Christopher Reeve says his latest television movie, "The Rose and the Jackal," relies on imagination to fill in blank pages in one episode of the Civil War.
The movie, which premieres Monday at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Turner Network Television, pits two historical figures against each other in a story of love and honor."We take two historical figures in Washington, on opposite sides in the war, and imagine what their relationship might have been," Reeve says.
Reeve stars as Allan Pinkerton, the private detective who founded the Secret Service and had the duty of stopping the flow of military secrets to the South.
Madolyn Smith Osborne is Rose O'Neal Greenhow, a beautiful and aristocratic Southerner who operated a Confederate spy ring out of her Georgetown mansion. She was known as "the Merry Widow of Washington," and one senator said she had "incomparable seductive powers." It was rumored she had an affair with President James Buchanan.
"Pinkerton had her under surveillance and then under house arrest and finally sent her to the Old Capitol Prison," Reeve says. "What the movie imagines is that he developed an obsession with her. The story deals with his attempts to break her and make her sign a loyalty oath to the Union - and her standing firm in her beliefs.
"These are two passionate individuals fighting for what they believe in."
This production began as a historical footnote that writer Eric Edson spotted in Margaret Leech's "Reveille in Washington." It mentioned the names of Pinkerton and Greenhow and inspired Edson's screenplay. He wrote it originally as a theatrical film, but even with a well-known actress set for the role of Greenhow no studio would make it. Six years later, it was accepted by TNT.
The role is a real change of pace for Reeve, who is best known as the Man of Steel in "Superman." In this historical drama he wears a beard, has a Scottish accent and is an obsessive and self-righteous man.
The story focuses on the class distinctions between Pinkerton and Greenhow, Reeve says.
"Pinkerton was a working class Scottish immigrant," he says. "Rose Greenhow was a Southern aristocrat. Pinkerton was a private detective, a gumshoe.
"She was the Southern rose. He was the jackal who pursued her until he finally devoured her.
"One event our film covers is that she was tipped off on when Union troops would move on Bull Run and she got word to General Beauregard. The Union lost the first battle of Bull Run. It was a very high priority in Washington to neutralize her."
Pinkerton was very protective of Abraham Lincoln and foiled a plot in Baltimore to kill him prior to his first inauguration. Pinkerton was out of his element, however, as a military analyst. He underestimated Confederate strength at Antietam and helped cause another defeat. By 1863 he had retreated to Chicago and gone back into private practice.
Jack Gold directed "The Rose and the Jackal," which was filmed on location in Georgia - Savannah, Macon, Atlanta and Stone Mountain.
"We used the same Civil War re-enacters who were in `Glory,"' Reeve says. "They know all the battles and all the details."
Reeve moves between roles in movies, television and the theater. Besides the four "Superman" movies, he was in "Switching Channels," "Street Smart," "Deathtrap," "Somewhere in Time" and "The Bostonians." He starred in "Anna Karenina" and "The Great Escape II: The Untold Story" for television.
Reeve is not sure there will be any more "Superman" movies.
"If there is another, it's time to recast," he says. "I'm getting too old to play him again. `Superman' is perennially 30 years old. You can't have an aging `Superman.' But it has less to do with age than the fact that I was pretty disappointed in the last picture."