Interview 59

Richard Chamberlain Goes 'Inside' 'Leverage'

Quick quiz: Archie Leach is a) Parker's mentor; b) Cary Grant's real name; c) the character played by Richard Chamberlain on the first of this Sunday night's back-to-back LEVERAGE episodes on TNT (airing at 9:00 p.m.); d) all of the above.

If you guessed d) (what clued you in?), you may be interested to know what Chamberlain has to say about his guest stint on LEVERAGE.

The actor was acclaimed as "the king of the miniseries" for his 1970's and 1980's work in THE THORN BIRDS, SHOGUN and CENTENNIAL and already famous for starring in the ‘60s medical drama DR. KILDARE and a slew of theatrical and TV movies, including THE THREE MUSKETEERS, THE FOUR MUSKETEERS, THE SLIPPER AND THE ROSE, THE TOWERING INFERNO and a 1988 telefilm version of THE BOURNE IDENTITY.

The actor then took a few years off from his profession. However, he's now back, and LEVERAGE has the pleasure of featuring the seasoned performer's turn as veteran jewel thief Archie Leech and the mentor to Parker (Beth Riesgraf). When he gets into a bind in "The Inside Job," it's up to Parker and her new "family" to save the day.

In LEVERAGE, you play a character called Archie Leach, which is Cary Grant's real name. Is this a tip of the hat to the notion that this is the sort of character Cary Grant might have played?

Yes. I made no attempt to impersonate Cary Grant, which would have been hopeless anyway – but he is supposed to be kind of worldly and sophisticated.

How did you come to be on LEVERAGE?

I had been living in Hawaii for a long, long time and I just moved back to Los Angeles, because I was interested in working, so I got my headshots and I got a new agent and I got a new manager, and I felt like the new kid in town. And it's really been fun. My new manager sent me out on a bunch of interviews, one of which was for LEVERAGE, and apparently they thought I'd be okay, because they hired me.

Were you familiar with LEVERAGE when they offered you the part?

Yes, I was. I hadn't watched it a lot, because I don't happen to watch a lot of series television, but I had very much liked what I saw. And you know, it's [somewhat similar to] a BBC British production called HUSTLE, which I also was on. So I feel like I'm a kind of second-generation LEVERAGE-er. HUSTLE was wonderful and I think LEVERAGE is equally wonderful. The main characters are so superb and terrific and so utterly different, one from the other. I think it's a terrific show.

A lot of the projects you've done have either been long-running episodics or miniseries or big-budget movies with long shooting schedules. Is there a different way that you approach somebody who's in a single episode, versus a character you're going to play over the long haul?

Yes. The miniseries was a wonderful golden era, which I was lucky enough to be a part of. It was sort of halfway between series television and moviemaking. Moviemaking can be maddeningly slow and series television can be maddeningly fast [laughs]. The miniseries work I thought was just right, sort of like the Three Bears' porridge. We shot five pages a day. In LEVERAGE, we shot maybe nine pages a day, and of course in movies, you shoot one or two or three pages a day. The quickness of series television – you really have to come in pretty much with your character [planned out], because there isn't a lot of rehearsal on this stuff. But actually, the speed of series television is quite exciting.

Do you do anything different when you're appearing as a guest star as far as how much you're revealing about the character versus how much the script is revealing as a character, simply because there isn't as much script for you as there is in a feature film or a miniseries?

Probably yes. You've got to come in with a lot of things in the back of your mind about who this character is and what the relationships are. For instance, in this LEVERAGE, I had a long-ago, but very close relationship, a very intense relationship, with the character of Parker. And so that had to be thought out and planned, because when we meet at the end, it has to be so full of all kinds of experience, bad and good, and a lot of affection that I think he had never really been aware of before.

Your character is essentially Parker's mentor...

Yes. He taught her practically everything she knows about being an excellent thief [laughs].

Now, does Archie have any major stunts? Because his protege Parker is constantly jumping off of buildings.

I think that's basically Parker's character. I think the extreme difficulty of her early years made her quite slightly mad, in the sense of taking risks and loving taking risks. I think she absolutely loves jumping off of buildings and things like that. She's a real adventuress. But I don't think he had anything to do with that. I think that's all her development and creation.

So Archie is a brilliant thief, but walks out of rooms rather than leaps out the window?

Yes. He was clever about being a jewel thief and all that Cary Grant stuff. He could climb around rooftops and shimmy up ropes and things like that, but I don't think he did anything remotely like what Parker gets up to.

Do you get to be physical in the part?

Not much. There was one place where I showed my skill with a cane and battered this one guy who had a gun on us and sort of won the day, but that only took about three seconds [laughs]. I had a three-second stunt.

Did all of the old swordplay from the MUSKETEERS movies and playing Hamlet come in handy there?

Well, a little bit. Just a tiny bit. Yeah. I've done an awful lot of that in my career. And it's all very, very carefully choreographed, of course.

Do you miss doing that sort of thing?

