CHAMBERLAIN RETURNS TO 'THORN BIRDS' FOLD.
Who can forget that long-awaited clinch between Meggie and Father Ralph in TV's first edition of the "The Thorn Birds"? Waiting to see what Joan Collins would wear on "Dynasty" or finding who shot J.R. wasn't nearly as suspenseful as anticipating that embrace.
And it was worth the wait.
That 15-year-old miniseries has been shown on television five times and keeps unearthing an audience. So can a sequel be far behind? Nope. Executive producer David Wolper will materialize "The Thorn Birds: The Missing Years" on CBS on Feb. 11 and 13.
Richard Chamberlain will be back as Father Ralph, but Rachel Ward won't be playing the spoiled little Meggie. This time, Amanda Donohoe ("L.A. Law") will take on the role. The "missing years" fills the 15-year gap that was so cavalierly breached in the original miniseries.
When Wolper offered Chamberlain the first six-hour script for "The Missing Years," the actor declined. In fact, Chamberlain refused a second time. By the time they had peeled the show down to four hours and made the changes Chamberlain had suggested, he agreed to star.
Chamberlain, who moved to Hawaii seven years ago, hasn't done much television lately, but did show up on the stage a couple years back in "My Fair Lady."
"I think of myself now as a Hawaiian beach bum who paints and occasionally acts," he said. "I'm not pursuing acting with the same avid ambition that I used to, just because I've found out there are other things in life that are equally interesting."
Those things include "surfing, painting, having dinner with your friends, just living, hanging out, playing with the dogs."
The original "Thorn Birds" was shot in Simi Valley. At the time, there were few crews available in Australia, where the story takes place, said Wolper.
But this time, the miniseries was filmed in Australia - at a considerable savings, too.
Colleen McCullough, author of the sweeping novel on which the miniseries is based, was not pleased with the televised version, Wolper said.
"She never liked the first story and probably will not like the second story. She just didn't like it being turned into a miniseries and never liked it, to tell you the truth."
Chamberlain, who was king of the miniseries for a while there with "Shogun," "Centennial" and "The Thorn Birds," said he recently watched part of "Shogun," the Japan-set saga in which he starred in 1980.
"I was going through a period about a year and a half ago when I was thinking, 'Oh, I'm not a very good actor. I've really sort of wasted my life on this.' And I happened to be at a friend's house and they were showing the whole of 'Shogun,' and I saw several hours of it and I thought, 'Wow. I was pretty good in that.' So it kind of bucked up my spirits. That was a really great one, I think, too."
While he has found other diversions, acting suits his nature, he said. "It's imagination hooked up to an emotional nature. If you're an unemotional person, you're in big trouble as an actor. I'm a pretty emotional person. It doesn't show much, but I guess that's why I like to act - I can show that side of myself."
Chamberlain said he often marvels at stoic businessmen. "I wonder if they ever feel anything, these people who can't allow themselves to show their feelings because it would hinder their negotiating abilities. I wonder what they do when they get home?"
Politicians, too, often mask their feelings, he thinks. "I've watched them lying through their teeth," he said. "I've done it, too, so I recognize it. You have to do commercials for your own work; you have to plug jobs you don't like; you have to say you're mad for directors that you despise; and occasionally you have to do love scenes with actresses you don't care for."
That doesn't happen too often, he said. And sometimes reviling your on-screen inamorata can even help. "I remember on 'Dr. Kildare' there was an actress that I really, really disliked, and it turned out rather well because there was a certain tension. It really got the energy going."
Photo Richard Chamberlain returns as Father Ralph with Amanda Donohoe as lover Megan O'Neal in "The Thorn Birds The Missing Years."