As Jimmy Olsen, Marc McClure appeared in all of the original Warner Superman features (even Supergirl), but he had already gotten notice before Richard Donner selected him for the iconic role. After his big-screen debut in Freaky Friday, McClure appeared in Coming Home and, most notably, as Larry Dubois in Robert Zemeckis' sleeper comedy I Wanna Hold Your Hand. McClure worked on Zemeckis' Used Cars and all three Back to the Future films, appeared in Chances Are, Amazon Women on the Moon, Apollo 13, That Thing You Do!, Coach Carter, and the Freaky Friday remake, among others. McClure has also made notable guest appearances on Happy Days, ER, The Shield, and Cold Case, and in the pilot telefilm for the historic series James at 15. I spoke with McClure at the 2005 WonderCon in San Francisco.
Groucho: So you grew up in San Mateo?
Marc McClure: No, I didn't grow up in San Mateo—I was born in San Mateo.
G: Oh, where did you grow up?
MM: I grew up in Los Angeles. In the L.A. area. I pretty much grew up in military school, from when I was seven years old 'till I graduated. I got out in the eleventh grade, but I was—got in trouble, and was sent right back.
G: And how did you wind up in front of the camera after that? You did commercials, right?
MM: I've done commercials, yeah. No, I do commercials. But I was just right place at the right time. I was running around a beauty parlor, where my mom was, when I was maybe ten years old. And there was an agent sitting next to her, and said, "Oh, your kid's got a good look. He should do commercials." And she said—and I couldn't because I was going to military school, but my mom became friends with her—Pat Domaghan—and when I graduated from high school, she said, "Would you like to try it?" And I was "Yeah, whatever." And I just started acting. Without any—there was no training. And it just started going. So it really was right place at the right time. I got discovered.
G: You've had a lot of opportunities to play Jimmy Olsen and time to reflect on the character. What are the essential elements to the character, and why do you think he's been so consistently appealing to fans?
MM: Uh, because of his likeability. He's just—he's a person who's learning. And I think the audience gets to learn along with him. And there's a lot of Americana in that. And it's just a kid with very good values. I mean, Jimmy—you really can't pick a better character to have for a lifetime.
G: Did he let you get out your inner geek?
MM: (Laughs.) I don't look at Jimmy as a geek. I just looked at him as a wide-eyed person who's very interested in life. Which is a great quality.
G: Do you fancy yourself a shutterbug?
MM: Yes. Yes, I love films. I love taking pictures. Unfortunately—yeah, I mean, it's like—my family's in all the pictures, and I'm not in any of them. I love talking pictures. I love looking in the lens.
G: You've worked with Robert Zemeckis quite a bit.
G: How did you first come to his attention, and do you have any idea why you've gotten along so well?
MM: It was I Wanna Hold Your Hand. We were—he was auditioning for it. I mean, the audition to get the job of Dubois in I Wanna Hold Your Hand was one of the toughest processes I've ever gone through to get a role. And then after I got the role, the rehearsals that we had before the film were incredible. And that was his very first film. He was learning. And he's as good a director—and I've been so lucky to be with some directors that are really, really good—Bob Zemeckis is really, really good. And as you're filming, you would never know that. You would know he's into the shots and doing his thing, but you would never—you could never pick up that he's a great director when you're working. But when you see the finished product, it blows you away every time. Because he knows how to tell stories.
G: You said that you wouldn't know right away—because he's very laid-back on the set?
MM: Yeah. You just, uh—his pants are falling off. You can see the crack in his ass all the time, with his jeans. And he's got this kind of a duck walk. And he's just a goofy guy. And he frames everything, and he's—he gets it done. You just don't notice. You wouldn't even—on the set, you wouldn't—it's not like he's doing—. You know, he's yelling, he yells, "Action," but you just can't tell he's as good as he is, on the set.
MM: Yeah, yeah. He's one of the boys.
G: I wanted to ask you about that film. You mentioned there was a lot of rehearsal—was there any improvisation involved?
MM: No, it was all in the rehearsals. I mean, it was all pretty much captured in the rehearsals. And then we got on the set. You find things. I mean, in Back to the Future, "You gotta change the oil" is my line, so you always find things. In the Superman movies, Donner let you find things. Like in Superman—what happened was I did my close-up first, when I first met Clark Kent, and Jackie Cooper said, "And don't call me sugar," off-camera. And I just reacted to the right—"sugar," I just reacted to it. And when we turned around to shoot Jackie's close-up, he had Jackie say that exact same line. And that's what ended up being in the movie. So it's those kind of moments that, through rehearsals and through directors who let you rehearse—that's when you find things. And that's where Richard Lester fell, because he did not rehearse you; he did three cameras. And you walked on the set; he'd tell you to stand—he already had it marked off. "You're gonna stand there, and say your line; then you walk to this place. And then you say your next line." So we all, you know—obviously everybody was mechanical—
G: Sucks the air out of the room
MM: Yeah, and there's just no honesty to any of it.
