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Peter O'Toole - Idol Chatter
Peter O'Toole - Idol Chatter

Get set, Mr. O’Toole: After seven nominations and no winswell, except for that honorary one you, famously, didn’t even wantit’s gonna seem positively rude of Oscar to not go home with you for Venus.
You have a great advantage over me—you’ve seen the film. I want to see it with an audience, not in a viewing room, because I believe with all my heart that it’s a grown-up film. Which can offend nobody. (laughs) That’s said with a certain amount of irony, because, as I remember, it was a picture about a dirty old man and a sluttish young woman. Is that what you saw?

Being a dirty young-ish man, no. I saw a rumination on deciphering what the hell one’s life has all meant.
Certainly. And I hope, with the premise that it’s a “dirty old man” and a “sluttish young woman” that it might make anyone who’s had that label put on them—or who dispenses those labels freely—to have a private, quiet little think later on.

Much as in My Favorite Year, it’s hard to see Venus and not read your own, fabled wild man past into your character, Maurice.

Inevitable—that’s part of the business of being an actor. And I’m not unlike him in a generalized sense: We’re both working actors lucky to still be working; we both love the women, and we both love a drop of whiskey. We could get into a little trouble together.

At 74, do you still get into a little trouble?
One could try, but people, inevitably, don’t take it seriously. They might try and help me across the road.

Notell me that an occasional woman still flings herself at you like in What’s New, Pussycat?
I can’t—I won’t—be specific. But nothing has changed. Not for me.

Excellent! Back to the movieswhat did you think when you first saw the ravishing vision that was you in Lawrence of Arabia.
I’d seen myself before—the first time was in a television film. I was watching carefully and saw a young man go to a desk. And I had no idea it was me! It was my first lesson of “What you see isn’t what others see and what you think you see isn’t what you might see and what you see isn’t, necessarily, what is there.”

Then the world’s frenzied response to your Lawrence face must have been a trip. Even Noel Coward famously remarked, “If you’d been any prettier it’d have been “Florence of Arabia.”
Oh, yeah. But you look in the mirror and the face that you see isn’t a face, it’s the meat—it’s whatever the part calls for. It has nothing to do with your face—that’s something you work with. Then, when you see it on film, you don’t know what or who it is. You think, “Oh, Christ!” It takes quite a bit of time to realize that one thing: The face is the meat. And then, vanity, at a certain point, does go.

Tell me it ain’t so.
It has to. The surest way [to accept that] is not going to the pictures. I did, from time to time, but, you know, [Richard] Burton never did. He couldn’t bear the sight of himself. (laughs)

Listen, I’ve read that you’re no big fan of directors. True?
Hang on, where did you get that from? There are few, but I admire good film directors. Of all the people I’ve known, Willy Wyler [for How to Steal a Million], David Lean [Lawrence….], and John Huston [The Bible], the three of them were connoisseurs of acting. Not only that, but they admired it.

And then there was Tinto Brass for the porn-tastical disaster of Caligula.
That was hilarious, a beauty! Don’t forget that John [Guilgud] and me had no idea what was going on. When we joined it was “Gore Vidal’s Caligula” and, suddenly, a new director and pages of script came along. (laughs) Then it was very obvious to me what was going on. John was just looking the other way, because he was surrounded by…..

Hundreds of writhing fornicators. Okay, let’s wrap it: What are three things a real movie star needs?
Endurance, endurance, endurance.

Why do we need movie stars?
Why do we need gods?

What have you learned in this life?
Nothing at all.

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