September 20, 2012
Actor, Maxwell Caulfield shot to fame with the 1982 film, “Grease “2 and has sustained a thirty year film career that has seen both highs and lows. He has had a noteworthy presence on Broadway and London’s West End. This writer directed Mr. Caulfield in the feature film, “Midnight Witness” and sat down to chat with him recently at the Pali House Hotel in West Hollywood.
Hollywood Revealed: Maxwell, you are currently starring in the play “Euripides’ Helen” at the Getty Villa where you portray “Menelaos,” a character that has been missing in action for seven years. How do you personally relate to that role?
Maxwell Caulfield: (laughs) Brilliant question. Yeah, that’s absolutely the truth. I play Manelaos, The King of Sparta, and those so called missing years of both the character as well as myself were bloody–but will prove ultimately victorious.
HR: So what have you been up to since we last saw you on TV in the “Colbys?”
MC: I think I’ve racked up a decent body of work. Some pretty good film credits.
HR: Which ones are you especially fond of?
MC: One that comes to mind is “The Real Blond,” Tom DiCillo’s movie with an all-star cast in which I had the best part. “Empire Records” with Renee Zellweger and Liv Tyler has also gone on to become a bit of a cult favorite, and even a couple of my more obscure straight to cable films…
HR: Like our project, “Midnight Witness”.
MC: Well indeed, “Midnight Witness.” A wonderful little movie. Very under estimated. Produced by Menahem Golan and directed by your good self, with the wonderful Jan-Michael Vincent. What a true Hollywood legend.
HR: I agree.
MC: The movies that I am thinking of tended to be shot in Eastern Europe for not a great deal of money. One of them that I was in, “Dragon Storm,” went on to become Sci-Fi’s Channel’s biggest hit at the time. That was a whole lot of fun.
HR: You had tremendous early success with your films as well as your work on stage. Would you say that was a good thing?
MC: No. It was definitely misleading in so far as it set up one’s expectation level to inappropriate heights. While I was considering what my next film at Paramount would be under my three picture contract, they were rush releasing “Grease 2” to a less that stellar opening weekend and my contract suddenly went up in smoke, rather like a James Bond directive.
HR: Ouch. That must’ve hurt.
MC: It did, but I managed to work my way back into the game, specifically with a TV show, ironically again at Paramount, called “The Colbys” which was the spin off of “Dynasty,” but in all honesty, appearing in the sequels to big monster hits is not always the savviest move, particularly if the sequel under performs.
HR: So is there one favorite character you’ve portrayed?
MC: On film?
MC: ‘Cause some of the best roles I’ve gotten to play have been on stage, but on film, there is one project I did that unfortunately didn’t get a theatrical release, even though it was getting a very excited response. It was “The Boys Next Door” with the young Charlie Sheen who just had bud-horns coming out of the top of his head at that point.
HR: What happened?
MC: The production company, New World Pictures, went under at the worst possible moment, so the film ended up, like a lot of my flicks, moving into that cult arena and that doesn’t ultimately serve you too brilliantly in terms of the jockey stakes of movie stardom. But that was a part where I really got to lose myself in the role, because that is what you are ultimately trying to do. Get immersed in the part so that where you leave off and where the part takes over is almost invisible. Considering that I was playing a homicidal maniac it doesn’t speak too highly of my character.
HR: So what advice would you have to the 22 year old Maxwell Caulfield who has just finished starring in “Grease 2?”
MC: (laughs) Don’t believe your own hype is top of the list. Definitely start shooting your second film before the first one comes out. Get out there as quickly as you can to display your versatility. Hollywood is inclined to consign you to a category and it’s up to you to make sure the box is as big as possible so that you can stretch. To quote Noel Coward, it’s imperative to come out of a different hole every time.
HR: And you did with “Boys Next Door.”
MC: Yeah, but it was about a year and a half after being left out in the cold by Paramount. I was actually hopping mad and used that film as an opportunity to vent. I did get to work with the wonderful and brilliant Penelope Spheeris on that one. In fact on “Midnight Witness” you caught me at a pretty opportune time in terms of using a role as an outlet for my own pent up emotions. I loved playing that guy in your film. That psycho cop, “Garland.”
HR: Your movie star status got that film financed.
HR: You could’ve hit Menahem up for…
MC: Another five grand? (laughs) Hey, God love him. He put a lot of us to work.
HR: You’re of course married to the beautiful and talented Juliet Mills, sister of Hayley Mills, daughter of Sir John Mills, who are part of an acting dynasty in the U.K. What was it like for you, coming from humble beginnings to suddenly find yourself in the midst of British theater and film royalty? And did your father-in-law give you any career advice?
MC: My father-in-law, the late, great Sir John Mills, chose to let me make my errors. He did counsel me on occasion but I really should have towed the line a bit more. I was very enamored of the antics of James Dean and similar rebel heroes of the mid to late fifties who kind of got away with murder on the basis of their talent and their indispensability. Since then the business has become more corporate as it transitioned into the eighties and nineties. There was no room for antics or acting out. I’m not suggesting that I was particularly unprofessional, but Sir John was the height of professionalism and it would have suited me to try and be a consummate pro like he was.
HR: So you’re saying you were you a bad boy in your early days?
MC: It’s not like I was throwing tantrums on the set. I’m talking about those things that show that you are a thoroughly prepared pro who goes along with the flow. That said, I doubt there are many people who you could talk to in the past two decades who would say that I wasn’t a team player, but at that outset, when I first started out, I admit I was looking for the teen rebel mantle.
HR: And why not? You were barely out of your teens yourself.
HR: And that’s when you met your wife, Juliet.
