by Robin Pierce
Long time Starburst readers will remember Melody Anderson. Not only did she appear on our cover way back in issue 28, but she has also starred in Dead and Buried (1981), Flash Gordon (1980) and the Manimal TV series of 1983, now available on DVD. We recently caught up with Melody to discuss her career.
Starburst: You were no stranger to science fiction when you came to Manimal. You had appeared in episodes of Logan’s Run and Battlestar Galactica. What are your memories of working on those two series?
Melody Anderson: Logan’s Run was the first job I ever had. I was very nervous at the time, nervous about remembering my lines. At times, I didn’t do as well as I wanted to and I came home convinced I was never going to work in Hollywood again (laughs).
Battlestar Galactica was the most expensive TV series of its time. What were the differences between the two productions from an actor’s point of view?
It’s interesting because Manimal was a Glan Larson series, as was Battlestar Galactica. You’re on set from about five or six in the morning and you go until six or seven o’clock at night and for me, it was just a regular job. The money was in and I got to drive, was it a Lanborghini or a Ferrari, inside the big Universal rehearsal hall and the sound stage. The sets were incredible. A lot of work went into them. But it was a wonderful cast. It was a pleasure working with Dirk (Benedict). To me, when I think of sci-fi, I was growing up at the time of the Cuban missile crisis and sci-fi was much more escapist and more in the Flash Gordon mould. I was always fascinated with science and astronomy and I always had the hope and the belief that sci-fi showed a better place and what this world was. We were growing up being told to duck and cover under our desks, as if that would do any good (laughs).
There was a lot of fear about the future and that’s what made Star Trek so exciting too, because that was very much about tolerance and allowing people to do what they’re doing without judgement. It was the time of civil disobedience and Martin Luther King. Writers like Ray Bradbury, whom I met, said there had to be something better.
I had to laugh. I was watching Flash Gordon the other night with some friends and there’s that line Dale says to Princess Aura, because we can cry that’s what makes us better than the people on the planet Mongo.
I see Manimal in that kind of context, where we can recede dark forces by employing certain elements, whether it’s the way of the hawk, or the way of the panther, whatever and we can escape and destroy evil through these shifts in our mindsets. As a therapist today, I can say that actually people do find freedom when they shift their mindsets away from hopelessness and powerlessness.
Flash Gordon was a huge hit when it was released. Did you think at that point that it would be a phenomenal cult hit some thirty years later?
You never have any idea, but the fact that it has this following and it’s still around, that it’s a family movie and has so many different levels that it works at...There are loads of double entendres in there. It's wonderful. We worked very hard, fourteen hours a day in these cold airplane hangars, especially in the flying scenes. They had these big fans. Topol and I would be hanging onto harnesses and people would take their coffee breaks (laughs). But to us, it was a job. You go in hoping to do a good job and that people like your character.
It reminded us a lot of the sixties Batman series, where the kids could follow the heroic action and the adults could tie into the wry humour.
Absolutely. I think Mike Hodges, the director, had a brilliant touch in combining those two elements.
It's surprising there wasn’t a sequel to that.
Well there was going to be. The ending was totally a set up for a sequel and there were politics, probably far beyond what I could’ve understood, but there was supposed to be a sequel.
How did your involvement in Manimal come about?
I had worked with Glen Larson before and so they came to me with it. Personally, I love animals and the fact that I would get to work with all these amazing animals every week, honestly that was my big draw. That decided me. I loved the character. She was a spirited girl. She was a semi-romantic interest. She was a career girl and there were similarities with Dale Arden, that feistiness.
I remember in one episode your character thought that the cobra in front of her was the Manimal character, but he was standing behind you. Did you do that for real?
Oh I did all that stuff myself. I’m fascinated by all animals. I was lucky enough to get down to the Amazon in Peru and going to the jungle to see the spiders and tarantulas, I’m just fascinated by animals, so I had no fear of snakes. Nothing whatsoever. In fact, it was a very friendly little cobra.
If you pet them right behind the back of their skulls, they become very calm, so I had no problem. In fact, in one scene when Simon McCorkindale became a panther, I got to put the panther’s head in my lap and pet this incredible animal. There were all these amazing animals and I also knew it’d be a good family show.
We had a really wonderful cast. Simon McCorkindale, who sadly passed away, really epitomised the concept of the English professor. I got to work with Ursula Andress. No matter how old she gets, she’s still unbelievably gorgeous.
Now it's finally out on DVD, how do you think Manimal will play to today’s audience?
Well, the styles were a little different back then. We had big hair and blue eye shadow (laughs), but I think the transformations of Simon into different animals is still as exciting as it was back then. There were no computer generated effects and I think it’s still fascinating how they do it, and we have to credit Stan Winston for that. It’s a show of good against evil with problem solving and crime solving.
We had very high hopes for the series, but things happen. ABC was very supportive of the series and I don’t know whether it was the time or the placement, but there were just not the numbers they thought they would get. But I think it was incredibly entertaining. It’s a great show for families to watch together, even if it’s just to make fun of some of the stuff (laughs).
You’ve been missing from our screens since 1995 and you've undertaken a radical career change, can you tell us about that?
When you’re an actress you reach the subtext. You play all these different roles and as a therapist, which I am now, I specialise in family treatment of addiction and trauma and I’m also with clients where I have to take different kinds of presentations for each client. Everyone responds differently. A soft glove or a hard hand in a soft glove, so in a way with the adaptability there’s really not that much difference from acting.
As I’m already getting older and greyer, I get more respect as a therapist than I get as an actress who’s ageing. One of the reasons I chose this was that I wanted a career that would take me to my sixties and seventies if I needed to work. I’ve always been a learner and this is a career that can keep feeding me intellectually, which is very important for my physical and mental health.
I love acting, but the reality of working steadily enough and sustaining a regular income... Every time I’d finish a job, I’d have to be thinking of the next one. I am actually making some forays into acting again because I really miss it, so parts here and there that wouldn’t interfere very much with the work I’m doing now, so I’m hoping to get back on the screen very soon.
Manimal: The Complete Series is out now on DVD.