It’s an actress! It’s an activist! It’s Margot Kidder! Best known as Lois Lane in the Superman films — and more recently for her highly publicized bipolar disorder — the 59-year-old now stars as one half of a terrorized lesbian couple in On the Other Hand, Death: A Donald Strachey Mystery, the third installment of the gay private dick series starring Chad Allen, debuting July 25 on here! TV. Taking a break from her peaceful life in Livingston, Mont., Kidder gets riled up with us over gay marriage roadblocks, her disastrous same-sex experience, and Barack Obama’s superhero promise.
By Brandon Voss
The Advocate: You seem pretty choosy about acting projects, so what drew you to On the Other Hand, Death?
Margot Kidder: I’m not choosy at all! I’ll do practically anything. I’m the biggest whore on the block. I live in a little town in Montana, and you have to drag me out of here to get to L.A., so I’m not readily available. But unless it’s something sexist or cruel, I just love to work. I’ve done all sorts of things, but you just haven’t seen them because they’re often very bad and shown at 4 in the morning.
What’s the gay community like out there in Montana?
We’re finally getting one, which we know means that our property values are going to go up. Butte has some, and Missoula probably has the biggest gay community in Montana. It’s not huge, but there’s less than a million people in the whole state. But we’re not — I repeat not — Wyoming; we’re not the sort of people who would do what they did to Matthew Shepard. This state is very ferocious about not being seen as redneck like Wyoming — it’s a little familial rivalry.
Being a here! film, I imagine there were a lot more gays on the set of On the Other Hand, Death.
Oh, working on this movie was such a joy. I was surrounded by the most wonderful gay men, and I was in heaven. I was treated like a total princess. [Director] Ron [Oliver] is to die for, as is Chad [Allen]. I had so much fun, I can’t tell you. I kept saying, “Am I butch enough?” And they’d say, “Oh, yeah! You’re butch enough!” Because although I’m not gay, I certainly think I often come across as gay to some people.
Do you get hit on by women?
I did in 1970, I remember. You know, I’m almost 60 — not when you’re at your most wildly sexual. It's actually a wonderfully empowering thing to not be wildly sexual; it’s like a credit card you don’t get to use, so you fall back on exactly who you are. It’s a great relief. I wasn’t very good at love, romance, and marriage anyway, though I certainly cut a wide swath. My gay man friends said, “Oh, you’re just like a gay man!” [Laughs] And, as you can tell, a picture of discretion.
Did you experiment with women in the ’70s?
Sure, I did. It was a bit of a disaster.
Tell me all about it.
Absolutely not! [Laughs] There are a few things that even I get to keep secret. But suffice it to say, it wasn’t going to happen twice. It was not a success.
You’ve portrayed a lesbian before, most notably in the 1996 film Never Met Picasso, but did you speak with any older lesbian couples in preparing for this latest role?
I have so many gay women friends. I’m the co-chair of wonderful women’s political group, Montana Women For, and we have several gay members. We were originally Bushes Against Bush, but we couldn’t go public with that name.
Oddly enough, you appeared on The L Word, but not as a lesbian.
No, I played a hideous woman. I played one of the girls’ mothers, and it was the biggest miscasting I’ve ever seen in my life — a repressed Orthodox Jewish mother who hated everything about her daughter because she was gay, and despite the fact that her daughter had a nervous breakdown, she wouldn’t speak to her. I thought, God, why did they cast me in this? The director, this wonderful woman, kept saying, “Could you get a little Montana out of your walk there?”
Speaking as an actress whose Hollywood career blossomed in the early 1970s, what was it like to work on Death with openly gay actors like Chad Allen?
Well, I don’t think Chad would’ve worked much in those days, and he’s such a wonderful actor and a wonderful person. But I know from my own manic depression that the weight and the stress and the pressure of not being who you are drives you mad. It’s a horrible thing to live with, especially if you become someone who’s in the public eye, and you’re trying to hide your essence under some persona. It’s just a personal nightmare and not something I would recommend to anybody. There’s something so great about being so utterly exposed that you have nothing left to lose. You get to wear the insides of your psyche on the outside of your skin without having to have a lot of defenses protecting it. The business, in terms of the big studios, hasn’t completely switched yet. They still cast straight men in gay roles, but they don’t cast that many overtly gay men in straight roles. There’s something really wrong with this picture. I don’t know why they continually cast straight men in gay roles, and then the straight men get nominated for Oscars as if playing someone who’s sexuality happens to be gay is a big leap. So when you asked me if I researched being gay? No. What’s to research?
