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Folklorist Alan Lomax

Folklorist Alan Lomax died Friday, July 19 at the age of 87. He spent more than a half century recording the folk music and customs of the world. His efforts spurred folk revivals in the United States and across Europe. In the United States, he was responsible for priceless recordings of Leadbelly (who Lomax first recorded in prison), Woody Guthrie, Jelly Roll Morton and many others. A 1959 recording he made of Mississippi prisoner James Carter singing the work song "Po'Lazarus" was the opening song for the soundtrack of the film O Brother, Where Art Thou? Many of Lomax's recordings have been reissued on Rounder Records' 100-CD series, the Lomax Collection. This interview first aired July 9, 1990.

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Other segments from the episode on July 22, 2002

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, July 22, 2002: Interview with Terence Stamp; Obituary for Alan Lomax.

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DATE July 22, 2002 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Terence Stamp discusses his acting career
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest, actor Terence Stamp, made a great comeback in the '90s playing two
opposite kinds of characters. In "The Limey," he was an ex-con out for
revenge, and in "Pricilla, Queen of the Desert," he played a transsexual on
the road with her lip-sync club act. Stamp grew up in poverty in London. He
first made it to the screen in 1962 in the starring role of "Billy Budd."
Later in the '60s, he starred in "Far from the Madding Crowd" and "The
Collector." His talent, along with his good looks and eye for fashion, made
him one of the icons of London in the '60s. But at the end of the decade, he
dropped out of acting for a while. After his return, he made the "Superman"
movies playing the villainous General Zod. His other films include "Wall
Street," "The Hit," "Star Wars: Episode I," "Red Planet" and "Bowfinger."

Stamp plays a British actor in the new French film "My Wife is an Actress."
The film is about a young sportswriter who's married to an attractive actress.
He's afraid that she will fall for one of her handsome leading men, and is
especially afraid that she'll be genuinely aroused by their love scenes.
Stamp is the leading man the husband is currently worried about. I asked
Stamp if love scenes often are really arousing or if it's just work.

Mr. TERENCE STAMP (Actor): Well, it can be either, you know. It can be
absolutely acting, and it can be absolute passion. I think the great Warren
Beatty once said that the way to get stars in the movie is to find out who
wants to shag who.

GROSS: Is it ever embarrassing when it really is passion?

Mr. STAMP: Well, it's never `passion' passion, you know, because everybody's
there. It's like you'd have to be a real exhibitionist to get real passion--I
mean, actual passion. But I think you have a good idea during a love scene--I
mean, if you're interested in your co-star, then you have a good idea of
whether it's going to lead to real passion because it's so kind of intimate.

GROSS: Do you think you could tell the difference on screen between
relationships on screen that are just acting and relationships on screen where
there really is some passion beyond the acting?

Mr. STAMP: I don't think so. I don't think so. I mean--well, you're talking
about good actors, right?

GROSS: Yes, that's right. Exactly right.

Mr. STAMP: With bad actors, you can't tell anything. So...

GROSS: Exactly. Exactly. I'd like to do, like, a film retrospective with
you, so let's go back to your very first movie, "Billy Budd." This was made
in 1962. It's based on the Herman Melville story. You play a teen-ager who's
impressed to serve on a British ship during war with France. And you're the
epitome of decency and goodness, whereas the master at arms is a sadist and
very villainous. After he sets you up to take a fall for a crime you're
innocent of, you try to defend yourself verbally. But your speech impediment
prevents that. You have something of a stammer. You punch him, he dies from
a head wound when he hits the ground and then you're court-martialed. Here
you are in "Billy Budd" being interrogated by the ship's officers.

(Soundbite from "Billy Budd")

Unidentified Man #1: Was there malice between you and the master at arms?

Mr. STAMP: I bore no malice against the master at arms. I'm sorry that he is
dead. I did not mean to kill him. If I had found my tongue I would not have
struck him, but he lied foully to my face and I had--well, I had to say
something. I could only say it with a blow. God help me.

GROSS: That's Terence Stamp in a scene from "Billy Budd."

Terence Stamp, this was your first role in a movie, and it's the leading role
in a prestigious film. You must have had to learn a lot on camera.

