Interview 44

T FET PA Denmark

What is it like being a public figure?

It's a problem so I think an actor, ideally an actor should the minute he walks off stage should disappear. That's my theory.

What has bothered you the most all these years with being a public figure?

Well, one of the problems of human beings I think is we approach each other as images. I have an image of you, you have an image of me. So my image relates to, you know, your image and all that and we don't really see each other, and the truth of each other, and it makes it especially hard for a public person in terms of personal relationships to get over that period of an image. Somebody sees me as Father Ralph de Bricassart or something so they think I'm this randy priest. Well, yes and no. But I think that's one of the chief difficulties but mostly it's wonderful. I mean actors like attention and we sometimes get it's nice.

When you read on you and your life, there's very little about your childhood, your background, how you grew up. And I would like very much if you wouldn't mind, let's talk a little bit about your childhood, your background today.

Well, it was pretty regular. I grew up in Beverly Hills, California, but I hasten to say on the "wrong side, or in my opinion the right side of the tracks" where it was just normal. And my grammar school was just down the street and my friends were all kind of on the block as we say in America. And I was a terrible student, I hated going to school. I think at four years old is the ideal age after that it's all down hill, because you're totally free. I really resented the loss of freedom in school so I didn't do too well in school until I got to college and then I did better. But I had a pretty normal time. My family was a little upset, my father was an alcoholic and that always causes trouble. And then, but you somehow repair those things as life goes on.

But your father was a rather overpowering man wasn't he?

Yes, he was a very powerful personality. He sobered up and got into AA and became a very charismatic and wonderful speaker and helped a lot of people. But he was, and this is another problem with being a public person, he was kind of a public person by nature and sometimes they don't do too well in their private life, and their personal lives. I felt very dominated, very sort of overpowered by him. So it's taken a lot of sorting out to kind of get my balance back.

When you went to Korea in the US Army and then you came back and it was sort of predetermined, I think, by your parents that you were going to venture into the family business and you were determined when you came back not to have anything to do with it.

Well it wasn't quite in the European sense of a sort of family dynasty. It was a small business and he and my brother invited me to join them and it just didn't interest me. I wanted to act. I wanted to paint. I wanted to do all that kind of stuff. That's my person and my nature. I didn't want to sell market fixtures. Actually designing and furnishing supermarkets is rather interesting to some people. And I can see that, but it just wasn't interesting to me.

Were you a bit of a rebel at any time?

Covertly. I never was a "James Deanian" rebel. I never, I did speed around. When I was doing Dr. Kildare the first toy I bought myself was a corvette. And gosh, I couldn't go anyplace less than 70 and usually, way, way beyond that. I couldn't drive up my driveway at less than 70 miles an hour. So I got into a lot of trouble with that. But mostly my rebellion has been inner and quiet. Unfortunately, I think, it's much more interesting if you're an outwardly rebellious person.

What kind of balance have you created between the public man and the private man?

Well that's difficult. Personally I need to be private and I long to be public. It's a funny contrast. So, I enjoy my public outings but there's a time when I can feel something go inside of me and I've got to go and I got to get out of the room I got to go and be myself. And I enjoy being by myself or just with a few friends and just being laid back. And that's one reason I love Hawaii so much because you can do that there. You can just get up in the clothes you slept in and add a couple of things and go off to the supermarket and everybody looks the about the same. Nobody's bothered combing their hair or changing or anything, or shaving. And it's great. It's a wonderful sense of freedom. But I find that I sort of unconsciously balance it according to my own inner needs.

But there is a certain curse, I suppose, with popularity, with celebrity status as large as yours. What's the price tag at times? Is it too much?

Well, there's a generally accepted public principle now that I violently disagree with. It's generally considered that the minute anyone does anything particularly noteworthy, he gives up his privacy, he gives up all sense of personal life. In a sense, he gives up all dignity. And I violently disagree with that premise. Our laws are set up at least in America so that once you're well known, newspapers, anybody can say anything they want about you and you can't do anything about it. Unless you can prove not only that they were malicious but that they have damaged you in some way preferably monetarily and that's very hard to prove. And I see the way politician are treated in the press and see the way other actors are treated in the press. We're talking about a kind of lowly part of the press. And they do get a lot of attention. And it's very disturbing and very hurtful and there's no way to become invulnerable to it that I know of. And it's unfortunate and that's a heavy price to pay.

The theater, you love it, what is it about the theater that makes actors go back again and again regardless?

