Christopher Reeve on Wogan 27th April 1988

Christopher Reeve: if the film is not spectacular, why pay the £4 or the $7 or whatever, just stay at home and watch TV instead?

Terry Wogan Yeah, that was Superman IV.

BBC 1 -Wogan 27th April 1988 

Guests: David Puttnam, Christopher Reeve & Carmencita Herdsman

Christopher Reeve’s appearance on Terry Wogan’s 500th chat show on 27th April 1988 (BBC 1). Chris appeared on the show to promote his new movie The Great Escape II, talking about sequels in general and helping to save the lives of Actors in Chile.

Full transcript of the interview below the video.


Terry Wogan: Now David’s going to stay with us. We meet the man who found a certain success by the old joke, wearing his underpants on the outside of his trousers, but he’s moved a long way since then. 

He’s one of the few major actors not to have appeared on our first 500 programs. So, it’s a special pleasure to welcome Christopher Reeve. 

Well welcome. 

Christopher Reeve: Thank you. 

Terry Wogan: You’re, that was the theme from the great escape, which of course is not the way you would normally be introduced, but you’re making a follow up to the great escape.

Christopher Reeve: Right. It’s not really a sequel. It’s more a, it’s for television instead of for a film. But the first 50 pages of a 250-page script are sort of a retelling of what happened for the escape. And then it goes on to say what happened after the war and follows some particular, an amazing character named Major Johnny Dodge, who was an American and came over here in about 1915 or so. And he was a cousin of Churchill’s, and I had the privilege last night of meeting his son, Tony and gaining quite a lot of information about his father. 

He escaped from prison camps all over the world, about 22 times out of one of the German ones. In fact I understand in between the wars, he was a prisoner in the Ukraine for having been suspected of being a spy and in some place like Tiflis (pre 1936 name for Tbilisi)  or whatever, the way he got out of there was he learned to play the Balalaika and he was so charming that he just chatted up the guards and he started to play the Balalaika to them, and they all went out for supper, got absolutely crocked in the local pub.

And he just, when they were all smashed, he got up and walked away. But just absolutely amazing man. He climbed the Matterhorn by himself. He swam the Helispot (????) by himself and he was also ostensibly a Stockbroker in the city, but I don’t think he went to the office very often. 

Terry Wogan: Well, it sounds if there’s a movie in that man alone, apart from the great escape. 

Christopher Reeve: The John Dodge Story.

Terry Wogan: Good of an idea for you their Dave, I mean, Great Escape II, if I may say so it’s 20 years since the last greatest escape, maybe even more Steve McQueen and Richard Attenborough and all the rest. 

I mean, sequels, we’re getting a lot of sequels, aren’t we? We’ve had a lot lately Rambo 25 and Death wish 84, but why do you think there’s so many sequels? I mean, I can see that there’s a story there, but you yourself Superman IV for goodness’s sake. 

Christopher Reeve: Well, first of all, this isn’t really a sequel because it’s not based on the movie at all. We can’t in fact use that music and we can’t use anything from the film it’s based on the Brick Hill book. And then it goes on from there. But to answer your question, Hollywood suffers from a very bad disease called Sequelitis in which what the majors do is you take what grossed a hundred million domestically last year and get the key ingredients back again and try to pump it up a few more times. 

Of course, the quality is a sliding scale of diminishing returns. And I think very rarely do you get a sequel that’s an improvement on what went before it. Because often what they’ll do, and I know this happened in the case of a film that I worked on is they will make all the promises above the line. They’ll get the heavy weights, the top Actors, and the Director and whatever. And they’ll say, it’s going to be wonderful. We’re really going to go back to the original. It’s just going to be great, but then they don’t give you the resources, they don’t give you the, the tools to go and work with below the line and the audience now, I mean, listen, if the film is not spectacular, why pay the £4 or the $7 or whatever, just stay at home and watch TV instead.

Terry Wogan: Yeah, that was Superman IV.

Christopher Reeve: Really? (ha ha) I don’t like to dump on previous employers, but

It is true that, they want to reach their hand into the till again and come up with a fist of gold and they don’t always want to put out what it takes to make the quality.

Terry Wogan: Yes. I think that was true of that movie. Did you come across that syndrome when you were there?

David Puttnam: Yes. It’s ever present. It’s exactly what Chris described. Very, roughly some lunatic accountant worked out that most sequels do roughly two thirds of the film that preceded it. So, they get their arithmetic right, they can pretty well guarantee they’ll do two thirds of the hit. The problem is that basically, I think the Studios, Chris may agree with me. They don’t trust the audience. Most interesting thing. My career has been based on the fact the audience will never let me down. When I’ve made a rotten film, they’ve found out very quickly. When I made a good film, they turned up and basically the Studios don’t trust the audience. So therefore, they look for other things to trust, like the sequel.

Christopher Reeve: It’s also, if you want to go in and pitch a project to a Studio you have to say what it is, like this is meant for all Seasons over witness, you have to talk about projects and I’m beginning to find this out because I’m in position now with of pitching things to studios. 

But I almost feel that if I go into one of the Majors, one of the what’s called the Seven Sisters, you know, Universal and Fox and MGM and whatever. If I go in there and they like it right away, I immediately want to go back and think about a rewrite. Because I don’t trust them at all.

Terry Wogan: But that’s almost a throwback to the old days of the people like Harry Cohen and Sam Gold.

David Puttnam: They’re beginning to sound to me like the great old days.

Christopher Reeve: They were. Cause they were Filmmakers. Those guys were Filmmakers.