Mr. STAMP: Well, I did and I didn't. In fact, as two young out-of-work
actors, I was sharing digs with Michael Caine. And although Michael Caine
wasn't known, you know, he hadn't been discovered--he was absolutely
unknown--he did know a lot about the technicalities of filming. And so he
kind of versed me in those, so I knew the technicalities and felt confident in
that. You know, I knew how to hit marks. I knew about sort of camera angles.
I knew about lenses.

And frankly when I started the movie a kind of amazing thing happened because
I just discovered that it was like I knew it. It was as though it was
absolutely second nature to me. Everything I saw that was new I understood
almost instantaneously. So it wasn't really--I mean, it was nerve-racking
because I had no way of dealing with the, like, artistic vision that you have
in your head and doing it, you know, when they say action. So that was a kind
of a problem and a fear. But for the most part I just had, like, an
instinctive understanding of it really.

GROSS: How old were you when you made "Billy Budd"?

Mr. STAMP: I had my 21st birthday during the movie.

GROSS: Wow. "Billy Budd" takes place at sea. Now your father was actually a
seaman. He was at sea during your early years. Then he became the captain of
a tugboat. Did he tell you stories about life on the ocean that you kind of
summoned back up while making the movie?

Mr. STAMP: No. I was very kind of distant from my dad. What happened was
that almost immediately after I'd been born he rejoined the Merchant Navy to
go to, you know, what became World War II. And so by the time the war
finished there was already a kind of a distance between he and I because my
mother, you know, deprived of this wonderfully handsome husband, had devoted
herself solely to me so that by the time he came home from war there was just
a kind of a distance between us. So I was never really close to my dad. And
also my dad was, you know, what they call nowadays like emotionally closed
down.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. STAMP: So I had no conversations with him at all. And, in fact, I wasn't
a natural sailor. I mean, I was really seasick the first few days when we
were out at sea. But a lot of people who saw that movie and know me think
that somehow those sort of generations of seafaring ancestors was kind of
locked in my DNA, you know, so there was some kind of a natural affinity I had
with being at sea.

GROSS: Was acting a far-fetched ambition for someone from your neighborhood?

Mr. STAMP: Yes. I saw my first movie and I just wanted to be that.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. STAMP: And I never really spoke about it. In other words, it was a very
private sort of fancy that I had. And when it got to sort of near leaving
school--in other words, let's say I was like 15, 16 and we got our first
television, I started making remarks about, `Oh, I could do that' or `I could
do better than that.' And my dad sort of wore that for a bit. And then one
evening I was carrying on about how good I thought I could be in that part and
he said to me, `Listen, son. People like us don't do things like that.' And
I went to sort of protest, and he said, `Son, I just don't want you to talk
about it anymore.' And my dad was, you know, something of a stoic and he
didn't say much, so when he said something, you know, it had a kind of quite
heavy reverberation to it.

But, in fact, it didn't deter me at all. I wasn't allowed to talk about it,
but I was used to not talking about it. I mean, I understood that it would
have been ridiculous to everybody else, you know. So all it did was it made a
kind of a steam kettle into a pressure cooker.

GROSS: Sounds like a great contrast, you know, the father who doesn't show
emotion at all, doesn't register any, and the son who's learning how to
register emotion on stage and on screen.

Mr. STAMP: Yeah. I think a lot of it was, you know, wanting a kind of a sort
of valid way to show my emotions because it was a very--you know, you could
say we lived in penury, you know what I mean. We lived in a tiny house and
there were lots of us, and so there was really no privacy and there was very
little room for the kind of emotional display, you know, because the
atmosphere was charged all the time.

GROSS: My guest is actor Terence Stamp. He's in the new film "My Wife is an
Actress." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Terence Stamp is my guest, and he's in the new movie "My Wife is an
Actress."

Now you said that you grew up in a very Cockney neighborhood, so did you have
a Cockney accent when you started to act?

