MGM/20th Century Fox has just released
a 2-DVD set of director Philip Kaufman’s 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Cinema Retro Editor-in-Chief Lee Pfeiffer
recently caught up with one of the stars of the film, Veronica Cartwright for
her reflections on that Hollywood rarity: a
remake that in many ways equals or exceeds the quality of the original. Successful as a child actor,by 1978 Veronica Cartwright already had an impressive
acting resume, having worked with Audrey Hepburn in The Children’s Hour and been directed by Alfred Hitchcock in The Birds. She has worked consistently
in recent years, gaining Emmy nominations for The X Files and appearing in new, major motion pictures and TV
series. She will also be appearing in the new version of the Body Snatchers story, The Invasion with Nicole Kidman and
Daniel Craig. Veronica Cartwright has a
wealth of stories about working with giants in the industry as well as the
ups-and-downs most actors experience in their careers. She is unpretentious and
good-humored and all too happy to recall one of the major films of her career
for Cinema Retro.
CR: You started
as a child actor and over the years seem to have become associated with some
iconic TV shows and movies dealing with sci-fi and the supernatural. Did you
intentionally seek out work in this genre?
VC: I have no
idea why that is. At one point I had done so many that I thought to myself, “My
God, I’m the queen of sci-fi!” I was just accepting the work that came along.
Actually, I had done a couple of Alfred
Hitchcock Presents shows and I had appeared on One Step Beyond when I was seven or eight years old. I guess that’s
how the whole thing started. Then I did the Twlight
Zone episode called I Sing the Body
Electric that’s one of the classic ones that’s shown every Halloween.
CR: Why did you
side-step the problems so many other child actors have in not being able to
carry their career over into adulthood?
VC: For one thing
I really loved acting and really, really enjoyed doing it. I was actually able
to have somewhat ofa normal life and go
to high school. I think a lot it has to do with the parents. I happened to be
very lucky in that respect. When things started to slow down and I was too old for one part and too young
for another, I felt out this would be a good time to hone my craft and figure
out what I had been doing by instinct. I decided to go to acting classes and I
studied with Jack Garfein for three-and-a-half years. I did work sporadically
but it was hard to get roles. I wasn’t getting much work and had no
commitments, so I moved to England.
(Cartwright was born there and her family immigrated to the USA when she
was very young- Ed.) So basically, I
was starting all over again. I appeared in Inserts
when I was over there.
CR: That was a
very controversial film. It was a United Artists release starring Richard
Dreyfuss but carried the “X” rating.
VC: Yes, it had
Richard Dreyfuss and Bob Hoskins and it was X-rated. It had been shot on a
shoestring for the Ladd Company. It never should have gotten an X rating when
you compare it to the films you see today. Yet, it still carries an NC-17
rating! When I came back from England,
the movie had been released. Although not many people saw it, it started the
whole ball rolling again for me. That’s when I got the role in Goin’ South. Jack Nicholson (who starred
in and directed the western comedy- Ed.)
had seen Inserts so he gave me that
part. From Goin’ South it led to me
going in to meet about getting a part in Invasion
of the Body Snatchers. Sometimes you have to step off the edge and do
something that is entirely different and kick start your career. I needed to be
seen in a fresh light and that’s what did it for me. I was never bitter about
having to go through all this. There aren’t many of us who have that sort of
stick-to-itiveness. Sally Field has it. She went through a period where she
couldn’t get a job and now she’s won a couple of Oscars. There are some
exceptions to the rule and I am very happy to be fortunate enough to be one of those
CR: What are your
memories of your meeting to discuss Body Snatchers?
VC: The producer
Bob Solo was there. Phil Kaufman was there. It was interesting because the
character I was discussing, Nancy,
was very Hippie-dippy. I had just come back from three months in Mexico and I
walked in wearing a pair of blue jeans, an antique shirt and had a fedora on. My
hair was all sun-bleached and I guess I had a sort of confidence about me. The
fact that I looked like a Hippie didn’t hurt. I thought the character of Nancy was very
interesting because she’s the one who knows
what is really going on and she is the catalyst for what happens to the
group of friends. When I did Invasion of
the Body Snatchers, my character was the last survivor. So it was nice when
Oliver Hirschbiegel (the director the new version of the story, The Invasion- Ed.) called and requested to meet me. He viewed me like the Kevin
McCarthy character from the original. He wanted me to bring part of my
character into this movie with Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig. What’s
interesting is that you discover why Nancy
was able to avoid falling asleep. So in a weird way, my cameo provides the
catalyst for Nicole’s character to understand her son’s situation.
CR: In the 1978
version, it is Nancy’s
Hippy-like nature that leaves her mind open to more irrational explanations for
what is occurring to the people around her.
VC: Right. It’s
like my character in Alien – she was
also the voice of reason. You know, “Let’s get the fuck out of here!” She’s the
only rational one.
