Sarah Douglas speaks!

In issue 151 of SFX, on sale now, we have a short interview with Sarah Douglas, best known as the actress who played Ursa in Superman II. But she's a talkative lass, so here's an expanded version of that interview.

Sarah Douglas as Ursa in Superman II right

"First I have to say that I as the English contingent on Superman, I was totally out of the loop in terms of what was really going on. And I say that, because when we returned to reshoot some of the bits and bobs and complete Superman 2 the cast was quite rightly incredibly protective and upset about Dick Donner having left. From my own point of view I enjoyed working with him but at the end of the day I went home to my little flat in Shepherd’s Bush and cooked my husband a meal, you know. I wasn’t part of the big bonding experience that seemed to go on between all of them.

"So when I got back, I just had a different director. A very, very different director, I have to say. But there was a lot of upset. I mean, I remember Chris [Reeve] and Margot [Kidder] being really, really, really very angry about the whole thing, and I wasn’t really privy. I didn’t really understand what was going on. I have to also say that as a young actress in England in the ‘70s, I was so delighted that I was working that it didn’t affect me in quite the same way as far as, if you like, taking sides. Because there was definitely a lot of political stuff that went on. A lot of people getting very upset.

"I mean, it was months and months later before I came back, and suddenly I had a different director. And, of course, a director that I knew a lot about having been a great Beatles fan. I knew exactly who he was. But he had a completely different approach. And that, for me, was a shock to the system. I think to my American friends it was particularly a shock, because Richard Donner definitely had a laid back Californian approach. He was probably my first experience of a Californian. He thrived on Superman. But I remember I was fascinated because he wore blue-tinted glasses and I had never met anybody who wore blue-tinted glasses. And he had a very laid back, wonderful approach to everything. He was very much, ‘This is something that we’re all in together, and we’ll sort it. And if we can’t work out how you throw the bus across the street today, we’ll do it next week.’ Whereas Richard Lester undoubtedly had a, ‘This is what you do when you come onto the set… you lift this… you throw this… and that’s it…’ approach. He had a much more technical approach which for me worked extremely well, because I work well when I’m told to do things, and this is how it’s going to be. But he had a delivery which was, um, certainly without a lot of humour, I think it would be fair to say. Whereas Dick Donner was really a laugh a minute; a lot of fun to be around.

"From my perspective there was a considerable difference. I was more used to the almost schoolmaster approach, but I didn’t have a warmth with Richard Lester and I certainly wouldn’t have joked around him, whereas it felt for me, much more relaxed with Donner. And I also felt a lot, um, not safer, really, but comfortable around him. They would go off in the evenings and everybody would go out, and hang out. And there was a terrific bonding that went on, that I didn’t kind of… I wasn’t part of that. For no other reason than I wasn’t on location. I was living in London, and I went home down the Bush every night.

"I remember clearly – I don’t know if this had anything to do with the change of director, but I did all the publicity and it was over a period of about nine months. And I went round the world about one and a half times. Talking about the films of course. And I do think that I did a very good job of talking about the film and not about the politics, because I didn’t really know what was going on. They might have been on slightly wobbly ground if Chris had gone off and done it because he was undoubtedly very, very upset about Dick Donner not being there. So I was sent out there to promote the film. And it was great. Lots of ashtrays in different hotel rooms.

"Things had happened during the break in filming of which I had no knowledge. I arrived back to start flying again and didn’t feel that my harness seemed to be fitting me correctly. Because it was made to measure, originally. But when I went back it kept slipping. And this went on until they’d tightened it so much that when I went into the flying position I fainted. And fainting on the wire then pulled my stomach muscles. You know, things like this were happening. I personally started to have many problems. Then it transpired that my harness that I’d had on Superman had disappeared or something had happened, so they just brought in A N Other harness. And I never found out why these sort of things were happening. But there was a lot of that sort of stuff going on. You know, things not quite the same. If one studies my wig – because I was wearing a short wig over my real hair, which was long – it seems to change periodically. The sort of things that fans notice.

"But I was 27, 28, 29, and I was working on this enormous film, and I wasn’t really that aware of the stuff that was going on all around. I was certainly aware of things happening in the middle of the night and meetings going on when we were shooting. Lots of men arriving in cars and getting out in huddles. Businessmen. There was definitely an undercurrent of stuff going on. But I just thought it was all very glamorous and exciting. The Salkinds had such a reputation at the time. Because we all knew about the things had had happened on the Three and Four Musketeers. Things were forever happening which were just a great mystery to me. But all this added slightly to the whole wonderful madness of the business of filmmaking, you know.

"There was a corridor at Pinewood which had lots of portraits of actors and actresses and different people, and I had managed to get my picture up there. I had completed The People That Time Forgot on the Wednesday and started Superman on the Thursday. And there as a picture of me looking very English. And I had very long hair, and continued to have long hair. But I’d go in to work at five am, and put it in a wig and nobody saw me with long hair. So one day I said to Gene Hackman, 'Gosh, she’s rather pretty, isn't she?' as we walked along to lunch, and he replied with some kind of paltry, 'Well, if you like that kind of thing.' He had no idea, so my moment of glory was slightly squashed.

"But Gene was so fabulous to work with. I mean, he was an absolute joy, we had so much fun. Everybody was fun, I must say. Filming with Brando was amongst my favourite times on the film. That was probably the very first thing we shot. I was slightly intimidated. Chris was definitely intimidated. It was his first week, and he was still having problems with perspiration, because Superman doesn’t sweat. We were all very sort of fresh to it.

"Yes, it was the beginning of the shoot, because it was at Shepperton Studios, and then we all moved over to Pinewood afterwards. I was absolutely fascinated by Brando. He was a complete delight. I was totally intimidated and he actually asked me one day why everybody had such a problem with him. He thought it was a shame, because he really was an easy, lovely, wonderful, funny guy. I mean, he plonked me down on his lap on set, and I was absolutely rigid with fear. And remember thinking, ‘Oh my God. This is Brando!’

"I watched him all the time. I was fascinated by the fact that he never seemed to know his lines. I once asked him about his technique and the way he screwed his eyes up and looked so intense. And he said, ‘No, no, no, I’m not looking intense, I’m trying to read my idiot boards without my glasses on.’ He actually said to me, ‘This is nothing. In Last Tango In Paris I had all the words written down one side of Marie Schneider’s body.’

"He was great, but he had an aura about him that was really extraordinary. I mean, Gene Hackman, who I absolutely worship and adore, was a really regular guy. But Brando, however hard he tried with us, it was impossible to be anything other than completely in awe of him. And he was delightful. He went to great trouble to give everybody gifts. The corridor which he walked along every day to work was painted ahead of him, so that everything looked nice for him. I’ve always remembered that. Like most studios, everything else was grim, but his particular corridor was carpeted and painted so that when he walked from his changing room to the set it was all glorious.

"Once upon a time Variety had me down as leather-clad dominatrix. I spend my life telling everybody I wasn’t wearing leather. I was wearing organza. I loved the costume. It was absolutely fabulous. It was totally impractical because you couldn’t wear anything underneath it. The only thing that I got to wear underneath it… there was a sequence when I’m outside on the backlot lifting and throwing the bus, and it was FREEZING cold. The only thing they could do to keep me warm was give me a fur-lined bra. So as you see me throwing the bus, you must just recall that I am glowing with the wonderful, hottest pair of breasts in the business, but the rest of me was so cold.

"And the boots… Men LOVED the boots."

The Superman II Special Edition is out now on DVD, RRP £20.99.

Writer: Dave Golder