What happened to Superman IV’s Nuclear Man?
‘Man of Steel’ may be raking it in at the box office, but it’s a wonder it was made at all after ‘Superman IV: The Quest for Peace’ killed off the franchise for two decades back in 1987.
One of the best - or indeed worst - things about ‘Quest’ was villain Nuclear Man, played by Mark Pillow. Mark was an unknown when he was plucked from a Denver stage to play Christopher Reeve’s new nemesis in the well-intentioned but ill-fated sequel. A critical and commercial disaster, it didn’t do much for Pillow’s career prospects either, as he explained to Yahoo!...
Yahoo!: You were more-or-less an unknown at the time, so how did you end up in 'Superman IV'?
Mark Pillow: Sidney J. Furie was the director, and I had met his son at one time, and it was Sidney’s son that suggested me. I was not a theatre-trained actor, but I was in Denver doing a small play, and Sidney contacted my agent, and my agent had no idea where I was! The guy came out to the theatre to pay us and he was like, “Oh, by the way, your agent’s been looking for you,” and it was kind of a mad frenzy. I had to catch a flight to LA in the morning to meet with Sidney. It all happened incredibly quickly. Here you are in Denver doing a play, then back to LA, and then in London, where the film was going to shoot, two or three days later, staying at the Dorchester, sitting on the end of my bed going, “What just happened?” Then going to Elstree and meeting Gene Hackman and getting fitted… You never know about life. It can just take these turns so quickly! Always keep an open mind to all possibilities!
Did you already have that build or did you bulk up for the role?
I think my build was a large part of my getting the role. I had hoped to make acting a career, because I was such a fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger. He was doing so well by that time. I’d read his bodybuilding book and followed him and knew everything about him. I’d met Lou Ferrigno a few times too. I was always around that culture, and I thought if I built my body up and worked on my voice and took some classes, there might be a possibility of a career like theirs.
Acting novice... Pillow with Hackman and Reeve (Credit: Rex features)
How was it, as an inexperienced actor, being thrown in opposite Gene Hackman and Christopher Reeve?
It was nerve-wracking as a newcomer to work with Hackman, but he was very helpful. He teased Chris more than me: “You’d better do something about that body – look at this guy!” I’m a huge fan of Gene. Just to sit down with him at lunch and let him tell stories… He’s a guy who came up through the ranks: him and Robert Duval and Dustin Hoffman had come up through New York and struggled as bread truck drivers and bricklayers. Just to hear that you could come from that and study and be persistent and have a career was fascinating to me. Christopher was a bit different. He was quite Ivy League: very well spoken and intense. He spoke quickly and knew what he wanted, but like most of the stars I’ve had a chance to spend time with alone, he was just genuine and very bright. You see them in public and they put on a persona to guard themselves.
Was it always intended that Nuclear Man would have Hackman’s voice?
No, that was an odd, late choice to have Gene do Nuclear Man’s lines and have me lipsync to them. Gene didn’t expect that and neither did I. It led to a very wooden performance, which made it a challenge. All I was doing was following Gene’s voice, which gave me very little scope to do anything. To this day I’m not completely sure why they made that decision.