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Able to Leap From Movies to TV in a Single Bound : CHRISTOPHER REEVE STARS IN TNT'S 'THE ROSE AND THE JACKAL'

April 15, 1990|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Christopher Reeve describes life as an actor as being like a person who lives in a big city and eats at a different restaurant every night.

"You've got your pick of whatever cuisine you want," he said. "Some you're going to like better than others, and some like you better than others. But that's the fun of it-to keep trying different cakes."

Though Reeves scored his biggest success as the Man of Steel in the four "Superman" movies, the actor's film roles have ranged from a corrupt priest to a murderer.

Now, he's tackling a historical romance, "The Rose and the Jackal," a new movie airing Monday at 5, 7, 9 and 11 p.m. on TNT, with more screenings throughout the month.

Set in Washington, D.C., during the Civil War, "The Rose and Jackal" stars Reeve as Allan Pinkerton, the head and founder of the Secret Service, who finds himself attracted to a beautiful Southern agent (Madolyn Smith Osborne).

"Pinkerton is probably a more bullheaded, obstinate and aggressive kind of person than I have played on the screen before," said Reeve. "It's a story of two people who have equally strong convictions and won't give an inch and yet are very attracted to each other."

Reeve used to do a lot of preparation for each of his roles, but now has a more carefree attitude toward his craft. "You just go in and have a good time," he said. "I had to know everything about the character. The thing is you can't play the research, you have to play the script. If it's a good script, it's all pretty much laid out there for you. I don't think we are doing a docudrama about Alan Pinkerton. We are doing a romantic story, so I don't see the need for research."

The actor, though, found shooting the film in just 21 days anything but carefree. "The schedule's a killer," Reeve said. "Everything needs to go right every day, and the actors have to get along well. I would shudder to think what would happen if somebody decided to be undisciplined or come in with an attitude. You couldn't do it."

Reeve insisted that he won't become involved again in another hurried shoot. "You think you're going to shoot these six pages, and at the last minute, they tell you, 'That scene that's supposed to take place in the barracks, well, we couldn't find the barracks, so it's going to happen in your room instead.' There are all kinds of compromises that have to be made."

Only a few years ago, film actors would rarely do TV. But small screen projects of late have attracted such heavyweight screen stars as Jane Fonda, Robert Duvall, James Woods, Holly Hunter, John Lithgow, Walter Matthau and now Reeve.

"You really can go back and forth," said Reeve, who appeared 16 years ago on daytime television's "Love of Life." "I think it's terrific. Most of the leads in movies today are being played by people who also have a half-hour TV sitcom. Movie studios need to make films that are going to do big business, so a lot of smaller films that don't have commercial appeal are falling by the wayside."

"The Rose and the Jackal" was one such film. "No studio wanted to touch it as a feature, and then Turner picked it up," said Reeve. "It's a good script. The cable companies are picking up the good original material."

Reeve, who lives in New York City, has even been in discussions with producers about doing a half-hour series in the Big Apple. He admitted, though, he's a little skeptical about taking the plunge and doing a weekly show.

"It's great if it works, but it can take over your life," said Reeve. "You have to schedule movies or theater during a very limited hiatus period. If the series doesn't work, if it disappears, then you haven't done yourself a favor, either."

It's not that Reeve feels the need to constantly work. "I am really not a workaholic. I want to be doing things that will be fun and worthwhile."

One of those "worthwhile" things is directing movies, and Reeve has a couple of directing projects on the back burner. The actor did second-unit directing on the "Superman" movies and on his 1983 film, "The Aviator."

"I have been waiting to direct for a long time," said Reeve. "I feel that being an actor for 22 years, I can speak the language of actors. I feel that there's a gap in that area. There are many directors coming along that don't have any experience with actors and don't know how to use them."

But being a "closet" director on the set has gotten him into trouble over the years. "I have stood on the sidelines saying, 'Why is he putting the camera over there?' I have been critical in a way which isn't appropriate. I have made suggestions and been told politely to shove off. But I really want to direct. I feel that's something I am going to take to it pretty naturally."

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