Terry Wogan: Yeah. What are these guys?

Christopher Reeve: They’re Agents and their Business Managers and they are Lawyers who have gradually taken over the business. And they really, they don’t have the love of films that, and it’s really those kinds of people who ganged up against David. David leaving Hollywood, if I may say so was one of the saddest things that happened for the industry in a long, long time. Because you know, anyway.

Terry Wogan: And it was Agents really, you were against the Agent packaging, weren’t you?

David Puttnam: Well, it comes back to, I’m sorry, feels I’m beating a girl (???) but it’s about dreams. Good movies are made because of group of people, or one person has a dream and dreams don’t exist in the world of Agents. When an Agent says, I represent X Writer and X Director and X Actors, and I want them all in this movie, whatever happens. That’s actually castrating the man with a dream, be that manner Writer or a Director, he’s being castrated. And that’s what we tried. But many of us, not just me, Chris, any number of Actors and Actresses and writers have tried to break the system. But the system is an extremely powerful system. 

Someone will, someone much tougher than me and much more diplomatic than me will crack it.

Terry Wogan: Was it your diplomacy Do you think that let you down.

David Puttnam: I’m not a good diplomatic. I’ve really tried as well.

Terry Wogan: How diplomatic are you because you’ve managed to break away a from the Superman mold, you’ve made a lot of worthwhile movies and done very different things. You’ve a very successful movie at the moment. Aren’t you?

Christopher Reeve: Uh, Is it, yeah, I guess so. I never know. I don’t read variety, so I’m not sure. I think it’s doing pretty well. I just did a movie with Burt Reynolds and Kathleen Turner. It is a remake of His Gal Friday, the old Carrie Grant film. And I think it’s doing pretty well. I tell you, you know, it’s like, and when I make a movie, I really concentrate on it and it’s so important to me. 

And then as soon as it’s done, basically, because it’s such committee work, and the actor really is just a hired hand you go on and work in the next garden. You really, I tend to forget it. And the difficult thing is you have to go out and do promotion and a year later, and you’ve really sort of forgotten all about that movie. And it’s hard to get back into it. 

Terry Wogan: Movies of course are, seem to be pricing themselves beyond making now, don’t they? I mean, well, stars are pricing themselves beyond making.

David Puttnam: It’s not just that. I think unfortunately stars are getting, getting the rap. The average movie last year in Hollywood cost $20.7 million, which is a Ludacris sum of money. It’s again, it comes back to the security blanket. The studios are prepared to pay almost anything If they feel that they can create a situation where they personally or the individual doesn’t get the blame. They feel he doesn’t get the blame if he’s bought or old Clint Eastwood or he’s bought whoever, because then Clint gets the blame or Chris gets the blame and it’s the, frankly it is the system, the system you could run horse and a cart through it. 

Christopher Reeve: But on the other hand, I mean, that’s the downside of the equation of someone being able to say, well, I had Bill Murray, so it must have been perfect, cause he’s a big star. But on the other hand, see actors now are beginning to become their own independent businessmen and people, I guess like myself or Tom Cruise or anybody who really gets into a certain position of power. A lot of them are really quite sensible about it if I may say so. And what we try to do is get with the real filmmakers, get with the people like David or with the Merchant Ivory or Sycom or Handmade Films or anyone, any Virgin Vision, any number of companies that are actually trying to make movies and not make deals. 

And then you can take I’m working on a project right now, based on an experience I had in Santiago last fall in Chile. I thought, well, I talked to a couple of Majors, and I quickly realized that they’d want to throw in a love story and some soundtrack and whatever, and right there in an office, I saw my movie going off the track and away. And so, I thought, no, I’ll pull back and get with a creative team that I really want to be with and make it for much less money. And I don’t care. I really am at the point now where I would rather do the quality project than make the big bucks. 

I know it sounds, you know, gee good for me, but really what’s it all about, at the end of the day, if you don’t get the satisfaction.

Terry Wogan: This thing in Chile was when you went last year, and without dramatizing the thing, am I right thinking you managed to save some Actors’ lives.

Christopher Reeve: What very briefly happened is that it was a very interesting political use of my image as Superman, which previously had been limited to very Charity things, very, not particularly a topical or controversial. But I was presented with a situation in which a group of Actors were threatened with execution by a right-wing faction of the dictatorship in Chile, if they did not leave the country in 30 days and rather than leave the country, they decided to stage a massive rally of defiance on the last day. 

But in order to guarantee some measure of safety for them, what they needed was massive international media coverage to publicize their situation. And the best thinking was to bring somebody that everyone would’ve heard of down there. In fact, I was perfectly willing to be used as Superman in that context. I arrived and found one of the papers, a cartoon of Superman holding the dictator Pinochet by the Nape of the neck. And the caption was where you’re going to take him Superman? And quickly they shifted from dealing with me as Superman, to me as a real person. Cause I came with the support of the 38,000 strong membership of Actor’s Equity in which I’m on the governing board, America’s Watch, Amnesty International. And by causing attention to this concern, yes, the deadline went by, no one was injured and now they’re enjoying a kind of security they haven’t had before. 

The very weird thing about it politically is that on the one hand you have a terrorist faction supported and equipped by the government, which is causing these threats, but you’re appealing to the government for police protection. Very crazy how it works down there. I’m working on a screenplay about all that it right now. 

Terry Wogan: We look forward to seeing it. Hopefully, you’ll get it made the way you want to get it made.

Christopher Reeve: Might call David Puttnam and see if he wants to do it.

Terry Wogan: Thank you, Christopher Reeve, David Puttnam.