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Linda Harrison Interview

A Forbidden Zone Exclusive!

The Forbidden Zone is extremely pleased to present this exclusive interview with Linda Harrison, who portrayed "Nova" in Planet of the Apes and Beneath the Planet of the Apes. Special thanks go out to Tony Sassano, Terry Martin, and especially Linda Harrison for granting us her first web interview.

 


Linda HarrisonThe Forbidden Zone: How did you get into acting?
Linda Harrison:
Ever since I was a young girl, I wanted to be an actress. I was an acrobat and I performed on stage a lot, and I really liked that. Also, it was something that I felt very strongly about. It just really grew into the desire to be an actress. I felt the need to do it, however that comes into your consciousness. It came into mine at a very young age. I'm sure all the beauty contests and then, the last, final beauty contest, when I was 20, was just me manifesting that desire. The beauty contests back then were really stepping stones. At that time, a lot of the people who won were taken to studios, given screen tests, and had a chance to be put under contract. It didn't happen to that many people. Luckily for me, that was the route I was able to take.

FZ: Do you think pageants are a good way to get into the entertainment business? People are kind of down on pageants these days.
LH:
You know, it all depends on the girl. If she's motivated, if she's eager to be an actress, then it is an opportunity. People see you on television and if you act right then, pursue an agent, tell them that you want to do other things, then it is. It's a great launching pad. It just depends, and I believe this so sincerely, if it's your destiny. These gals that come through beauty contests and end up on film, or they come through other routes -- this is their destiny. The key thing is that you have to want it, and know you want it, and are determined to get it. That's what I really equate with destiny. So, if it's not your destiny, then the desire won't be there. People may say, "Gee, I'd love to be an actress." But most of them are looking at the the fame and the glamour. But those that actually get there are motivated by something much deeper.

FZ: What was your experience before doing Planet of the Apes?
LH:
Actually, the first thing I did was a TV pilot. It was called Men Against Evil. They changed the name to Felony Squad when it was broadcast. I had three words, "Go, man, go!" I was all of 20, and dressed in this really racy motorcycle outfit. Those were my first words! This was still the era of stardom and premieres. When you were put under a studio contract, every minute of your life was so exciting, because you were doing something so unique and special.

FZ: Did Fox put you under contract when you first got there?
LH:
They did. It all started when I was in the Miss American Pageant. The Pageant was in Long Beach, and they flew me from Maryland to Long Beach. There were 50 girls representing the United States, and then they had 50 or more representing all the countries of the world. In fact, I roommated with Miss Ireland and, I think, Miss Scotland. The contest ran for four days, and it was broadcast on local television. Finally, they eliminated all but 12 girls. I was one of them. During those four days, an agent, a cute, young agent by the name of Mike Medavoy, came up to me and said, "I think you should be an actress in films." And he said, "As soon as this contest is over, I'm going to take you to 20th Century-Fox." You know, when I think back, how darn lucky I was! I mean, Mike Medavoy has gone on to become a very successful motion picture producer. But how lucky I was to have this young man come along. There's a lot of riff-raff around. I just remember very clearly how extremely motivated I was to be an actress, and all the elements just fell right my way. I won First Runner-Up and I was kind of upset. The gal that won it (Miss Ohio) said she was a Sunday School teacher, and I wanted to be an actress. It wasn't something they liked to hear. Secretly, though, Miss Ohio had said she wanted to be an actress, too. In the end, it was really a blessing that I didn't win, because the winner is busy all year, and from there you go onto a bigger contest. What I got instead was a contract to a major studio. At first I was really devastated that I didn't win, but later I realized, "Boy, did I win!" Mike Medavoy took me to Fox and they immediately did a screen test, then gave me a 60-day option to teach me, coach me, groom me, and then do a major test. After I passed the major test, they put me under contract.

FZ: How did you get the part of Nova? Since you were in the test film, did you have to audition?
LH:
No, I heard about the part of Nova before the test. At the time, I was dating Richard Zanuck, who was the head of the studio. He was thinking about this particular project and one evening he told me about this very exciting and unusual script. He told me about the Apes and the humans and how he thought it could be a really big hit. But his major concern was the make-up and if they could carry it off. He also said that Nova is the girl in it, and she's dark, and he felt that I was physically right. He probably thought that if I didn't have to say anything, that I couldn't really be embarrassing. I was thinking that since he put me under contract, he believed in me. He said, "I think this part of Nova is for you." When you're under contract, the first people considered are the contract players. He said, "I want you to do this make-up test for Apes." So, I went through the whole procedure where they put the mold on my face, and then got made up. Of course, that was in the early stages where they just used little pieces and glued the appliances to your face. They thought they had to do it that way so that you had the mobility to speak. I knew at that time that I had the part of Nova if, in fact, the movie was to be made. So, I was on in the very early stages.