Well, film is a wonderful challenge and very exciting but it is a very, very mechanical medium. And it's very much the director's medium, the editor's medium. Theater is the actor's medium. And you're playing not to a machine, you're playing to people. And you're in contact with them and if it's all working well, you're just like that, you and the audience. The audience is part of the play. It's their imagination that makes the play really. You're just in a sense stimulating their imagination and so you're together in it. It's a collaborative effort and when it's going right there's nothing like it. When you're all on the same track and heading up hill it's a wonderful feeling. Also you get to do it from beginning to end, you get some momentum. Everything makes sense in a dramatic way. Whereas in film you may be mourning at your wife's funeral before you've even met the actress who plays your wife and done the love scenes. It's a funny challenge - film.

What's the difference in your preparation when you do a play than when you perform in front of a camera?

Well, you have four week's rehearsal which is delicious and you get to try all kinds of things. On film very often you have to settle for your first or second impulse because there isn't time to experiment that much. You, of course, learn the whole piece for a play, and in film I generally learn my scenes maybe three days ahead of time, more if they're very difficult scenes and let them sort of sink in. Some actors, some film actors, like to learn them just on the spur of the moment so that they have that extraordinary spontaneity. I can't do that. I need more time for the word to become feeling. The word on the page is a cold, is almost my enemy and it takes me time to make friends with it. I had trouble learning to read when I was a kid. I think that's one of the reasons I disliked school so much. I think, actually, I'm slightly dyslexic. I can't prove that. But, I had trouble sort of putting it all together. So, the words still, when I look at a page, I get frightened. You know standing up in front of a class when I was a little kid and they'd say "Read this" I just didn't know what to do, so it was terrifying.

Have actors got demons?

I think, an original drive for me was a sense of unworthiness. It seems to be something you get when you grow up in a family with alcoholics. I've read over and over again about it. And especially a lot of people in the business that there's somehow you lose. First of all, a child feels responsible in a way for the difficulties in the house. So you begin to feel there's something wrong with you instead of something wrong with your father, your mother, or whoever's got the problem. And it's unconscious and unreasonable and it doesn't make any sense but you grow up with that and it's very uncomfortable. And I think to balance that discomfort I wanted to be an actor. I wanted to be well known. I wanted to be successful. I wanted to prove something. You know what I mean? And now, that's not the case. I'm in the business because I love it and because I love to act and because I, hopefully, want to do something or something's that are important and that mean something.

Let's talk a bit about the various characters Captain Blackthorne, this wonderful character, up against Ralph de Bricassart. What was the difference, basically they were both lonely men, they were lonesome somehow and they were sad in many ways.

Well, Blackthorne had Mariko for quite a long time and loved her desperately. But, of course, she was killed and the rest of his life, I imagine, was pretty lonely. Also, he was lost between, and in a sense similar to Ralph, he was lost between two cultures, the European and the Japanese and didn't belong in the end to either. The same way with Ralph, he was lost between two very powerful urges within himself, actually three. The power of the Church and glamour of the Church, a genuine vocation, spiritually, I think, and his desperate love for Meggie which was real. It wasn't lust. I mean it was very sexy but it wasn't lust. They were soul mates. They, I mean if he hadn't been a priest that would have been the great marriage of all time. Because they really loved each other. But they weren't compatible according to Catholic tradition. And consequently, ripped into pieces. Blackthorne on the other hand wasn't ripped to pieces but I imagine he was very alone after Mariko.

The last aspect was, of course, with Barbara Stanwyck which was that incredible scene between you and her. You come to the house, it's been raining, and your soaked through. You strip to the bone and there stands this old woman dying to have your body. That was something else.

I must say in the case of Barbara Stanwyck, she was a great looking old woman. She was great looking, great legs, great every, she was really in terrific shape. But, yes, it was her lust. She was extremely lusty and I think love had nothing to do with it. She was wonderful in that.

But at the same time, don't you think Father de Bricassart was a very ambitious man?

Oh totally. Absolutely.


Driven by an ambition. And but that was also complicated by the spirituality that he was capable of, too. Very complex guy.

In thinking about seduction. You seduce us from the screen and we love being seduced by you. Do you enjoy seducing us?

Oh sure! Everybody enjoys seduction, both the seducer and the seduced. It's a wonderful showbiz game. It's most obvious I think with singers the way they start out. Gosh, I remember seeing Edith Piaf in Los Angeles and she came out in a little black dress, this tiny little woman and in five minutes she thought she was more glamorous and more beautiful than Marlene Dietrich. She was creating this incredible magic. I think, maybe, the excitement of seduction is the creativity of it. The imagination. She filled your mind with feeling and sound and beauty and tragedy and all that. And it was a kind of seduction. You have to win over the audience. You have to take the audience and embrace them and then take them on a journey and if it all works it's a worthwhile trip.

