Interview 54

Musical "Spamalot" puts laughs galore in the days of yore

For a time in the 1970s and '80s he was universally hailed as "King of the TV Mini-Series" for leading roles in "Man in the Iron Mask," "Shogun" and "The Thorn Birds."

Now Richard Chamberlain, 74, comes to Atlanta as a clueless monarch in a kingdom of one. He's King Arthur in "Monty Python's Spamalot," opening Tuesday at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre. For him, Atlanta is a stop in the middle of a limited, 10-week tour. We caught up with the Hollywood-born actor between shows in Melbourne, Fla.

How'd a dignified actor like you get involved with "Spamalot"?

Totally by chance. I'd never seen it. Not long ago, we were talking about another project with the "Spamalot" producers; they said there's a month-and-a-half gap when we don't have an Arthur. In New York, I finally saw the show. It's extraordinarily vital and joyous and silly. Really silly. It's a tricky business being added into a production. You get a couple of weeks to learn the lines and dances and suddenly you're thrown on stage with the real sets and real audience. It's terrifying at first. But fun.

Who is King Arthur?

[Laughs.] He believes he's king despite evidence to the contrary. I play him aristocratically, as sort of a road-company "Richard II." Thing is, you've got to take it very seriously when you're playing comedy. You can never let on that you find it funny. That's the brilliance of the original Pythons.

Were you a fan of "Monty Python's Flying Circus"?

Incredibly so. I was living in London when it was big on TV [in the early 1970s] and never missed an episode. It was a revolution in theater, comedy, acting - it pushed the whole culture a little bit. They were dripping with craft and expertise. They were serious geniuses at comedy.