Friday, August 17, 2012

2012 Interview with Maxwell Caulfield

Actor/singer Maxwell Caulfield became an instant heartthrob in 1982 when Grease 2 hit the big screen. He also created a sensation in TV's Dynasty and The Colbys and has essayed countless MOWs on TV and stage plays internationally. Without question he has turned into a fine dramatic actor over the last 30 years. Originally from Great Britain, Caulfield has been married to actress Juliet Mills since 1980. He is currently rehearsing Euripides' Helen as King Menelaus at the Getty Villa in Malibu which opens September 6. In our chat he talks about Helen, some of his recent stage roles and those he would like to play.

Are you rehearsing this morning?

Actually we're teching so we start the day quite late so that we can take advantage of the twilight hours.

That's right. You're performing in the amphitheatre in Malibu.

Yeah...fantastic venue. It's really a privilege to be there, I can tell you.

I'm really looking forward to seeing Helen there. I've never been to the Getty Villa before.

Oh, haven't you? Well, the trick is to come early, 'cause from 6 o'clock on the Villa is available to the audience members - it's actually built into the price of the ticket - the galleries are open so you can steep yourself in that ancient culture, and then settle down and watch a high camp interpretation of Helen of Troy.

Talk about this adaptation. What has been changed in the adaptation?

Director Jon Lawrence Rivera has collaborated with playwright Nick Salamone to take Euripides's tale, which is not done very often...Trojan Women is done a lot, but Helen is not...even though we're talking about centuries, millenia of years that it could have been done...and so they unearthed this ancient story and have given it a degree of a Hollywood spin ...they haven't transplanted it to Hollywood but they have  given it this shift where she is a major movie star who's gone into exile. It's very funny, but to try to explain it doesn't make sense, because it's still set in the ancient world. So you go, "How does that work? Celluloid didn't exist." But, for example, her Greek chorus is comprised of Marilyn Monroe's character Cherie from Bus Stop and Vivien Leigh's Blanche du Bois from Streetcar Named Desire and Elizabeth Taylor's Cleopatra. Historically, you go "Wait a minute, this is completely up the spout." It's very bold, certainly not like doing Shakespeare in modern dress. You could say that's convoluted as well. Somehow, they've pulled it off. We did a workshop of it about two months ago. The Getty goes in for a real development process. Jon Lawrence Rivera is a super guy and such fun to work for. He's a very generous director who's constantly amused by what we do. He's actually a very funny performer himself. To illustrate a point sometimes he will get up and show us what we're presently doing and what he'd rather we did do. He does it in such a charming way, you can't help but fall off your chair laughing. He's so spot on. And he's encouraged us to develop these characters from the beginning and to go with our gut instincts. He's let me basically barnstorm this role, and I'm having a field day with it. I don't want to give you too many preconceived notions but you have to fill that space, and it's a very big venue.

How have they changed Menelaos ( ancient Greek spelling or Menelaus)?

Not a lot. I'm not like some big shot studio chief or anything like that. It's not like you've gotta live with all this affectation as it were, it's not like that. I am still staggering back from 10 years of siege on the Trojan shore, 7 years lost in the Mediterranean. I'm trying to find Helen. It's hard to explain, but watching it, I think the audience will be amused.  This pastiche, this veneer that's been added to it, somehow it does not only give it a more contemporaneous viewpoint but it also provides a lot of humor.

Are you doing it in original dress or are the costumes contemporary?

We haven't gotten into wardrobe yet, as limited as mine is. I spend half the show walking around with a sort of a shred of a flag from my armada wrapped around my waist and not much else. I've been shipwrecked.

It's just an excuse to get you shirtless onstage, that's all!

I know, but at the same time, it is written in the script. Frankly, I'm flattered that I'm still being asked to drop trou, as it were, or whatever the expression is.

You did Cactus Flower off-Broadway last year. How was that?

I really appreciate being a part of that cast and I also appreciate the ambition of the creative team. 2011 was a hot season in New York of really great innovative work, so the competition was great. We gave it a straight ahead production and it should have been stood on its head, reinvented. We played the Westside Theatre, which is really a premiere off-Broadway house, and we gave it the college try. Each time I go back to New York, I want to do something with a bit more of a bite to it. The role was a fun part for me on paper, and I should have made it work, and to an extent I did, but it's not top of my CD.

You also did Billy Flynn in Chicago on Broadway a while ago, correct? Did you have fun with that?

I had a ball. I also had had a glorious 8 week run in London prior to Broadway. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my career. My two leading ladies were absolutely sensational and I got to do West End Live, which is an annual summer promo they do in Lester Square on the West End. You play to the tourists, to the people and I got a chance to sing Billy's trademark tune, so I felt like a rock star.
in New York, in Tryst a couple of years ago

Is that the first musical you've done in a while?

Yeah. I've not done enough of it. You can work and scratch out a living in the theatre, but, if you want to make money, you've got to hit the road. You've got to play big houses of 2, 3 thousand seaters with your name above the bill, do popular fare and reach out to the audience such as it is.

Do you have a dream role that you want to play?

There are several. The first one that comes to mind, in the classical world, would be to play Coreolanus,
and in the musical theatre world, Henry Higgins (My Fair Lady)...and if any major regional theatre like the CTG downtown (Michael Ritchie) does Jerusalem, it's a fantastic part, you can really fill a proscenium arch, you can really go for it. That's my style; I'm no shrinking violet on the stage (we both laugh)...That's one of the reasons I don't work in front of the camera more, not that I give outsized performances - I like to think I can make that shift between the two media, but...

Hang in there! You and Juliet (Mills) are terrific actors!

Thank you. I had the extreme pleasure of working with Geraldine Page a few years back on a couple of occasions and she was talking about her relationship with Rip Torn, which was a complex one. "Rip just wanted to bring home the log". (laughs) I couldn't agree more, as I would like to bring home the bacon more. But I'll tell you, Don, it's bizarre, our profession is fraught with uncertainty, always has been, but now it's literally nationwide. There isn't a single business where anybody feels secure. Even the postal workers...let's hope we don't make any rash decisions this November...

See Maxwell Caulfield in Helen! Performances of Euripides’ Helen will be held Thursday through Saturday, September 6 through 29, 2012 at 8:00 p.m., with previews from August 30 through September 1. Tickets are $42 ($38 for students and seniors, $25 for preview performances). Tickets and further information are available by calling (310) 440-7300 or online.
with Rachel Sorsa as Helen

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