MC: Yes, Juliet and I met in New York for the first tour of the play, “The Elephant Man” after it had won the Tony Award. We did a prestigious winter tour of Florida in 1980. I was playing the title role and she was playing the Victorian actress, Mrs. Kendal, and frankly, it really, truly was love at first sight. Kind of a beauty and the beast story.
HR: Were you aware of her work?
MC: Yes. I was a fan of hers back in England. I was very aware of Juliet and her family, but it was the woman I was attracted to, it wasn’t just her beauty and her fame and indeed her money at the time. We quickly blew through that, by the way–but she was a spectacular woman, and she has made big sacrifices in her own career in support of mine. That’s one of the reason’s I’m so determined to finally come good.
HR: So what have been some of your favorite on stage experiences?
MC: I’d say on top of the list is obviously “The Elephant Man” because of the great bonus of meeting the woman of my dreams, and “John Merrick” is a marvelous role. A gift for an actor. More recently “Billy Flynn” in “Chicago.” I mean that was crazy. You spend the show sliding around in a tuxedo with six-foot tall beauties in black lingerie cooing over you, so that was a fantastic role. I got to do it in London and then a very brief run on Broadway. “An Inspector Calls” on Broadway was a lot of fun. Did that for 6 months. I also toured in a wonderful play called, “Sleuth” with Stacy Keach.
HR: You’ve actually had a really well-rounded career compared to a lot of actors. Films, Broadway, television. What do you think it takes for an actor to make it in today’s market? ‘Cause things are very different from twenty years ago.
MC: It was definitely a smaller industry then.
HR: You saw the tail end of the star system.
MC: Yeah, I really did. When I was cast in “Grease 2” I got my break from a genuine, bone-fide star maker, Alan Carr who helped make Ann Margaret a household name. He was from that school of producers who believed that you cultivate an actor. He said that Michelle (Pfeiffer) and I were going to become the next Ann Margaret and Elvis Presley.
HR: That must do something to your ego.
MC: Yeah. I think that when you’re young and you are trying to figure out who you are, you try to create an image that you can, (a) live with and (b) you hope will be alluring, particularly if you’re looking to enter this profession. Anything that is going to give you a high level of self-confidence, ‘cause it’s a big factor in this game. It’s not only believing in your path but also being very self confident which makes you more or less irresistible to men and women alike. So for a younger actor, you not only have to have tremendous faith in your abilities but you also have to hone your craft. You can’t just be lazy about it. I think that’s critical.
HR: That’s good advice.
MC: I would also add that comedy is king in this town so if you can combine both worlds then you’re really styling, which is why the theater always had such appeal to me.
HR: So what’s next for Maxwell Caulfield? After this play?
MC: I’m not counting on good old Tinseltown. It’s been a bit of a jockey stakes for too long now so I’m going to hedge my bets. Besides a sitcom pilot we’ve developed Juliet and I are combing through scripts at the moment, trying to find a good vehicle for ourselves. I’m itching to work with her again.
HR: Film or theater?
MC: Theater. If it’s got film potential and we enjoy success with it, in other words if audiences are touched by the story or amused, or it actually hasn’t been made into a film already, then what we might do is take it either to London or Australia first and then who knows. Maybe bring it to New York. It’s so incumbent on you now to generate your own work.
HR: If you could pick three people in Hollywood to sit down with and say, look I started a great career thirty years ago and I’m actually much better now than I was then, who might those three people be? Who would “get you” right now?
MC: The director I’ve always wanted to work with, but he seems to have just disappeared off the face of the earth, is Alan Parker but funnily the first person who comes to mind is Sean Penn because he’s an actor director and obviously a contemporary of mine. There’s a producer I like a lot. A guy called Laurence Mark who I had a very funny early encounter with at Paramount. He is shooting a film right now called “Last Vegas” with Robert De Niro and he produced “Julie & Julia,” “As Good as it Gets” and “Jerry Maguire.” I wouldn’t mind getting a break from him. I would love to re-team with Tom DiCillo who made the “Real Blond.” He’s kind of an auteur director and that has been slightly to the detriment of his own career because he’s probably passed on a lot of very good commercial opportunities. I think when a director wants to work with you again, that’s the greatest compliment, and so it would have to be Penelope Spheeris, Tom DiCillo and Peter Foldy.
HR: Aw, thank you.
MC: It’s true!
HR: So which three actors you haven’t been in films with would you like to work with?
MC: There are so many. I think I wouldn’t mind going toe to toe with Cate Blanchette. I hear she’s a firebrand. I wouldn’t mind being involved in scenes with Philip Seymour Hoffman and… Tom Cruise. I think Tom is quite an enigmatic fellow.
HR: Good choices.
MC: Oh, and in the veteran acting department it would be a lesson I’m sure to work with Michael Caine.
HR: I’ll leave you with one last question. Describe what would be your favorite L.A. weekend.
MC: I think it’s always great to catch an open-air concert. A rock and roll weekend is always fun. Juliet and I also love going to the racetrack. It’s wonderful to bump into the same old characters. Mel Brooks, Dick Van Patten. They’re just terrific guys. I’m a mad keen swimmer as you know so any chance to get into the ocean. I prefer frankly Zuma Beach over Santa Monica bay, just in terms of the water cleanliness. And obviously good food. My wife is an awesome cook.
HR: That’s great, Maxwell. Thanks for chatting.
MC: It’s been a real pleasure, Pete.
Catch Maxwell Caulfield in “Euripides’ Helen” playing Thursday through Saturday at the Getty Villa, closing September 29, 2012. Showtime is 8:00 p.m. Tickets and further information is available by calling (310) 440-7300 or clicking HERE
Photos by:Peter Foldy