Caroline Munro stars in our audio drama adventure “Sinbad and the Pirate Princess”, now available worldwide on Audible! When I discussed the project with her, it was a toss up as to do the Sinbad script, or a sequel to Dracula I had written. She was eager to tackle “Sinbad” first, as she had starred in Ray Harryhausen’s 1974 fantasy film “The Golden Voyage of Sinbad”, and was on the board of The Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation. And so we took off for high adventure on the Arabian Sea with Sinbad and Junah, the Pirate Princess of the title! Jonathan and Mina Harker awaits us in the future…
Caroline is regarded by her most passionate fans as The First Lady of Fantasy. From her Hammer films of the 1970s, and starring roles in fantasy films such as “At The Earth’s Core” and “The Golden Voyage of Sinbad”, to the assassin Naomi in the James Bond blockbuster “The Spy Who Loved Me”, and her roles in cinema and audio drama today, Caroline’s beauty and talent have captured the hearts of audiences internationally.
In this interview, Caroline Munro talks about her early work and being “discovered”, and the turning point in her career when she went to work with Hammer Studios.
Munro began her career as a model in London. Born in Windsor, the teenage Munro won a “Face of the Year” competition after her mother submitted her photograph to The Evening News, the British newspaper sponsoring the contest. Success came fast, and she was modeling for Vogue Magazine by the time she was seventeen. (We had some fun calling back on her career as a photographer’s model when we made the audio drama “The Black Cat 1969”, set in swinging 60s London!) Film work began with bit parts in films such as “Casino Royale” (1967) and “Where’s Jack?” (1969).
This breakfast chat between Caroline and me took place not to long ago one chilly April Sunday morning at a favorite restaurant…
A CONVERSATION WITH CAROLINE MUNRO
MARK REDFIELD: Do you remember where you were, in your career, when DRACULA A.D. 1972 came up?
CAROLINE MUNRO: I did a big billboard, a big poster, in England, for a drink called Lambs Navy Rum. And it actually became a quite well-known and famous poster. Sort of a landmark poster, in so far as it was a first to have such an aggressive woman in it – the pose I mean. I was the first female to wear a wetsuit and a knife! It was a very aggressive ad to sell this rum, and apparently, so they say- (Caroline breaks off in mid-story and her hazel eyes flash-she smiles.) It’s awful to talk about yourself! It’s really weird…
MARK: I know.
(The noise in the restaurant has increased. Constant clatter and buzz of voices as more people come in for breakfast – Caroline shrugs, almost imperceptibly, and continues.)
(Sir James Carreras was the head of Hammer Film Productions.)
MARK: And the first film you did with Hammer is DRACULA A.D. 1972…
CAROLINE: Yes, that was the first one. That was a little role. So they offered me that, and that definitely was my turning point.
MARK: What do you mean by “turning point”?
CAROLINE: I had done a few films before that, but that was my turning point, when I worked with Christopher Lee, and when I worked with all of those young, up-and-coming actors. Suddenly I thought, this is what I want to do. I absolutely know. And I loved it. Something felt so natural and, having come from no training-I was working with Stephanie Beecham and Michael Kitchen, the young “Brit Pack” actors of the time. And of course you have Christopher (Lee) and Peter (Cushing)- they’d all come from RADA, they’re all RADA-trained, and there was me – having no formal training. I’d worked on films. I’d worked with Richard Widmark as his daughter, but, I was just playing myself and had no idea what I was doing!
(Caroline refers to the Royale Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA)). Stephanie Beecham had appeared in Michael Winner’s “The Nightcomers” (1972) opposite Marlon Brando. A Golden Globe winner, she has since worked steadily in American television. Michael Kitchen had appeared in British television prior to DRACULA A.D. 1972, and in recent years has been seen as Bill Tanner to Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond in the Brosnan-era 007 films.)
MARK: Were the other actors kind, you being new to the scene?
CAROLINE: They were great! They were absolutely great. And I did those scenes with Christopher, and it was wonderful.
MARK: So, the early film work and modeling, to quote James Cagney, was just “a job of work”?
CAROLINE: Yes. I would turn up on time and, you know, say my lines, and maybe a little bit mechanically. No training. I worked with Richard Quine on Bell, Book and Candle. And on Talent For Loving (1969). There was Cesar Romero playing my grandfather and Richard Widmark as my dad! Fantastic actors! And I was what? Eighteen or nineteen? New kid on the block. I had no idea it was a huge Paramount film. I was chosen to play a Mexican-American girl. And I was working with all these people!