Mr. STAMP: Oh, sure. I mean, when I finally realized that I would have to go
to drama school, you know, to get my foot in the door, you know, in those days
it wasn't like today where if you could lift a lot of weights or if you could
play football you could become an actor, you know. You couldn't get in to see
anyone unless you'd been trained. There was no such thing as sort of
untrained actors, so I had to get into drama school. And you had to do a
classical piece--you had to do a piece of Shakespeare--and a modern piece.
And I chose Romeo's death speech. And now I can imagine how hysterical it
must have been, you know, like Romeo as a sort of Cockney ...(unintelligible)
boy, you know.

GROSS: You write a little bit about your accents in one of your memoirs and
you say that you convinced yourself that since you had a natural ear and could
pick up accents easily, instead of learning to speak proper English you would
just treat standard English roles as a dialect and, you know, just learn it
for those roles. Did that strategy work out?

Mr. STAMP: Yes, it worked out. I mean, it worked out for sort of 20 years,
but eventually, you know, I had to sort of--and the thing was I think, looking
back, it was something to do with a loss of identity, like I wanted to retain
my own voice, but as well I think that there was a lot of sort of fear and
trepidation involved in learning, like, to speak in a completely different
way. So eventually, treating all the parts I did as a dialect, I still had a
kind of a London--I had a sort of London foggy accent for years. And it was
only sort of, you know, when I was sort of in my 40s that I thought to myself,
well, I might as well really just see if I can perfect my voice, see if I can
have what they call RP. I think it's called received pronunciation. I'll see
if I can have RP voice without losing, you know, the quality that makes my
voice my own.

GROSS: So what did you do?

Mr. STAMP: Well, I had always been interested in breath. One of the things
that I'd learned at drama school was this thing called the full breath and
speaking on support, you know, which we all had to learn to do before
everybody had throat mikes. And so I had continued that study. I'd taken my
study from just like learning to breathe theatrically to sort of mystical
breathing and breathing exercises or yoga, stuff I'd learned, like, in India.
And so I just kind of widened my area of learning, really, and I just
continued to find, you know, really wonderful voice teachers and study with
them and pick up things that I could get from them. And so it was a kind of
an ongoing thing. I mean, I'm still a bit of a sucker for--like if I hear
this great voice teacher in town I'll go and check them out, you know, because
I think there's a great mystery in the voice, but also I think that it's
something that is almost a lost art. And through own personal understanding
is that any study, any work that you do on your voice is really capital in the
bank. I don't regret any of the money that I've spent, you know, studying
voice.

GROSS: I want to play a scene from your movie "The Limey." And this is a
pretty recent film. And in this film you play a working-class guy who's just
gotten out of prison in England and you've come to California to avenge the
murder of your daughter. You think she was murdered by a record executive who
made his fortune in the 1960s. He's played by Peter Fonda. Anyways, in this
scene you're talking to a Drug Enforcement Agency agent who you think has some
clues about where to find this record executive you're looking for, and you're
talking to him in this really thick Cockney accent. It's not the way you
speak in the rest of the movie. It's just something you're putting on for him
in this scene.

(Soundbite of "The Limey")

Mr. STAMP: How you doing then? You all right, are you? Now look, squire,
you're the governor here, I'll concede that. I'm on your manor now, so
there's no need to get your knickers in a twist. Whatever this bollix is
that's going down between you and that slave Valentine, it's got nothing to do
with me. I couldn't care less. All right, mate? Let me explain to you, when
I was in prison, second time--no, told a lie, third stretch. Yeah, third.
Third. There was this screw what really had it in for me, and that geezer was
top of my list. Two years after I got sprung, I sees him in Island Park(ph).
He's sitting on the bench feeding bloody pigeons. There was no one about. I
could have gone up behind him and snapped his (censored) neck. Voila. But I
left him. I could have nobbled him, but I didn't. Because what I thought I
wanted wasn't what I wanted. What I thought I was thinking about was
something else. I didn't give a toss. It didn't matter, see. This bloke on
the bench wasn't worth my time. It meant sod all in the end because you've
got to make a choice, when to do something and when to let it go. When it
matters and when it don't. Bide your time. That's what prison teaches you if
nothing else. Bide your time and everything becomes clear. You can act
accordingly.

GROSS: Terence Stamp in a scene from "The Limey." Terence Stamp, did you
ever talk that way?

