By Gregg Shapiro
Through Feb. 15
Fisher Theatre, Detroit
Your age might have a lot to do with whether Richard Chamberlain qualified as a heartthrob. As the original McDreamy in the TV medical drama “Dr. Kildare,” Chamberlain raised the heart rate of many a viewer in the early ’60s. In the ’70s, he heated up disaster films such as “The Towering Inferno.” But it was during the 1980s, in miniseries such as “The Thorn Birds” and “Shogun,” that Chamberlain really scored. Working steadily on screen and stage for 50 years, Chamberlain is currently playing King Arthur in a national tour of “Spamalot,” which plays at the Fisher Theatre through Feb. 15.
Would you say that you were a Monty Python fan before being cast as King Arthur in ‘Spamalot,’ or did you have to take a crash course in Python?
We were living in England in the ’60 and early ’70s, when they were exceedingly popular on television. We used to watch them religiously and just keel over laughing. I thought they were so funny (laughs) and so expert and so bizarre.
Did you ever have a chance to meet John Cleese or any of the other ‘Monty Python’ cast members?
I deeply regret to say no. No, I have never met any of them. Isn’t that a shame?
Yes. But some of them are still around, so there’s plenty of time. There’s a gay sensibility to ‘Spamalot,’ including a reference to gay marriage. Was that something that you find appealing about the show?
Well, it’s funny. The transformation of Lancelot, for instance, is very funny (laughs). Insofar as it’s amusing, yes, it’s good. But it’s certainly not the only sensibility in the show.
You have experience playing royalty in movies and on television. Do you have a favorite royal role?
That I’ve played? Let’s see. I would say ‘Hamlet,’ but that was really tough. ‘Hamlet’ or ‘Richard II,’ maybe. One of those.
You also reigned as another kind of king – king of the mini-series. What does such an honor mean to you?
Any honor is welcome. And, oh my God, I loved the miniseries work. I was in on the golden age of the miniseries, very luckily. And it was thrilling to do ‘Shogun’ and ‘The Thorn Birds’ and ‘Wallenberg’ and all of those wonderful shows. And ‘The Bourne Identity.’ It was thrilling because a lot of money was thrown at them; a lot of time. The material was sensational, and the directors and actors were wonderful. It was a marvelous period to be working in.
You appeared in an episode of ‘Will & Grace’ and, as someone who had great success on television, what do you think about the increase in visibility of gay characters on television?
The character I played (on ‘Will & Grace’) was not gay, by the way (laughs).
But I think accustoming the general audience to the fact that gay people are worth your time is good. I’m not thrilled by some of the more old-fashioned depictions of gay people. For instance, I was in ‘(I Now Pronounce You) Chuck and Larry,’ and I thought although the movie pretended to be very tolerant and open-minded, it really wasn’t (laughs). It depicted the gay people as monstrous characters.
Sort of cartoonish.
Very cartoonish. So I think that it has its ups and downs. But I think it’s good to know that gay people are fun.
You played the very popular Dr. Kildare on television. What do you think that Dr. Kildare would think of the bedside manner of a current popular TV doc, Hugh Laurie’s Dr. House?
(Laughs) This is a difficult question for me. I know people who are crazy about Dr. House. And I’m not. I think it’s a bizarre adventure. But he just doesn’t appeal to me.
If there was to be a movie version of your autobiography ‘Shattered Love,’ who would you want to play you on screen?
Oh, me! Me (laughs)!
Well, that’s easy.
Who would I want to play me? That’s something I’ve never thought about. I think maybe Brad Pitt. Or Johnny Depp. Somebody like that.
You sing on stage in ‘Spamalot,’ and you’ve done musicals over the years. You also recorded some record albums. Do you know if those will ever be reissued on CD?
Yes, they have been. Especially in Germany. I think illegally. Fans have sent me some CDs. But I’m not sure it’s been issued legally in the States.
As someone who makes his home in Hawaii, what do you think of our president, Hawaii’s native son Barack Obama?
I’m crazy about the guy. I watch him carefully in interviews and things. He has a level of real seriousness and strength and inspiration, I think, that will I hope be appropriate to these incredibly difficult times. But if anybody can bring us out of some of these messes, I think he can. As long as we are intelligent and wise up ourselves. I think he can do it.
This ‘Spamalot’ tour that you are on is taking place during the winter of 2009, which is turning out to be one of the coldest and snowiest in years. How are you coping with this weather?
(Laughs) It’s so cold! I stay inside most of the time. We Hawaiians have very thin blood. It’s warm all the time. Everyday it’s perfect in Hawaii! And this is really bizarre. It’s interesting. I sort of miss weather, as a matter of fact. I lived in New York for about five years once, and I kind of liked the heat of summer and the cold of winter. But this is really, really cold.