(Richard Quine, an actor-turned-director, helmed two of the last Peter Sellers films, The Prisoner of Zenda (1979) and The Fiendish Plot of Fu Manchu (1980). Sadly, he committed suicide in 1989.)
MARK: Were your parents supportive of your career?
CAROLINE: My parents were there. Paramount flew them to Madrid, where we were shooting. They had a wonderful apartment. We stayed there. They looked after me. I was the baby. It was an extraordinary experience but it really didn’t register, until I started doing that film (DRACULA A.D. 1972), that acting was my passion.
MARK: What was your friends and families reaction to your getting a contract with Hammer Films?
CAROLINE: They were pleased! My father was a lawyer–
MARK: So he looked the contract over twice…
CAROLINE: (laughing) Yeah, he did, actually – But my mum, a housewife – you know, they were not ambitious for me. They were just loving, fantastic parents. Very supportive. If I wanted to do it, that was fine with them. They were never pushy or said, “Oh yes, you gotta do this and you gotta do that.” Not at all.
MARK: Did they have any opinion about working for Hammer, in that it wasn’t Hollywood – Paramount or Warner Bros., for instance?
CAROLINE: No, not at all. I certainly didn’t. Actually, I didn’t know too much about Hammer at the time. I only knew that once I did it, (DRACULA A.D. 1972), that I was hooked on acting.
MARK: What was the reaction to you and the film when it came out in England?
CAROLINE: I got a lot of press. Quite a lot of press, I remember. Even though it was a teeny-weeny, little role. I ’spose the attention was because of the little things I wore. I mean, it’s always based on the physical stuff – more-so, then. Absolutely. The physical stuff and then the one particular scene with Christopher reviewers kept pointing out that they thought was quite good.
MARK: In the early 1970’s, Hammer had produced a number a films, vampire films that featured nudity. The Vampire Lovers, Twins of Evil, and Vampire Circus come to mind. And in mainstream cinema, “casual” nudity was accepted. I’m thinking of Sally Struthers in Five Easy Pieces, for instance. Was there any pressure from the producers to do nudity, and what went into your decision not to do nude scenes?
CAROLINE: I’m not prudish, and people can do what they want. Just for me, it was a personal choice. It’s something I didn’t want to do. Plus, I think it’s more “what you don’t see” that’s more interesting. For me, it’s nice to have a little mystery. Maybe I’m an old-fashioned girl! A little bit, anyway!
MARK: After DRACULA A.D. 1972 was released, what were the immediate career benefits? What did you do between DRACULA A.D. 1972 and CAPTAIN KRONOS-VAMPIRE HUNTER?
CAROLINE: There were the two Phibes films right after.
MARK: Was the Hammer contract exclusive?
CAROLINE: Well! It was exclusive. I thought it was. Now how did they…? In the meantime, I was asked to do the two Phibes films, but with no credit…
CAROLINE: …which is very odd. My agent–I had Dennis Selinger, who was at ICM at the time–and he said, “Oh yes, you know, just go ahead and do it. Do it.” And Hammer didn’t…Was that before or not?…Isn’t that awful!
MARK: I’ll double-check the dates.
CAROLINE: You’ll have to. Because I’m very bad on dates! This was so long ago! But it was all about that time. I think I was uncredited because I had a contract – if that makes any sense.
(Turns out that the Phibes films we’re talking about pre-date "DRACULA A.D. 1972". Starring Vincent Price, the shockers "The Abominable Dr. Phibes" (released in May, 1971) and the sequel "Dr. Phibes Rises Again" (released in July, 1972), featured Caroline as the diabolical Phibes’ corpse bride, Victoria. So the film that Caroline did between A.D. and KRONOS is the Ray Harryhausen fantasy film, "The Golden Voyage of Sinbad". Dennis Selinger was, perhaps, Britain’s most powerful talent agent. He discovered Peter Sellers, and had on his client list, at various times during his career, Michael Caine, Roger Moore, Sean Connery and others. Selinger passed away in 1998.)
MARK: Let’s talk about KRONOS, but first, because of the project that I’m currently developing that we were talking about this morning, I wanted to ask you if you were up for the role in…
CAROLINE: –Jekyll and Hyde – “Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde”–
MARK: Not only that, Hammer’s last Frankenstein film?
