Archive of the Academy of Televison Arts
and Sciences Foundation
Richard Chamberlain was interviewed by Stephen J. Abramson on his
career on television, in film and on stage, about his proudest achievement,
his regrets and his legacy.
In his Archive Interview, actor Richard Chamberlain talks about his life-long interest in acting. He discusses his first television role on Gunsmoke and describes at length his experience on Dr. Kildare, one of TV’s first medical dramas. He goes on to recount his roles on two of television’s most memorable miniseries: playing John Blackthorne on Shogun, and portraying the unforgettable Father Ralph on The Thorn Birds. He also speaks of his stage and television work in London as well as his ventures into feature films, where he socialized with the likes of Katharine Hepburn and Federico Fellini on set. He touches on his forays into music recording and on what it’s like to be an actor who also happens to be gay. And be sure to watch for his tale on how he was mistaken for a serial killer in Colorado while filming the NBC miniseries, Centennial.
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Richard Chamberlain on the wild popularity of Dr. Kildare.
I think people are fascinated by the medical profession. They’re fascinated by situations of life and death. Everybody knows that someday you’ll get sick or break something, or have a problem and need a doctor and people find doctors like Gillespie and Kildare wonderful because they care about you, they listen to you, they help you. I think all of those things made the show very, very attractive. Also it was very well-produced and very well-written for its time. We had amazing guest stars, and amazing guest directors. But mostly I think it’s in the human realm, it’s a situation which people would die to be in, if they were gonna die or close to it, with getting the best possible care from people who really cared about them.
Richard Chamberlain on playing John Blackthorne in the Shogun miniseries.
I read a lot about him, because he was a real person. I read a lot about that history, what Japan was like. Japan was an unbelievably cohesive society at the time. I mean, whatever your station in life, that’s where you were, you were allowed to eat certain things, you were allowed to dress certain ways, you were allowed to be certain places. And that was it. There was no social mobility whatsoever. You were stuck for your life, and so was your family, forever. It was a really tough culture. Fascinating, absolutely fascinating. And Blackthorne, of course, had to cope with all that, and even take a bath, which was unheard of in Europe at the time. It was wonderful being in Japan, and having the Japanese crew, and the Japanese wardrobe people, and make up people and all that. It was really good.
Richard Chamberlain on The Thorn Birds.
The basic premise of “The Thornbirds” was ‘let’s make the best most high-class tragedy driven soap opera of all time.’ I don’t mean to denigrate it. It was brilliantly done, and brilliantly cast, and a wonderful story, but the absolute top of the heap of pure soap opera I think. I often am surprised when I think about it that it was, and remains so successful because it was one tragedy after another, after another, after another, after another, after another. Nobody came out on top in that show. Everybody — it was so sad, one thing after another. And these wonderful people, wonderful characters, and Father Ralph was an extraordinary character. He was so driven and so torn three ways. I mean, it’s one thing to have your heart ripped apart in two directions, but his was in three directions. First of all, he loved God, and had a genuine vocation. Secondly, he was enthralled by the power and glamor of the church, and thirdly he really loved Meggie. It was soul-mate love. It was real, real love.
Richard Chamberlain on his decision to reveal his homosexuality
in his autobiography.
Judith Regan, who was ReganBooks, and a very hot publisher had asked ‘what would you like to write about? ‘ And I said, ‘I’ve been thinking a lot about life lately, I’ll write about life.’ I thought I had some ideas about how we could live our lives better. So I wrote five pages and sent them to her, and she liked it and said we were on. So I was writing basically a philosophical treatise, but they kept saying ‘you’ve got to make it more personal so people know where these ideas came from.’ So I made it more and more personal. I didn’t want to write about being gay in it because I knew that during the publicity campaign for the book that’s all anybody would want to talk about, and of course that’s what happened. But it was during the course of writing the book that suddenly all
the self-dislike, all the misconceptions I had about being gay vanished, absolutely vanished. It was a kind of miracle, I think in fact, and then suddenly I was on national television talking about being gay because that’s all they wanted to talk about.
© 2010 Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Foundation
An acting career of great achievements...
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