Doctor Chamberlain

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Richard Chamberlain was playing the role of gracious host.

"Can I interest you in a glass of sparkling cider?" Chamberlain asked his visitor in his dulcet tones. "It's very good. Do you want some lunch? Take a seat. Make yourself comfortable."

Chamberlain poured himself a glass of the cider, sat down at the tiny table iu his cramped trailer and began to gracefully munch on his lunch of steamed vegetables.

"Look at this," he said, pushing a 1974 edition of Life magazine across the table. He pointed to one of the stories listed on the cover: "Richard Chamberlain: From Dr. Kildare to Hamlet."

"I stole this from the set," Chamberlain said, his blue eyes twinkling. "But someone ripped out the article."

The 55-year-old actor didn't look very much like dashing Dr. Kildare or Shakespeare's Melancholy Dane. His brown hair had been dyed silver for the movie he was filming that day at a deserted hospital in Encino: "Aftermath: A Test of Love," airing Sunday on CBS.

Based on a real 1974 event, "Aftermath" finds Chamberlain, again, playing a doctor. This time he is a successful obstetrician with a large family. His picture-perfect life is shattered, when his wife is killed in a sadistic robbery (the victims are forced to drink drain cleaner) and his youngest son barely survives the brutal crime.

"The father goes through a great change," Chamberlain said softly. "He is a man who thinks he loves his family. Everything is fine. He provides for them. But he is very busy. He think he loves them, everything is perfect and then this horrible thing happens out of the blue."

Chamberlain gazed out the window as he collected his thoughts about his character. "It takes a long time before he can admit his feelings. Finally, his eldest son confronts him and makes him confess how he feels. The father just falls to pieces and it establishes honesty and intimacy between him and his children."

The actor poured himself another glass of cider.

"The father thinks he's a hero," Chamberlain said. "He was called 'The Silver Fox.' He's a great-looking guy, dresses great. You think he is hero material, but his heroism comes not from subduing the dragon, it comes from subduing his own ignorance about feelings. It is an internal voyage for him."

Ever since playing Hamlet in the acclaimed 1970 "Hallmark Hall of Fame" production on NBC, Chamberlain has rarely been cast as contemporary characters. He appeared in several of the most popular miniseries of the 1980s--all period dramas--including "Shogun," "The Thorn Birds," "Dream West" and "Wallenberg."

The actor finally was able to play a modern-day man in the 1988 ABC miniseries "The Bourne Identity," based on Robert Ludlum's best-selling thriller.

"Very often I would play loners who go out to conquer the world," Chamberlain said. "I very much wanted to get into contemporary stuff. I wanted to get into this decade even. I wanted to start playing people who you actually might meet sometime in your life. I am finding it fascinating (to play a contemporary character) and very freeing in a way."

In what way?

Chamberlain paused. "This (role in "Aftermath") is more a character part," he said. "Character acting is what I always wanted to do. I always felt it was my niche. I have always been attracted to the offbeat or whatever."

A decade ago, theatergoers saw Chamberlain play a very offbeat role, Wild Bill Hickok, on a Beverly Hills stage in Thomas Babe's ribald comedy "Fathers and Sons."

"I loved that play," he said. "That's the best time I ever had on stage. But I did that in 1980!"

Chamberlain shook his head in disbelief. "Days go by so quickly now. I get up in the morning, as we all do, and suddenly I am going back to bed again. A day has gone by and I don't believe it. Time just whizzes by."

"Aftermath" is Chamberlain's first project since the demise of his short-lived CBS dramatic series, "Island Son," in which he played a doctor working in a Hawaiian hospital.

"I am not in love with the idea of doing another series, right now," he said. "I had a reason to do that series. I wanted to work in Hawaii, where I live now. Our original idea for the show was very interesting and worthwhile to me, but the powers that be (at CBS) were not at all welcoming. We ended up doing another 'Dr. Kildare.' I was actually quite embarrassed about it. If I ever do another series again I will be fully armed. I will have weapons strapped everywhere."

Just before "Island Son," Chamberlain joined Oliver Reed, Michael York and Frank Finlay for "The Return of the Three Musketeers," the sequel to the hit feature films "The Three Musketeers" and "The Four Musketeers." The film did poor business in Europe and was never released theatrically in the United States. It's set to air on the USA Network on April 3.

"I am not saying anything about the movie," Chamberlain said, breaking into a playful grin. "I was trying to get the series off the ground, so they cut the part way down. I only shot for two weeks. It was fine with me."

"Aftermath: A Test of Love" airs Sunday at 9 p.m. on CBS.

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