Exclusive 2005 Cult TV Superhero Celebration Superhero Expo Coverage

Part 4: Ursa Major -- One-on-One with Sarah Douglas

Date: February 15, 2005

By: Barry Freiman

This is part four of a series of exclusive interviews and stories from the 2005 Cult TV Superhero Celebration Superhero Expo. Hosted by DG Promotions, the Superhero Expo featured the unveiling of "Christopher Reeve as Superman" an eerily lifelike and beautiful sculpture unveiled by Sculptors Bob Dullam and Bob Causey.

Sarah Douglas Sarah Douglas portrayed the evil Phantom Zone villainess, Ursa, in "Superman" and "Superman II". Douglas played in the DCU twice more after Ursa. She returned to the Phantom Zone to play villainess Mala on "Superman: The Animated Series" in 1997. And heterosexual males will likely remember the time she and Heather Locklear spent in the company of DC's muck monster, the Swamp Thing, in 1989's "The Return of the Swamp Thing". Adding to this already impressive roster of rogues are roles in "Conan the Destroyer", NBC's "V" series, and CBS's night-time soap "Falcon Crest".

Evil may be Douglas's on-screen forte, but her comments show a woman of good humor who appreciates her fans. She even flew in from the U.K. just so she could attend the Superhero Expo and spend some time with old friends from her "Superman" days, and their fans.

Q: What brings you here today?

A: You want the honest answer?

Q: The honest answer...

A: I have absolutely no... No, because I want to meet the fans. I haven't been together with Jack O'Halloran and Margot in some 25 years. So it's an opportunity to see each other. Jack and I just met again two years ago after about 20 odd years. And Margot, I'd seen briefly only once since "Superman II" so it's a great opportunity to be all together. And obviously it's an opportunity to meet some of the fans.

Q: Where do you live now?

A: At the moment I'm in England. I've been 19 years in L.A. but I've been back in England about a year and a half. I should say I still live in L.A. but I'm in England working at the moment. I came in (to Chicago) on Thursday night and I'm in the middle of a telly show so I had to have the weekend off so it's quite - I'm beginning to feel it. I had a long nine hour flight. And I leave on Sunday to get back into work on Monday. It's a major effort.

Q: Why wasn't there a screen test for you on the "Superman: The Movie" Special Edition DVD with the other Ursa screen tests?

A: My screen test wasn't there because I didn't screen test. I didn't screen test for it. The others were on there. I was busy doing another movie called "The People That Time Forgot" at the time and I had a series of interviews, and I certainly did a little scene in the small office, but I didn't test for it.

Q: So you were never asked to do a fighting demonstrating like the other actresses on the DVD?

A: No. I read a small scene in a small office and I did a bit of a high kick, but I certainly didn't do anything like they did. I just was so damn good (that I didn't need to audition). (laughs). I did do a flying test but that wasn't shot; we didn't film it. As keen as (other actresses) were to do the film, when they got us on the wires, they lost the plot. A lot of them didn't like (flying). I absolutely adored it the minute I was up on the wires. So that was part of my test. On the (James) Bond set, they put me up on the wires and said "Jump up and fly" and I just did it.

Q: Ursa was, in my opinion, the meanest of the three villains.

A: Very perceptive of you.

Sarah Douglas Q: But it also seems that, in "Superman II", there was an intent to damp down some of the villains' overt evil, is that true?

A: Ya, I think possibly they did. There are always (edits). For instance, in Japan, they cut my scene where, where Ursa kicks the astronaut and shoots him off of the (moon's) surface. They cut that scene because the Japanese didn't like women to be overly - what are the words - aggressive...

Q: Well, you kicked him in the nuts.

A: Thank you very much. I was searching for the word. Ya, I kicked him in the b*lls, as they say. But they cut that in Japan, which I find quite amusing.

Q: What was it like filming parts of "Superman II" twice?

A: It was actually, probably, the best experience an actor can have to re-shoot something, completely different concept (with a) completely different director. For me, Donner was very laid-back. This wasn't a scene we shot twice, but the sequence where I throw the bus... I'm freezing my butt off because I'm not wearing anything, and (Lester) says "OK, you've got to walk up to that manhole cover, you do this thing (makes kicking motion), you catch the manhole cover, you throw it" and I remember thinking "God, how am I going to do this?" But he was so (matter-of-fact) that I actually just did it. Now if Donner had done it, he would've said to me, "You know what honey, you may not manage this, it's quite difficult, and we've got days to shoot". (Donner's) a lot looser. He's an actor's director; he's very good with the actors. But I think, for me, I learned a great deal from (Lester). I mean some of the sequences we shot twice like the sequence with Gene Hackman on my back. Of course, they didn't bring Hackman back so we had a stand-in. I actually found Lester (to be) very good for me because I need that kind of approach. But I know that others really loved working with Donner. I was a little English girl.

Q: Was there a bond between you and Lester because you are both English?

A: No, there wasn't a bond. But there was less of a bond between me and Donner because I'd never met anybody like him. He came over from America with his blue jeans and glasses, and he was very laid-back and, to my way of thinking, very American. I was very English in those days... It was also the 80's, she said loosely, so those guys all went off and partied, I think that's the expression we used, and I just went home. There was a lot of bonding between them and Donner. Lester was much more matter-of-fact, and, to a certain degree, rather an aloof Englishman. A little cool. But I found I worked very well with him.