Mr. STAMP: No, I didn't really--well, I may have, but when I was working on
it, that was really how my dad spoke and how my uncle spoke. And strangely
enough, in England I got a lot of stick for that, you know, the critics said,
`Oh, nobody talks like that.' But the truth is that they haven't been to the
local Turkish bath on Saturday morning, you know, where everybody talks like
that.

GROSS: Now were you starting to act in a time when it was becoming more
acceptable, more possible for working-class actors who didn't speak received
English to--or received pronunciation, whatever it's called, to get started?
You know, was it more acceptable to talk like you did and still be on the
stage?

Mr. STAMP: I think more than more acceptable, it was actually something that
was needed because what had happened in England was that they had passed a
bill, a politician called Reb Butler(ph) had passed a bill whereby all kids
had an opportunity of going to a grammar school. They had this thing called
the 11-Plus. And if you passed the 11-Plus, didn't matter what strata of
society you came from, you could get to go to one of these rather good grammar
schools. And the end of the '50s, the big sort of mass of working-class kids
who previously hadn't had a higher education were being sort of released into
the world. And that was giving birth to the great working-class playwrights.
And the working-class playwrights were really writing plays that needed a
different kind of actor. They wanted, like, working-class actors. And I
think that that was the beginning of that kind of '60s wave of, you know,
working-class guys.

GROSS: And were you cast in any of those plays?

Mr. STAMP: Yes. Yes, I was cast. The first play I ever did professionally
was called "Long and the Short and the Tall," which was a play by Keith
Waterhouse, in Willards Hall(ph). And it had spawned a host of actors. I
mean, the lead part had been written with Albert Finney in mind. Albert had
got sick. Peter O'Toole had stepped in, became a big success. Michael Caine
was Peter O'Toole's understudy and never got to play the part, so he did the
tour, which was where I met him. So that was the first play that I was in
that was one of those plays. But of course, there was like Osbourne. There
was Pinter. There was Arnold Wesca(ph), you know, it was a kind of a whole
clutch of working-class playwrights that were writing wonderful things.

GROSS: You started to become very well-known in the '60s. And, in fact, you
became kind of a symbol of London in the '60s. In Sean Levy's new book about
London in the '60s, he writes that you were `among the swingingest of young
Londoners--handsome, stylish and always up for some wild scene.' What was it
like to become known in the '60s when everything from the classic system to
sexual mores was loosening up?

Mr. STAMP: Well, I think it was the best time and place a boy could be,
really. It was like after the pill and before AIDS, you know? So it was an
extraordinary release. And I think that we felt it particularly in England
because we'd been confined, you know, by World War II and the kid of poverty
after World War II, which drifted right on really through the '50s. So I
think of the '40s and the '50s as being in black and white, and I think that,
you know, with the birth of the decade of the '60s, it suddenly burst into
Technicolor.

GROSS: Now it's said that you and Julie Christie, who were a couple for a
while, are the Terry and Julie in The Kinks song "Waterloo Sunset." Is that
accurate?

Mr. STAMP: Yeah, that's absolutely true. Ray Davies actually told my brother
Chris that. My brother Chris discovered The Who and, you know, with his
partner Kit Lambert made them, I think, into the great group they became. But
Ray Davies told my brother Chris that, that when he was writing the lyrics of
"Waterloo Sunset," he envisaged Julie and myself for that lyric.

GROSS: Terence Stamp is in the new film "My Wife is an Actress." He'll be
back in the second half of the show. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of "Waterloo Sunset")

THE KINKS: (Singing) La, la, la, la. Terry and Julie. La, la, la. And they
thought ...(unintelligible) as long as they gaze on Waterloo sunset they are
in paradise.

(Soundbite of music)

THE KINKS: (Singing) Waterloo sunset's fine. Waterloo sunset's fine.
Waterloo sunset's fine.

(Announcements)

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: We're listening to one of the many field recordings made by folklorist
Alan Lomax. He died Friday at the age of 87. Coming up, we play back an
interview with him. And we continue our interview with actor Terence Stamp.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with actor Terence Stamp.
He plays an actor in the new film "My Wife is an Actress." He got his start
in the '60s, starring in "Billy Budd," "Far from the Madding Crowd" and "The
Collector." He later played General Zod in the "Superman" films and made the
films "The Hit," "Wall Street," "Star Wars: Episode I," "Red Planet" and
"Bowfinger." He recently starred in "The Limey" and "Priscilla, Queen of the
Desert."

