'There's a misconception that actors are fabulously wealthy'
Showbiz veteran Maxwell Caulfield is back on stage for a UK and Ireland tour. He talks to Julia Molony about his career and his marriage to Juliet Mills
Maxwell Caulfield is perfectly cast to play an old-school movie impresario in Hollywood at the time when silent cinema's golden era gave way to the advent of the talkies.
Here is a man who knows showbiz like a hardened sea dog knows the waves – he's been around for decades, and understands in his bones that the first rule of survival is accepting that you can't change the weather – you've just got to be ready to run when the wind picks up.
He was 18 when, as a kid from Derbyshire, he struck out for the bright lights of New York City. Now 54, he's been in the biz for more than three decades, has been a theatre animal, a soap star and even a Hollywood romantic lead in Grease 2.
Now, he's back on stage touring the UK and Ireland starring as studio boss RF Simpson in Singin' in the Rain, the West End hit based on the original MGM film. The show boasts 12,000 litres of water on stage, a medley of songs, exquisite design and a classic, faithful rendering of one of the world's favourite stories. As musicals go, it's a gem – sumptuous, beautifully directed and a delight for anyone with even a passing interest in the golden age of Hollywood.
It's a world of extreme highs and deep lows – both things that Caulfield knows a thing or two about. He's worked with Charlton Heston, Barbara Stanwyck, Jessica Tandy, many of the "great proponents of their art" but, despite a few brushes with the big time, has himself remained a jobbing actor rather than a global star.
When in 1980 he wed Juliet Mills, he married into British film acting royalty and an established showbiz family. Juliet is 18 years older than him, and was at the time the more experienced star having notched up Golden Globe nominations and an Emmy award.
Of their long and happy marriage, he says "she deserves the vast majority of credit. We had our 30th wedding anniversary. . . I bought her a pendant – it was pearls and some little diamonds in there and some gold and I said, 'That's your medal. You deserve it. You've earned this, woman'."
The couple's home is in Los Angeles, which means they spend long stretches apart while he's back in the UK touring. "She's flying into Belfast. she wouldn't miss the Irish leg," he says. "When you've been together as long as we have, there is a great security that comes with that, in knowing that you're committed.
"And frankly, you appreciate one another more when you are forced apart.
"I'm not shipping out to some battlefield – there's nothing heroic about what I'm doing. But it is very gratifying to be making a pay cheque on a consistent basis because it's not an easy thing to do in Hollywood.
"There's always that misconception that actors are fabulously wealthy," he explains. "The mistake that a lot make is that they do get paid well and they go out and start a lifestyle that they can't then sustain.
"It's a roller coaster ride, when it's good, it's very good – you have to be able to ride out those really fallow periods, keep your overheads down, so that you're not in a state of need – they smell it. When you come through the door . . . They just sense your air of desperation."
With professional life a roller coaster for a couple of showbiz veterans, it seems fortuitous that married life, by comparison, is a walk in the park. He is Mills' third husband and when they married, he formally adopted her daughter Melissa. He and Juliet support each other – his periods of "resting" made easier by the fact that she can "pick up the slack".
Singin' in the Rain comes to the Bord Gais Energy Theatre, Grand Canal Square, Docklands, Dublin 2, from May 20–31. Group bookings 01 677 7770, Ticketmaster dedicated line: 0818 719 377. The Circle Club and Hospitality Bookings: 01 674 2407 www.bordgaisenergytheatre.ie
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