The Jarvis Report

“Thank You, Orange”: Catherine Mary Stewart on “The Last Starfighter,” Harvey Weinstein, and Gratitude

Posted November 2, 2017 by

When the actor Catherine Mary Stewart gives interviews, a few of her movies usually dominate the conversation: “The Last Starfighter,” “Night of the Comet,” “Mischief,” “Weekend at Bernie’s,” and the cult classic “The Apple.” Catherine believes that these movies, all released between 1980 and 1989, remain popular because of their storytelling. “They were very simple,” she told me during a recent conversation. “I guess ‘The Last Starfighter’ had a couple of special effects and we shot a couple of guns in ‘Night of the Comet,’ but people didn’t care about the effects. They loved the stories and the characters, and that’s what they remember.”

CMSCatherine’s emphasis on character-building has remained a constant throughout her career. From the early ’80s until now, she has found that the secret to unlocking characters involves staying in the present and practicing gratitude–all of which fits with Catherine’s Inside8 Nourisher group, known for working hard on physical and mental well-being.

Joe Jarvis

With actors, I always think about reinvention, not only from role to role, but also across an entire career. Does that idea of reinvention resonate with you?

Catherine Mary Stewart

That’s really what this job is all about. Every role is a different person that you have to create. When I was younger I drew a lot from myself. Now I find myself on the train here in New York, just watching people and their personalities, how they behave. Part of being an actor is observing and drawing little characteristics from different people. In just the last couple of weeks I’ve auditioned for a detective investigating a murder in the South, and today I had an audition where I basically was Mrs. Santa Claus. It’s hard work and it leaves you extremely vulnerable because somebody might watch your audition and go, “Wow, that really super sucked,” after you spent hours figuring it out.

Does studying your surroundings help you stay present, to stay grounded? “Mindfulness” has become a big topic the last few years, and I wonder if there’s overlap there.

I’ve always been someone who likes to sit and observe. I’m not sure I would say it’s a technique to stay calm. It’s just a natural inquisitiveness that I possess and I’m very entertained by looking at people. I really like being in the moment. I’m grateful to take in all my surroundings. When I cut into an orange, I’ll say―not out loud usually, unless I’m all by myself―I’ll say, “Thank you, orange.” I’m not a religious person or anything like that, but I’m so grateful for everything I have. There’s this woman on television who teaches you how to fold t-shirts properly so that they look perfect and don’t wrinkle. I looked her up online because my drawers were a jumbled mess. One of her things is, after flattening out your t-shirt before you fold it, you touch it and you thank it for being present. Then you fold it and you’re just super gentle, and frankly, I enjoyed every second of it. It took me four hours and I was just like, “I have never appreciated my t-shirts in this way before.” So, that was really being in the moment, but the challenge as an actor is being in the moment as a character. For me, being in the moment in everyday life is easy as pie. It’s just the way I am, but it’s a challenge to be in the moment as a character.

There’s the stereotype of the actor as an out-of-touch prima donna, but it seems to me that to be a good actor you have to be in touch with the people around you, and as you describe it, even the oranges around you. You have to know how to pull from all those sources, and to pull from all those sources, you need to be very much in-touch with your surroundings, I would think.

I think that’s right. You can never overestimate how much work actors put into the characters they portray. It’s a lot of alone time just dissecting the character. A lot of actors fall into this trap of trying to fit the image of a movie star. In the eighties, everybody got plastic surgery and big boobs, kind of the Barbie-doll look. But if you look at the most popular actors, yes they’re all beautiful on some level, but we’re attracted to them because we can relate to them. They are not necessarily the most beautiful people on planet earth. When I worked a lot in the ‘80s and the early ‘90s, there was a lot of pressure to look a certain way. I never fell into that.

That pressure to look a certain way, where did it come from? Like, people telling you, “Hey, I know a good plastic surgeon. It will get you more roles”―did that type of thing happen?

That has happened, yeah. I never thought of myself as a super sexy woman. I was always the girl next door, and then I started playing the nice mom, and then the tragic mom, and then the alcoholic mom. I was never comfortable with (pressure to change my physical appearance). I was uncomfortable if someone looked at me weird.

This relates to all of the news that’s been coming out about Harvey Weinstein lately. Was that kind of culture active when you were young?

This is nothing new. When I first arrived in L.A. I had a meeting with a manager. First, he said I needed to lose weight. The next thing he said was if I wanted to be a movie star I would have to sleep with people. I was 22 or so. I looked at him and thought, “Well, if that’s what I’ve got to do, I guess I’d better find another business.” I just never got to the point of compromising myself with someone, but it was attempted multiple times. One specific time I worried about a job I’d already gotten. One of the producers propositioned me and I was like, “Oh my god, what do I do?” I don’t think we’d started shooting yet. I thought, “I might lose this job.” I decided it was a risk I was going to have to take, but it was a horrible, horrible position to be put in. I went days going, “When are they going to fire me?” Young people coming into the business need to understand it, know that it exists, and be empowered by the fact that it is unacceptable.

You were in several movies that are now considered cult classics. You even have people sending you fan art. Were you getting that kind of attention back when those movies first came out, or is it something that happened over time?

Oh, it happened over time. When “The Last Starfighter” and “Night of the Comet” came out, I didn’t really even think about the movies afterwards. I was just doing my own thing in L.A. I was very busy. It was like a generation later. I remember somebody who wrote for an entertainment magazine told me, “You know that ‘The Apple’ is a cult movie, right? They’re screening it all over for the twentieth anniversary this year”―this was in 1999. He said, “Did you know it was going to be a cult movie when you made it?” I was completely disoriented. With “The Last Starfighter” and “Night of the Comet,” people started approaching me about how much they loved it. Again, I just feel so grateful and appreciative that someone got something out of the movies. At the time, we were just doing our jobs and making a nice little film, and the payoff has been unbelievable. I’m just so pleased that people enjoy these things on the level that they do.

You can keep up with Catherine on Twitter and see clips from her movies on her website.

Joe Jarvis

Joe Jarvis

Joe Jarvis is co-founder and editor of Someone Else, a style journal and production agency based in Chicago. Joe focuses on the core motivations of clothing designers and artists, to help tell their stories. With The Jarvis Report, Joe uses the same approach to discuss personal fulfillment with people in the world of Inside8.

All stories by: Joe Jarvis

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