Q: When's the last time you saw Terence Stamp (General Zod)?

A: I haven't seen him in - My mother saw him last actually. I probably haven't seen him in 15 years or something like that. He lies very low. I just don't see him. I used to see him in London. I would run into him but now he's moved away. He actually came to my hometown promoting his book so he came to this bookshop there and gave a talk. And my mother lined up to get his autograph. And when she got to him, she said "Would you write it to Sarah?" So he looked up and he recognized my mother and he said "Oh my God, what are you doing here? Where's Sarah?" And my mother said "Sarah's in Hong Kong doing a movie and she doesn't particularly want to be there." It was a bit of a low budget film. And Mum was telling him about this film. And he said "God, if she thinks that's bad, tell her I just finished coming from Australia, that I'd been in the Outback dressed in drag being chased around by kangaroos and big Aussies." And we were laughing - because we had no idea (Stamp's film) "Priscilla (Queen of the Desert)" was going to be such a big hit. And he said to Mum at the time, "Well we do what we have to do." And it turned out to be a great film, I mean he was fabulous in it.

Sarah Douglas Q: Now you were also in another DC comics super-hero movie, "The Return of the Swamp Thing".

A: Oh yes. I loved that. I loved that film. That again was an interesting time because either the directors were on strike or there was a writers' strike, I don't remember, but I was in my hometown, and whilst I was there, sitting in "The Dirty Duck", which is our local pub, I was sent the script for "The Return of the Swamp Thing". And, in those days, I was a little more selective like we all are. There's a period in our careers where you can turn down movies. And then there's a period where you're just bloody grateful to work, you know, bottom line. Anyhow, this script came and I was reading in the pub and this guy who works at the theater, a young actor, a spear carrier literally (i.e., a B-player), and he said "What are you reading?" And I said "God, it's some bloody thing called "Return of the Swamp Thing"," and I said "I don't know, it's being shot in Savannah (Georgia) and I don't need this". Because it was a non-union film, that was the only thing being shot (during the strike). And I remember him saying to me, he said "God, I would give anything... for some producer to come to me and say 'would you like to star in "Return of the Swamp Thing"?'" And it really made me consider it and I thought "y'know what, you have a good point there's nothing else being made (because of the strike) - this is not bad. Heather Locklear is a gas." And she was. It was a lot of fun. It was great fun. Heather was married to Tommy Lee in those days so everywhere we went, we were pursued by screaming little - I don't know what you want to call them - fans, I guess they are.

Q: Was the part in "The Return of the Swamp Thing" written for you?

A: No.

Q: The reason I ask that is because your character's name was "Dr. Lana Zurrell" and, you may not realize that "Zor-El" is the character Supergirl's last name and you were a Super Girl in "Superman II"...

A: Oh. Ding, ding, ding. (laughs). But no, not that I know of. I know there were a lot of in-jokes with Louis Jordan and I. He called the parrot "Gigi" and everything (after Jordan's famous 1958 movie). The kids on the set had no idea (what the reference meant). And I knew because my Mum knew the movie, though I did actually tell her that Charles Jordan was doing the movie and he was actually a shoemaker (laughs). We had a blast. And it was Savannah. I mean, I had a blast down there... Heather and I were invited to dinner at the house of the guy... now, what was the book that they made into a film set in Savannah?

Q: Oh, you mean "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil".

A: Ya, I'm reading the book, not knowing that it was true, and I thought "This is so familiar." I'm reading it and I'm recognizing these people... so yes, Savannah was fun.

Sarah Douglas Q: Have you ever been approached about doing "Smallville"?

A: When that first came out, right at the very beginning, my agent spoke with them, and they were really, really enthusiastic. Like the first season. And then it went on to the second season. I have to say, I am really disappointed that nothing ever materialized. I mean there was a lot of stuff. They looked at tape, they looked at reel, but nothing ever happened.

Q: Now you did come back and play a Phantom Zone villainess one more time - you voiced Mala on "Superman: The Animated Series" in 1997.

A: Yes I did. And that was fun. And we hoped that was going to pan out into more, except for the fact that it's always availability with those things (voice acting). If you're not available literally when they're doing it, they'll just get somebody else to be the voice. You don't get a lot of notice. They call up and say "Are you available in a few days' time?" and good if you are. But it was great fun doing it. Kind of long though.

Q: Would you like to return to the Superman universe again for "Superman Returns"?

A: Is that what it's going to be called?

Q: That's what they say.

A: I can't think of anything I'd rather do. I think it'd be great. It's just been a rather long time, hasn't it? That's the awful side - how decrepitly one gets on. I'm a bit past - well, I'm not past the long black boots but I think I'm certainly past flying around.

Q: Have you seen pictures of Brandon Routh, the new Superman?

A: No. But I've heard that it's a pretty damn good piece of casting. I just love the idea of Kevin Spacey (as Lex Luthor). He's perfect casting. So yes, if there's any way to be involved, I think it'd be fabulous. You never know. I mean, certainly there will be an involvement even if it's on the periphery. But hopefully, they'll find something for us. There's certainly talk of it. But that's also a lot of fans' wishful thinking.

Photography, unless otherwise noted, by Mark Szalkowski

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