Catherine Mary Stewart has worked with industry legends like Charles Bronson, Karl Malden and Robert Preston.
Not bad for a former dancer who never imagined herself starring in big screen movies.
Here’s part two of WWTW’s interview with the actress.
WWTW: Some of your contemporaries got sidetracked with abuse issues … did you feel pressure during that time to follow such a path, and what helped you avoid such pitfalls?
CMS: I’m pretty much a loner. I was never a party person. It was not a comfortable situation for me. I guess I was exposed to some stuff but for the most part in a very controlled situation. I also think most people didn’t see me as a “partier” so I was never dragged into it. Many people in the business have accused me of being really “normal” compared to most people in the said business. I’m not sure what that means exactly, and my husband and kids may argue it, but I’m very happy with that accusation.
WWTW: Which co-star has made the biggest impression on you through your career?
CMS: I would have to say that the actors that impacted me the most professionally were the seasoned older actors (for the most part) that have/had been around for a long time. Many of them were happy to give advice, or advice came forth whether it was requested or not. I took all advice to heart and still do to this day.
There have been several methods of advice giving:
- The surprise attack: – Karl Malden in “With Intent to Kill.” The first moment I met him on the set he asked me how my character was important to the script. I was so taken aback that I didn’t know what to say. He went on to break it all down in terms of character and script etc. I felt like a big idiot but learned a valuable lesson!
- Celeste Holm in “Murder By the Book.” The first moment I met her was in the van on the way to location. She just started saying the dialogue from the scene that we were in together. I was totally thrown for a moment. I didn’t know what she was talking about, but quickly figured it out and responded the best I could. I knew the scene, I was just so thrown off!
- The mid-scene advice: – Stephanie Powers in “Hollywood Wives” stopped me mid-scene and advised me that I must look the opposite actor in the eyes when I spoke to them. There must be a connection or it won’t be interesting to the audience.
- The nurturer: – Angie Dickinson in “Hollywood Wives” took me under her wing. If you look at that cast, I was definitely an “out cast” … so to speak. Most ofthem were of the same era, or just so much more experienced that I was. I was a bit out of the loop, but Angie went out of her way to talk to me and make me feel comfortable and tell me how great I was.
- The pure professionals: – Lance Guest in “The Last Starfighter” had such integrity and held himself to such a high standard that I just wanted to raise your own standard to meet it. He is a hard working, giving actor. He made me feel secure and better in my role opposite him. We created a real character relationship, and he made me realize how important it was to do the work.
- Just relax and do it: – Bruce Dern in “World Gone Wild” was SO funny and wacko! He just sat back, relaxed and did the work. No angst, no agro, just pure confident, character driven acting. Obviously he had done the work and knew exactly what it was he wanted to do, but it was a thing a beauty, and often hilarity, to just watch his character unfold.
- The movie star: – Robert Preston in “The Last Starfighter” had an aura. It was almost a surreal experience meeting him. He exuded charm, warmth and that movie star magnetism that is impossible to describe. When I met him he took my hand and kissed it and told me what a pleasure it was to meet me. His voice was like dark flowing honey that projected from deep within his chest, his has was soft but strong, his face was blemishless and perfect. I honestly, practically melted. He was truly a beautiful man.
- Charles Bronson in “The Sea Wolf” was a walking dichotomy. When I first met him I sat next to him at a dinner for the cast and producers and director before we began the shoot. He was an intimidating man, sitting quietly and giving off a kind of “approach with caution” vibe. It wasn’t long before we were friends. He had so many stories of his tough childhood, his early days as an actor in NY, his first work on TV and screen. He just came alive and they were fascinating. He was quiet and seemed intimidating on the outside, but he was such a gentle man. My husband and I remained friends with he and his wife until his death. We still stay in touch with his wife.
WWTW: Talk about one of your most recent projects – “Rising Stars.” Was the film inspired in part by “American Idol,” and how did you prepare for the role of an overbearing parent (perhaps watching TLC’s Toddlers & Tiaras?”)
CMS: I suppose that there is a current interest in talent competition or talent driven stories. “American Idol” is fun to watch, in a sometimes tortuous way. To me it’s a show about the resiliency of the human spirit. If they can get through that competition, they can get through anything. Oh ya, you need to have talent too. I’m also fascinated with “Dancing With the Stars” because I KNOW how HARD it is to become a proficient dancer,especially from scratch. It’s almost impossible with a huge chance of injury.
I think the story in “Rising Stars” is unique and interesting. They coined it “the anti-High School Musical.” The talent in this show is incredible! These ‘kids’ are amazing. I developed the character based on discussions with the director and using characteristics of people I know. There’s some OCD, control freak, living vicariously through my daughter with a touch of psychological abuse. To be fair, in her mind she’s doing what she thinks is best for her child and is ultimately feels scared and vulnerable herself.
WWTW: What role do fans recognize you from the most?
CMS: It shifts as time moves on. It used to be “Days of Our Lives” hands down. Now that those who were kids in the 80’s are grown up, I’m recognized from “The Last Starfighter,” “Weekend at Bernie’s,” “Night of the Comet” and
sometimes “Mischief.” Apparently a fair number of 13-year-olds saw me in movies they could relate to for the first time, and it really stuck with them.
WWTW: Hollywood can be an unforgiving business for actresses over 40. Can you talk about the industry’s attitude to women – and do you see any improvement in this area?
CMS: There has been a lot of attention drawn to the fact that those roles aren’t out there in significant numbers and more women have control over what’s being produced. I think they’ve made real in-roads in that area on TV and cable, but the reality is that this has become a business about making lots of money, especially in this country. Blockbuster movies depend on a young crowd. So movies geared to a younger audience dominate the industry.
There are some wonderful independent and foreign films that attract older audiences. I find myself seeing those kind of movies. As far as my being cast in the smaller independents with strong older lead characters, the industry is saturated with actors my age, “A list” included, who just really want to work, so even the smaller movies with the good roles have become more of a challenge to get, even though there may be more out there. It forces me to be the best I can.
WWTW: Several of your more recent projects have involved dancing … a happy accident, or are you looking for projects that reflect your early passion for dance?
CMS: It’s a happy coincidence. I would love to be able to actually do some significant dancing myself in something. (I wonder if I could….:) I still have a passion for it.
WWTW: What advice would you give a young actress entering the business today?
CMS: Have a strong foundation of training. Get as much experience as possible with auditioning, auditioning, auditioning and hopefully that will lead to work, work, work. It’s very difficult to get an agent or manager if you have no experience so it’s very important when you start out. New York is a great place to be as an unrepresented actor because there are so many “open auditions” that you can show up for without being submitted by an agent. Read the trade magazines so you know what’s out there. Be an extra in a movie. Introduce yourself to the actors, director, producer. Be the BEST extra they’ve ever seen! Attend seminars, meetings, classes. Network! Be aggressive* and confident and soak up everything like a sponge. Have a positive attitude.
I would recommend a book called “Acting As a Business, Strategies for Success” by Brian O’Neil. It gives you a real business perspective for an actor. It’s important to understand that approach because most actors just want to act. We’re artists, not business people, but we must know that side of it. Selling the product that is US. Finally, when you have somewhat of a resume, get meetings with agents. Decide whether you want to hit LA. Be prepared for anything and armed with experience and confidence!
When I say “aggressive,” I don’t mean in a negative way. Know your product, (you) believe in your product and sell your product with confidence. You will already be ahead of the pack because producers want to hire actors that are confident, positive and ones they feel they candepend on. DON’T GIVE UP!!