“I could have been the Bela Lugosi of my generation,” says Andrew Robinson, who came to notice as the psychotic killer in “Dirty Harry” 17 years ago. “You make an impact like that, and you live with it. I was offered stuff just like it for years.”
Robinson’s recourse was to return to the theater. In 1984, he won the Los Angeles Drama Critics’ best actor award for his performance in the Mark Taper Forum production of “In the Belly of the Beast.” He has also appeared in such films as “Mask,” “Cobra,” “Shoot to Kill” and “Hellraiser.”
Now the 42-year-old actor has found the perfect role to wipe clean his villainous slate. He plays Liberace in ABC’s two-hour film, “Liberace,” airing Sunday (KABC-TV Channel 7 at 9).
“It’s a pleasure to get on prime-time television and smile instead of pulling out a gun and snarling,” says Robinson, whose appearance and voice are close enough to Liberace’s to be unsettling. “When I was a kid, say between 10 and 14, there wasn’t a week went by when people didn’t say I looked like Liberace.
“His life was such a fantasy. I feel like Andrew in Wonderland here. He was a very talented man and probably could have been a concert pianist. But he found what was exactly right for him and his personality. To play him, you just strap up your courage and go for it.”
The movie is primarily about the happy times in Liberace’s life, but it does touch on his almost-marriage, the palimony suit filed by chauffeur-companion Scott Thorsen and the entertainer’s AIDS-related death at 67.
“People loved Liberace, and not just women,” Robinson insists. “The myth was that his constituency was just women.
“I liked him. But back in the 1950s I wouldn’t have been caught dead saying a kind word about him because socially and sexually I wanted to belong. Liberace had a certain sexual persona no one in the mainstream had seen.”
Robinson will wear 15 original outfits in “Liberace.” The look, he says, is a far cry from his own.
“My own wardrobe is pretty dull,” he says. “My wife has been trying to liven me up a little. I’m considering rhinestones.”