CAROLINE: Oh, I was thinking of your film. I don’t think so. Not to my knowledge. That Maddie (Madeline Smith) played?
MARK: Yes, that’s it. "Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell".
CAROLINE: No. I was definitely up for "Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde".
MARK: With Martine Beswick…
CAROLINE: My best mate! And she was fabulous! They looked perfect together. She and Ralph Bates. If I was casting it, I wouldn’t choose me. Not at all.
MARK: So how did KRONOS come about? Did you have to read for it?
CAROLINE: Well, not really. Because don’t forget I’d just done A.D., and I was under contract, so they were trying to find a project. And then Brian Clemens came along, and said, “She’s right for my gypsy.”
MARK: Carla was your first major role. Looking back on KRONOS, what do you think of the film today?
CAROLINE: I think the film stands out. I’m amazed. I did see it at the time when we recorded the commentary track for the DVD release, so it would be two years ago, and I just think it stands out, actually even better today, because it’s kind of a timeless thing which is odd because – obviously – KRONOS meant “time traveler” in Greek, I believe. So it has a kind of timeless feel to it, to me. I think it still stands out today – because it didn’t have too much graphic violence in it, hardly any sex or anything, it didn’t have the excesses, but it had a kind of spiritual feel – in a way – which I think the kind of esoteric feel, I think – um – maybe works today.
MARK: What did you think of your leading man?
CAROLINE: Of course it had sword fighting which I think was brilliant – I think Horst did an amazing job with that – I think he did an incredible job and he was with Bill Hobbs – the fight director—and I think that was just a great scene. He worked really hard on that and I think it really paid off—one of the highlights of the film for me, was the sword fighting.
MARK: How was Brian Clemens as a director and how did he work with you?
CAROLINE: Just a fabulous director to work with. Because he had a – he’s very English, and has a very – kind of – dry sense of humour. At the same time – and he didn’t go on, sadly, to direct any more films.
MARK: No, no feature films.
CAROLINE: He was a wonderful director, very quiet, he knew exactly what he wanted. Very, very good with actors. He had a kind of – you felt very confident with him. Because I hadn’t done a lot of work in those days, so I was pretty much a novice, working with other really good people. It was quite an important role for me because I ’spose one of the first leads I’d done – so I kinda felt, you know, I had to do my best and he was great with me. I think, in fact, he was so good – I look on him as a bit of a mentor ’cause he went on to suggest me for SINBAD – as he did the screenplay. I think he’s wonderful. And I asked him – I think I told you this – I asked him why he didn’t do any more and he said “because he wasn’t asked”! – to direct. Which is very strange to me because I thought he did a brilliant job.
MARK: Have you spoken to Brian since the KRONOS audio commentary?
CAROLINE: Yes! We’ve seen each other. He did a short thing for his son – a 15-20 minute piece for his son and it was shown at a festival in London. It was very good. His son’s very good-looking and a very good actor. Sam – Sam Clemens. Who I’m sure will do very well. He’s very young. So he has a lot of time in front of him. But he (Brian) did that for him. And so we saw him there and we had lunch with him – last year we had lunch with him in London, so we kind of – I’m hoping he’ll do some shows – he’d be a great guest.
Mark: You took a long break in your career, didn’t you?
CAROLINE: Took a long time off to have my girls. I took a long time. And of course in that time, I had my girls late, and in that time everything changes. And of course you’re not offered the roles. Yeah, I was offered some roles, but not really what I wanted to do. The roles stopped, really, I ’spose. I took really, ten years off, which is really a long time. I worked a lot in Europe after – in the eighties, and I worked a lot in Europe with some really interesting directors. And you change, not just physically, but in your outlook. You’re growing, aren’t you? You have a family. What is the most important thing and how you deal with things – I suppose and it’s been tough, the last few years have been tough I have to think of it as a positive
MARK: You’re talking about your personal life and not so much your professional life?
CAROLINE: Yeah, the personal life. The career was wonderful. I never sought anything, really. I never pursued anything. I was not ambitious. It came to me.
MARK: So you weren’t ambitious and aggressive?
CAROLINE: Not at all. Never. I was so surprised when people asked me – and thrilled.
And ask Caroline I did! And since we’ve done a Poe-adaptation (“The Black Cat 1969”) and “Sinbad and the Pirate Princess”, we are excited to get back into the studio to make more great fantasy audio drama! Stay tuned!