After enjoying some retro horror with Night of the Comet, which is out now on Blu-ray from Arrow Films, Zombie 2 was mesmerised by the performance of its star – Catherine Mary Stewart.
Hungry for flesh and content for the Love Horror site, he broke his leash and tracked her down.
Interview with Catherine Mary Stewart
Love Horror: Well I guess a good starting question would be what made you want to be an actress in the first place? And how did you get started in the industry?
Catherine Mary Stewart: That is a good starting question. Well I was a dancer way back when and I was in London actually.
Love Horror: You moved to London when you where 19 didn’t you?
Catherine Mary Stewart: Yes I did. And I was taking class here and on the way to class one day literally I ran into some friends from my dance class walking in the opposite direction and I said ‘where are you going?’ and they said ‘well we’re going to audition for this rock musical, they need dancers so we’re just going to go and see what happens’ so I thought well that would be interesting to audition for, I knew nothing about it. So I went there and it was one of those cattle call things and they where dividing us into groups of 20 or 30 or something like that learning a chorus line, you know.
And it was Nigel Lithgow who choreographed it, the big American Idol guy, and I saw the director kind of looking at me doing this whole thing (forming a square with her hands and looking through it) and I was like okay I have no idea what’s going on now.
He ended up pulling me out and saying ‘do you act?’ and I was like ‘sure I do, I can do that’, ‘can you sing?’
Well what happened was he had me back that day and he gave me some scripts and asked me to read it and audition it. I didn’t have any music or anything, I guess for this audition you where supposed to bring music and all this other stuff, you where supposed to be prepared which I was absolutely not because it was a last minute thing. I read, I sang, he sat and stared at me some more and he had me come back the next day anyway I ended up with the lead role in a movie called The Apple (1980) this futuristic rock musical that was cast in London.
And that is how I got into acting. I never actually sat down and thought I think I really want to be an actress, I knew that I loved performing, I knew I loved performing on stage in front of an audience as a dancer that was a passion for me but this was completely unexpected for me but a lead on a movie sounds really good on the resume.
Love Horror: And from that how did you get involved with Night of the Comet?
Catherine Mary Stewart: After The Apple I had this little tiny role in Nighthawks (1981). I decided to move to Los Angeles to see what would happen there. You know after about a year or so I was in a soap opera there called Day’s of our Lives (1981 -83) and I auditioned first of all for The Last Starfighter (1984) and got that, that was my big intro into the business in L.A. And then from that I had a bit of a reputation and I was a bankable actress and when I auditioned for Night of the Comet it was after that, it was 19 whatever 25 years ago, 84 something like that. I slipped through the audition process, I was put with another girl, not Kelli Maroney so I never did audition with Kelli Maroney but she got the role and I got the role. And we just ended up doing the movie together.
Love Horror: The character of Reggie is a very positive role model and almost a forerunner for Sarah Conner in Terminator 2…
Catherine Mary Stewart: In fact somebody said, I have this picture of me on the bike, and somebody said to me ‘oh you’re trying to look like Sarah Connor.’ Wasn’t Night of the Comet before that?
Love Horror: Yes it was definitely, which means she must have copied you.
Catherine Mary Stewart: (Laughing) See, I knew it was something like that.
Love Horror: Were you attracted to the character because she was such a strong female lead?
Catherine Mary Stewart: I loved that character. I thought it was a terrific character and you know such a great female role model, which you don’t see that often. And I do have women who are grown now come up to me and say ‘I love that movie so much.’ It inspired them. I guess for me I wasn’t thinking of it in terms of inspiring an audience at the time but I loved it because I’m more Reggie than I am the Kelli Maroney character. That is more me. I love shooting the guns and I love beating up the zombies and I wish I knew how to ride a motorcycle which I don’t, they had it on this flatbed behind a camera truck but I like the feeling of it, so yeah for me it was definitely an attractive role.
Love Horror: It’s clever at the beginning of the movie from the set up the audience assumes Reggie is going to be a ditzy dumb valley girl and she ends up being the heroine.
Catherine Mary Stewart: I think the character of Reggie really was a leader she guided her sister. Her sister was a little more nervous about everything and I think she took on the parental role. And it defiantly attracted me when I read the script.
Love Horror: The iconic introduction to your character see’s you playing the Tempest arcade machine in the cinema where you work. Where you really that good at it?
Catherine Mary Stewart: (Laughing) No, I had no idea what I was doing. The director was like ‘do something with your foot’ the director had something about feet because if you notice there’s a shot of my foot sort of like bouncing around. There’s also the scene where we’re in the store and the zombies have tied us up and everything. I think he had a foot fetish. We are all bound up and he was shooting our feet and panning up from the feet and we where like ‘okay whatever’ it wasn’t too crazy fetishy wise. But no I did not know what I was doing I’m sure it was all programmed in ahead of time. Sorry I wish I could say I was really good at that game. You know whose really good at that stuff is my son.
Love Horror: You’ve said that as you were shooting there was some debate between the (writer/director) Thom Eberhardt and the producers as to whether or not Night of the Comet was a serious horror flick or more tongue in cheek. Can you expand on that?
Catherine Mary Stewart: It was being debated almost every day I think. Obviously as an actor you try to keep separate from those sort of conversations but yeah the producers really wanted to make a horror genre movie, serious horror genre.