I've had enough of it, thank you very much. There are other things I don't do any more. One is ride horses, two is fight scenes of any particular madness – and running long distances I don't do any more [laughs].

Had you ever worked in Portland, Oregon before?

I think I did MY FAIR LADY there on the stage, but I had never worked there in film. It's a wonderful city – I like Portland very much.

Executive producer John Rogers directed the episode. How is he as a helmer?

Oh, he was terrific. I think it was his first time directing. He's been writing a lot – he's a live wire, very quick-witted and fast-talking and extremely helpful and he knew exactly what he wanted from the character and let me know. I think he got the best out of everybody. I loved working with him. Again, there was this wonderful, wonderful enthusiasm for the project.

Had you worked with any of the LEVERAGE cast before?

No. I've been a longtime admirer of Timothy Hutton. He's such a really fine actor and a really good guy. He had his little boy on the set – he has a little boy of eight – and they have this wonderful, wonderful relationship, the kind of relationship that you wish you had had with your father [laughs]. And they play together and Timothy gives him serious little jobs to do around the set, and the kid does them very well. So it was wonderful being with them. Most of my [scenes were] with Timothy. He's absolutely terrific. I don't know how he does it. He's got pages and pages and pages to learn every night, and it's largely technical stuff – you know, "I need the cowdafatus to put in the hobadooboo and then we jump off the thing and do this" [laughs]. It's very hard dialogue to learn. And he's very, very good at it, and very natural, extremely natural, at doing that kind of acting, which is not easy.

How was working with Beth Riesgraf as your protιgι Parker?

She is totally delightful. She is such a good actress and so appreciative of everything and so giving, even when she's off-camera or has her back to the camera or that sort of thing. Actors can get a little lazy, but she's right there, very present. I loved working with her. I'm hoping the character [Archie] reappears, because I liked working with Timothy and her. She's a very, very special actress.

What was the key to playing Archie for you? What's his essence?

A kind of extremely able professional - cool. I think it's a part of himself that he's had to develop to do the kind of work – i.e., thievery – that he's been extremely good at all his life. And so feeling, emotion, et cetera, has been way in the background with him, I think, especially with Parker. And it wasn't really until the end of this film that he actually realizes that he loves this girl a lot - like a daughter.

Might Archie come back to LEVERAGE?

Well, they say he might. I'm hoping, because I'd love to do it. I like the guy and I like what he has to do and I liked working in that whole company, so I hope he comes back. I'm really excited to be back in town and excited to be getting work. It's a bit more like play than work now. And I like that – I like the fact that one is still very serious about it, but it's more for, in a sense, the fun of it than the rather hard work of building a career.

Was it fun when you were building your career, when you were so famous that people were all over you at every waking moment, or was that just sort of stressful?

Well, it could get stressful, but mostly it was great. I started out with very, very big self-esteem problems and all of that, so being famous and all that went with it was a real pleasure [laughs], because it made me feel like I was worth something. I don't need that so much any more. It's always nice when people come up and say they liked this or they liked that. It's always very pleasant. But I don't need it the way I used to.

So if fans would like to come up and tell you that they liked you on LEVERAGE, you would welcome that?

Oh, of course. Are you kidding? Gosh, an actor is so lucky to be remembered for anything, and to receive any kind of recognition. It's a profession that is a real gamble and we're lucky to have whatever attention we can get.

What have been some of your favorite projects over the years?

[The miniseries SHOGUN] was a great one. That may be my favorite project.

It was an epic adventure, but you were also learning something all the time.

Yes, he was. [Anjin-san] was a very different man than he was at the beginning of the show. I'm very proud of that one. Everyone who had anything to do with it was topnotch. THE THORN BIRDS was wonderful because of the splendid story and the splendid cast – oh, my gosh – and a play I did with Dixie Carter a long time ago at the Public Theatre was one of my favorite experiences, FATHERS AND SONS. She played Calamity Jane and I was Wild Bill Hickok and it was all quite crack and wonderful. That's another one of my favorites.

You've done some indie films over the last decade. How are those compared to the big studio projects?

[Independent films are] usually done with a lot of love, because there's hardly any money involved. And you get to play extremely different characters. I just finished one called PERFECT FAMILY with Kathleen Turner and it was wonderful working on it, but it again was done fairly rapidly and mostly because everybody working on it was really interested in making this film. Nobody was jaded, nobody was kind of too casual about it. Everybody was working very hard, and with a wonderful kind of esprit de corps. And I find that often the case in these independent films.

Do you have a preference between film and stage and television?

I love working on the stage, I love working with the audience, with the other actors and all those things that actors like about the stage. But I find the rather difficult and tricky techniques of filming very, very interesting. Doing a part in film, it's very interesting, because you're doing it all backwards, upside-down, in little bits and pieces. You're at your wife's funeral before you've ever met the actress who plays your wife, et cetera, and all that is tricky and kind of fun to try to master.

© 2010 Abbie Bernstein