Interview: Caroline Munro

Caroline Munro is one of the nicest, upbeat and most gracious personalities I’ve met. Acting in films for nearly four decades, she has amassed an impressive filmography of genre titles. Caroline was able to take some time out of her traveling schedule and talk with me about her career.

2014_05_14 - Caroline Munro 001Jonathan Stryker: How did you end becoming an actress?

Caroline Munro: I suppose really it was all by accident. I didn’t set out to be an actress, you know, I have dyslexia and therefore school was always a problem for me. I love art, and I love the languages, but when it came to math and science that wasn’t my thing. So, it was quite hard – I struggled in school, you know, I went to school at a convent, which was taught by nuns and they were all very strict. I suppose they regarded me as a bit silly. I really didn’t consider myself to be stupid when I was in school, I was rather bright. It’s just that my math and my English just weren’t up to scratch. I thought I was going to do art as art was something that I thought I could do better than other things. I kind of geared my head into thinking that that’s what I was going to do. In fact, I went to art school on a Saturday to study and there was a chap there who was studying photography and he asked me if I wouldn’t mind posing for him. And, I agreed, I said that that was fine. I was about sixteen at the time. And he sent the photos to a newspaper in London. My mom knew that he did this because he needed her permission. There was a competition run by the photographer in the Sixties named David Bailey, who was wonderful. So, the photograph won, I won and I became the face of the year. Soon after that, I began modeling and as a result of the modeling along came the acting, and the acting won out over the modeling because by the time I got around to doing Dracula A.D. 1972 I had already fallen in love with the idea of acting and was thrilled that I had the opportunity to work with Christopher Lee. I really knew that this was what I wanted to do. All my energy, drive and passion were channeled into acting.

JS: One of my favorite directors is Gordon Hessler, who recently passed away. What was your experience under his direction?

CM: Oh, Gordon was wonderful to work for! We had the delight to do The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, which was so much fun.

JS: Twilight Time recently released this title on Blu-ray in a limited edition 3,000 pressing. It sold out in a matter of weeks and now commands high prices on Amazon.com and Ebay.com.

2014_05_14 - Caroline Munro 002CM: Wow! It was interesting because we had two directors on that film. We had the iconic Ray Harryhausen who, of course, directed all of the special effects. Gordon would do the dialog scenes, which were vitally important. So, in essence we had two directors and that sort of gave me a double whammy if you like. But, Ray would actually step in and help when we were shooting in front of a blue screen and we really had nothing to react to. It was really left to the actors’ imagination and the most amazing artwork of Ray to create images that we didn’t really understand. The actors didn’t know, until we came to do the dubbing, what the images would look like. So, it was a real eye-opener when we got to see it. The process itself was long and slow, but done with absolute love and care, and also a lot of passion. Gordon was absolutely fantastic; he was a very modest and intelligent man to work with.

JS: The thing that really amazes me about a lot of the actors and actresses whom I meet and talk to, they all tell me that they generally don’t watch their own films. I have a hard time believing this because you would think that after all the hours of hard work you would want to see how well the work came out. Do you want your films?

CM: Yeah, you tend not to like to watch it because you’ve done it and there’s nothing you can do. It’s finished. As an actor or an actress you think that you would really like to go back and retake it, but you can’t. At that point, you sort of have to let it go. With my films, they tend to drag them out around Christmas time. I’ll see Sinbad or Bond is on again, so…

2014_05_14 - Caroline Munro 003JS: I’ve always been a fan of the special effects in movies, and I often wonder what it’s like to be in a room in front of a crew and a blue screen and trying to use my imagination so that I can react to something that will be seen later. When the movie is finally put together and projected in a theater, are you shocked by what you’re seeing?

CM: It doesn’t at the time when I’m doing it. Usually the special effects scenes are quite – you’ve done the dialog scenes, so you’ve got your character. The character is rock steady. I have a very good imagination. To make movies like these, you have to. It’s really a requirement, and not something that you can fake. It’s like when you’re a child, and you play with your playmates…

JS: Yes.

CM: It’s kind of tapping into that and imagining. It’s about reaction, and it’s usually the first reaction that’s the most true. Like when I meet you for the first time, it’s a first reaction, and that’s the most honest. Then you do it, try and make it as real as you can.

JS: Tell me about your experiences with Vincent Price on The Abominable Dr. Phibes and Dr. Phibes Rises Again sets.

