Catherine Mary Stewart’s career has spanned over 30 years and over 50 different productions from film to television to theater. She was living in London studying dance when she was cast in her first professional acting role as the lead in the rock musical The Apple. She moved to Los Angeles in 1981 and soon landed a contract with daytime soap opera Days Of Our Lives. Making the transition from small screen to big screen, Catherine was soon cast in cult-classic movies Night Of The Comet and The Last Starfighter and would go on to star in 50’s teen comedy Mischief and what’s considered her biggest hit, Weekend At Bernie’s.
Today finally marks the release of the Collector’s Edition of Night Of The Comet on Blu-ray and DVD. We caught up with Catherine Mary Stewart to talk more about that film, her impressive professional career and what she’s up to now.
I read one interview where you were asked “When did you know you wanted to be an actress?” and you answered that you remembered performing songs in your friend’s basement when you were 10 or 12 years old, lip syncing Cher and the Monkees into your hairbrush. Did you ever have ambitions to be a singer or was it more about putting on a show and being an entertainer?
Growing up my home was full of song. My brothers and I used to sing around the house at the top of our lungs! I spent quite a bit of time around musicians in my twenties and loved that too, but my path went in a different direction. I was focused on dance and then acting. I did a movie called Scenes From The Goldmine where I played a rock ‘n’ roller, so I got to live vicariously through that character. I also have done musicals on stage. I loved singing and still do, but I never pursued it as a career in and of itself.
You grew up during what I think was a very exciting time for music. As a teenager, what music were you listening to?
My teen years were in the seventies. I was exposed to some great music as a jazz dancer. I played music loud and turned up the bass, especially while driving. I was passionate about everything from Earth Wind & Fire to Average White Band to Bread.
Do you still have musical “guilty pleasures” you’ll listen to today from when you were growing up?
I have so many tapes that I’ve tried to convert to CDs and now they’re even obsolete. I listen to them all as often as possible. I couldn’t live without my music.
You pursued jazz dance as a teenager and eventually performed professionally. Tell me about your trip to the Middle East and performing in a Christmas show for the Canadian UN forces. Experiencing the history and culture of places like Egypt and Israel at such an early age had to be an amazing trip!
It truly was incredible! From the moment we left my home town of Edmonton, our experience went from being flown in the belly of a military plane to being lectured about protecting yourself against deadly insects in your sleeping bag to exploring the interior of an Egyptian pyramid in total blackness and then being allowed to actually climb the pyramids. We went to Germany, Cyprus, Israel and Egypt. I believe we were exposed to historical sights that you can’t get very close to anymore. I treasure that time. The biggest privilege of all was to perform for our troops overseas.
Since you were already comfortable performing in front of audiences and had learned self-discipline as a dancer, was it easy transitioning to an acting career?
The discipline I learned as a dancer in a company was so beyond anything I’ve ever had to adhere to since. I’m always considered “a trooper” because of my experience in discipline. We reveled in discipline when I danced. Most people don’t have that experience. I think what I took from my background in dance is that it takes a village.
You starred in three films that would go on to have incredible cult followings: Night Of The Comet, The Last Starfighter, and Weekend At Bernie’s. Did you have any idea whatsoever while you were making these movies that they would have such a lasting connection with fans?
It never entered my mind. For me, when I’m working on anything, I’m working in the moment trying to produce the best product that I am capable of. That these films have had a lasting effect is truly icing on the cake. I am constantly surprised and appreciative of everyone and anyone who enjoys and/or has been touched on some level by the work. It’s incredibly fulfilling from my perspective.
What attracted you to the scripts of each movie?
Originality, authenticity, a story that touches me somehow. It’s hard to be specific. Each script that I’m attracted to is original and unique. That is what makes it interesting.
You have been referred to as an “80s Icon” – I guess that sits pretty well with you, huh? How do you remember the Hollywood atmosphere back then? Did you notice how you were being received as an actress or were you more interested in working and staying busy?
I was staying busy in the eighties. It was a wonderful time for me. I think in retrospect I probably “appreciate” it more than I did at the time, but at the time I wasn’t sitting around thinking about how lucky I was, I was just “doing” to the best of my ability. I had a great time doing it. If people thought I was worthy of attention, well, how great is that? That wasn’t at the forefront of my mind at the time. I just worked hard at something I loved.
The deluxe edition of Night Of The Comet is finally being released on DVD and Blu-ray. Please tell me about the bonus features you’re a part of.
