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Catherine Mary Stewart (Regina) - Night of the Comet

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Catherine Mary Stewart was born on 22 April 1959 in Alberta, Canada and came from a very strong academic family. Her mother was a physiologist and her father was a renowned marine biologist. Stewart started dancing at age seven and joined a professional company at age 16 and toured the Middle East and Europe. At 19, she moved to London to study dance, drama, singing and dialects. It was during this period that she got her first motion picture role in the 'Menaham Golan' musical, The Apple (1980). But it was with her move to Los Angeles that really catapulted her career to the next level. She was cast in the TV series Days of Our Lives. Later, she stared in the sci-fi films Night of the Comet (1984) and The Last Starfighter (1984). Since that time, she has gone on to make almost forty films as well as numerous TV appearances. Darren Rea caught up with Stewart as Night of the Comet was released on DVD...

Darren Rea: Your father was a professor of biology when you first became a dancer, do you think he was secretly sorry that you never followed in his footsteps?

Interview imageCatherine Mary Stewart: [Laughs] I think my dad was pretty sure that I wouldn't follow in his footsteps [laughs]. He gave me a cartoon once of this little girl with her hand up in math class saying: "Excuse me sir, how will arithmetic help me in my career as an actress?" [laughs].

So, I think he knew that there was no way. I was already dancing and performing and I was never that interested in school.

DR: Did he follow your early career? And was he quite proud of what you were doing?

CMS: Oh, yeah. I think it's all a little bit confusing to him, you know because he's so removed from the business. He loves BBC - he loves all that stuff. He thinks it's really good, and that is acting and I have a lot to live up to with him. I think that in general he's happy that I've been relatively successful.

DR: Is it true that you were cast in your first real movie, The Apple [1980], completely by chance?

CMS: Yes, it was. I was living here in London training as a dancer and I was walking to my class in the morning and a couple of my classmates were walking in the opposite direction. I asked where they were going and they said they'd heard about an audition for dancers for a musical movie. So I thought I'd check it out too.

Interview imageIt was one of those cattle call auditions. There were hundreds of dancers there - all of whom were professional, I'm sure - and we were just little students. Nigel Lythgoe was the choreographer and we were broken down into groups. I noticed the director doing that framing thing with his fingers towards me, which was a little confusing. He eventually pulled me out and asked me if I could act. Of course, I said: "Yes" [laughs]. He asked if I could sing. I said: "No problem".

I was completely unprepared. For this audition you were supposed to bring music and... I don't know what else. But I had nothing with me so he had someone teach me a couple of songs and had me read from the script. He called me back the next day and I basically had the role. So it was really, truly out of the blue.

DR: If you hadn't been discovered then what do you think you'd be doing now?

CMS: [Laughs] Oh, man. [Whispers] I try not to thing about that. I suppose I would have pursued the dancing thing as much as possible, but I really don't know. I had a boyfriend at the time, who I was crazy about, who was from Canada and just happened to be in England at the same time. I always think that had none of this happened I probably would be married to him and leaving in Ontario somewhere. Probably not nearly the glamourous life that I kind of get to lead now [laughs].

DR: How has the industry changed since you started?

Interview imageCMS: Oh, it's changed so much and I really see it starkly because... I got married in 1992 and we moved to New York and I had babies and I sort of made that my priority. About four years ago I decided to spend more time in Los Angeles and get my name out there again and audition and make sure every body knew I was still alive and it has changed so much. Everything. The audition process is different. For me it's like starting over again because I was sort of removed for a while.

In the '80s if you had a quote to be paid a certain amount of money they had to pay you that quote or possibly more. Now that has nothing to do with anything. Basically you get paid nothing. Anybody will do it because if I don't do the role for that amount of money there are 50 other actresses that will be happy to do it. So it's much less about money and more about exposure, which is not necessarily a bad think, but it's really hard to make a living.

There's also the discrepancy between the huge stars, who are making $20 million dollars a movie, and everybody else. Even character actors, with great reputations who have been working for years in the business ,are working for nothing. That sort of bothers me in a business sense, because the actors are supposed to be a community and they are supposed to be supportive of each other because it's such a difficult business. It kind of makes me angry that these bigger actors will take so much money and just sit back and watch everybody else suffer - because so much of the budget of movies these days goes to the big star. Anyway, whatever, that's just my political thing. But, yes, the industry has changed a lot.

DR: A lot of accomplished actors are going back to theatre. Is that something that appeals to you?

