Richard Chamberlain
(© Tristan Fuge)
Richard Chamberlain
(© Tristan Fuge)
Richard Chamberlain has surpassed the term "accomplished actor" to become a cultural icon, thanks to TV roles in Dr. Kildare, Shogun and The Thorn Birds and such films as The Three Musketeers and The Towering Inferno. He's also often played iconic roles on stage too, including Captain Von Trapp in the Broadway revival of The Sound of Music and Henry Higgins in Broadway's My Fair Lady.

Starting on July 3, Chamberlain takes on yet another famous role, playing Father Merrin, the priest attempting to exorcize a little girl possessed by a demon, in the new stage version of The Exorcist at Los Angeles' Geffen Playhouse. The work, adapted by John Pielmeier from the novel by William Peter Blatty, is directed by Tony Award winner John Doyle and co-stars Brooke Shields. TheaterMania recently spoke with Chamberlain about the production.

THEATERMANIA: You just finished a run of The Heiress at the Pasadena Playhouse and jumped right into this play. Why is live theater so appealing to you?
RICHARD CHAMBERLAIN: Film work is fabulous, but I think the actor's true home is on the stage. People ask me, "How can you do that every night? It's so much work." It is a lot of work, but it's thrilling. And meeting an audience every night is like meeting another person. Every audience is unique.

TM: How will the play challenge our preconceived notions of the infamous film version of The Exorcist?
RC: I was afraid you were going to ask that question! It certainly is not a duplication of the movie. I think they'll leave their preconceived ideas behind as soon as the play begins.

TM: Were you a fan of the movie?
RC: I saw the movie a thousand years ago when it came out. I remember it being very scary.

TM: How do you feel about your character?
RC: I love the guy. He's had such an abundance of life experience. He's very in touch with the essentials of existence in life and spirit. Not necessarily in a theological way. He's transcended that and at times is directly in touch with spirit. He's thrilling to play.

TM: What was the rehearsal process like?
RC: Very intense. We rehearse in a beautiful room at The Geffen Theater and it becomes the house where all the action happens. And the sense of the demon within the space is very, very intense. All the actors feel we're in a dangerous zone with this demon. It's in the air. When we have a break and go into the courtyard where it's sunny and there are flowers, it's "Whoa! It's nice to be outside in the air!"

TM: There are legendary stories about a "demonic presence" on the set of the film. Do you feel anything dark lurking inside the theater?
RC: I think because we're not focused entirely on the scary stuff, the play balances the light and the dark well enough that we won't invite demonic happenings! I have my fingers crossed here and I hope I'm right.