Christopher Reeve Committed To Leaving Politics Out Of Playing Superman: “The Way I Deal With That Is To Dismiss It Completely”

Superman (Christopher Reeve) is amused by something Lois (Margot Kidder) asks in Superman: The Movie (1978), Warner Bros. Pictures
Superman (Christopher Reeve) is amused by something Lois (Margot Kidder) asks in Superman: The Movie (1978), Warner Bros. Pictures

It’s abundantly clear that celebrities these days wear their politics on their sleeves. Often it’s all they talk about ad nauseam for better or worse. Everybody in entertainment is so quick to support the ‘current thing’ or the next cause after that, you have to stop from time to time and wonder if it was ever this severe.

Lois (Margot Kidder) is enchanted by Superman (Christopher Reeve) in Superman: The Movie (1978), Warner Bros. Pictures
Lois (Margot Kidder) is enchanted by Superman (Christopher Reeve) in Superman: The Movie (1978), Warner Bros. Pictures

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Answering that question depends on how each of us romanticizes the past. We all fall prey to deeming certain decades, like the 1980s, as ‘simpler times’ or ‘better days’ when the issues and divisions between average folks and self-proclaimed elites were basically the same. The only anecdotal difference seems to be there was more compartmentalizing by celebs of their opinions.

Take Christopher Reeve, for instance – in cinema, he perfectly embodied the aw-shucks Middle American simplicity of Clark Kent and Superman’s sense of righteousness and idealism. He gave both sides of Clark’s persona the authenticity and equilibrium that defined the Man of Steel for a generation. In short, he nailed it: Reeve was Superman physically and ideally.

Statue of Liberty-Superman
Superman (Christopher Reeve) flies Lois (Margot Kidder) by the Statue of Liberty in Superman: The Movie (1978), Warner Bros. Pictures

But behind the cape, slicked-back hair, and boy scout demeanor, Reeve was a real person with his own thoughts, feelings, and struggles – a fact that takes a backseat when he is flying across the screen. This effect was not inadvertent either; it was the idea according to the man himself in his prime. To be an authentic Superman, separating his proclivities from the performance was the point.

Playgirl put it well in 1982 when they interviewed the actor: “But the real difference between character and actor comes through when Reeve begins to speak. Only then is it apparent that, in playing Superman, Reeve is playing against type. [Part] of the charm of Reeve’s Superman, despite his ability to outrace a speeding bullet, lies in his watchful, wondering, vulnerable absorption of life on the alien planet Earth, which is more affecting [than] his mighty miracles of action. His pride is gentle and measured, the pride of a caring superhero who knows that his powers are surpassed only by his responsibilities.”

Reeve Superman-thinking
Superman (Christopher Reeve) pauses to give an answer in Superman: The Movie (1978), Warner Bros. Pictures

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On reading into what Supes represents to the public when getting into character, Reeve said, “The way I deal with that is to dismiss it completely. I refuse to entertain, even for fun, the possibility that Superman has anything to do with the real world. Really. Superman is enjoyable popcorn entertainment, and I cannot grant him any more important status than that.”

He balked at the idea of the Man of Steel influencing the way children see the world, but could see him being a role model through his conduct. 

Picture time-Superman4
Superman (Christopher Reeve) poses for a photo with a boy in Superman IV: The Quest For Peace (1987), Cannon Films

“I certainly hope not. The only way I would want Superman to have an influence is as a gentleman. I think that’s important. The whole heroics-the stopping of bullets and fixing of bridges-bore the shit out of me. But he’s a gentleman, he’s a Sir Walter Raleigh. He cares more about people than they will ever know. And if people take inspiration from that, that’s fine. But I wince at the idea that he represents anything else,” he said.

Reeve didn’t want to go too deep into the weeds with Superman’s psyche, overtones, or values – even if that meant putting aside the idea the hero would really stand for Truth, Justice, and the American Way.

Superman-American Way
Superman (Christopher Reeve) straightens the Old Glory planted on the Moon in Superman IV: The Quest For Peace (1987), Cannon Films

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“I know he’s been around for 50 years and has been read and absorbed by everybody, but I just can’t get involved in that. There’s also the real world and I deny that a comic-book character has any place there. I don’t care if Superman did sell war bonds in the forties, it doesn’t interest me in the least. I’m not interested in speculating on the psychology of why Superman was created or what he means to the world. I get letters from people who want me to appreciate the religious overtones that Jor-El made Kal-El and sent him to earth, where he grew up and found his authentic possibilities….I find that to be treacherous ground. It’s pop psychology and I think it’s dangerous,” Reeve explained.

The late actor was a great Superman but still had a mind that reflected the politics of Hollywood and the theater, which means he sure wasn’t a Reaganite.

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Superman sits with Lois for an interview at her apartment in Superman: The Movie (1978), Warner Bros. Pictures

“I think Reagan is absolutely raping poor people in this country. He’s frightening. His basic policy as I understand it is to give money back to big business so that they can reinvest it and it will filter down. The amount of time that that takes is something I don’t think he understands at all. Not to mention the damage he’s doing by the defense buildup. He’s got his priorities totally screwed up as to what this country needs and wants. Cost overruns for military band uniforms exceed the arts budget! I think that’s true. Certainly the cost of half a submarine is more than the entire arts budget,” Reeve began with the late President.

“I just don’t think Reagan knows what he’s doing. I don’t think he has a clue. He’s provoking the Russians in a terrifying way. It seems to come for some sort of misplaced pioneer spirit. You know, ‘By God, we’re gonna make it across the Cumberland Gap.’ What Reagan seems to dig into is this thing of believing in himself no matter what his critics say, which I think is a particularly American trait,” Reeve added.

Super stare
Superman (Christopher Reeve) stares down an off-screen Nuclear Man (Mark Pillow) in Superman IV: The Quest For Peace (1987), Cannon Films

Times have changed, but unless you went digging for his perspective, you wouldn’t know anything about Christopher Reeve’s worldview from watching him in Superman: The Movie, Superman II, or Superman III. Superman IV, by contrast, that might give him away a little.

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