Interview 41

The other secret of Father Ralph
(September 2007)

Richard Chamberlain

Richard Chamberlain was the scandalous seductive priest in The Thorn Birds. Now that he puts on the cassock again he talks about his real love.

Father Ralph is on the square in front of the church all smiles and handsome. At 73 he just looks fabulous, he peeps at a mirror and keeps his abundant grey hair under control. Many faithful (The Thorn Birds) come close to him and talk to him. They have recognized him despite the 25 years that have passed since the scandalous love story - that gave them a son - between the priest and the beautiful Meggie (Rachel Ward) whose adverse circumstances captured one of the highest audiences in TV series history. From September 17 Sky Vivo will broadcast the series in 10 episodes and will add two episodes that were a sequel filmed in 1996 and that have never been seen in Italy.

Richard Chamberlain is on holiday in Positano together with Martin Rabbett (53) who has been his partner for 31 years. He too is handsome and he too works in show business (film and television) as director and producer. Martin is nice and discreet, he prefers to go out shopping and not stay for the interview. Chamberlain graciously defers and although he repeats that he is a "shy man" he does not dodge the questions (except one).

Richard Chamberlain

First as Dr. Kildare and later as Father Ralph women loved you and still do. Four years ago in your book "Shattered Love" you revealed your homosexuality. Has it been hard to silence you were gay for many years?

"Very much so. Only at 68 was I able to say the truth, when I no longer could be a romantic hero on the screen."

And you kept silent for so many years only for that reason?

"I was born in 1934. Back then in the 40s and 50s being gay in America was much worse than being a crook or an assassin. I was scared."

What made you change your mind?

"The fact that I am older and that I have less doubts about myself. When I wrote the word "gay" in the book I felt as if an angel had touched my head, freeing me from fear. Finally I felt free."

How did your partner feel all these years?

"We met 31 years ago. We were acting in a Tennessee Williams play. He was an actor, dancer and singer. Martin is much younger, he never hid his homosexuality. For his generation homosexuality was not something one would hide. It is true that things were not easy for him. Our life was like the life of a dog who has an injured leg and continues running on three legs: this is what it means to hide oneself."

Is it hard to love a man and to have to kiss women because it is in the script?

"No, it is marvelous. I am a great kisser. Do you want to test me?"

I am not an actress, Rachel Ward on the contrary...

"She was delightful. At the time she was in love with another actor who also had a role in "The Thorn Birds", Bryan Brown, who later became her husband. I was already with Martin who in the series played a young priest who liked a girl. When Rachel and I kissed all this atmosphere of love that surrounded us made the experience something beautiful."

Apart from television in real life you have loved a few girls...

"Sure. I had my first quasi sexual experience with the sweetest Japanese waitress. At college I had two great girlfriends. I did all what other young people used to do back then: hold hands, kiss on the back seat of the car.... I love women but not up to the point of wanting to marry one."

Did you want to marry Martin?

"Yes, because matrimony gives you guarantees that do not exist otherwise. In the United States and in Hawaii where I live this is not possible. That is why we held a private ceremony with friends and we exchanged rings."

Where is your ring, I don't see it....

"I don't wear it right now..."

How so?

"Allow me not to answer"

If you had been Father Ralph torn between Church and love....?

"I would not have had any doubt, I would have chosen Meggie. Besides the church and I we do not get along well. I don't like to be told what I have to believe in."

Rachel Ward was not in the sequel of The Thorn Birds. Have you seen her again?

"Actually a short time ago. We were together for the first time since The Thorn Birds in the same TV movie, "Blackbeard". We did not have any scene together so we decided to meet at the airport when she was arriving and I was leaving. We had 15 minutes to catch up on our lives. She is even more delightful."

Your ways are also delightful, is it the secret of your staying so many years together with Martin?

"My heterosexual friends who are almost all separated or divorced always ask me what is our secret. We have grown together, learned from one another. If you want to I will tell you. I have realized that in a couple what counts is the truth and not who is right."

How so?

"When you have a very close bond with some one you tend to hurt him more than you would hurt other people - you know how to hurt him in order to force upon him your reasons. It is not so important to establish who is wrong: what is beautiful is to explore the reasons and the heart of the other."

Did Martin ever ask you to reveal your homosexuality?

"Yes he did but I was not ready and he understood. I was scared to draw attention on me. Of course our friends knew."

And your parents?

"I think they knew but we never talked about it. Things were not easy in my family. My father drank and was psychologically very abusive: he used to tell my brother and myself that we weren't good for anything. It is not a coincidence that I grew up being very shy."

How was your mother?

"She was beautiful. She had even started a career as an actress but my father did not allow her to continue, he was jealous."

Are you jealous?

"I am monogamous"

One can be jealous despite being monogamous

"Sure but.... At my age one understands"

Has the difference in years been a problem?

"No, it hasn't. Till I turned 60 I looked younger than my age. These last years the difference is more obvious."

Have you ever wanted to have children?

"No, I love children but I do not want children at home"

You have been living in Hawaii for many years. How do you keep busy?

"I swim every day in the ocean. I cook. I only see people who have nothing to do with cinema because actors are too narcissistic. I was too. I paint a lot, sell my paintings".

How much does one cost?

"Up to fifteen thousand euros. I often give them as a gift. I love to make and to receive gifts".

Today you are a painter more than an actor?

"The phone does not ring as often as it used to, I do not receive as many offers as before. It does not make me unhappy. I love to act but I also love not to work. Last year I was very busy working..."

We have just seen you in the film "I Now Pronounce You Chuck And Larry", a comedy with two men who pretend they are gay for insurance reasons. Does this type of film serve the gay cause?

"Not any more. It is funny but it plays with stereotypes. For my part I would like to talk not so much about gay love but about love between human beings: love is the only thing that confers serenity to one's life."

But there is also pain. Think at "The Thorn birds"

"Who said that it must be easy to love. "The Thorn Birds" still are one of the most compelling love stories ever written. Love is like that: two people love each other no matter what and all possible obstacles come between them. What obstacle is stronger than God?"

(This article is courtesy of Berit. It as been professionally translated from Italian into English and is © 2007 MC. This translation may not be reproduced partly or fully without the prior permission of MC.)