Richard Chamberlain's career has run the gamut — from hit Broadway revivals like My Fair Lady and The Sound of Music to roles on The Drew Carey Show and even Nip/Tuck. He even had a brief career as a pop singer in the '60s when his role as the title character in the TV series Dr. Kildare made him a teen heartthrob. But he's best known for parts in dramatic films and TV miniseries, like Centennial, Shogun, The Thornbirds and the 1988 version of The Bourne Identity. Lately, he's been standing in as King Arthur in a touring production of Spamalot, at PlayhouseSquare's Palace Theatre through Sunday.
"It's such a relief," says Chamberlain. "All that heavy stuff is really hard work, and this is a lot of fun. It's about 10 times funnier than the movie."
Chamberlain seems to thrive on a steady diet of change. He says he learned his comic chops from Peter Sellers.
"I loved the Pink Panther movies, but I didn't fully understand what made him so brilliantly funny until I saw the remakes by Steve Martin —who I love, but he makes the fatal mistake of knowing he's funny. It was a brilliant choice on Peter Sellers' part not to let on. The more seriously you take it, the funnier it is to everyone else. You have to keep a straight face. In Spamalot, wherever possible, I try to take situations as seriously as I can manage."
After performances in Cleveland, Chamberlain will head back home to Hawaii, where he looks forward to getting back into his painting studio. In college, Chamberlain wanted to be an artist, but his acting career took off, and art took a back seat. He paints in a dozen styles — as diverse as the musicals, TV dramas and comedies in which he's acted. There are stylized floral still lifes, landscapes, nudes, word collages and more, which portray an artist willing to try anything.
"If you had seen it in a show, you wouldn't believe one person did all those different things," he says.
But if his performing career has variety in common with his painting, he also sees painting as a place where he's in control of everything. "The big difference — and it's something I love about each medium — is that acting is so communal, a co-creation," he says. "But painting is so individual. When you're alone with your canvas, you're the boss."