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Catherine Schell: The Psychon Speaks

Catherine Schell: The Psychon Speaks

TV Zone Number 42 (May 1993) p14-17

Catherine Schell was smuggled out of Hungary as a baby when her family escaped their native country. Now she is an internationally successful actress with a string of movie and television credits to her name. TV Zone spoke to her about her most celebrated roles - and in particular her portrayal of Maya in Gerry Anderson's Space: 1999.

One of Catherine' s best remembered appearances was in the James Bond movie On Her Majesty's Secret Service. "That happened a very long time ago and I was only just married when I did it," she re- calls. "I had this tiny little part, and they always call me 'the Bond girl'. I find that weird. Diana Rigg was the star of the film, and the girls were only there as photography fodder, publicity fodder, and we spent hours and hours every day when we weren't actually filming, posing for magazines and newspapers. Eight hours a day where you weren't working because you were doing publicity photographs!

"We did the filming very, very high up a mountain. I rented a flat, but kept a room in the hotel, where I stayed if I was working the following morning. One night I held a dinner party for the other girls in the film. We were all sitting round a big table and my husband was the only man there. We were all having a discussion and the girls had never made a film before. I was the only one who was an actress as it were. We were all sitting around the table and they were going on about 'it is really easy to do this'. My husband went crazy because he was quite a well known actor. The irony of it all is that all of the girls did become well known and famous."

The Pink Panther

Catherine had a more prominent role in Return of the Pink Panther, appearing with the renowned comic actor Peter Sellers. "I had to wear a wig for that. I had long blonde hair and we did the shooting in the summer of 1974, I then, because the film was finished, cut my hair, because I was doing another project called Looking for Clancy. Suddenly my agent called and said that they wanted me to shoot two more weeks of Return of the Pink Panther. They had problems with the editing, and I think it was too short, so they needed some more scenes. The wig was fantastic because you never know in which scene I was wearing it and in which scene it was my real hair."

Space: 1999

Despite her more prestigious film work, the actress admits that her happiest memories are of playing the shape-changing Maya in Space: 1999. "It was my fave, because we all got along so well. We had so much fun doing it, so many giggles and laughs and it was really sad when that ended. I was really sad."

However, the circumstances in which she got the part were far from normal. "I know that they had a tremendous problem casting it." Catherine explains. "It was all very strange. I was visiting some friends and I had lunch at their house that day. I hadn't worked for some time and I was a little bit desperate. and the friend's husband told me, 'Don't worry about it, Catherine, when you get home, there will be a telephone call and you will get a wonderful job.' I said to him, 'But Gerald, it's Sunday, agents don't work on Sunday' "

When Catherine returned home after the meal, the telephone rang. "It was Gerry Anderson. He said 'Excuse me for ringing you up personally, but we have a huge problem. We're desperate to cast this part in Space: 1999 as a regular, and I'd love to see you and talk about it. Can I send my chauffeur driven Rolls Royce to come and pick you up?' and I said, 'But of course'


"I drove out and we had a long chat at his house and he offered me the part." And he said, 'We have to go through a kind of charade at the moment, because your name has been mentioned time and time again, and Barbara [Bain] doesn't want you'. Because we were very similar types, Barbara and I, only that I was so much younger than she was, and I'm sure she didn't want that. She wanted somebody who looked totally different from her, so that there would never be a comparison. And the following day, on a Monday, I was picked up again and we did some film tests. There were all these girls going in, going out, and they were still doing film tests. I said, "What is this? I've already been offered the part' and that was the charade that they had to play for Barbara, because she had to look at all of the film tests. She had to make a choice. whom she wanted, and in the end she did choose me. But it was with the condition that I looked very strange and that's why I had the make-up, much darker hair."

Other sources have reported that Maya was originally to have been played by a black or oriental actress: at what stage had this been changed? "There was the idea that they were either going to use a Chinese girl or a black girl for Maya. And they did do tests with a Chinese girl and a black girl, which Barbara saw and they weren't good enough. She wanted good actors, and she accepted me then."


Catherine recalls that such restrictions recurred throughout the second season, as Barbara Bain had a say on what could be done with Maya. "The producer told me that she had put it in her contract that I must never look as myself: I could only ever look as Maya. And they had written a scene for The Beta Cloud where Tony is in a hospital reading a magazine. In it is a picture of Catherine Schell. and he is looking at it saving. "Oh, isn't she nice... " and Maya has a look at the picture and she says. 'You think that's nice, that's your taste'? You're mad." and then she changes herself into Catherine Schell. And that was completely scratched out, because Barbara had a look at that and said, "Sorry, in the contract it says she is never ever to look as Catherine Schell. This scene has to be changed.'"

The actress recounts that she had an excellent working relationship with Martin Landau, who has remained a firm friend. "My husband and I were in America in 1987 and we saw him there. I'm not sure whether he actually has come to London since: when he comes he rings me up and we always go out to dinner. I last saw him in London in 1987. We gave a party in Hollywood and Martin came.' She has also occasionally seen Zienia Merton: "She was a great friend of friends of mine. It was quite a coincidence, that once I went to have dinner with my friends and there was Zienia. She knew them and they knew me: that was the last time I saw her."

Another regular in the series was Barry Morse who Catherine only worked with once on the first season's Guardian of Piri, when she guest starred as the Servant of the Guardian. "We got on very well. He's a nice man, and it was sad he wasn't in year two."

A Miserable Experience

From Catherine's favourite show to her worst experience; appearing in the film Lana, Queen of the Amazons, which was made on location in Brazil. "We had a Hungarian director, Geza von Cziffra. He was an old man, and he was as mean as he was old. To begin with he was quite nice to me, because I was Hungarian, but he thought I was totally wrong for the part. He hated tall women and I'm tall - he imagined me to be really tiny. I had to run around half naked all the time. I was very modest, having been brought up in a convent school, and I was terribly young. I was only 19 when I did that. I had to wear flowers and orchids and jewellery and stuff, and I used to position everything that nothing peeped out, but I positioned it sometimes with glue, and he was very annoyed that nothing ever peeped out, you can imagine. So he used to tear the flowers off me, and when they're glued on that is very painful. The whole of the filming of it was totally disastrous. I wanted to give up filming after that. I thought if these are the sort of people I'd meet, I didn't want to have anything to do with them.

More recently Catherine appeared as a regular in the third series of ITV's war-time drama Wish Me Luck, which was filmed in England and France. "My strongest memory was when I bought a house in France. During the filming I had some time off and went around the countryside, looking at the scenery, and it was very beautiful. And this is how I found the house we now have. It was a tremendous series to do: I love the director - he is my husband!"

Catherine is currently taking time out to try some writing. "I've written two episodes of a comedy series. It has quite a lot of interest, and everybody says, "not in this form. Why don't you write this as a film?' At the moment I don't want to revamp it. I'm working on something else at the moment, for radio this time, which could then become a film."

"I have to try something. If I can't work as an actress, I'm not going to become a bank cashier. Nobody can trust me with money !"

Interviewed by Jovan Michael Evermann of the Catherine Schell Club

Space: 1999 copyright ITV Studios Global Entertainment