Thom who wrote the script and directed, this was a labour of love for him and he wanted to do what he had written and his idea was kind of a dark quirky comedy with lots of little innuendo’s like posters in the background and things like that. He was a really smart guy and he knew exactly what he wanted.
At the time we would actually shot the horror version and then the Thom Eberhardt version so that they could be flexible. But I am so pleased with the way it turned out. It would have been a terrible horror movie it just wasn’t horrible enough, it was meant to be quirky, it was meant to be tongue in cheek with a wink and a nod. I think it treads a brilliant line.
Love Horror: I agree and almost by being a comedy and treading that line it slips in the heavy weight issues it deals with without being preachy or patronising. The relationship between Reggie and her sister Samantha played by Kelli Maroney also makes the movie so great. Were you as good friends off screen as well as on?
Catherine Mary Stewart: We where actually we didn’t know each other before shooting the film but we did become good friends. We are very different she and I and I think she is a brilliant actress. I think I’m a little more grounded. I have a family, not that that’s better especially being an actress but she’s a little more quirky than I am. I hooked up with her for the first time in, I don’t know how long, 20 years or something just this last spring and she’s exactly the same. She’s got a great personality for an actress, she’s real smart and her mind is everywhere and we sort of just fell back into those roles.
Love Horror: I’ve read that in 2006 Kelli Maroney was talking about buying the rights to Night of the Comet so she could make a sequel although so far she has been blocked by MGM.
Catherine Mary Stewart: She did try to buy the rights but she couldn’t for whatever reason. I’m not sure of all the details but they wouldn’t release them to her in fact when she started showing interest in it they cut her off and maybe that was one of the reasons it was released on DVD. I was contacted by some people online saying ‘we want this on DVD, we’re getting a list together, will you back us up’ so there where a lot of people waiting for this.
Love Horror: Are you surprised at the cult status that Night of the Comet has gathered over the years and the number of fan sites dedicated to it and yourself?
Catherine Mary Stewart: Absolutely, it’s amazing to me. I really had no idea. You shoot a movie, you finish shooting, its released and it goes away and 10 years latter basically I have it and I remember doing it and I loved doing it and all of a sudden everyone’s like ‘Night of the Comet!’ and its kind of bizarre but its great. I’m so happy because I think that it is kind of a great movie. It is what it is but it gives a lot.
Love Horror: It encapsulates the period in which it was made in the music and the clothes and the way its shot and for many people obsessed with the 80’s it’s the perfect film.
Catherine Mary Stewart: Right because if you were growing up in that time you hold a real soft spot for that time.
I think also the story holds up because it’s a generally fun romp. My kids are just getting to the age where they get that I’m an actress.
When they where younger I really wasn’t that busy which was good as they really needed a mum. A few years ago they both had sleep over birthday parties and they showed Night of the Comet, The Last Starfighter, Weekend at Bernies with all their friends and it was kind of neat for me. It was kind of an ego boast that they are proud enough of what I did that they want to show their friends. It was funny because in the middle of the night these little 13 year old girls where watching Night of the Comet and screaming, they loved it.
Love Horror: If they ever did make a sequel, would you be interested in reprising your role as Reggie? What do you think would have happened to her since the first film?
Catherine Mary Stewart: I have never even thought of it. You would have to be very creative to come up with an interesting story and also to keep the quirkiness going. I never really though about it before. Of course I’d love to be involved in it and I think that put in the right hands it has a lot of potential. I’m not those hands however. You should talk to Kelli Maroney about that. Maybe Hector and I could have some kids running around.
Love Horror: I think that in the sequel you would be the queen of some kind of society, or the president of the world or something.
Catherine Mary Stewart: I like it. What would Kelli’s role be? She could be minister of culture of something. Can you imagine?
Love Horror: Minister of culture in a post apocalyptic zombie world could be an interesting job.
You have starred in episodes of The Outer Limits, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and made various horror movies and thrillers throughout your career. Do you enjoy horror as a genre?
Catherine Mary Stewart: Well I do enjoy it. It wasn’t a conscious decision that I was going to do this genre of movie. I would love to do as many different things as I could. I think that, well there’s a lot of that stuff anyway but when you do a couple of them you are as an actor…
Love Horror: Typecast?
Catherine Mary Stewart: Exactly. So if you have a movie and there’s a role that’s my type, sci-fi, horror thing, my name will probably come up. Well it used to anyway. I’m getting a little old for it now.
Love Horror: Awww.
Catherine Mary Stewart: I’m not the young ingénue anymore (laughing) I mean I could try but it has been 25 years.
Love Horror: Finally you where also in the classic Weekend at Bernies. Do you think it would have been a better film if Bernie had been a zombie?
Catherine Mary Stewart: (Laughing) I don’t think so because what was funny about Bernie was that he was this guy, who was dead, I think if you added the zombie element it would take away from the reality.
Love Horror: I guess, in fact it’s almost a horror film as it is.
Catherine Mary Stewart: It’s crazy. When I read that script I thought this is not funny, this is a dead man and he’s being towed behind a motor boat and banging into buoys, that’s not funny to me, but I’m still going to audition for it. And I thought I don’t know how this is going to work but it did work. It worked big time, guys love that stuff.
Love Horror: I love that film.
Catherine Mary Stewart: I think a lot of girls do to but it’s really a guy film.
Night of the Comet is out now on Blu-ray!