FZ: Did you read the original novel?
LH:
No, because I knew they were changing it so dramatically. Dick said I shouldn't even read the first book. The screenplay was so different. It was better for me to get only one point of view in my head.

FZ: What kind of preparation did you do for the role?
LH:
I felt very intuitive that my particular personality and nature were like Nova. Automatically, I'd say that's about 80% of the part. The director, the producer, and the writer talked with me about her, and they described her as "sub-human." We hadn't really had an actress play "sub-human" before. Nova's not like the Racquel Welch's character in One Million B.C. She was more primative because of the Ape's suppression. We played it by ear and experimented. It was really a moment-to-moment thing. What I realized, and decided to use as an actress, is that she really had the instincts of an animal. Animals know fear, but also have a great capacity to love. So, there were two strong emotions that Nova knew: fear and love. She had a great, deep fear of the Apes. In fact, it was abnormally great. I think that when evolution makes an change like that, God knows what happens to our DNA and our genetic coding. The other thing is that she had never met a human, like Taylor. She was privileged to experience a very complicated, highly intelligent man. Just by the mere association, she began to develop differently that the rest. But the key thing that we always had to watch, and we were very vigilant about it, was that she couldn't be sophisticated. That was the hard part. I was a sophisticated young woman, an actress, and I had to make sure I didn't show any intelligence. The key was having complete trust in my director. I was very malleable then. Most of the time, I got into the part without any direction, kind of instinctually. Dick had told me, "Just do what your director tells you to do." So, in a way, there was an obedience, and that helped. Now, in the long run, I don't know if that's the best advice, but at the time, and for my amount of experience, it was very good.

FZ: How did they tackle the costuming?
LH:
That was something they mulled over and discussed for a long time. They were thinking, "What could she make herself?" It had to be something that looked like she had just punctured holes through it and created for herself. Basically, the costume had a rubber form and then the bark was pasted onto that. Then we just put some holes in it. I think I tore a few myself because they used to kid me about it. I had to show the costume several times to the producer and director, until they thought it was right. Maybe to the viewer it looks like they just stuck something on me, but it had to be constantly inspected for authenticity. That was important.

FZ: What were the challenges of working without dialogue?
LH:
I felt comfortable with that. I never felt a need to speak. I guess I have a great deal of security in silence. In a way, it's very powerful. It felt very comfortable. It allowed my character to be more in character. I actually liked it. I can't say I was dying to say anything, because you have to remember, she wasn't emotionally mature or intellectual. She didn't have a need to speak.

FZ: Behind the Planet of the Apes mentions a scene that was filmed in which we learn that Nova is pregnant. Can you describe the scene and how it fit in with the rest of the picture?
LH:
I remember that we were all set up to do the scene. It was the scene where we say good-bye to Cornelius and Zira, and Taylor asks for the gun. That was the scene where Zira was going to tell Taylor that Nova was expecting. But then the brass huddled in a quick little meeting and they decided that it wasn't the right course to take.

FZ: Do you think there was any romantic love between Taylor and Nova, or was it more as a pet to its owner? Do you think Nova was capable of romantic love? Did she evolve into it?
LH:
You just have to assume, being that he was a male and she was a female, that they had sex. But he was quite aware that she did not have any developed emotional capacity, like a human. I think he felt very protective of her. I think he was reacting more from his instincts. There he is on this planet, and she is unique. The story just did not go into a relationship. It wasn't that kind of a movie. She was fighting other battles.

FZ: How would you rate your performances today?
LH:
I think Nova's very unique. I think she has a unique quality. A quietness.

FZ: Was there anything remarkably different on the second film from the first movie?
LH:
I wouldn't use the term "remarkably," but we were dealing with a different script and a different director. [Ted Post] was basically a TV director. He worked well with the actors. As an actress, he was a wonderful director to work with. But he did not hold the same vision as Franklin did for the first one. He did it according to his particular experience.

FZ: Do you ever see any of the other Apes actors anymore?
LH: Yeah, I run into Roddy and Kim. Just recently there was a big screening here of the original film. It was great.

FZ: Do you ever watch the Apes movies anymore?
LH:
The only one I can possibly watch is the first one. It's just something in the way it was made. It's very unique and doesn't tire on me. Because of the time in between, thirty years later, I'm able to actually enjoy watching it. I hadn't really seen the first one more than twice. I just did not like watching myself. But now, after seeing it thirty years later, I thought, "Gee... I didn't look so bad!"

