention a little bit, but I mean, this was just as exciting for you, then, as it might be for just general fans of the film, to see this footage?

Christopher Reeve: Yes, it was, because, you know, it's such a long time ago, and of course when the movie comes on cable now, I don't watch it because I've seen it so many times. But the DVD version, the quality is unbelievable. The picture has been enhanced, and the sound really is theater-quality sound. So when I watch on the DVD, I felt the same excitement as when I saw it the first time. And I'm amazed that the film holds up after all this time. Of course, everybody has 1970s-style hair, but other than that, I find that the movie is just really timeless, and after all of these years, it still holds up. And I'm really, really glad about that, and that new people are -- you know, kids are finding the movie and discovering it for the first time, that the movie lives on. That's great, particularly for me in this situation. You know, I'm not flying around at the moment, so to know that people are enjoying the movie still, and that new people are finding it, really makes me feel good.

Host: Another question from a fan is: Some actors worry about getting typecast when they play a larger-than-life character. Would you be upset if 100 years from now people were still to associate you with Superman?

Christopher Reeve: Not at all, as long as they also recognize some of the other work I've done. Because, for example, I did another movie that people are very fond of called 'Somewhere in Time,' which just celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, and with a DVD and also a new theatrical release. But that's a movie that has also stood the test of time. So I feel grateful for that, and also for the movies that I've done with Merchant-Ivory, 'The Bostonians' and 'Remains of the Day,' which I think was a really fine film.

Host: Don't forget 'Deathtrap.'

Christopher Reeve: 'Deathtrap.' I also liked the movie I did with Morgan Freeman called 'Street Smart.' So I feel actually that 'Superman' brought me many opportunities, rather than closing a door in my face.

Host: Now, there was a time in between 'Superman,' the original film, and 'Superman 2,' it looks like just a couple years. Were you in production with 'Somewhere in Time'? Did that happen after 'Superman 2'? Or was there a time in between these films where you just were Superman, and no one could picture you as anyone else?

Christopher Reeve: Oh, no. The way it went was, we shot 'Superman 1' and a good portion of 'Superman 2' at the same time -- we shot 'Superman' and a good portion of 'Superman 2' at the same time. That took us through October of 1978. Then in May of 1979, through July or early August of 1979, I did 'Somewhere in Time.' Then in September of 1979, I went back to London to finish 'Superman 2.' Then in 1980, I did a play on Broadway for seven months. So it's all mixed up between. And it was tough on me, because I had to keep changing my body. I had to put on weight then take it off. It was particularly tough when I did 'Deathtrap,' because I wanted to be very skinny for that. But losing the weight from 'Superman 2,' it was a big challenge. I really had to go to the gym a lot. And I really had to watch my diet. But these are exciting challenges for an actor.

Host: MlCHlGAN would like to know: Can we expect to see some more film projects from you in the near future? And if you are currently working on a project, could you tell us what it is?

Christopher Reeve: Yes, I'm both producing and directing a project for ABC, but I can't say what it is right now, because we don't know whether there's going to be a writers' strike or an actors' strike, and whether or not the project will survive if there's a very long strike. So rather than say I'm definitely going to do this, I've got to wait and see. We just finished the second draft of the script. I'm very happy with it. Now we're just going to have to wait and see what happens with the union.

Host: Well, we have time for only one more question. We did an instant live poll on AOL Live, and 61 percent of people chatting with us today chose the first 'Superman' film as their favorite, and we'd like to know which of the four was your favorite film to do.

Christopher Reeve: Also 'Superman,' because that's where the magic began.

Host: OK. Well, excellent. Thank you so much for sharing everything that you have about all of these wonderful films. And it was our pleasure having you join us tonight on AOL Live.

Christopher Reeve: Thank you.

Copyright 2001 America Online, Inc. All Rights Reserved.