WHAT’S IN A NAME? ASK A LENNON LOOK-ALIKE
“I feel like the guy who won the lottery but found when he raced down to collect that he’d lost the coupon.”
That’s how actor Mark Lindsay described his feelings as he reflected about the cruel irony involved in being fired from the biggest role of his career--because of his name.
Less than a week after he was awarded the role of John Lennon in “Imagine: The Story of John and Yoko,” an NBC movie about the late rock star and his wife Yoko Ono, Lindsay was notified Tuesday by NBC executives that he was being dropped because his real name is Mark Chapman, virtually the same as Lennon’s killer. (Mark David Chapman pleaded guilty to murder in June, 1981, and is serving 20 years to life at Attica Correctional Facility in New York.)
Reporters began calling his parents’ house outside London as soon as word of the decision became known Wednesday, while correspondents for London’s weekly tabloids began camping outside his London flat, which has no phone.
To avoid the press, Lindsay planned to spend a few days with friends. In his first detailed interview, in a pub near Hyde Park on Thursday, he puffed anxiously on a cigarette, but showed a surprising lack of bitterness.
“I don’t want to go through all the questions about, am I disappointed, am I bitter, am I angry? . . . I’m trying to look at the positive side of all this,” he said. “This part was the biggest break by far in my career. I was having to work as a bricklayer to support myself when I suddenly got a call about a month and a half ago to come in and read for a part in this picture.
“My agent hadn’t even submitted me. They (the film makers) had seen my picture in a book. When I heard it was a picture about John Lennon, I thought I might get some small part. I couldn’t imagine that I would end up playing Lennon. But Sandy Stern (the film’s director) saw something in me right away and kept encouraging me. We went through three screen tests before they told me the part was mine.”
Lindsay, 32, has been acting for about six years, most recently doing Shakespeare with a touring company. He took his stage name when he took out his equity card--before, he pointed out, Lennon’s murder in 1980.
“I loved the Beatles like everybody else did, and John was my favorite,” he said. “He was the James Dean of the lot.”
Asked if he was troubled that his name was the same as Lennon’s murderer, Lindsay answered, “I was more upset about the fact that he had been shot than the fact that we had the same name. When I told my mates that I was up for the part of Lennon, they thought it was strange. They said, ‘You must be joking.’ ”
Lindsay said that he told Stern the first time they met that his real name was Mark Chapman.
“He kind of shrugged it off,” Lindsay recalled, “He thought it was pretty bizarre, but nothing to worry about, so I forgot it.”
Lindsay said that he also mentioned the name during a conversation with an NBC publicist last week. He went through wardrobe and took some publicity pictures on Monday and Tuesday, then was called into a meeting Tuesday afternoon, where he was informed of the action, which was taken jointly by NBC and the show’s producer, Carson Productions. He said the reasons he was given were that the name could offend Beatles fans, and had already upset Ono.
Ono’s spokesman Elliott Mintz said from New York Thursday that it would be “an understatement to say that Beatles fans could be offended. Yoko has no ill feelings toward the person. It’s just an unfortunate circumstance, but it would be totally inappropriate. When Yoko was informed about the name, obviously she was upset. That’s a name she doesn’t want to hear.”
Lindsay, though, is looking on the bright side. He said that he’s been contacted by a powerful Hollwyood talent agent, and NBC--which expects to introduce a new Lennon actor next week--has indicated that another movie role may be coming Lindsay’s way.
“I guess the gossip papers would want to hear that I feel terrible or I’m going to sue the bastards, but I’m not into that. I can understand everybody’s position. I can understand Yoko, who saw her own husband shot down in front of her.
“I’m not bitter because I saw how upset Stern and all the people were over what happened to me. They’ve behaved really nicely. I don’t see why I should knock them. It’s nobody’s fault. . . .
“I’m not destroyed. I did shed a tear or two immediately afterwards, but this is another day. It might have a happy ending after all. This whole thing might be just a little present from John. He always did have a great sense of humor.”
Richard Cromelin in Los Angeles contributed to this story.