For a period of time in the late ’80s, Catherine Mary Stewart was the go to “girl next door with backbone.” A run of great casting landed her the lead in one of our favorite apocalyptic films with Night of the Comet, as well as playing the romantic lead Maggie in The Last Starfighter. We caught up with Catherine to reminisce about our favorite movies and what she remembers of making them.
Nerdist: You were in both The Last Starfighter and Night of the Comet, which makes you officially a cult icon; how does that sound to you?
Catherine Mary Stewart: It sounds yummy to me! Can I first just say that Sci-Fi fans are the coolest, most dedicated, authentic and respectful fans. NERDS RULE!!! It is always a pleasure to interact with those who know and enjoy my work. Secondly, it remains humbling and awesome that these little films that I was a part of so long ago touch a nerve in their audience in a positive way!
N: Did you have the notion at the time these would be films people discover and re-discover every few years?
CMS: I think I partially answered that above, but I would say at the time that we made these films we (well, at least I wasn’t) weren’t thinking necessarily about their longevity. For me both The Last Starfighter and Night of the Comet were scripts that I was attracted to. In retrospect, I think that they both have a timeless element. TLS is ultimately a simple story of not being afraid to pursue your dreams no matter what the obstacles. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t feel a sense of fear or doubt when faced with big challenges. The message to me is when you face and conquer challenges, you will most often feel the greatest sense of accomplishment and pride.
NOTC to me was a sort of zany take on female empowerment, although, honestly, it didn’t feel like that’s what we were trying to do. When I read the script I loved the fact that “Reggie” was a powerful, independent young woman. I can’t remember thinking, “Wow, this is unusual that two young quirky women could survive some sort of worldwide apocalypse.” I’ve always been encouraged to be self reliant and independent. It’s how I was raised so it felt pretty comfortable to be in that role. I loved it! But in retrospect, I think this film is empowering for girls/women in a way we don’t see very often. There just aren’t a lot of films with real self sufficient heroines. I’ve spoken to many women that have said it had an impact on them as young women. At least as many men love the movie too, for the same reason the women do. Men love powerful women but we don’t see that so often in film.
On a less serious note, we can’t ignore that both these films are a lot of fun!! They are timeless in that way, too!
N: What can you tell us about filming Night of the Comet and where it fits in the zombie movie landscape?
CMS: Well, there have always been zombie movies, but what I loved about this is that it was more of a tongue-in-cheek approach. To me, that’s one of the things that made it unique. I think the whole take on the zombies is different in “NOTC” than you traditionally see. It’s not about about a bunch of brain thirsty living dead unceasingly trudging towards the living and the living fighting them off. There’s a little more to it in “NOTC.” We had a lot of fun shooting the film. I loved the physicality of my role, for example, the fight with the zombie and the gun fight in the mall. I love that stuff! The movie was shot on a small budget, so there was a lot of, shall we say, non-traditional shooting and scheduling. We were all in it together and I think it shows. We had a gas!
N: What do you think about all the zombie-fiction that’s out there now?
CMS: I don’t normally watch zombie fiction, but my husband saw Warm Bodies and said I would like it, so I’ll probably see that.
N: You got to kick a lot of ass in that movie; how fun was it to be the action hero?
CMS: SO MUCH FUN!!! I was raised with two older brothers so I was never a delicate girlie girl. It was more challenging for me to play someone like “Maggie” in “TLS.” I was often cast as “the girl next door” type, but it was much more fun for me to kick some ass!
N: The character of Regina is very independent; along with Linda Hamilton you were a trend-setter for this type of pre-Buffy tough lady.
CMS: “The Terminator” came out around the same time, and I remember being compared to Linda Hamilton in terms of toughness. I believe we had the same hair-do as well… Buffy seems a little more like Kelli Maroney’s take on the “Sam” character.
N: The same year as Comet was The Last Starfighter, which is another favorite. What are your memories of that?
CMS: The Last Starfighter was the first movie I did in L.A. It couldn’t have been a better experience! It was absolutely idyllic from working with Lance Guest, a consummate actor with such integrity, to being directed by Nick Castle with such enthusiasm and support, to being shot by King Baggot, who made this movie look incredible. I remember it with such enormous fondness. Also, in retrospect, it was a ground breaking movie in terms of CGI, and I feel so honored to have been a small part of that.
N: Maggie didn’t get to do as much in The Last Starfighter, but she does go off with Alex at the end. Do you imagine she became a starfighter as well? The second-to-last starfighter?
CMS: My theory is we have a child who becomes the “next last starfighter”. I’m thinking SEQUEL!!!! (Author’s Note: Oddly enough, so were we in our picks of four movies that need a sequel.)
N: And you were in Weekend at Bernie’s, so pretty much you’re in a movie that plays in college dorm rooms non-stop. What was it like working with a “dead” guy?
CMS: That was really fun! Poor Terry Kiser. He went through a lot physically, not the least of which there were times when we would be shooting with Terry as “dead Bernie”, that Ted Kotcheff (the director) would just let Terry sit there trying not to breathe well after the scene was over before he said “cut”. It was mean, but funny. We all had a good laugh at his expense. I knew I had made it when my son did the “Bernie dance” at a recital at his school. So what if that particular thing wasn’t in the first movie… This is a script that when I read it I didn’t appreciate the humor in the way that most people seem to. Hey, who am I to judge?? It’s one credit that EVERYONE seems to know.
N: These are some of our favorite roles of yours, but do you have any personal favorites?
CMS: This may sound cliché, so I apologize, but honestly as an actor I have a love for every role that I’m given. Some experiences on the set may be more challenging than others in perhaps a negative way, but I approach to each character with equal enthusiasm. I love that I’ve had the opportunity to play many different kinds of characters. That’s what keeps it interesting to me.
N: What have you been working on lately?
CMS: I have a movie called Ghoul that is airing on the Chiller network at the moment and I’m preparing for a couple of other projects in the spring. Stay tuned!!