About Town - Timothy Dalton.
By Ian Woodward - Woman's Weekly 18th August 1984.
This is a picture from Jane Eyre featuring Timothy as Mr Rochester and Zelah Clarke as Jane Eyre.
This is the scene where Timothy as Mr Rochester says "To live for me Jane is to stand on a crater crust that may crack and spew fire any day."
Timothy Dalton, the darkly handsome Mr. Rochester of BBC TV's Jane Eyre serial, recently read in the papers that he was having a passionate romance with 'Hart to Hart' star, Stefanine Powers, and smiled philosophically. After all, had he not been through all this before?
If you are an in showbusiness, and happen to be an attractive male star, romance rumours - false or true - are never far away. The tall, Welsh-born actor, whose leading ladies in the cinema have ranged from Italy's exquisite Virna Lisi to blonde octogenarian, Mae West, has had to live with that kind of gossip ever since he arrived on the screen at the age of twenty-two, as the charming, boyish strategist, King Philip of France, in The Lion In Winter.
Part of his fascination for the media as a whole, is the undeniably appetising fact that Timothy, at the age of thirty-eight and still single, can claim to have played three of the greatest lovers in English literature. In his twenties he made a convincing Romeo; later, he played Heathcliffe in the film Wuthering Heights, and, most recently, the devastating Mr. Rochester. And soon (1984) he will be on our TV screens doing what producers clearly believe he does best - making love, this time to Stefanie Powers, in the seven hour mini-series of Judith Krantz's novel, Mistral's Daughter. It was a week after his return from Paris, location of the series in which he plays Miss Powers on screen lover, that we met to talk about this and that, but mainly about the life and times of Mr. Timothy Dalton - the first interview he has agreed to give in more then ten years.
"Do you believe everything you read in the newspapers?" Timothy asks over a glass of German ale in a London bar, as he responds to the rumours linking his name with Stefanie Powers. His dimple-cheeked face is half quizzical, half teasing.
"But of course!" I answer, responding in kind with a half-quizzical, half-teasing demeanour to match (I hope) his own. "Do you believe everything you see in the movies?" I then ask of the man whose real-life screen portrayals have included Prince Rupert in Cromwell and Lord Darnley in Mary, Queen of Scots.
"Touche!" acknowledges the actor who was last seen on television as a swashbuckling Irish soldier of fortune who joined forces with Michael York in The Master of Ballantrae. Yet while Timothy has escorted and befriended some of the loveliest ladies in town, his attitude on romance has always been simple. He says: "Friendships are built on trust and respect you've gained from all your pals, be they men or women. Whatever relationships I have had, or have, are private property. Part of my life is public, the rest is not."
Timothy from Jane Eyre as Mr Rochester again.
In this scene Timothy says "You examine me Ms Eyre do you think me handsome?"
We talk about Mistral's Daughter, in which Timothy is married to Lee Remick, and Stacy Keach is engaged to Stefanie Powers. For once, another actor - Stacy Keach - plays the type of role which customarily has been entrusted to Timothy. He says: "Stacy, as Mistral, represents the temperamental, artistic, dour, self-indulgent side of man that woman find attractive. I play the flip-side of the coin: a kind, gentle, sensitive man." He laughs. "Of course, that was quite a change for me, particularly after doing Rochester in Jane Eyre." Playing the moody hero of Charlotté Bronte's novel, that poignant study of selfless love, has proved to be one of the great successes of an already eventful and distinguished career. One critic likened his portrayal to a "demented bull," adding: "You could see how Rochester's first wife ended up a loony in the attic." The public and critical acclaim that his performance received surprised and delighted him, and he does little to hide the fact. He received more fan mail for this then for anything else with which he has been associated, ninety-nine per cent of the letters coming from (not surprisingly) the female sex - and they are still pouring in, months after the serial ended. "It really seemed to have quite a powerful effect on people. That's so pleasing, to know that you have been in something that people have made a point of watching and have loved watching. That's why we do it, after all.
"I normally enjoy trying to get something back to everybody who has written to me, but you can't sit down and write long letters, giving your own personal history, which a lot of people want, because then they start writing back again. It's just impossible to deal with that sort of volume of correspondence."
He muses, "I think why it worked so well was because, in truth, it's such a good part. What a blow to the image! Rochester, is tough and hard, short-tempered and curt on the one hand, but concealing a soul that's been hurt and made sensitive. So you have a lot of the qualities that really appeal to woman in Rochester, and I was simply lucky enough to be playing him.
