An actor's journey from miniseries to musicals.
Q: Why would you leave Hawaii to come to Chicago in February?
RC: A good question. But my memories of the city are very glittering. I remember the Four Seasons Hotel -I stayed there a long time ago- and right across the street is that Hancock Tower, which is one of the most gorgeous buildings in the world. Then there's the lake. Chicago is romantic, like New York 20 or 30 years ago.
Q: You could live anywhere in the world, why Hawaii?
RC: I love being by the sea and at the time I bought my first house, 24 years ago, it was out of the way where no tourists ever went. It's a very beautiful spot and not terribly expensive. It seemed quite perfect. I love that it's not Los Angeles. The people are sweet, and they don't care anything about show business.
Q: It's not boring?
RC: Not at all, but I do get off-island occasionally. One of the reasons I wanted to tour with this show is I wanted a New York experience. After I've been in the islands for a while, I want to go somewhere where everything happens.
Q: What is your life like when you're not working? What's an average day in the life of Richard Chamberlain?
RC: Very mellow. Movies or dinner with friends, walking the dog, painting, surfing, wandering the beaches. Very sort of ordinary and uneventful.
Q: You originally wanted to be an artist. What kind of an artist are you?
RC: Not a bad one, to begin with. I just took it up again six or seven years ago. Some of my paintings have turned out rather well. It would be hard to characterize me according to style. If you saw a group of my paintings together in one room, you'd think they were done by different people. I like changing styles and media, just like, as an actor, what turns me on is different kinds of roles rather than the same role over and over.
Q: What books do you read, what do you watch on TV?
RC: "The Sopranos" is really remarkable. "Charlie Rose" is my favorite show. I'm reading "Cold Mountain" by Charles Frazier.
Q: Do you watch any of the hospital shows on the air today, like "ER" or "Chicago Hope"?
RC: I've watched "ER," and I think they do a bang-up job. It's a different world than "Dr. Kildare." Our show was very sedate. We did one main story and one minor one. They do eight at once and all very well. It's quite amazing.
Q: Next year, it will be 40 years since you first starred in "Dr. Kildare." How have you been able to sustain a career for four decades?
RC: I've worked very hard; I've been extremely lucky about the projects that have been offered to me; I've done some really good stuff; I love what I'm doing; and other than that, I'm quite amazed. When I think about "Dr. Kildare," which really paved the way for "Centennial," "Shogun" and "The Thorn Birds," it seems like another life, not my life at all. I'm extremely grateful for all that has happened to me, but I was another person then. I'm a bit phobic about the past. I don't have a single picture of myself in anything I've been in in the house, no awards, nothing. I have trunks full of memorabilia. I keep them just in case I might need them someday.
Q: You ought to sell them on eBay?
RC: They're too personal for that, although I know some people who do that.
Q: What were the high points of your career?
RC: Getting the part of "Dr. Kildare" was an amazing bit of good fortune. I was an out-of-work actor, 24 years old, but a very young 24, not sophisticated in any way. I'd done a pilot for MGM called "The Paradise Kid." It was a Western TV series, and it didn't sell. Westerns were on their way out. They looked at everybody in town for "Dr. Kildare," and they finally pulled out the pilot and decided that's what they wanted. I had to wait in line for "Shogun" and "Thorn Birds." They were both supposed to be theatrical films, and they were thinking of Robert Redford and people like that for "Thorn Birds." But they couldn't condense it, and it became a television project and I got it. James Clavell wanted Sean Connery or a British actor in "Shogun," but that also became a TV project and I finally got that too.
Q: And low points?
RC: The musical version of "Breakfast at Tiffany's" with Mary Tyler Moore. It closed on Broadway after only four previews. It never even opened. It was supposed to be the big musical of 1967. It had everything going for it. It was enormously expensive for the time. I was happy through rehearsals. We went to Philadelphia, then Boston. I was an absolute novice, and I never realized we were in trouble. Then they brought in Edward Albee to do a rewrite. He was a strange choice. No one had ever heard of dark musical, and the audiences in New York hated the show. It was my first taste of failure, and it was overwhelming for a while. It was like a death in the family. Theatre people like Angela Lansbury and Ruth Gordon threw their arms around me and said failure was inevitable in show business and that I should get used to it. I got used to it.
Q: What do you still want to do?
RC: Anything in which I can do character work. I've always been a character actor pretending to be a leading man. In my latest movie, "Pavilion," based on a story by Robert Louis Stevenson, I play a really wacko banker-swindler.
Q: Will there be any more "Thorn Birds" mini-series?
RC: Oh no, not unless they offer me the moon. We shouldn't have done the second one, but they made me an offer I couldn't refuse. I never actually saw it.
Q: Which of the young stars do you think will be around 40 years from now?
RC: Gwyneth Paltrow. I think she was astonishing in "The Talented Mr. Ripley." Just wonderful. I'm voting for Matt Damon because he seems like such a cool guy, Tobey Maguire who is in "Cider House Rules," Winona Ryder and Sean Penn, who is a sensational actor.
Q: Who's still around that started out with you 40 years ago?
RC: Susan Sarandon and I did a TV movie together, "The Last of the Belles." I said she would be the next Bette Davis. Jack Nicholson was a very interesting, bright person, there was the screenwriter Robert Towne and Linda Evans.
Q: One last question: In your opinion, what are the three words that best describe you?
RC: Hard-working, visual and warm.
© 2000 Cheryl Lavin