Interview 42

One Final Question - Richard Chamberlain
(May 2008)

Richard Chamberlain

He's the guest star of choice in US dramas - but after this, probably not House

You're making a guest appearance in Desperate Housewives. So what brings you to Wisteria Lane?

Well, Lynette's (Felicity Huffman) mother Stella (Polly Bergen) and my character Glen split up centuries ago and I didn't stay in touch with Lynette - the reason comes out later. But it becomes necessary for me to come back into Lynette's life. So I surprise her and we have this wonderful meeting in her kitchen.

And - plot spoiler alert! - that reason is?

Stella has tried to protect Lynette from the fact that we split up because I was gay. Finally I tell her, and of course it's fine.

How did you fit in with all these glamorous women?

The fun for me was that Polly Bergen appeared in Dr. Kildare (his hospital-based big break, starting in 1961), playing twins - one good, one evil. The evil twin tried to seduce Dr. Kildare on a beach. So I've known Polly over the years and she's really a pistol. Great fun. And I loved Felicity Huffman. We had the best time. I thought, "They're going to have to have us back because this is really interesting and we can get in all kinds of terrible trouble together." But, no, it hasn't happened.

You've played a legendary TV doctor and, in The Thorn Birds, a legendary TV priest. How come you never made it as a TV cop?

Ha ha! What a good idea. Why not? That would be very interesting casting. Maybe that's what's in my future. If I don't get back on Desperate Housewives.

You're in unbelievably good shape for a 70-something. What's you secret?

Well , I have three secrets. I exercise just about every day, I try to get enough sleep, I eat well and I love my work. I guess that's four secrets. And both my parents did awfully well into old age, so I'm guessing the genes have something to do with it.

You came out a few years ago. Has it made a difference to the types of roles you're offered?

Growing up in the 40s and 50s, being gay was almost the worst thing you could be. It gave me this feeling of self-loathing and mistrust and it wasn't until I was 68 and writing a chapter in my book, Shattered Love, and it was like an angel put his hand on my head and said, “Enough already.” I suddenly realized that gay or straight is a totally benign fact. It tells you almost nothing about the person - are they good or bad, smart or dumb, cruel or kind? - none of the important stuff. And that was a tremendous freedom. So now I don't care if I play gay or straight characters.

It must have been strange having girls throw their underwear at heart-throb Dr. Kildare.

That was fun! I had girlfriends and it was really fun. I loved the attention. People say, "What? You had to kiss girls?" It was great kissing girls!

What would have happened if you'd come out earlier?

I wouldn't have had any career at all. It was totally verboten. And not that much has changed.

You've made a few guest-star appearances, in Will & Grace, Hustle and Nip/Tuck. Do you just call your agent when you need a new car or something?

Ha ha. No, we wait for the phone to ring.

I don't believe it. Who wouldn't want Dr. Kildare?

I wish that were the case. I've had a lot of work over the past year and I've done some theatre. But I also live in Hawaii, so when I'm not working, I'm pretty happy.

One final question: Dr. Kildare started the whole TV doctor phenomenon. Do you feel in some sense responsible for Holby City?

Whole bee what? I haven't seen it. But Grey's Anatomy is terrific and ER is amazing. We used to tell a story and a half in an hour - one main story and one backup. ER tells about 16 stories at once and somehow they make it work. And do it so well. The one I don't like is House - I just find the guy unbelievably unlikeable.