FZ: That's what I was curious about. When Star Wars: SE was released, Harrison Ford refused to go see it because he didn't want to see himself twenty years younger on the screen.
LH:
Yeah, but you know something? It's a good feeling. It makes you feel young. That's the incredible thing about film, the immortality. Yeah, you know you change, but you were that way.

FZ: Was there ever talk of casting you in the other Apes movies, in other roles perhaps, like they did with Natalie Trundy?
LH:
No, because by that second one, my husband and I left Fox. So, we had no more association.

FZ: What do your sons think of the Apes movies?
LH:
They think it's really unique. I took them to the screening. I think it's really special for children to see their mother younger than they are. They may be able to see a little bit of themselves. They were delighted and very proud.

FZ: Every parent needs to brag. Harrison seems to be building a good career in the visual effects business. How is he doing? Your web site says that Dean is in the movie business as well.
LH:
Yes, they are both in the business. Harrison did special effects on Deep Impact. Of course, when Harrison was two years old, had his acting debut in Sugarland Express with Goldie Hawn. He's worked on quite a few other pictures. Dean, too, has been an assistant on three or four pictures, and now he's working at Zanuck Company as Vice President of Story Development. Presently, they're both writing a screenplay. I really think they're going to have an incredible future. The bloodlines are there, and they are bright, talented, nice young men. Very close with their father. I think we're going to hear from them very soon.

FZ: When they were growing up, were they aware that their grandfather, Daryl Zanuck, was one of the great movie moguls, who founded 20th Century-Fox?
LH:
We raised them as anybody else would raise their children, and tried to make it as normal as possible. No, there wasn't much reference. If it happened to come in conversation, we acknowledged it. But Dick is a very interesting man, a very private man. He's not boastful. He believes that you don't live in the past. Harrison and Dean just grew up as normal boys. I think as they got older, they realized their dynasty, and who their grandfather was, and certainly who their father was. I think they feel they have a legacy to live up to. They're just very healthy young men.

FZ: Did they ever say, "Dad, why didn't you hang onto the studio?"
LH:
No, they said, "Dad, why didn't you hang onto the house at the beach!" What happened, happened. But look what happened -- Dick's life changed for the better because he went on to become his own producer, and make his own money, and produce pictures he wanted to do. So, it was a blessing.

FZ: Did Harrison ever get teased about being "Baby Langston"? I can't say that name without hearing Goldie Hawn shrieking, "Baby Langston! Baby Langston!"
LH:
A little bit. Yeah, he still does.

FZ: You were the first choice for Ellen Brodie in Jaws. Did you test for it? How did you feel about not getting the part?
LH:
It was something that Dick decided. He was the producer, and he thought that that part would be right for me. He sat down with Spielberg, who was a young up-and-coming director, and he said, "David [Brown] and I decided that my wife, Linda, could do a good job playing the wife in the movie." And Spielberg said, "Oh God, I promised Lorraine [Gary] Sheinberg." So, we had to go with Lorraine. That's how I lost the part to her. She was married to [Sid] Sheinberg, who was the boss at Universal. Anyway, I went and got a part in Airport '75, so that worked out fine.

FZ: Did you hang around the set very much when they were making Jaws?
LH:
Yes. I didn't go out to sea, but we lived at Martha's Vineyard for about three months. It was fabulous!

FZ: What was your experience like working on the Batman TV Series?
LH:
I was actually a cheerleader in high school, but hadn't done anything in two, three years. They called me in very early in the morning, at eight o'clock, and started working us out. I said, "By the time we shoot this, we won't be able to stand up." Cheerleading is pretty tough if you haven't been doing it. By the time they shot that scene, I fell over because my legs gave out! That evening Dick had to carry me up the steps because, I was so sore, I couldn't even walk! Then they printed the scene where I fell. And it was the first thing I did where I could actually call home and say, "Hey, I'm on television!"

FZ: Did you witness any of the womanizing that Burt Ward claimed in his book?
LH:
No, no one got near me. I was Richard Zanuck's girl. They wanted to keep their jobs! Stay away!

FZ: Why were you billed as "Augusta Summerland" in Airport '75?
LH:
Because, in a fancy, I changed my name. Actually, I like the name "Augusta Summerland." But I had such recognition with the name "Linda Harrison," that it was counter-productive to change it. But I do like that name.

FZ: Did you officially change it?
LH:
I did, and then I changed it back to "Linda Harrison."

FZ: What prompted you to leave acting?
LH:
You don't really get out of acting, you just kind of take a little sabbatical. I got married, and then I got pregnant, during Bracken's World. It was just a natural thing. I had a child coming into this world, and I wanted to be home with the child. But then after I had both of my children, I felt the need to work again.