Romantic heroes never seem to settle down and have kids. You've chosen to stay single. Why do you like being single?

Well, it's not that I particularly like being single or have even chosen to be single. Life has gone by moment by moment by moment. I've had some great relationships but we just never got around to getting married. It's something I never think about except in interviews and suddenly someone says, " Why aren't you married?" I don't know. It just never happened. I think partly because I never really wanted children. Show business is a funny kind of arena to bring children up in, and I was racing all over the world all the time and I didn't want to be an absentee father. If I were going to have kids, I would definitely do it right. And I just never got around to it. And it's not sure it interests me that much.

But you do cook a mean breakfast!

Yea, I cook a mean breakfast.

I know you do. I can't wait to have those macadamia nut pancakes.

Macadamia nut pancakes. Oh boy! and nice crispy bacon.

Do you enjoy your household chores, and having a wonderful time walking on the beach and doing what you want to do with your rhythm.

I can get lost in trivia: fixing things, mowing lawns, raking leaves, cleaning up after the dogs. You know the most mundane things. I could just do that for the rest of my life and be very happy. I even like to wash dishes which makes me a good dinner guest. Yeah I like all that. It's one of the ways I can loose myself which I think is one of those rare blessings that happen to us once in a while when we actually loose ourselves.

Your audiences, I'm sure, regard you mostly as a romantic of all the parts that you have played. But are you more a realist?

No, I'm more of a romantic

Good, that's what I wanted to know!

I'm not sure it always works in life but I kind of let life take the lead. I love to travel. I love to go to romantic places and, yeah, that's why I gravitate towards that kind of character so much.

What makes you angry?

Well, being lied to. Incompetence in people who claim to be competent. Having to wait too long: actually, I'm pretty good at waiting and that's the one thing I learned in the Army is I don't mind waiting in line, I don't mind all that sort of thing. But, in a work situation, I like things to kind of go quick. And just overt stupidity.


I mean I'm not the smartest person in the world, but, yea, that can drive me crazy.

What motivates you?

Well, a lot of things. Some hangover aspects of proving things, love, the desire to create something meaningful and be part of something meaningful. That sort of thing.

What do you think is the greatest misconception about you?

Probably that I have no sense of humour.

We've disproved today that it is there.

There's a sort of public persona I put on when I get - that kind of stricture I feel sometimes when I'm around people. I don't know very well. It's an inveterate shyness I think and I don't usually loosen up till I know people well or I've had a couple of martinis or something like that. But I actually do find certain things funny. I've even been funny once in a while, once or twice in my life.

I know you have. What's your greatest passion?

I guess trying to clarify life, my life in particular. To the point where I can be completely honest with myself and with other people. And take full responsibility for my life and what I create in my life. I have a feeling that we, I have a feeling one's experience in life is almost like a projected film from inside and we like to blame other people for things that happen but I think we attract what comes to us good and bad. What we call good and bad. The bad often leads to something good.

How vulnerable are you as a man and as an artist?

I'm very vulnerable. Extremely vulnerable with reviews for instance. I don't dare read them especially in a play where you have to go on again the next night. I have people read them and tell me whatever is important. If the director's still around he can be very useful. I'm very, very vulnerable.

Are you letting people, more people, into your life than you used to?

Well, I'm not going for quantity.


But people do get farther into my life now for sure. I still find an habitual reserve that comes from old fears and things but it goes away more and more often now. Often, when I recognize it, I think to myself, gosh, you're being very uptight. Just the realization of that will sometimes loosen things up. But, yeah, people are much closer to me and I'm much closer to them than I used to be.

Is that because you think also you've made a conscious decision of living your life the way you wish to live it and let the world get on with its life and people with their lives?

That's an ongoing problem for me. I've been so conditioned and so brainwashed to think that I've got to please everybody or that there are a lot of expectations out there that I have to meet. I'll be fighting that all my life, I think. But more and more I win. More and more often for little bits of time, I win.

How long a way have you come do you think?

Well, I don't think you ever get there. I don't think there's a there to get to. I think the only way you can measure your success in life is to figure out where you were and what you've come to. And if there's a long space between the two then that's great. And I feel there's a long space between the two. But I had a long way to come. I was a real uptight, scared little kid and I found that life is a lot more generous and a lot happier than I thought it was going to be.