Well, honestly it’s a bit intimidating. It has been, what, 30 years since we shot that movie? I don’t watch it everyday and reflect on it. Fortunately, I’ve maintained a friendship with Kelli Maroney and she and I share memories from time to time. Our relationship has helped keep it relative and can share experiences. I haven’t seen the bonus features myself. Shooting that movie was a fantastic experience.
Zombie “culture” has exploded recently. I’ve always thought Night Of The Comet was something different. I’m not sure, it just seems fun. What do you remember about filming and being on set?
It’s funny, I never thought of Night Of The Comet as a zombie movie and I do believe that’s what makes it stand out today. There are zombies to be sure, and those slowly turning into zombies, but in my estimation it’s so much more than that. What attracted me to this script in the first place was the character and the story.
You got to be a badass in Night Of The Comet – a strong, lead female role. That had to be empowering so early in your career.
Mostly I was interested in departing from the “girl next door” character. I was predominantly seen as that so it was exhilarating for me to be able to portray a “badass,” as you say. It was also more like the real me. Growing up with two older brothers I felt more like a tomboy in real life anyway. I was athletic and limber and enjoyed roughhousing. This role was perfect for me to show that side of who I was and capable of portraying. That was important to me.
The Last Starfighter was released the same year. That film captured the imaginations of kids everywhere, mostly boys. You do realize this is where you entered every young boy’s dreamworld don’t you? Did I just give myself away? (laughs)
I have heard that quite often as the Maggie character. As a woman/girl it’s a huge compliment in my mind. Seriously, as a teenager in high school, I’m not sure there was anyone who would have put me in that category nor would I have known what to do with it. If I was someone’s crush or inspiration what more could I ask for?
How do you remember The Last Starfighter?
I remember the whole experience with nothing but affection. It was the first movie I worked on in the US. I got to work with the most professional, consistent and incredible, supportive group of people ever. I loved every moment on that film. One of my best friends to this day is Lance Guest. He exemplifies the professional actor. I love him.
Weekend At Bernie’s is without a doubt one of the classic eighties comedies. Was it easy to read the script and get the humor of what was happening to a dead guy or did it take actually seeing it happen to be comfortable with it?
Auditioning for this movie was a big deal for me. I remember going in to read with Jonathon Silverman and the director Ted Kotchef and totally screwing up my lines at one point. I thought I had totally blown it. When I was hired I couldn’t believe it! On the other hand I remember reading the script and thinking “…what is funny about a dead guy bouncing off buoys…?” Of course it was one of the highlights of the movie for so many, so what do I know?
Your career by 1989 had progressed so much. Did you notice any changes in the movie industry leading into the 90s?
By the early nineties I’d moved to NY to be with my husband and raise our children. I was out of the movie business vortex. Over the years I’ve stayed at least involved, but I have noticed that it has changed. Certainly I have changed as an actor and character, which I love and find challenging. Challenge keeps me alive. I do feel the business itself is different. My experience was a joyful one. Obviously it was a lot of work, but there was a fun side to it too. You just had to be smart about it. I think now actors realize that they are a product in the movie business machine. It’s good to know and maybe not as much fun but there are some great actors out there.
With advances in technology and a million ways to “get famous” there really aren’t any rules anymore. How do you think Hollywood has changed over the past decade?
I think actors today approach this industry in a business way. I think that it’s important to do that. There are so many dimensions to consider it seems. I hope that there is some organic enjoyment that goes along with it.
If you don’t care, I’d like to ask you a few music questions. What’s the first album you remember buying with your own money?
Probably The Eagles.
What was the first concert you attended?
Gino Vanelli! “I just want to stop…and tell you what I feel about you babe…” SWOON!
What music are you listening to now?
My latest purchases are, and this is in the last week, Rodriguez – Searching For Sugar Man, Miley Cyrus – Bangerz and Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP2.
What was the last concert you attended?
Metropolitan Opera, “Il Trovatore” at Lincoln Centre
Who are some of your all-time favorite music artists?
Seriously, I love music and my favorites are changing all the time. The joke in my family is if you say something, anything, I will break into song that incorporates that sentence. There are songs and artists that absolutely crush me. I’ve tried to put those on a CD for my children as a going away to college gift so that they get a sense of who I am. Even those change. Music is an important, necessary part of my life. I couldn’t survive without it.
What have you been up to most recently? Where can we keep up with you and your career?
I am on Lifetime TV regularly and Hallmark. If you “Like” me on Facebook you will see my TV and movie schedule on a regular basis. I am busy doing lots of things which you will see on that page. Most recently I’ve been developing projects to direct. I’m very excited about that. I also have a great website, CatherineMaryStewart.com. Check it out and say hello. I am very involved with both my website and especially the Facebook page. You really can talk to me if you want to!