FZ: Is that when you did Cocoon?
LH:
That's when I did Airport '75 and then I did a few guest spots on television. Cocoon didn't come until a few years later.

FZ: It appears that you and Richard Zanuck have managed to maintain a good relationship, since he's produced all your recent movies. How have you managed to do that?
LH:
It was a natural for us. We're both positive people. With his first marriage and his first two children, he had a very bitter ex-wife and we saw how damaging that can be on the children. Having gone through that experience, we just weren't going to allow our differences to affect our children and their happiness. So, from Day One we've been friends, as well as with his wife, Lili.

FZ: Back in the early 70s, most science-fiction films were thought provoking, like Planet of the Apes, Logan's Run, and 2001. What do you think of the science fiction movies of today, that are more interested in elaborate effects and action?
LH:
Well, I don't see too many of those special effects movies. I did see my ex-husband's, Deep Impact.

FZ: That one actually did seem to lean more towards the thought-provoking.
LH:
It did. More so than most. I think your question answered that. It's just two kinds of films. One is thought-provoking and one is how to engage the audience in special effects.

FZ: How has Hollywood changed from back in the late-60s, early-70s?
LH:
They were more provincial. You could compare it to our country's isolationist period. The studios were defined and sustained by their original creators... the pioneers of the Motion Picture business. 20th Century Fox, for instance, was being lead by its original founder, Darryl F.Zanuck, and his son, Richard F. Zanuck. Everyone, including producers, directors, writers and, of course, actors, were still being groomed and nurtured. You were a family and the powers-that-be were more like father figures. We have the last Talent School at Fox. Change is inevitable... even then the old system was nearing the end. I'm glad that I was apart of this era. In some ways it was reckless, but it had a camaraderie that I miss today.

FZ: What are your current plans? Any movies in your future?
LH:
No, but I hope to.

FZ: What do you think of the plans to remake Planet of the Apes?
LH:
I think it's terrific. I think if they're smart, they'll do it, and they'll write a terrific script. It has such an incredible built-in audience and faithful fans, that if they do a good job, they're going to have a giant hit. This is really the era of science-fiction.

FZ: One of the rumored storylines floating around the Net places the story thirty years after the events in the first movie, with history having been changed by the events in Escape and Conquest. Would you want to play Nova again thirty years older?
LH:
I think you have a perfect place to start with the way they took off together. It's saying they're going to go find their life, and develop their colony, and their own culture. Taylor and Nova mating are going to produce an unusual offspring. So, that's where they need to start. It would be good to see them thirty years later and actually see their children grown, and Taylor is really in charge of this development.

FZ: That idea really intrigued me, too. I hope that's what James Cameron is going to do.
LH:
I think Taylor and Nova should be the heads of their particular colony and civilization. You'd have to develop some sort of struggle in the plotline, bring the Apes in. But they're evolving, too. Man is making his change because of the link with Taylor -- the genetic link. So, I think they should just begin there. And I really believe that Nova should be more involved. It was SO male.

FZ: That was one of the things that disappointed me about Beneath. I think it would have been better if they'd dropped the Brent character and had Nova go back and find Cornelius and Zira after Taylor disappears.
LH:
The problem in our world today is the male energy. It's created the wars. It's this macho ego. And so the planet needs the female energy to heal the planet. And if you've watched the first movie, or all the movies, it's all these males, doing all their male little schticks. The female does not have a strong voice. In this remake, Nova should have a voice. I think she'll bring a unique humanity.

FZ: If the new Apes film is a remake of Planet, what would you like to see done differently?
LH:
What I would like to see is that there is a falsening of man, then he redeems himself and builds a better society. He finds that all the wars and the bloodshed were very futile, and that apes and humans must live together peacefully. A lot of people have said that's basically our problem today, with the black race and the white race, where we distinguish ourselves by color. In the first movie, they were so prejudiced and so set in their minds and attitudes towards the humans. Now I think we should see a mending. That's what should emerge in the remake. We begin to see that we are more alike than un-alike.

FZ: I was very glad to see that you're doing conventions and have your own web site. What prompted your involvement with these?
LH:
I did my first convention last year at Chiller. It's just very rewarding when you really haven't done anything for a number of years and then, all of a sudden, people want your autograph. It was very gratifying. I like it. It's very good. You're being appreciated for your work.

FZ: Have you seen much of the Internet? What do you think of fan sites?
LH:
I think they're neat. Of course, I'm partial to Apes, but I still find I'm surprised all the time. I'm amazed that this one film has such a power and an interest. I'm enjoying my website and I love to see the pictures go up, and especially reading the E-mail, because it relates directly to me. Anything that is a positive about yourself is very rewarding.