Interview 16


Chamberlain finds his Answer

Everything Richard Chamberlain needed to know he learned before kindergarten.

"Four to me was the ideal age," he jokes. "When I was five and had to go to school, everything collapsed."

Six decades later, he's found his way back to simplicity and contentment.

"I'm by far the happiest I've ever been in my life. By far," the 63-year-old enthused this week, in town to promote his miniseries The Lost Daughter, airing tomorrow and Sunday nights on CTV.

In the fictional story, which is loosely based on the Order Of the Solar Temple mass murder-suicides in Quebec, Switzerland and France in 1994 and 1995, he plays the father of a woman who may be among the victims.

Chamberlain, whose only exposure to organized religion was Presbyterian Sunday School when he was a boy, doesn't believe he could be drawn in by a cult.

"Personally, I think anybody who thinks they have The Answer is on the wrong track or is self-deluded, because there isn't The Answer and because we're much too limited, any of us, to have The Answer," he says.

What he does preach is appreciation and protection of the environment, a cause that caused him to host a World Of Audubon special about Hawaii that aired here last night on the Outdoor Life Network. That rarest of creatures -an actual L.A. native- Chamberlain has lived fulltime in the island state for several years.

Tanned and trim, projecting an upbeat energy and breaking often into infectious, snorting laughter, he looks as if he just strode in from the beach as he talks frankly about reordering his priorities. Back in the days when he wore the title King of the TV Miniseries -with Thorn Birds and Shogun his biggest (and best loved, the ranking likely depending on your gender)- he was, he says, addicted to his celebrity, in "some deeply neurotic pattern, I think, of needing to be special and needing to be famous and all that stuff to feel worthy."

What broke the pattern was years of therapy and years of living and years of his worst fears not coming true. Turning 40, for example, sent him into a depression.

"I thought it all rested on youth ... I was afraid it was going to slip away and nobody would like me anymore. I mean, you don't really think that but unconsciously that's what it's about."

Turning 60 imbued new urgency in the self-described dawdler -"You can suddenly see the end, and time takes on a whole new aspect"- towards his passions: Painting (he wants to do an art show based on aerial views of Saskatchewan, where some of Lost Daughter was filmed), his friends, his home (he professes to never have enough photos of the Hawaiian sunset) and, now more occasionally, acting.

He holds himself mostly responsible for the failure of Island Son, his six-month return to series TV in 1989. He wanted a drama about the meeting of ancient and modern beliefs in Hawaii. CBS wanted "Dr. Kildare Goes Hawaiian," he says.

"I thought we could push it in a whole other direction, but I was quite foolish. After 30 years in the business, I can't believe I gave in on some of those things."

He's in discussions now about doing a CBS miniseries, but says Hollywood is unlikely to ever again lure him for the long term.

"The town is just too tough for me now and the business is kind of tough. I kind of want a mellower, less showbizzy existence."

1998 Claire Bickley