Remembering My Talk With Director Richard Donner

Remembering My Talk With Director Richard Donner

The freelance writer has been down since news broke earlier this week of the legendary director’s death at 91. He recalls his 2018 interview with the architect of one of his favorite films.

By Michael P Coleman

I had trouble putting pen to paper, as we used to say, after hearing of director Richard Donner’s death earlier this week.

Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you get to meet one of your heroes.

Other times, if you’re really lucky, that hero exceeds who you want them to be.

On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of 1978’s Superman: The Movie, I had the honor of a 30 minute phone conversation with the classic film’s director. Donner was gracious with his time, and much more humble than I expected. After all, the director didn’t just take flight with Superman. The Goonies, The Omen, the Lethal Weapon franchise…decades of movie fans are indebted to Donner and his genius.

But it’s his Superman: The Movie, and his uncredited direction of most of the theatrical version of 1980’s Superman II, that brought me into Donner’s orbit.

It’s not hyperbole or exaggeration for me to say that I might not be here, let alone writing this feature, had it not been for Donner’s creation, in concert with star Christopher Reeve, of a hero that I could believe in, at a time when I desperately needed to believe. I was a troubled teenager at the time, and had been contemplating taking my own life.

“You don’t have to thank me,” Reeve’s Superman says in the 1978 film’s final scene, just before flying off, that classic John Williams score kicked in, ,and the film’s final credits rolled. “We’re all part of the same team.”

Somewhere, deep down inside, I believed him. And walking out of the film, I wanted to see it again.

Today, over 40 years later, I’ve seen Superman: The Movie well over 100 times, and can quote most of the dialogue. I can recite the entire “Can You Read My Mind” monologue. And when Superman caught Lois from her fall, and said “Easy, miss. I’ve got you,” I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to be Superman or Lois Lane.

While the original project for which I interviewed Donner still has not come to fruition, I published a feature centered around my interview with Donner late last year, for the Sac Cultural Hub, as the world awaited Superman’s debut on HBO Max in Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Both Snyder and Donner “enjoyed” a tumultuous relationship with Warner Bros as they attempted to bring their supermen to the silver screen.

I called my feature I Spent The Afternoon With Richard Donner, an ode to Lois Lane’s initial story from the 1978 film.

“There had been a French film called Jewels & Jim, great film,” Donner told me as he remembered the pre-production stages of his Superman. “Two guys in love with the same woman. That’s what Superman was, although it happened to be that the two guys were the same guy, but not in the woman’s eyes! I asked [screenwriter] Tom Mankiewicz ‘How do we make this into a love story?’ Tom just fell right into it.”

So did I, along with the rest of the world. And I have a closet full of Superman t-shirts, and an office that’s a The Daily Planet / Fortress of Solitude hybrid, to prove it.

As Donner and I wrapped up our 2018 chat, he couldn’t have been more kind in his thanks to me — which COMPLETELY blew my mind — or more effusive in his praise for my work.

“This was a helluva good interview,” Donner told me. “I wish you wrote for the New York Times!”

Maybe that time will come one day. And given the hundreds of interviews that Donner had to have given during his heralded career, those words meant more to me than he could have imagined.

But for now, I’m content writing here, reflecting on Richard Donner, and remembering two days over the course of my life, forty years apart, when the director made me believe that two men could fly.

Oh, it wasn’t just Superman. Donner made me believe that I could fly, too.

Click here to read freelance writer MPC’s 2020 feature on Richard Donner and the making of Superman: The Movie.

Click here to read MPC’s ode to Superman: The Movie and The Wiz, the two films that, literally, talked him down from the ledge.

If you or someone you know is having a mental health crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or text the Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741). Both services are free and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. All calls are confidential.

michael coleman newMichael P Coleman is a Sacramento based freelance writer who has his eye on the Pulitzer Prize.  Connect with him at michaelpcoleman.com or  follow his blog, his IG and his Twitter