A Few Of Michael York's Star-Studded Memories The classically-trained British actor Michael York has had a dazzling film, stage and television career, from Shakespeare to Austin Powers to The Simpsons. Guest host Jacki Lyden speaks with York about his long and distinguished acting career.
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A Few Of Michael York's Star-Studded Memories

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A Few Of Michael York's Star-Studded Memories

A Few Of Michael York's Star-Studded Memories

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The classically trained British actor Michael York has had a dazzling film, stage and television career, from Shakespeare to "Austin Powers," from "Logan's Run" to "The Simpsons." He's appeared in 100 films, including an iconic role that shocked moviegoers in 1973, when he played the bisexual scholar Brian Roberts opposite Liza Minnelli in Bob Fosse's "Cabaret."


M: (as Sally Bowles) Well, do you sleep with girls or don't you?

M: (as Brian Roberts) Sally, you don't ask questions like that.

M: (as Sally Bowles) I do.

M: (as Brian Roberts) All right, if you insist. I do not sleep with girls. Oh, no. No. No, let me be absolutely accurate. I've gone through the motions of sleeping with girls exactly three times - all of them disastrous. The word for my sex life now is nil. Or, as you Americans would say, plenty of nuthin'.

LYDEN: Michael York, I am simply delighted to be speaking with you.

M: Hello, Jacki. I am delighted to be with you, too.

LYDEN: You were born in Fulmer, Buckinghamshire, in England. And that was, I believe, back in the early '40s. And as a teen, you performed with the Youth Theatre in England, and then you were a student at Oxford. I mean, that's an impeccable education. I'm wondering how it has informed your long career.

M: And at Oxford, too, which is a sort of unofficial drama school. In fact, half of my contemporaries were half of the Monty Pythons - Michael Palin and Eric Idle.

LYDEN: Your film debut came after a stint with the National Theatre in 1967. You went to Italy to make Franco Zeffirelli's film version of the Shakespeare play "Taming of the Shrew." I would love it if you would take me back to that time. You're a young actor. You're going to audition for your first serious film role. And the stars of the film are none other than Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. That just had to be a formidable moment.

M: Well, indeed it was. And I shall be eternally grateful to them both, the Burtons for - because they were producers on the film - that they gave my casting the thumbs-up. And there I was, in Rome, as a sort of movie actor. But you know, I'd never seen a film made, and I was in the first shot of the day so - which had its advantage. You know, I wasn't hanging around getting nervous, waiting to go on.


M: I was just suddenly on, shoved into this costume, shoved up on a horse - and action, we were off.


M: It was a glorious experience to make. It's a, you know, it's a very colorful film. It was Shakespeare and very, very exciting working with the Burtons. In a way, they were the gods - people forget. You know, forget Brangelina. They bestrode the world like these twin colossi - these, you know, superstars.


M: They had these dressing rooms with dazzling white carpets. And there butlers and maids. And it was all very unreal.


LYDEN: Did either of them take notice of you? Did they ever give you any advice? Did you exchange a few words?

M: Yes, we did. I mean, they were very kind. The nicest thing they did was, you know, just that sense of approval. You know, and certainly with Burton, who'd been at Oxford. And it was a wonderful way to begin. What can I say?

LYDEN: As an actor during your career, were you thinking about what we might call legacy? Or were you simply having fun? I'm wondering if there was a personal path you were exploring.

M: You know, the great thing about movies - you can leave them behind. And they either, you know, continue to find favor or they, you know, fall by the wayside. You can't hope to do, you know, significant work every time around.

LYDEN: And speaking of not everything being serious, along comes Mike Myers' series - turns out is a series - "Austin Powers, International Man of Mystery." You play the Q character, Basil Exposition.


M: (as Basil Exposition) Dr. Evil has escaped. The good news is that one of our agents has managed to infiltrate Dr. Evil's organization.

M: (as Austin Powers) Excellent, Basil, we have been trying for years to get a mole inside Dr. Evil's lair. And we now have that mole.

M: (as Basil Exposition) Yes.

LYDEN: Did you enjoy playing the Basil Exposition in the "Austin Powers" movies?

M: You know, I did. Who knew that this would turn into what it did? All you have to go on is instinct. But I thought there was something there. And, you know, I got this censure: How can you, who - an actor who plays Shakespeare, you know, indulge in this campy send-up? And I said, oh, Shakespeare would have adored it. He had a filthier mind that Austin Powers.


M: So I keep hearing rumors about a, you know, fourth one. So we shall see.


LYDEN: No doubt Shakespeare would've considered it very shagadelic.


LYDEN: You've embraced every medium of the actor, it would seem, except mime. And I'm not sure if mime counts as acting.

M: No, I'm saving that up.


M: The great thing about this job is that there's no cutoff point. You don't get to a certain point and they say, all right, thank you very much - that's enough, here's your gold watch; go and retire. As long as you have your wits and your health, you can keep on doing it. And you know, yes, the doors close on the (foreign language spoken) parts. But then they open up on the older guys, the grandfathers and the fathers - which is, you know, the sort of situation I'm in now. So there's always something to look forward to, which is very exciting.

LYDEN: Yeah. You know, Michael York, I did have - I will confess - the very great pleasure of meeting you and your wife recently. And I have to say my observation - I have two observations. One, that you have an inexhaustible appetite for life and performance. And the other is that you are a true gentleman, at a time when that seems a bit of a lost art in our modern culture. And I thought, is it because he's so thoroughly British?


M: Jacki, I am lost for words. You're too generous. But remember, I'm an actor. I could be faking it all.


M: But it's sweet of you to say so. But you know, one was raised - I forget, I keep forgetting how old I am. I was raised in a certain generation, which is, you know, of the generation we have now. But change is good. I embrace it and welcome it.

LYDEN: Michael York, thank you.

M: I've enjoyed it very much.

LYDEN: Actor Michael York. And here's what he's up to - stand back - in Chicago next month with Andre Watts at the Ravinia Festival; out in a new film with Rutger Hauer and Charlotte Rampling, it's called "The Mill and the Cross"; in December, a TV appearance with - get ready for it - the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.


LYDEN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden.

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