Interview 9


Richard Chamberlain is next in the Trapp.

It all seems a far cry from his 1960s TV golden boy Dr. Kildare and makes a most improbable transition to Captain von Trapp in "The Sound of Music," which opens in Portland today for a six-day run.

Chamberlain, offered some thoughts on his career and his current show in a lively telephone call from Phoenix, Arizona.

Q: You've had a really interesting career. What did your parents think about it? What would they say about you getting a star on Hollywood Boulevard?

RC: It has been a varied group of projects. My parents were very supportive and had a lot of fun with it. I think they thought Dr. Kildare was a flash in the pan. The star on Hollywood Boulevard? They would have thought that was terrific, so permanent, irrevocably a part of the community.

Q: How different is your Captain von Trapp from Christopher Plummer's, in the 1965 movie?

RC: I haven't tried to do some staggering new definition. I like the guy, he interests me. I guess my portrayal is colored more by my own personality than anything else.

Q: What's the best part of being in a show that's been a hit since it opened on Broadway 40 years ago? (It ran for 1,443 performances on Broadway and won seven Tonys.)

RC: The kids are enchanting -we really lucked out. There's not a stage brat among them; they're very professional and hard-working. For instance, one of the swing boys -stand ins- went on last night for the first time as Kurt and I looked in the wings and all the others were watching and wishing him well. It was adorable.

Q: At 40 weeks it seems like a cruncher of a tour. Is it really hard work?

RC: It is a killer, very hard work. We don't have any time off. We're mostly doing one-weekers and we travel on Monday, which would have been our day off! But what keeps it alive is people who've seen the show several times say it gets better and better. We have a wonderfull cast, and audiences love it so much you can't give less than your best.

Q: Was it difficult to go on stage in England after being famous on American TV? British theatre can be pretty harsh.

RC: It was very scary. I had a little transition period when I did "Portrait of a Lady" on the BBC. It was interesting being introduced to a whole new set of values. In Hollywood, it's about numbers, power, parties and cars. None of that mattered there. Actors did TV occasionally so they do repertory theatre for nothing. That's where their real life was. I got a taste of high quality.

Q: Were you surprised at the impact of "Shogun" and "The Thorn Birds?" You pretty much established the miniseries genre.

RC: With "Shogun" we were very worried. Half the show was in Japanese and somehow the network let us do it without subtitles. I still don't know how we got away with it. We worried the audience would all tune out -and they all tuned in!

Q: Why do you think "The Thorn Birds" was such a smash?

RC: It was a superb soap opera and a great woman's story. I think it's one of the great love stories ever written because things that make love stories are the obstacles they have to overcome. And when God's between the lovers, that's the ultimate obstacle. Rachel Ward was divine. She and Bryan Brown fell in love on that show, and she just glowed. What made Ralph (Chamberlain's character) so interesting was that he was torn three ways -between Maggie, God and the glamour and power of the church.

Q: What are you proudest of?

RC: I think if I had to choose, it would be "Shogun"; that's such a remarkable piece of work. And Cyrano de Bergerac on stage in L.A. -that was great fun. And I did an independant film recently -"The Pavilion"- that I thought I did quite well.

Q: What's next?

RC: The next thing is a play written by a friend. I wanted a long holiday, but I'll be at the Berkshire Playhouse. It's called "The Shadow of Greatness," a wonderfull play about the madness of worshipping celebrity.

2000 Paul Duchene