Original U.S. lobby card depicting Nancy's discovery of the first pod in the mud baths.
CR: Had you seen
the 1956 version of Body Snatchers prior
to making the film with Philip Kaufman?
VC: Oh yes. I had
seen it and then I re-watched it when I got the part. It’s funny because that
film was shot up by the BronsonCaves and I lived in BeachwoodCanyon for years, which is underneath
the Hollywood sign. That’s where the original
was shot. You know the stone arches where they’re all running away? That’s now
the entrance to the Beachwood coffees shop and the grocery store. They have big
posters in the butcher shop of scenes from the movie. When you think about it,
the pods in the original were kind of funny. They were like giant corn husks
everyone had to walk around with. In our version, the pods came from little
CR: You worked
with Philip Kaufman twice. On Invasion of
the Body Snatchers and The Right
Stuff. What is your opinion of him as a director?
VC: Well, he’s
such a special, lovely person. He loves actors. He’s an actor’s director. He’s
always willing to listen I remember the scene where Nancy puts together the whole link to monkeys
and apes and DNA. I had such a hard time trying to get the enthusiasm up. I
couldn’t figure out where she was getting these ideas. I told Phil that I’d
like to try something because her ideas are stimulated by ideas from other
people. We can use all the words that are in the script, but if we start to
overlap each other and talk over each other,that allows my character to get
jump started and begin to put the pieces together. So that by the time I get to
Donald Sutherland, I can say “Why can’t this be happening now?” Phil said, “If
you think that will work, let’s try it.” That’s ultimately what ended up being
in the movie. A lot of directors won’t do that. But Phil works with you and
he’s a sweetheart. Also, the screenwriter W.D. Richter sat on the set and would
re-write things and we’d get our changes the next day.
CR: The entire
film was shot in real locations in San
Francisco. Do you prefer locations to working in the
VC: It doesn’t
matter because you still have to do your home work.. You have to be able to get
to the character. I do think locations add a sense of atmosphere that otherwise
wouldn’t necessarily be there. Phil brought us out a couple of days early. I had
never been to a mud bath and Jeff Goldblum and I were supposed to run one, so
we thought it would be a good idea to familiarize ourselves with one. Then
Donald Sutherland took us to dinner at the Fairmont Hotel so we could sit and
talk and drink champagne. It was a great group of very relaxed people. I
remember Donald had that curly hair style and they would have to set his hair
with little pink rollers every day. Well, that sort of added to the relaxed
atmosphere right there! He is so wacky- he’s just the greatest. I had also just
worked with the sound man, Art Rochester on Goin’
South and here we were together again – and I worked with him yet again on The Witches of Eastwick. So it was a
really great group of people. All of these people were always such a united
front and very relaxed. Phil just creates that kind of atmosphere on all his
CR: How did you
enjoy working with Leonard Nimoy?
VC: Well, you
would just sit back and think, “Where are those ears?” It was shocking to
realize he was going to end up being the bad guy after all those years seeing
him as Spock. Yet here he was playing the ultimate body snatcher.
CR: Were you on
the set during the filming of the special effects sequences?
they had a midget for the scene in which Donald’s replicant was being born. I
got to see that whole thing because I’m in the same shot. I don’t know what
that was they stuck all over the body – something very rubbery- but it was
really grotesque. I was also obviously in the shot where the pod of Jeff
Goldblum opens his eyes in the mudbath. They did these effects right there at
CR: There are
also some interesting cameos in the film – Robert Duvall, Don Siegel, who
directed the original film and Kevin McCarthy who starred in it.
VC: Well, our film was a continuation of the story
rather than a remake which is why the Kevin McCarthy character is still seen
running. Robert Duvall for some reason decided to put on a priest’s outfit! (He
is seen on a swing in a children’s playground- Ed.)
CR: Have you seen
the film in recent years? If so, how do you think it holds up?
VC: I saw it out
here in L.A. at the HollywoodCemetery.
They showed it on the side of the mausoleum. They show films there during the
summer and it’s just a hoot to take a picnic and watch a movie there. It was a
great print they showed of the film and it was very trippy watching it in the
middle of a cemetery! I think the movie holds up really well. The only thing I
find dated is the music. It was very jazzy and was alright at that specific
time but I think it’s the only thing that dates the movie. Other than that, I
think it holds up really, really well.
CR: Is it true
that the shocking ending of the film came as a surprise to you?
VC: I learned
about it the day we filmed it. Phil told me one thing about how it was going to
end and he told Donald something else. That was not scripted at all. I did not
know he was going to be a pod. That was a spontaneous thing. I had been told
that I could approach him because he wasn’t a pod and Phil obviously had told
Donald that he was a pod. That
reaction came totally out of him betraying me!
Look for Veronica Cartwright’s comments on the making of her
other films in future issues of Cinema Retro.