Q: Did you always want to act?
RC: Yes, but I never thought I had the talent. I had done plays in high school, but I wasnít very good, so in college I majored in my second love -art. You can see how prac≠tical I was -I didnít think I could make it as an actor, but I did think I could become an artist.
Q: What finally made you decide to try acting?
RC: At college the drama department had a wonderful directoress Ėa frail, older woman with a wonderful talent for seducing stu≠dents into the drama department. I used to go to tryouts, but I was so shy, I never spoke up. Then one day she began talking to me about my interest in acting and con≠vinced me to try out. From then on I moonlighted in her department and got so far behind in my art course that I had to stay at school over Christmas and sum≠mer vacations to catch up.
Q: Your role as TVís Dr. Kildare made you a star, but it had a downside for you, didnít it?
RC: Yes. I played the part for five years, and unfortunately, people couldnít imagine me in another role. Then, one day at lunch at Raymond Masseyís home Cedric Hardwicke said. ďRichard, youíve done it all backwards -you became a star before you learned to act.Ē He said it kindly, wisely, and I knew he was right. At college Iíd learned that an actor worked primarily on the stage and that he could do anything: classics, comedy, tragedy, modern. I couldnít do that, so I had to learn -I needed more basic actor training. So I did some summer stock, but that wasnít the answer. Iíd always had a hunch that the place for me was England -English actors and acting had always fascinated me.
Q: How did you get to London?
RC: Director Richard Lester asked me to come to London to play Julie Christieís American husband in Petulia. Lester described the character to me as ďan empty Coke bottle.Ē Well, I knew a lot about playing empty characters -Iíd been Kildare for five years. And besides, I felt I understood the man I was to play -he was full of emptiness because of the things he thought he was but wasnít; and he was full of rage because of the things he thought he was not but was. I was full of rage at the time but didnít know it; and I had talent but didnít know it. So I took the part . . . and I was good in it.
Q: Did you stay in London?
RC: No, I came home, but the hunch I had about broadening my horizons in England was intensi≠fied. And then Amem Andrew, a sort of British Johnny Carson, offered to pay my way back to London if I would he on his show. I thought to myself: This is a sign! Sure enough, almost the day my plane landed, my agent asked me if would he interest≠ed in playing the American in the BBC television production of Henry Jamesí Portrait of a Lady. I jumped at the chance. The producer didnít want me. but I convinced the director to give me the part. That role was the turning point of my career.
Q: Why "turning point"?
RC: After that role I was accepted as an actor in Britain. I worked with the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, and was accepted not only by the company but by the audiences. I think British audiences, because of repertory companies, are used to seeing actors playing different roles and accept them more readily in any role. In America we tend to see actors over and over in the same role. In America, I was Kildare. Also, without Portrait of a Lady I never would have been asked to play Hamlet with the Birmingham Repertory.
Q: Did anyone warn you that doing Hamlet was a huge risk?
RC: Oh, yes. My agent told me not to do it, and practically everyone else told me I was crazy to try. Originally I turned it down, but when they asked again, I said yes but only if the director Peter Dewís would work alone with me for months prior to rehearsal. He agreed. I was the first American to play Hamlet in England since John Barrvmore had done it -I think in 1927.
Q: And the risk paid off -the reviews were good?
Q: Would you take that risk today?
RC: Maybe. But I would do Hamlet again if someone asked -quick!
Q: Since you had to leave Hollywood to be accepted as an actor, do you hold any kind of grudge?
RC: Absolutely not. They gave me a gift. If theyíd accepted me as anything other than Kildare, I might have stayed and missed out on the wonderful experiences Iíve had. I like to think that each of us has his own little destiny and we have to seek it -no one will hand it to us.
Q: You have a reputation for being a nice guy. Are you?
RC: I think Iím easy to get along with, easy to work with -unless I am ig≠nored or double-crossed. When that happens, I scrap. Iíve been in the business long enough to speak up if I think a scene can he improved or a line made better. If I am listened to, my ideas considered, and then thrown out thatís okay with me. But I have to he shown that Iím not right, not just ignored.
Q: Have you ever lost your temper on the set?
RC: Yes, once. It was violent, but it was also kind of funny. I was doing a dueling scene. The director didnít have the proper equipment. I had to use a 20-pound sword that was more like a saw -it was so chipped up from use. And the actor I was fighting was practically blind and out of control physically. I got so angry I stormed off the set, knocking over everything in sight Ėchairs, ladders, everything -with my sword. I demolished the set.
Q: What happened?
RC: The director saw the light and we finished the scene the next day.
Q: Why did you want to do The Bourne Identity?
RC: I read the book and thought it was fascinating. I felt that if we could find a writer to simplify the story it would he perfect for TV.
Q: There is a lot of violence in the story. Do you have any qualms about adding to the violence already on TV?
RC: First, let me say that I donít watch much television, so I donít know about the amount of violence. Secondly, Iím not sure that violence on TV leads to violence in life. There are two schools of thought about that: One contends that television violence acts as a catharsis, preventing real-life violence: the other side feels that viewing violence makes people vio≠lent. I think the jury is still out on which side is right. I will say that I would never accept a role in which violence is portrayed for violence sake. I turned down the role of a rapist not because I wouldnít play a rapist, but I felt the rapes were portrayed for shock value only. The violence in The Bourne Identity isnít like that.
Q: Do you have any say in choosing your leading lady?
RC: Oh, yes! I was able to "suggest" and "agree," and I was thrilled with Jaclyn Smith. Iíve wanted to work with her for a long time.
Q: Why is that?
RC: She is so beautiful, she really doesnít have to be able to do anything else -but she does. She is a very good actress, very natural, vulnerable, sweet, feminine. In the beginning she was not available for the role -I donít know why. But I was delighted when that changed.
Q: Youíve worked with Katharine Hepburn and Barbara Stanwyck. Are they alike? Different?
RC: They are both phenomenal person≠alities, both extremely professional. Hepburn is probably a little more eccentric in her working habits. Stanwyck is the total professional. They are curiously alike even though they come from exact opposite ends of the social spectrum. Stanwyck worked her way up from being a sort of foster child, probably unloved and lonely and poor. Hepburn came from the tipper echelons. I admire Stanwyck for fighting her way to the top and staying there. She is magnificent. I did Thorn Birds with her in 1983. I was much younger when I worked with Hepburn in 1968 Madwoman of Chaillot, and I was scared. But she was very kind. Actually she likes men better than women, so we got along.
Q: You seem less motivated by money than by the role. Did you ever take a part merely for the paycheck?
RC: Yes, twice. I did the film, Swarm, purely for money. I think most of the actors in that film did -the script was awful but the pay was good. Sorry, but I wonít mention the other time.
Q: How do you manage to stay so trim, look so good?
RC: I think itís part of my job to stay in shape -but I donít do anything spe≠cial. Maybe itís partly genes; maybe itís partly because Iíve been addicted to exercise since I was about 15 years old. And maybe itís because I like my work, like what Iím doing. Some people hate their jobs and canít wait till the clock strikes five. I canít wait to get to work.
Q: Of all the roles youíve done, aside from Hamlet, which pleased you the most? The least?
RC: I am proud of Cyrano de Bergerac and Wallenberg. Least proud of Swarm.
Q: Whatís next for you?
RC: After Bourne Iíll have about a three-week break at home in Los Angeles before I start my next project, a theatrical film for my production company. Itís a wonderful story about a father -a film director -and his problems getting along with his son.
Q: Few TV actors have been suc≠cessful switching to movies. Are you taking a new risk?
RC: I donít think so, but I hope it works out. Itís something I really want to do.