"When I play another kind of character that is not so pleasant I get just a trickle of letters. Some women who've seen several things I've done write in to tell me when I've done something right and when I have done something wrong, along the lines of 'I wish you wouldn't do this kind of thing. I much preferred you as Heathcliffe. Why don't you do more things like that?'
"The fact is, we've all got to work; we've all got to do parts that are offered to us, whether they turn out ultimately to be good or bad. In America they would largely agree with my correspondents: if you find an image that works, then stick to it. So there's some sense in that; maybe I should play Rochester for the rest of my life!" Timothy, in fact, is not stuffy when it comes to the craft of acting. He is a classical stage actor of repute, with a list of Shakespearian credits a yard long, including the title roles in Henry IV and Henry V with the Prospect Theatre Company, and, earlier this year in America, Anthony to Lynn Redgrave's Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra; and when he rejoined the Royal Shakespeare Company two years ago to star in Henry IV, a distinguished critic was moved to declare, "Timothy Dalton is one of the best Hotspurs I have ever seen, making him not only an athletic, courageous warrior but an impetuous, argumentative extrovert who would have lost most battles because he could never agree with anybody."
Yet he has never shunned the American system of acting in Hollywood, which some British actors regard as beneath contempt because of its highly stylised, "unreal" quality.
He first flew to Hollywood eight years ago, just before his thirtieth birthday, to become the leading man of an eighty-five-year-old Mae West in her last film. In an ultimately not-very-remarkable movie, Sextette, with a cast that included Tony Curtis, Ringo Starr, George Hamilton, Walter Pidgeon and George Raft, Timothy even ended up marrying the cinema legend whose sexual suggestiveness was as humorously artful as it was so essentially innocent. He will never forget the experience.
"I will never forget meeting her for the first time. We went in to see Mae West in a room where everything was white with gold trim on it. It was quite small, I thought, for somebody as fabulously rich as she was. It was only later that I realised that she owned the entire apartment block, though I doubt that she ever spent a penny on herself in her life: everybody was too busy buying her presents and taking her out.
"She then came in. She was wearing a white suit and a large bouffante hairstyle and these long nails...there was a great lady. I was very curious, very fascinated by her. Not to put too fine a point on it, we were all wondering, knowing how old she was, if we were going to be able to work with her.
"As it happened, she was delightful. I think the most extraodinary thing about knowing her was the realisation that she was a brilliant lady. When somebody is that famous you're never quite sure whether her fame stems largely from the publicity hokum, but she could always come up with a line that was funnier then anybody else's.
"Of course," adds Timothy with a smile that conceals more then it reveals, "she was a bit of a flirt. But she tried it only once with me! She had a nice twinkle in her eye, a nice sparkle. Oh, it was definately an experience I wouldn't have missed for the world."
A year later he was back in Hollywood to appear in the mammoth ten-part TV adaption of James Michener's Centennial; he played the wheeling-dealing English land-owner Oliver Secombe. And then four years ago, just before starting work on the movie Flash Gordon, he flew out to Hollywood to appear in one of the episodes of Charlie's Angels with Farrah Fawcett-Majors, who was making a guest reappearance in the series she had left.
"It was rather a nice job in terms of the piece," he recalls now. "I was a robber, the sort of debonair, sophisticated, charming thing at which David Niven or Cary Grant were so good. It was great fun to do, and I liked Farrah very much. She was very fresh and didn't have any illusions about her fame: she knew it was all due to Charlie's Angels and she was very happy and grateful that that was the case."
Timothy Dalton the son of an advertising man from the Welsh seaside resort of Colwyn Bay, has long been famous for an outspokeness and a refreshing honesty towards the whole drum-banging affair that is showbuisness. His grandfather, Will Dalton, was a vaudevillian who appeared on the same bill as Charlie Chaplin and later ran a chain of theatres right across England. Will's wife also played the music halls, as did her parents.
The young actor-to-be and his family later moved to the Midlands, Debyshire, and Manchester, where Timothy's father still runs his own advertising company. His earliest memory is being by the seaside and seeing fish in buckets by rock pools. He has been an avid fisherman for as long as he can remember.
"I think you could say I was reasonably healthy individualist," he explains of his early days. "Like most kids I used to come home dirty, used to love playing football, going out and getting into trouble. Just like a normal lad."