We were talking about your voice and how you used to have a Cockney accent and
how you learned to speak differently for movies and theater. I want to play a
scene from your movie "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert." This is a 1994
Australian comedy in which you played a transsexual who has an act with two
drag queens in which you lip-synch and dance to disco hits. And in this scene
you're in the dressing room with the two drag queens. You're all putting on
makeup and this is shortly after you've fallen on your head in shock upon
learning that one of the drag queens in your act not only used to be married
but he has a son.

(Soundbite of "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert")

Mr. STAMP: For Christ's sake, Mitch(ph), why didn't you tell us? Why the
hell did you have to shock me like that?

Whoa. This lump on my head is getting bigger by the second. I'm about to
make my Northern Territory's debut looking like a (censored) Warner Bros.
cartoon character's hit me over the head with an iron.

Unidentified Actor #1: I think you look more like a Disney witch, myself.

Mr. STAMP: Oh, shut your face, Felicia.

At least I don't look like somebody's tried to open a can of beans with my
face.

Unidentified Actor #2: I'm sorry, girls, I couldn't stand the thought of you
bagging me in the bus for two weeks. Anyway, what difference does it make
now?

Mr. STAMP: Well, about two inches to my head, for one.

Unidentified Actor #2: Did you get a good look at him? He's got my profile,
that's for sure.

Unidentified Actor #1: I think I'm going to be sick.

Mr. STAMP: I hate to be practical here, but does he know who you are? I
mean, does he know what you do for a living?

Unidentified Actor #2: Well, he knows that he has a father in the show
business-cosmetics industry.

Mr. STAMP: Oh, Lord. I don't understand.

Unidentified Actor #2: No, you don't understand so stop trying to. It'll be
fine.

Mr. STAMP: Well, it better be.

GROSS: That's Terence Stamp in a scene from "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert."

Now one of the things I find really interesting about your performance in that
movie is that you didn't really change your voice. You changed the kind of
language that you use and the way you'd speak but you don't try to make your
voice higher in it even though you're playing a transsexual. Tell us why you
didn't do that.

Mr. STAMP: Well, during the time I was sort of researching the role, I was
getting introduced to actual transsexuals, you know, guys who had actually
been sort of--tried to change themselves physically from being a man to being
a woman. And one of the things that I noticed about them vocally was that
they either spoke below the break or above the break. So either they were
sort of (imitates transsexual's voice) `Hello, darling' and `Yes, my name is
this,' or (imitates transsexual's voice) they were sort of speaking above the
break. And during rehearsal I really tried both of those vocal sort of
approaches and the director said to me, like, `Don't worry.' You know? Just
like--just your voice is fine. You know, don't really worry about affecting a
voice. You know? He said like a lot of trans do that, but it'll be--it'll
put too much of, like, a strain on the performance, you know, if you confine
yourself to just an area of voice. So that's really how it--how the finished
product came about.

GROSS: And look at how, say, Lauren Bacall's voice deepened as she got older.

Mr. STAMP: Right, right.

GROSS: What surprised you most by how you looked as a woman with a long
blonde wig and makeup and, you know, women's clothes, heels?

Mr. STAMP: Well, I was rather--I have to say, first off, that, you know, when
I saw the movie I was, like, bitterly disappointed. I had understood, I had
been led to believe, that, you know, the cameraman was making me look like
Lauren Bacall and Princess Diana and Candy Bergen, you know, that's--and so
I'd given--been giving the performance believing that I was being made to look
like this real babe, you know?

And on the--about five minutes before I saw the film, which was at the Cannes
Festival, the DP(ph) came up to me and said, `Listen, Terence, I don't want
you to be upset with me, you know, but, like, I did--I really didn't make you
look good, you know?' And I was really--I said, `What do you mean?' And he
said, `Well, you know, I didn't do the best for you.' I said, `Why?' He
said, `Well, Stephan didn't want me to, you know? I said to him, "Steph, you
know, I can make him look wonderful. Like, it's just a lighting thing." And
Steph said, "No, no, no. I want him looking dodgy,"' you know? `Don't make
him look good' kind of thing.

