Interview 56

King Me

Richard Chamberlain made a name for himself in dramatic roles - Dr. Kildare in the '60s TV series of the same name, Hamlet and Richard II on the British stage, Ralph de Bricassart in the '80s miniseries The Thorn Birds. So playing King Arthur in a touring production of Monty Python'sSpamalot is definitely a switch. The actor, who turns 75 the same day the musical comedy opens at the Palace Theatre, talks about finally going for laughs.

How did you end up in Spamalot?

It was actually a big surprise to me. I had always wanted to see the show but had never been in the right place at the right time. So I sort of just gave up on it. And then [my agent was] talking to one of the people who was associated with the production about another show that we might have gotten together to do. And he said, “By the way, there's about a two-and-a-half-month gap in our kingship on the road. Would Richard be interested in playing Arthur?” I said, “Absolutely, I would love to.”

Are you enjoying your foray into comedy?

It's wonderful. It's like being free. It's like being let loose into the air, this poor caged balloon sailing up into the stratosphere. I happen to be rather irreverent and silly myself, so the show appeals to me greatly. And I love Arthur. He's such a pompous innocent. He thinks he's king, but nobody else has ever heard of him, and he keeps getting busted.

You've taken guest-starring roles on Desperate Housewives, Nip/Tuck and Will & Grace. Would you consider doing another TV series?

As long as I didn't have to carry the show. If I was this wacko, interesting person who appears now and then, I would love to do that.

In your autobiography Shattered Love, you write about feeling complete peace and contentment when you were 7 — something you didn't experience again for six decades. What was your greatest obstacle in achieving that?

Being gay in the '30s, '40s, '50s and '60s was the worst possible thing you could imagine being in terms of what the public thought of it. And you absorb that by osmosis. I felt there was something terribly wrong with me, even though I was very successful, had some wonderful friends and a marvelous relationship. That didn't totally lift until I was about 68.

Are you happy now?

Yes, more than ever before in my life. It's taken decades and decades of work - spiritual stuff, psychiatric stuff, just plain living and all that. Finally, I suddenly feel released into just being me, which is a wonderful kind of freedom. I say, “Better late than never.”