What I Learned from Margot – Working with Margot Kidder

Written by | B-Roll, The Craft of Acting

Actor John Freeman shares his unforgettable experience working with Margot Kidder on the set of Redemption: For Robbing the Dead.

In 2010, Catrine McGregor cast me as the lead in the feature film Redemption: For Robbing the Dead. At that time, I was a forty-something working cowboy who had made one short film and a student film. That was the full extent of my acting experience – well, plus one high school play and a non-speaking cameo in a beer commercial twenty years earlier. 

It was an incredible opportunity and fantastic learning experience. I spent five weeks on set in Provo, Utah as one veteran actor after another gave me a truly priceless crash course in being a professional actor: Rance Howard, Barry Corbin, John Gries, Larry Thomas, David Stevens, and many others generously shared their art and knowledge through their work and in conversation on and off set.

Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder in Superman II (1980) © 1981 – Warner Bros. All rights reserved.

However, it is the wonderful Margot Kidder who I want to focus on here. If you don’t know who Margot Kidder is, Google her. She has been there and done that.

When I met Margot, I had been on set for about a week. I had the afternoon off and had been invited to watch the dailies at lunch, and I did. Boy was that an awful experience. There I was, eight feet high, and all I could see were the things I didn’t like. Is that really what I sound like? Why am I blinking so much? Oh my god I have three chins…my dreams of movie stardom were up in smoke.

As I sat dazed and dejected, a PA approached me. Margot Kidder had arrived in town and wanted somebody to watch a playoff hockey game at a bar with her. Would I be interested? Why not? I could use a drink. I ambled into the bar and was introduced to Margot, who immediately noticed my dejection and asked what was wrong. I told her about the dailies and she cackled with glee. “Oh sweetie, don’t you worry about that stuff. They only use the good parts.” And from there, the focus was all on hockey, and you better strap in if you are going to watch Habs playoff hockey with Margot.

We did not talk about the script, our characters, or the scene we were going to film the next day. Not one word.

Margot had been cast as “Marlys”, the somewhat touched wife of a grave robber (yes Margot Kidder played a character who heard voices, a topic she considers herself expert in — again, Google it).

Margot Kidder as Marlys

Her husband had been banished for his crimes, leaving her alone, surrounded by furious townsfolk. My character, Heath (the sheriff), was asked to check on her welfare. While excited by the opportunity to work with the legendary actress, I really had given little thought to Heath’s relationship with Marlys. The script called for Heath to occasionally check in on her — knock on her door, say a few lines, and be on his way — just a token example of the sheriff doing his duty, or so I thought.

Well, Margot Kidder isn’t one to be ignored and that doesn’t end when she is in character. I knocked on her cabin door and Margot opened it. The first line was hers and I stood waiting. Margot stood there, arms folded, eyes blazing at me, and she waited. She was not going to deliver her line until I looked her directly in the eye and acknowledged her presence. Startled, I took off my hat and mumbled a polite “Ma’am,” at which point she beamed a huge smile, said her line, and held out her hand. I instinctively took her hand and kissed it. Not planned.

As the scenes went on, she continued to demand a personal connection and I felt my tough sheriff beginning to care about this character of Margot’s. Between takes, I spoke to the director, Thomas Russell, expressing concern that my character was softening in a way I had not expected. I’ll never forget the excited delight in his eyes as he said, “Isn’t it great?”

What a lesson. Do your homework, know your lines and what the director wants from you, but don’t close yourself off from the wonderful, unexpected things that can happened when you honestly react to what the other actors are giving you.

Later, I had another very specific epiphany in a scene with Margot. After fixing Marlys’s broken window, Heath and Marlys have this brief exchange:

Heath: Well, that ought to do it.

Marlys: You shouldn’t have broke it in the first place.

Heath (walking past Marlys): Yeah, well.

I had been studying the script for months, committing every line to memory. When doing that, I couldn’t help but hear the dialogue in my head. I had constantly been troubled by that simple line: “yeah, well.” I just couldn’t hear it in my head. It just seemed flat and weak, and I worried about how to deliver it.

Margot Kidder and John Freeman in Redemption: For Robbing the Dead

Well, by the time we filmed that scene, the two characters had developed their relationship and were comfortable with each other. When Marlys chastised Heath for breaking the window, I effortlessly responded, “Yeah, well,” in a simple, honest way that spoke volumes, i.e. “shit happens.” As soon as it came out of my mouth, I was instantly struck with the thought: so that’s how that line goes.

Again, what a lesson. There are unlimited ways to deliver every line and how they are delivered is affected by a wide variety of things.  Be open to those opportunities. Learn your lines, but don’t give yourself a line reading. I have since learned to memorize my lines, speaking out loud in a monotone voice, quieting that line reader in my head.

You can watch Redemption: For Robbing the Dead on iTunes and Amazon

– John Freeman

Photo by Jeff Nicholson

 

 

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Last modified: August 25, 2017

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