And then I'm at the premiere, you know? Big, big ovation going to the bon
pere(ph) at Cannes, and the film starts, and there I am, looking like this old
tomcat, you know? So I was really taken aback. It was a huge, instant
dismantling of my ego. And when I...

GROSS: Because you wanted to look like a beautiful woman.

Mr. STAMP: Yeah. I was really--that's what I was--exactly. I was choosing
earrings--`Oh, I've seen Michelle Pfeiffer wear those; I can wear those.' You
know, I mean, I was really into it. And I said to Stephan earlier, you know,
`Why did you do that to me? Why did you--I really don't understand, you
know.' And he said, `Well, that's the point, you know. What I wanted was a
creature who believed that she was beautiful, and the reality was she was an
old dog, you know.' So in other words, he wanted a kind of--he thought that
the character would be more touching if that element was there. He just
didn't want me looking, you know, like Lauren Bacall.

GROSS: Did that work for you, when you started to see it that way?

Mr. STAMP: No, no, I always hated it. I always thought it a lost opportunity
to be a babe.

GROSS: Now Maureen Dowd had a New York Times Magazine article with you after
"Priscilla" was released, and in that article, you say that you used to have
this fear of looking stupid on screen, and that used to hold you back, but
after "Priscilla," you stopped worrying about that. Accurate?

Mr. STAMP: Well, I hate to contradict the lovely Maureen Dowd. The way in
which I--what I felt about that was that I didn't know that I had this fear of
looking stupid. It was a kind of a--I was tethered by it, but I didn't know,
and during "Priscilla," it came up, and I had to confront it, and I had to
confront it because what I was doing was absolutely ridiculous, and there was
not way of doing it without risk of looking an absolute idiot. And when I'd
gone through it, in other words, when it had happened, then I saw it, and then
I saw the extent to which I'd been limited by it. So in other words, the
movie was a growth experience on that level.

GROSS: I want to say that's basically what she says you said.

Mr. STAMP: Ah, OK. OK.

GROSS: And if I misrepresented what...

Mr. STAMP: OK. OK.

GROSS: ...she said you said, I apologize for that.

Mr. STAMP: OK. OK.

GROSS: But I think she represented what you said very accurately. So can you
put your finger on what you did differently after that?

Mr. STAMP: No, not really. Well, I can explain to you. I can't really give
you examples. But after it, after the take, actually, the freeing, the
breakthrough happened during the performance of "Shake That Groove Thing,"(ph)
you know, and I'm in this town called Broken Hill, which is a lot like sort of
a mining town where most of the guys were out of work, you know, and they'd
got all these miners in to be extras, and the way they kept them there was by
giving them lots of beers and stuff. And I came out of the trailer, and I've
got these kind of like putty-colored queenies tights(ph), which I've put my
force-nail(ph) through so they're laddered and I've got these sort of pink
knickers with, like, little stars stuck on them and I've got a red wig with
detachable pigtails.

And we're all standing on a bar in our high-heels, waiting to do this number
in front of this very raucous audience of mine. And, in fact, as I was
standing there, like, the thoughts that were going through my head were like,
`What are you doing here, you know? You're the best-dressed man in Britain,
you know. You're a middle-aged man. You were the great Iago of your drama
school, you know. You're a scholar and a philosopher, you know.' And then
suddenly there was like playback, da-da-da-da da-da-da-da-da da-da-da-da
da-da-da, and you do it and you do it and we did it. And I had done it. I
had done the lip sync, I had done the dancing, I had made an absolute ass of
myself, and I was kind of in the stratosphere.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. STAMP: And I think that after that--so in other words, it was a kind
of--it was like an inner dimension, you know? It was something. It was like
a sort of reservoir of energy that had never been released before. And after
"Priscilla," I never had to really consciously draw on that. I mean, I
haven't done anything that sort of extended my fear barrier, but there is that
kind of understanding within me that I'm fearless, you know? I mean, I would
never really turn down another movie from fear. And I was able to look back
and see that I had turned down wonderful roles, because I was...

GROSS: Like what?