Interview imageCMS: It does appeal to me as a matter of fact, and that's one of the great things about living in New York. I've been talking to my agents about that. One of the reasons I really avoided it when we moved there was because it's so time consuming and I didn't want to sacrifice my time with my children. Which is of course why I didn't do so many movies or television, I just didn't want to be away or be moving around too much. But now that I have a 16-year-old and a 13-year-old I feel that my time is more flexible. I would love to get into theatre.

The one thing that hasn't changed is that actors in the theatre are really highly respected and a lot of casting people will come to Broadway to see who is in what for casting purposes. I think that would be a wise investment of my time if I can get into theatre.

DR: It also separates the good actors from the poor. With film and TV roles there's a certain amount that can be fixed with editing - not so with theatre.

CMS: Editing can do a lot of things in a movie. It can change a movie completely. It certainly displays your competency as an actor, for sure.

DR: Of all of the projects you've been involved with over the years which was the most fun to work on and which are you most proud of?

CMS: Let's see... I have to say Night of the Comet and The Last Starfighter were my favourites. Those were my first two movies in Los Angeles and my first experience. There was The Apple, but it was a kind of crazy movie and I had no idea what I was doing. We were shooting in Berlin and it seemed chaotic, in a way. When I did The Last Starfighter I had a little more experience as an actor and I was working with some wonderful people. Lance Guest, my co-star, is an actor of such integrity and professionalism. He set a standard, really, for me in terms of actors that I work with.

Interview imageNick Castle, the director, is just wonderful with young actors. He set a tone on the set which was calm and easy and fun. It wasn't an easy shoot because there was a lot of night shooting, especially with the stuff that I did, but that was a really nice experience. I even enjoyed watching the movie afterwards. I forgot that I was in it and I got into the story.

Night of the Comet was a lower budget thing, but it was more of a collaborative labour of love. The director, Thom Eberhardt, wrote the script and as it was his first directing job we all sort of worked together. The producers wanted to make a serious horror movie, Thom envisioned more of how it really turned out, thankfully. We shot serious horror shots and then we'd do the Thom Eberhardt version [laughs], you know. It was almost like we were all working together and even some of the stuff was made up as we went along, spontaneously. We weren't at all sure what the final outcome would be. It was a lot of work, a lot of long hours, Everybody put in 110 percent, but the final product made it all worthwhile.

DR: Have you seen it recently? And does it make you smile to see the '80s fashions?

Interview imageCMS: [Laughs] Yeah, it always makes me smile [laughs] when I see Night of the Comet or any of the films that I did years and years ago. I'm very fond of them, so I always have good memories.

What really makes me proud, in a way, is that a few years ago my children reached an age where they actually kind of grasped that I was an actress and was in these movies - and that they weren't horrible or embarrassing. They had these sleep over birthday parties were they invited their friends and they watched some of these movies with their friends, which made me feel good because I knew that they weren't completely embarrassed [laughs].

It's been 25 years and these movies have just a strong following still. This is all very new to me. I never thought that anything like this would happen.

DR: Can you tell us something about your role in Rising Stars?

CMS: Yes. Getting back into movies these last few years, I'm now like the mother of people and I love that. I'm really very comfortable with that. I always played a lot younger than I was so I had to sort of dummy myself down a little bit, or try to be more youthful. So, playing an adult, I love that.

Interview imageIn Rising Stars I play the mother of this very talented young director - she's only sixteen and she's involved with this talent contest and she's kind of dark, goth, very quiet and introspective and I'm her overbearing, big personality, mother that is just determined to make her famous. I sort of drag her around from place to place and there's a little bit of psychological torture I use on her to try and get her to go down the path that I want her to go down because I want to live vicariously through her. It was fun. I actually really like playing these more mature roles.

DR: Do you think your children will see elements of you in the character?

CMS: Oh yes, I'm sure [laughs]. I'm in London with my son and I told him ahead of time: "I want to show you London and we'll have some time to do that, but there is some business involved with this too." You have to go with the flow, and when I am involved with the business aspect of it I get very focused and I'm not that patient. Poor Connor is my 13-year-old boy and his mind wanders... I can loose my patience some time. I think, yes, they'll see some of me in that role.

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With thanks to John Scrafton Optimum Releasing

Night of the Comet is available on DVD from Optimum Home Entertainment from 18 January 2010.

Click here to buy this Night of the Comet on DVD for £9.98 (RRP: £15.99)

This interview was conducted on 02 December 2009

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