His awareness of acting began when he started going to Saturday morning picture shows at the local cinema. "It's a natural inclination to identify and to want to be part the extraordinariness of whatever it is your're seeing on the screen," he says. "Of course, you don't know as a kid - certainly not as a kid from the provences - how all that excitement can be transformed into reality.
"What happened as far as I was concerned was seeing my first play when I was at school; that did it. One realised that one was actually not only excited by it, but actually was sitting in the room with real human beings who stood on the stage in front of you. It could be done. I was fifteen."
After appearing in a couple of school plays, and becoming a leading member of the National Youth Theatre, he trained for two years at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. "I was this strange contradiction of being very cocky and being very humble," he recalls. "They do exist together. Without self-belief you aren't going to get ver far and, if one doesn't have it, one does have to pretend."
His early experience was gained in England's major regional theatres, playing leading roles that encompassed The Merchant of Venice, Richard II, The Doctor's Dilemma and Saint Joan. There was also a great deal of television, and further films; and, more recently he starred in the opening productions of Sir Bernard Miles' New Mermaid Theatre (Mark Antony in The Romans and of the Royal Shakespeare Company's new London home at the Barbican (Hotspur in Henry IV).
He is that rarity, an actor who has known very few out-of-work periods. "I don't know if it's luck or what, but all I've ever done is work as an actor," he says. "I tell a lie; I once waited at tables in a Butlin's holiday camp when I was learning to fly. I was always fascinated by biology and chemistry - that's what I would have studied at University - but my major plan was to fly. Which I succeeded in doing."
With his third major film, Wuthering Heights, he also succeeded in living up to all the predictions proclaiming him a major new star - though both he and his leading lady, Anna Calder-Marshall, had to suffer the inevitable comparisons with the orginal 1939 Hollywood protagonists, Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon. But the actor from Colwyn Bay was well up to it.
"What is all boils down to in the end is that you want to do the best work that you're capable of doing as best as you can in the time available to do it in."
Timothy as Col. Francis Burke in The Master of Ballentrae.
This was how he approached his role as the soldier of fortune in The Master of Ballentrae. It was a fairly new departure for him. For once he was neither dying of love, smouldering with passion, nor sweeping woman into his arms. This time he left co-stars Michael York and Richard Thomas to fight over the pretty girl, played by Finola Hughes.
This is one of the Square-Riggers that was used in the filming of The Master of Ballentrae.
"It was one of the few roles I've done where there was no romantic involvement," he asserts. "It was quite a relief! It was much closer, in fact, to the sort of character I would really like to be playing.
"I can remember as a kid going to Saturday-morning flicks and seeing people on pirate ships and riding horses, and thinking 'Gosh, wouldn't I love to do that!' And The Master of Ballentrae had it all. We went on real square-riggers in the English Channel, fighting sea battles, and we played Cowboys and Indians through the North American wilderness - which was actually filmed in the Wye Valley in South Wales. Great fun!"
When playing dark, brooding, romantic characters on the screen, like Rochester and Heathcliffe, how much of himself does Timothy recognise when he sees his portrayals? He reflects momentarily before answering.
"There's got to be a bit of yourself in it," he explains. "I don't think you can be a good actor unless you reveal something of yourself. You're revealing a character through knowledge you have of yourself and the life around you. Yes, I can see elements of myself in Rochester."
He proffers that easy smile for which he is renowned. "Of course Rochester was no fisherman, while fishing is my obsession. I remember my first-ever fishing line, which I made from the whole bunch of string and a bent pin; I was about four. My grandad took me down to the pier at Colwyn Bay."
He was given his first line when he was five, and in the past fifteen years his obsession has taken him to the world's best fishing waters, from Alaska to California and Mexico, as well as trout or salmon fishing in Scotland and Ireland. And he frequently fishes in the waters around his south London home. He is an inverterate fisherman for all seasons.
"The real pleasure of fishing for me is that it is just completely and wonderfully different from the world that I work and live in," says Timothy. "And I suppose there's an element of natural hunting instinct. The skill is in 'reading' a stream and learning to understand where the fish are; but it's not the peaceful hobby that so many people imagine, because you're working all the time."
And that about sums up the man with the rod, the actor, who has never known unemployment. Momentarily, all rumours of romance are far away. But how long will he be allowed to ignore them?
About Town - Timothy Dalton (c) Copyright By Ian Woodward - Woman's Weekly 18th August 1984. All Rights Reserved.