Mr. STAMP: ...frightened. I turned down "Camelot" with the wonderful Josh
Logan, you know?

GROSS: You would have had a singing role in that?

Mr. STAMP: Yeah. I would have been the king, you know?

GROSS: `If ever I would leave you.' Is that...

Mr. STAMP: Yeah. He wanted me...

GROSS: It would have been Terence Stamp singing that?

Mr. STAMP: Yeah. And that was the fear, you know, and I didn't really know
it until I had that breakthrough. And I thought, `Yeah, I turned that down
for the wrong reason.' You know, I turned it down because I was frightened
that my singing voice wouldn't have been good enough, you know?

GROSS: Huh.

Mr. STAMP: And there were lots of things like that, roles that I've turned
down because, you know, later on in life I say, `Well, yeah, of course, I
could have done that.' You know, I could have gone through that fear barrier
earlier.

GROSS: My guest is actor Terence Stamp. He's in the new film "My Wife is an
Actress." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is actor Terence Stamp. He's in the new film "My Wife is an
Actress."

Well, you know, you haven't had the most prolific career. You've been making
a fair number of movies lately. But there was a period in, I guess, the '70s
and part of the '80s when you weren't doing that much and part of what you
were doing was international productions. Was that a conscious choice?
Did...

Mr. STAMP: No, no, no, on the contrary. You know, the '60s ended and I
ended with them. I was sort of out of work for 10 years, really. And, you
know, that was like a tragedy for me. I think it was just one of those
things. It wasn't anything that I could--if I had wanted to continue working
during the '70s, then I would have had to have done real crap, you know. And
I'd been spoiled, you know. I'd worked with Ustinov, Wyler, Fellini,
Pacelini(ph), Lovsi(ph), I didn't want to do Cockney lorry drivers, you know,
and gangsters and stuff. So I was out of work. I was out of work from about
'69 till I got the "Superman" movies.

GROSS: How would you describe the phase of your career you're in now?

Mr. STAMP: How would I describe? Oh, I think I'm a golden oldie now, you
know? I think I'm an old master with wisdom and vestiges of sex appeal.

GROSS: I think one of your greatest performances--and this is, you know, my
humble opinion--is in "The Limey." I think you're just so wonderful in that
film.

Mr. STAMP: It's funny with "The Limey" because it was something that--it's to
do, I think, with resignation. You know, when you resign yourself to the fact
that, you know, you're never going to get another great role, then something
happens. And when it happened, it was just so wonderful, I mean, to work with
a guy like Soderbergh, you know, who's in my book, you know, the great
American director since Willy Wyler, you know. He's just so extraordinarily
talented.

But a funny thing happened. They had a cast-and-crew screening at the
Directors Guild right here on Sunset Boulevard, and he asked me to come and
look at it. And a friend of mine, a great friend of mine, called Richard Le
Plume(ph), was actually in California. And I said, `Come with me,' you know.
I needed a bit of backup, you know, because none of us really knew what
Stephan had been doing. Like, we didn't actually know that he was, you know,
making a film that was sort of outside the time-space concept, you know. We
didn't realize that it was going to be like a non-linear movie.

And anyway, I go along to this--and there was only supposed to be some, you
know, 40 or 50 people there. The place was packed. There were hundreds of
people. And it was just extraordinary. It was just an extraordinary event
for me. And you could tell from the audience that everybody was locked into
it from the first frame, you know, which is the way you can tell a great
master director. You know, they pick you up and you're confident that they're
going to take you somewhere and put you down, you know? And everybody in that
movie was, like, totally attentive.

And on the way home I said to my friend, Blood(ph), `What do you think of it?'
He said, `My God. I think it's like the best thing you've ever done.' And I
was a bit taken aback, you know, because that scene--I thought, `Well, I've
done lots of terrific things.' But when I was going to sleep that night, I
thought to myself, `You know something? If it had to end here, like if this
had to be the last one, really from "Billy Budd" to "The Limey" was like more
than any young actor could hope to do, really.'

GROSS: Well, Terence Stamp, a pleasure to talk with you. Thank you so much.

Mr. STAMP: Not at all.

GROSS: Terence Stamp is in the new French film "My Wife is an Actress."
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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