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Back From The Brink

Margot Kidder has done eight projects since a manic episode 19 months ago. She's happy and at peace with herself.

November 19, 1997|CLIFFORD ROTHMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"This is also about the movie, isn't it?" Margot Kidder says, sitting in a wing chair in the lobby of the Chateau Marmont midway through an interview promoting "Never Met Picasso." She gives a throaty laugh, but she's not kidding.

Kidder knows that she's going to have to discuss what's on everybody's minds: that she was discovered cowering in the bushes in Glendale early last year in a state of mental distress. The mental image is of her naked and missing a few teeth. She just doesn't want that to be all anybody talks about.

"You mean, what's it like to be the most famous crazy person in the world?" she says, cutting off the reporter trying to find a delicate way of asking how it feels to have people think of her emotional stability as soon as they see her. "It's a dubious honor. What can I tell you?"

The common sense of the answer underscores the journey she's made since the headlines around the world that, as she says, portrayed her as a crazy woman. The diagnosis, in reality, was manic depression, which is being successfully treated. And she has done eight projects since then, the last "The Return of Alex Kelly," which is to air on CBS on Tuesday.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday November 21, 1997 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 34 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 24 words Type of Material: Correction
Telecast date--An incorrect date was given Wednesday for the telecast date of "The Return of Alex Kelly," in which Margot Kidder stars. CBS has not yet scheduled the film.

At the Marmont last weekend, as she navigated among consecutive reporters, a photographer and publicist swirling around her, she had a forthright candor and a kind of fearless authority--as well as irreverent humor--that comes from being through the wars and living to tell the tales.

"I joke with my friends that I've done so many characters this past year, they're going to change my diagnosis to multiple personality disorder," she says, again laughing heartily.

She's gone the professional gamut from playing flamboyant chain-smoking drama teacher Cookie De Varen on the sitcom "Boston Common" to playing a dog in "Sylvia" on stage in Toronto, a new-age guru in a film shot in Fiji and a police officer in "Silent Cradle" shot in Edmonton, Canada. She played painter Georgia O'Keeffe in the two-person touring play "Stieglitz Loves O'Keeffe" (co-starring Stacey Keach), a music teacher in the independent feature "The Planet of Junior Brown" and the aggrieved mother of convicted rapist Alex Kelly in the upcoming CBS movie.

"I'm loving being older," says Kidder, who just turned 49. "I know a lot of actresses get very panicked about it and run off to plastic surgeons. My advice is, don't, because there are better parts if you don't. You can do more characters when you're older, which is a lot more fun than being the babe. So I'm sort of relishing this age."

In her early stardom days, as the iconic Lois Lane in "Superman" and "Superman III," she says she felt like a fraud.

"I was being what I call 'Margot Moviestar.' Or trying to be, and very badly. After 'Superman' came out, I found it very difficult and hard to deal with. There is a sense of having to put on this phony face when you go out in public. I wasn't very good at it, and it filled me with anxiety and panic. I had to hide the manic depression, for one thing. I just felt inadequate for the job."

Her small-town Canada roots were at odds with the glamour role. "I grew up in Labrador City and Yellowknife--you know, real sophisticated hot spots--and somehow had this image that movie stars were these perfect glorious people," she recalls.

"And then I became one and I was still the same schmuck I'd always been, and it made me more insecure rather than less. I thought I would turn into a princess, and I was still me."

Kidder, who now lives in Montana, says L.A. is too toxic for her. "I find L.A. really difficult in that everyone is so career-driven that your life here becomes about your career. And I'm not one of those people that can stay solid as a rock within that. I just couldn't do it. I wasn't strong enough. I need a good community of wonderful people around me like you get in a small town."

Ironically, because of work, she's been away from Montana almost all year, working nonstop.

"Not only is she one of the most creative actresses, with extraordinary emotional resources, she is also one of the most pleasant," says director Ted Kotcheff, who had requested Kidder for the role of Alex Kelly's mother.

"Let me give you an example," Kotcheff says, describing the grueling two-day shoot of the courtroom sequence. "One day we shot 18 hours, until 8 in the morning. And for a lot of those hours, Margot was just set dressing. She has to be seen sitting in the courtroom behind the boy. I've seen a lot of actors get irritated doing nothing 95% of the time. But she did it with such good humor and grace, she kept up the whole spirit on the set."

From the Ventura set of his "Mike Hammer" series, Stacy Keach adds, "All I can say is, she's like champagne. A pro through and through. That's her priority. She has passion and sensitivity."

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