BetteBack July 15, 1993: Kathy Najimy Talks Hocus Pocus, Her Character, And Her Idol, Bette Midler

Anderson Herald Bulletin
July 15, 1993


Kathy Najimy, a vivacious and versatile actress, would like to portray a wide variety of roles. The only parts she won’t play are those that could be construed as stereotypical.

Sister Mary Patrick, her scene-stealing character in “Sister Act,” made the Singing Nun and the Flying Nun seem like traditionalists.

In her latest film, the Walt Disney Pictures fantasy comedy “Hocus Pocus” (which premiers Friday), Najimy plays one of three 17th-century witch sisters whose spirits are inadvertently conjured up on a Halloween night In modern-day Salem. Hanged 300 years ago, they had vowed to someday return to eat all the children of the town. Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker play her witch sisters.

Upon receiving the script, Najimy, she of the mischievous eyes, cherub cheeks, excited laugh and explosive energy, expressed concern about how the portrayal might reflect on real-life witches. “As 1 respect all groups of people,” she says, seriously, “I respect the groups of witches that are active today in America and around the world. These otherwise ordinary women have special powers, be it healing or whatever, that they truly believe In.

“I was concerned that the movie might portray witches In a stereotypical way,” she continues. “Any stereotype is harmful to a group of people trying to move Its image forward. So I talked to the director and producers about it. I told them that there are groups of witches who are not evil at all, who have no relation or reference to Satan. I like any group to be represented fairly.”

Mary Sanderson, the witch she plays in “Hocus Pocus,” is the middle sister, hungry not only for children but for attention. “In this kind of movie, the characters border on caricature. I have a false nose, because my character is the one who sniffs out the children. We decided that her father was a bloodhound and her mother was a witch.

“She’s also a real kiss-ass. She’s like Eddie Haskell. She wants her older sister, played by Bette, to like her best, so she’s always telling her how pretty and smart she is. But behind her back, she sort of wants to kill her.”

The production Itself was a killer. “The director. Kenny Ortega, had to deal with animals, special effects, flying, movie stars, children, a circulating flu bug, period elements,” Najimy says. ‘The project was a challenge. But it was all stuff that he conquered.

‘The main problem I had with ‘Hocus Pocus’ was that it lasted too long. We had a month of rehearsal, then we shot for over four months. Wearing so much makeup and a wig made it difficult. I don’t want to sound like a whiny actress, because you certainly get paid enough to be able to go in and get hair and makeup on, but that was something I didn’t look forward to.”

The aspect of being a witch that Najimy loved was the flying. “I would have flown every day. It’s such a great feeling,” she says. “I really had confidence – once I was taught the right way to do it. At first. It kind of hurt. We had to adapt this special body suit that had been made for me to fly. I called It my Madonna suit, because it was all laced up, at the crotch, everywhere. We had to cut away at that until it was almost a pair of hot pants.

“Once it was comfortable, and I understood the most advantageous way of holding my body up in the air, then I wanted to go higher and faster. I would fly in another movie in a minute. In fact, I’m thinking of rigging something up In the house,” she quips.

“Hocus Pocus” provided Najimy with another thrill: I the chance to work with her Idol, Midler. She had met the Divine Miss M Just once previously. Years ago, dressed as a rabbit, Najimy had delivered a singing telegram to her.

“I’ve long admired Bette Midler,” Najimy says. “She has been a major force and inspiration in the way I’ve gone about my creativity. She’s a brilliant stage performer, filled with a lot of truth and not a lot of fear. She’s a very funny, very brilliant woman. She’s more domestic than I thought she’d be.”

Midler had passed up the opportunity to star in “Sister Act.” Najimy developed a strong rapport wlth the woman who did take the part — Whoopi Goldberg. “Whoopi has gotten to this lofty position without the things that usually propel you in Hollywood, like contacts, big money, being very thin and blond. We have similar backgrounds In that we both come from theatrical experience and not a lot of Hollywood connections. To get where she’s gotten, you have to be very savvy on many levels.”

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