G: Am I right to think that you're a genre fan yourself, and is working on a genre project more fun or more arduous than normal?
MM: You know, I don't—somehow I don't get caught up in—you know, it's work to me. And I always want to do my best. And the most important thing to me is being honest. I always want to—I don't want to ever be caught acting. I just want to be honest. I want it to be a little more low-key than over-the-top. I mean, that's what I try to do, but as far as looking back, you think, "Oh my God, you should have been nervous, knowing that Back to the Future, how much, how important it was, how Superman was really important, how Apollo 13 was really important. And I just—I think most actors go into it, and they take their job very seriously for the work. And I think in most cases, with most actors, you want to be—you want to be honest. Because that way, nobody can point a finger at you and say, "Oh, Jesus Christ! He doesn't even seem like he belongs in the same room with everybody. But the trick is, with actors, if you listen, you can be honest. That's the trick. As long as you're listening to whatever's going on and whoever's speaking to you, it's very hard to get caught—
G: Can you shed any light on—what was the breaking point for Richard Donner? How did the rift begin that led to him leaving the production?
MM: It was money. It was all the Salkinds. All the Salkinds not wanting to pay him the money. That he deserved. I mean—one of these days, we're going to see Superman II with Donner's version. And even though Superman II is still a pretty good film, Donner's film is better. Richard Lester came in, and all of a sudden, we had the three cameras, and it just killed it. But it was a rift between the producers and the director. And unfortunately, you know, when it comes to the director, especially Dick Donner, you're messing with a really good guy. And he's not going to put up—nobody's going to put up with the Salkinds, what they do, anymore. Back then—you know, it's a problem.
G: Why do you think, or do you know, why Warner is holding up Donner's efforts to put something out? It would seem to be a very profitable idea—is it a legal problem?
MM: Yeah, well, there's something with Donner before that, something happened, which I don't know about. I'm not quite sure if it was Lethal Weapon or—something happened with Donner and Warner Brothers where it got sticky. And so I don't know. That's all way above my head.
G: So Superman Returns is on the way. You must be familiar with Bryan Singer's work—
MM: Yep! And Dick Donner's— tight with him, too, which is a very good sign.
G: Right, right, right. What's your opinion on the direction the franchise seems to be heading in, and are you keeping up with the film, in terms of the new Jimmy Olsen?
MM: I just sent something to the new Jimmy Olsen, wishing him luck. And told him to keep Jimmy real. And Sam Huntington is his name. And I'm rooting for it. I want it to be good. I don't want it to be, you know, Catwoman. I understand that they may be changing the suit, which I don't understand. I don't understand why Hollywood changes things that are proven. Because maybe they want to sell a new look. I don't why—hopefully they don't do it. I don't know. It's weird what Hollywood does, and if Hollywood was smart, it would invite DC Comics to all the meetings. They would get a hold of Mike Carlin, Jeph Loeb, and have them at every storyboard meeting, and have their input. Because otherwise, it could be in trouble.
G: I read that you used to be in a Rasta band, is that right?
MM: Yep, yep! Daily Planet. It was called The Daily Planet, with Jeff East, who played the young Superman. And I still play music at home. That band is not together. But we had a good time. And I wore my bow tie. And I think we did get a letter from Warner Brothers saying we had to stop.
G: Cease and desist—
MM: Cease and desist, my friends!
G: There's some talk of Jimmy Olsen on Smallville. Is that right?
MM: Yes, it's gonna—I was just talking to, like I say, Jeph Loeb. And they were talking about it last season. And it's gonna happen. I think they've got two more seasons. And he says it's going to happen, so they're just going to wait for the right moment, I guess.
G: Would you be averse to making an appearance?
MM: No, no. I mean, as long as—like I say, if Jeph's behind it, I know it'd be safe, which is great. That's the most important thing to me, is just kinda keep Jimmy in a safe area, and definitely not exploited. With Jeph, like I say, DC Comics is in the house, so we're safe.
G: Did you ever have any hairy moments on the sets of the Superman films?
MM: No, no. I don't think so. I was twenty years old, and everything was a trip. Everything was good. Everything was good.
G: Alright, thanks—
MM: Alright, brother. I appreciate it.