CM: Oh, working with Vincent Price was p-I almost said priceless! (laughing) I don’t think that I’ve ever said that before! He was an absolutely…wonderful, sweet, and funny man. And a fabulous chef! Vincent and I used to first go into the make-up room. He would bring all of these wonderful little things that he made. I remember he brought in this huge plate of pâté that he’d made for the make-up girls, hairdressers, everybody. We sat there getting ready to do the scene in the coffin. So, we had some pâté, toast, and drinks and a day of filming in the coffin! But, Vincent was wonderful. Such a wonderful, caring person. And thoughtful. Extraordinary, really. I miss him very much.

JS: He’s one of my favorites, too. Anyone who’s in my age group and older has at one time or another seen one of his films on TV.

CM: Oh, I’m sure!

JS: When I was 12 my grandmother bought me an old radio show called Escape! and the episode was called “Blood Bath” and it was written by James Poe. Vincent was the star and it was this excellent thriller set in the jungles of South America about a group of men searching for uranium who are double-crossed by a greedy faction within the group. It’s one of my favorites; the acting, the ability to use just sound effects to convey mood and tell a story, was just brilliant. Vincent effortlessly moves between his character, Harris, and that of narrator. He and Boris Karloff has the two most amazing voices –

CM: Oh, I’ll tell you, Christopher (Lee) is really the last of that group of iconic figures: Peter Cushing, Donald Pleasance, I worked with them all…

2014_05_14 - Caroline Munro 004JS: God, I am so…jealous, you have no idea!

CM: They were all extraordinary people – you don’t realize it when you’re young. You think, Well, yes, they’re all rather well-known. But you’re kind of working with them, and doing scenes with them, working with Peter Cushing on a horror film like Dr. Phibes, and then doing the “lighter” At the Earth’s Core…he had such a wonderful sense of humor.

JS: I understand that you were offered Ursa in Superman The Movie.

CM: That’s true, I was.

JS: But instead you played Naomi in The Spy Who Loved Me. Did you go with the Bond film because Bond films did pretty steady box office and you felt that it would lead to superstardom?

CM: Yes, it’s true, I was offered Ursa. My agent at the time, Dennis Salinger, said that I should go with the Bond film because it seemed the best bet. Superman at that time was untried, whereas there had been Bond films before and he felt that it was the best role to take. When you say stardom, I think that I really am lucky to have enjoyed doing what I have done. Apart from my daughters, acting has been my passion. If I have achieved any little bit of notoriety, that’s great. But the idea that I have actually given something is rewarding. And what I receive back is when people come and see me at the conventions, and that is reward enough – and getting paid is nice, too! (laughs) I am very lucky to do what I do, but I was not very ambitious, never thought of conquering Hollywood so-to-speak. I had the chance to go to Hollywood, but I had my family in England and that’s where my heart is. If I could work in Europe, that was my choice.

JS: Is that why you did Luigi Cozzi’s Starcrash?

CM: (laughs)

JS: I met him in 1990 in Albany, NY when Dario Argento was here promoting Opera.

CM: He’s just lovely, he’s so sweet. I heard about Starcrash when I was New York shooting some commercials for Noxema. Men’s aftershave. It was American, they weren’t shown in England. And I got a phone call and it was Luigi. He said that he had this project for me and that he wanted me to do it. He knew that I had worked with Ray Harryhausen and he loved Ray’s work. He knew that I could work with effects that weren’t there on-set.

JS: Afterwards you were in Maniac and The Last Horror Film. How did you get those roles?

CM: Maniac was written for me and Joe (Spinell) because we worked so well together in Starcrash. The producers, and my husband at the time (Judd Hamilton), thought that we’d be great together. So, they thought up this film that came to be Maniac. It did well enough that some time later Joe was looking for someone for The Last Horror Film and they asked me to read it because I was in New York at the time. I was initially hesitant because I had to fly back and forth to see my family and had all sorts of things to do. But, I read the script and really did it to work with Joe again.

2014_05_14 - Caroline Munro 005JS: Are you partial to horror films?

CM: I’m not a horror girl by choice. If I was to choose to go to the cinema I wouldn’t necessarily go to a horror film, I’m not one that’s good at being scared.

JS: What are some of your favorite films?

CM: Some Like It Hot, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Misfits, On the Waterfront, The Pawnbroker, The L-Shaped Room, Days of Wine and Roses. Don’t Look Now is an amazing film.

JS: Thank you for speaking with me.

CM: Thank you so much! It was wonderful meeting you!

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