Introduction to subseries “Superman: The Movie” (including list of interviewees).
How did you get cast in Superman: The Movie?
Through an agent.
What was your thought when you heard it was Superman?
When you’re in the business, you don’t jump over broomsticks. You don’t jump up and down. You just go and give it a shot. You always believe you can do it.
What were you doing before that?
I was just starting out as an actor. I’d been studying acting. I met someone from an agency at the health club, a gym. I’ve worked out all my life. At the time I think I was doing an off-Broadway play. I was playing Bigger Thomas in Native Son. I was knocking down commercials. I used to do a lot of commercials—McDonald’s, shaving. The money’s very good in commercials. You get paid for 2-3 years for one commercial.
Was that your first film role?
How many days were you on set?
About four days. They make sure you don’t go nowhere. They might’ve paid for me the whole week just to have me on call.
Always at night?
My scene was at night.
Where was it filmed?
57th Street. The building has a big red “9” in front. Everyone had a trailer. A lot of time I’d be down on the set watching them shoot other stuff.
What did your family think about your involvement with something as famous as Superman?
I’ve always been very subtle. I’m a humble person. People usually don’t know I did something till they see it on the screen or stage. Like when I’ve done Broadway, they learn from the reviews.
Do you still save reviews of your Broadway work?
Down there somewhere. I’m sure if I went digging I could find it. They keep reviews at the library at Lincoln Center. I did Streamers off-Broadway. I got a lot of play out of that. Native Son, I won a Theatre World Award. It was my first play!
Any anecdotes about filming STM?
The funniest part is people see you’ve got on this pimp uniform and people see you and actually think you’re a pimp! There’s always a lot of people watching. People asked me if I was smoking dope.
The casting people told you in advance that the role was a pimp?
I didn’t know it was a pimp till I got there. I mean, I was excited to get it. They could have given me a rabbi and I would’ve played him. (laughs) I’m a student of life.
When they said it was a pimp, what was your reaction?
The casting director gives you a script to read to see what you can do with it. I thought there was something very funny about the line [“Say, Jim—whoo! That’s a bad out-fit! Whoo!”]. I liked the way the line sounded. It was easy money.
The fact that they cast you as a pimp didn’t bother you?
No, it didn’t. Morgan Freeman was nominated for an Oscar for playing a pimp! In a movie with Christopher Reeve. And Terence Howard in Hustle and Flow. It could be a person negative to society, but [that can be a good] role.
What were you paid?
I don’t remember but I still get residuals from it. They pop up with other stuff. Whenever they show it in Europe or on TV or on DVD. You don’t get rich but you get a piece of the change.
Do you still have any props or other memorabilia (call sheets, correspondence, your contract, etc.) from the shoot?
No, I threw away a lot of scripts I had. Nobody thinks like that at that time.
Do you have any personal photographs from the shoot?
Did you see the other Superman movies?
Yeah, I always did.
Did you attend the STM premiere in Washington DC? If so, what do you remember about it?
No, I didn’t. I could’ve gone.
Do you remember why you didn’t?
No, I don’t. I probably went to the New York screening.
Did you make friends with anyone in the cast of STM?
No. You meet everybody. They have a cast party in a restaurant. But it was like different worlds meeting and partying and disappearing, like smoke.
Do you remember a cast party?
I remember going to dinner somewhere in New York.
What was Christopher Reeve like?
Our meetings were brief but he was a very humble, nice person. He loved what he was doing. He was into it.
Did you think he was doing a good job?
I thought it was a great role for somebody. He was tall. They had a brand they were promoting and he fit the bill.
Did you ever see him after the movie was done?
I just missed him in Wurtsboro, New York. There’s a little airport up there and he had a little German-built fiberglass glider there that cost $30,000, like in The Thomas Crown Affair. I used to go up there but I wasn’t a pilot. You’d pay and they’d take you up. The pilot that I went up with once told me that Christopher Reeve was just there.
Did the pilot know you were in STM?
No, I didn’t mention it to him.
Even after he mentioned Christopher Reeve?
I didn’t mention it.
You really are modest! Has anyone else interviewed you about STM?
I don’t think so.
Have any strangers ever recognized you from STM?
People recognize you from anything. [For example:] “I know you from [1996 ABC Afterschool Special] Daddy’s Girl.”
But has anyone recognized you from STM recently?
No. How many years ago was that?
More than thirty. Where would people have recognized you?
In the gym, on the street, in your building. [mentions something about Law and Order]
Were you on Law and Order?
I think every actor in New York was on it.
Do you have children?
I have two children. [he did not want to reveal more]
What do they think of your link to Superman?
They know everything I’ve been in. They saw it a long time ago.
But if they saw it for the first time as kids, were they excited?
They said “That’s my daddy!”
Some of the friends you’ve made in your life must have seen you in STM before you met them. Any funny stories about that?
That would happen. People would even say “I didn’t even know you acted.” Now I’m working on some writing. Other than that, I keep on a low profile.
What kind of writing?
It’ll probably be a novel or a script.
For adults or kids?
Not for young kids.
Where do you live now?
I lived in New York then and still do. I still have the same phone number.
What do you like to do when not working?
I like camping. I like long walks in the woods. I got what I call my shack in upstate New York. Door-to-door two hours from the city. It’s not deep in the woods. But it looks like a lot of property. You see mountains in the distance. Black bears, deer, possums, foxes, coyotes show up back there. I think I saw a bobcat! I took my samurai sword with me. I don’t carry guns. I followed him on tiptoe. He came back and had a groundhog in his mouth. I like watching birds of prey. I have a lot of bird houses up in the woods. I got to meet a lot of birds. I learn through osmosis. You start to feed them and then you buy a book. I like horseback riding. I used to ride in Manhattan at a stable before they closed it. I like motorcycles.
What do you do for a living now?
Personal fitness. Privately at people’s homes and gyms in the apartment buildings.
How do you market yourself?
I don’t really market. It’s word of mouth. I would never get rich from it.
What did you think when you heard why I was contacting you?
I kept trying to understand. I thought there must be some ulterior motive. This sounded too easy, too good to be true. I don’t like to filet myself. (laughs) That makes me feel uncomfortable. I don’t know you [so I was wary to agree to an interview].
Hopefully you feel differently now!
I’m trying to. (laughs)
What do you think when I say a lot of Superman fans really want to know what’s going with you?
It’s hard to fathom that. That’s mind-blowing if that’s true.
Would you be open to attending a comics convention as a guest to meet fans?
[I then expressed gratitude for his time, especially since I know he went outside his comfort zone to do this; I said I owe him lunch]
You don’t owe me anything. When I’m driving if I see someone who needs help, I stop. They always want to give you money but I don’t take it. I say, “If you see anyone stranded, you stop and help him. That’s all I want you to do.”
Spoken like a Superman...
9/28/14 addendum: A storyboard of Bo’s scene turned up at auction:
Next: Legends of the Superheroes.