Not to out anyone, but do you have a story about working with any notoriously closeted actors?
Oh, The Advocate — you guys never change. [Laughs] I think it’s everybody’s own business, and I really don’t like the practice of outing people who haven’t outed themselves. It’s horrendously cruel and insensitive to that particular person’s own needs. The fragility of the human heart is something that we need to start respecting, and so to out someone who doesn’t want to be outed is unnecessary. There are groups who believe they should out famous people, and I find it so small. With political activism, there are many ways to achieve your goals. The trick is to get to the top of the mountain; it’s not how you get there.
With being criticized for your political beliefs, and after the way the media treated you after your manic depression publicly surfaced, could you relate to the discrimination to your character in Death?
Oh, yeah. Discrimination takes many forms, and if you look at the root of it, it’s fear, envy, jealousy, and a lot of ugly, petty emotions. The one I speak about is mental health, because if you think you’re discriminated against because you’re gay, the people who suffer from or intermittently suffer from mental illness are really discriminated against. The myths around what it is are ludicrous. We’re still thinking the devil’s inhabiting people, practically.
Are you also speaking out to encourage Montana to legalize gay marriage?
Ugh, that one’s so crazy, you don’t know how to begin. The churches are so powerful. That’s why I was so breathtakingly disappointed in Obama’s embrace of faith-based initiatives. I don’t actually know any politician who really believes there shouldn’t be gay marriage. They just read these polls and get nervous. I don’t think they really think it should be an issue, but the right-wing churches, under the auspices of Karl Rove, made it so. So when they don’t know what to do when Iraq’s a mess and the economy’s crashing, they bring up gay marriage and abortion. I don’t like being married anyway, so you go ahead, honey. Keep me out of it!
Could Barack Obama still be our Superman?
He’s quite extraordinary. Obviously we’re all going to vote for him. But it’s been hard on those of us who are progressive to watch him the last few weeks, which is probably the influence of the DNC saying, “Let’s just go in the middle.”
How do you feel about so many of your films being remade in recent years, such as The Amityville Horror, Black Christmas, and Sisters?
I had so many remade last year and the year before, it was really weird. But I didn’t see any of them. My life now, except when I go to work, is so utterly divorced from show business. I’m not known in my community as an actress; I’m known as a political activist and just Margie, who’s kind of fun. Nobody thinks of me as Margot the movie star I used to be 15 or 20 years ago, and neither do I, so I don’t really keep up, frankly. I don’t think they couldn’t have pulled off Sisters very well, and I didn’t think Amityville Horror was that great a movie to start with, but I’m not a horror movie fan. I think they’re funny.
Did you at least see Kate Bosworth’s Lois Lane in Superman Returns?
Oh, that I did see, and I thought that girl was wonderful. Unfortunately, she wasn’t given, as I was, a sense of humor. It wasn’t her fault. You can’t act something that isn’t written. Tom Mankiewicz, who rewrote Superman and the real Superman II, the re-release that [Richard] Donner directed, gave me some of the cleverest My Girl Friday-type comeback lines, and it was almost foolproof. But I thought Superman Returns was a good movie. I just thought it made a big mistake in that it didn’t aim itself at little four- and five-year-old boys, which is why the first Superman made such an impact. All these guys come up to me at these convention thingies and say, “You’re my first love!” And when my grandson, who’s 6 now, watched it when he was 4, I realized, “Oh, my God, this is the first movie he gets — here’s the good guy in the suit, the bad guy with no hair, and then there’s a girl.” Thank goodness he didn’t get a crush on his grandmother, but it was the first time I really got why men in their 30s and 40s are so passionate about Superman — aside from some of you guys who got a big crush on Chris Reeve.
Last year you appeared on Brothers and Sisters and smoked pot with Sally Field. How much method acting was going on there?
Well, we didn’t have any real pot because we probably would’ve been arrested, but I certainly know I'd had the experience before and didn’t need to do the research, and I’m sure Sally didn't need to do any too. That was great fun. And it’s wonderful how the gay subject on that show is just presented as part of a family situation. It’s not overwrought like it would be in some ’70s TV movie. The gay community and we as a human family have come a long way.
Advocate.com, July 2008.