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COVER STORY

Taking the Next 'Step' in His Return to Acting

November 03, 1996|Susan King | Susan King is a Times staff writer. Freelance writer John Clark contributed to this story

Fans of Christopher Reeve the actor haven't seen the last of him. He turns up on screen next Sunday in a CBS television movie, "Step Toward Tomorrow." Producer Craig Anderson says getting his good friend to take the role was "just what the doctor ordered."

"The whole thing about the handicapped is that they need to return to work," says Anderson, who previously worked with Reeve on the 1991 CBS movie "Bump in the Night." "We all watched Chris in the past year be a famous celebrity paraplegic, for lack of a better word, but he really hadn't returned to work. This movie got him back to work."

In "Step Toward Tomorrow," Reeve appears briefly as a quadriplegic who befriends a 10-year-old boy suffering from spinal cord injury (Kendall Cunningham) and the boy's mother (Judith Light).

"It was a very simple part that I shot in one day while I was hosting the Paralymic Games [in Atlanta]," Reeve says. "I believe his family has problems with their insurance company and the mother is really distraught, and my character is helpful to both the mother and the son in providing them with reassurance."

Anderson says Reeve seemed to enjoy acting again and "relating with other actors and studying for a scene--he really had a wonderful time."

His friend was exhausted by the day's end, Anderson says, but had not sought special treatment:

"He came in saying, 'I can do whatever I used to do. Don't treat me as if I am special. I can change my wardrobe, take a break, get some rest and food while you are doing the lighting setup for the next scene.' He hung in there right with us."

There were slight delays, however, because of Reeve's wheelchair: "His chair, because of the body positions and how the blood is flowing, it needs to be tilted because he can't move anything," Anderson says. "So he has to alternate positions every couple of minutes so that all the blood just doesn't go to his feet and stay there. For the most part there wasn't any problem."

Although the role wasn't written for Reeve, his beliefs and feelings were incorporated into his scenes.

"The line in which Chris says, 'One day I am going to walk again,' that is him speaking," Anderson says. "We wrote that specifically for him because those are his big beliefs and how he is. Even though he was playing another character, I think he comes across very strongly that one day he is going to do this, and don't feel sorry for him."

Before the accident last year, Anderson says, he and others knew Reeve "as very strong and independent--possessed by his art and his craft."

"I think the majority of us would roll over and say, 'Put me in a dark room; I am going to watch television the rest of my life,' " Anderson says. "A lot of us said, 'If anybody is going to make it, he is going to make it.' He has the most fulfilling, larger-than-life life despite his handicap. It's a real credit to him."

Of the future, Reeve says: "Creatively, I'll be focusing on directing, although there may be more acting opportunities down the line. Obviously, you're limited in the roles you can play, but it's not difficult. I found the day's work I did quite easy."

*

* "Step Toward Tomorrow" airs next Sunday at 9 p.m. on CBS.

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