How the charming Maxwell Caulfield slipped up on Grease 2

Maxwell Caulfield
Maxwell Caulfield
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Remember Miles Colby from Dynasty? Well the hair may be a little greyer, the forehead a touch wrinkled, but Sarah Freeman is pleased to report that Maxwell Caulfield has lost none of his charm.

The voice on the other end of the phone belongs to Maxwell Caulfield, who for women of a certain age will always be Miles Colby from Dynasty. “This is Max. Good morning Yorkshire, how are you doing?” That’s it. I’m gone.

He’s aged of course. I’ve seen photos. He’s also gone and got a moustache to play JR Simpson in a new stage production of Singin’ in the Rain. But the voice is just as it was when he was the posh totty with a British accent and a bad attitude alongside the rest of the Carringtons and the Colbys.

Thankfully he can’t see me blush. When we speak he’s in Glasgow getting ready for another performance of what has been something of an epic tour. During the current run at Bradford’s Alhambra, the cast will pass their 200th performance and Caulfield, now 54, admits he’s ready for a break.

“Let’s just say I can definitely see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s been a long run, but a good run. I don’t have the physical challenge of being in any of the really big song and dance numbers, but when you’re doing this amount of performances, the real challenge is to keep it fresh.

“With Singin’ in the Rain there are so many great numbers that it gives us a head start and you know what, it seems to have been a tonic for all concerned.

“The other night from my dressing room I could hear the audience leave the theatre and they were chattering away. I got changed and went to meet my wife who had been at the cinema nearby. I watched people leave the screening and it was amazing how muted the response was.

“To me theatre is a collective experience, whereas cinema tends to be more solitary.

“I certainly tend to remember live performances far better than anything I see on film.”

Caulfield mentions his wife – fellow actor Juliet Mills – a lot. The couple met when they were both starring in The Elephant Man back in 1980. He was 21, she was the 39-year-old daughter of Sir John Mills and part of British acting. Many reckoned it would never last.

“She’s here right now and has just passed me a cup of tea,” he says, unwittingly stamping on any remnants of a childhood crush. “Of everything I have ever done, I consider my relationship with Juliet my greatest achievement. It has endured when so many haven’t and I owe her everything. She has sacrificed a lot to allow me to have my career.”

Caulfield’s CV is probably best described as eclectic. There’s the odd blockbuster like Gettysburg, leading roles in a number of musicals from Chicago to The Rocky Horror Picture Show and a smattering of more serious fare like Joe Orton’s Entertaining Mr Sloane and a stage version of Milton’s Paradise Lost. He also did a spell on Emmerdale, playing Mark Wylde, the bigamist owner of Home Farm who was unceremoniously shot dead by his first wife.

“I loved Emmerdale, loved it. You know, I go where the work is and things have worked out pretty well.”

It’s a fair assessment, but it’s not quite the career many thought he’d have. Wind back 30 years and Caulfield seemed destined for the A list. He’d been cast opposite Michelle Pfeiffer in Grease 2 and had a three picture deal. Caulfield was big news, right up until the film flopped.

“I learnt a pretty harsh lesson early on. After Grease 2, the films I’d been promised never materialised. Look, it’s a business. You have to put the ball in the back of the net. If you don’t, they get someone else who will.

“Michelle was smart. Right afterwards she did Scarface with Al Pacino. That showed that she had range, that she was versatile. Me? Well, I was stuck for a while with a reputation as a bubblegum actor.”

It’s true that while Dynasty might have earned him a legion of fans, it might not have been the smartest of choices for someone seeking longevity in the acting business. However, Caulfield isn’t one for bitterness.

“I’ve been around the block a few times, so there’s enough work on the CV to make it look like I’ve never struggled or wondered whether I should give this game up and do something else. But you know what, there’s been lots of times in the last 30 years when I’ve thought ‘I’ll never get another job’ and when I’ve wondered what else I could do. There was one point where I was considering working for a Jaguar dealership out in the US. They said they wanted an ambassador, but really all they wanted was a salesman with a British accent.”

Caulfield says he was first bitten by the acting bug while at school. While born in Derbyshire he was educated privately at St Paul’s in London and, at the all-boys school, drama was the one thing which gave him access to the opposite sex.

“I got very lucky. I knew I wanted to excel at something and around that time they decided to put on a production of The Boyfriend. They drafted in some girls from one of the nearby schools which was a bit of a bonus. Initially I was partnered with the prettiest girl there was, but when it came to the final cast I ended with the most homely looking girl. It was an early taste of the unpredictable machinations of the acting business.”

While he may still be best known for his early appearances on the small and big screen – the Grease 2 fan club is very much alive and well – it’s on stage where he has not only been more successful, but also happiest.

“Broadway is a clique. You almost need to be a card-carrying member of the place just to get the smallest part, but I’ve found an audience away from there. When you’re in a big Broadway show there’s so much pressure and so much is out of your control.

“Social media has had a major influence. You can still be in previews, tweaking and polishing a show, but the luxury of time to perfect anything has gone. If people start tweeting bad reviews the money men get nervous and the plug can be pulled before you’re even up and running.”

Caulfield was a bit of a latecomer to Twitter, but he was persuaded by the man behind the Grease 2 fanclub that it might help raise his profile.

“Because I do a lot of theatre there is a danger that people think I’ve disappeared and am off somewhere making independent films that never make it past the festival circuit. So, yes, I’ve joined Twitter, it means I can let people know what I’m up to, but I haven’t yet got a handle on whether I should reply to complete strangers or not.”

He may have a few wrinkles these days and the moustache, which he says will be coming off as soon as the curtain comes down on the final performance of Singin’ in the Rain, may be tinged with grey, but Caulfield seems a man at ease with himself.

“I’ve never been one to chase celebrity, I just try to do the best work I can. It doesn’t always work and I’ve had my share of bad reviews, the worst was when I was in a production of Gilbert and Sullivan. I’ll never forget it, it said: ‘Maxwell Caulfieldcouldn’t carry a tune in the back of a pickup truck’. It was a good line, which is why I remember it, but a little unfair.”

The reviews of Singin’ in the Rain have been a good deal kinder. He has, he says, had a ball playing Simpson, the studio boss forced to ditch his squeaky-voiced silent screen star as he adapts to the arrival of the talkies, and when the gallons of water flood the stage for the title number, Caulfield doesn’t hold back.

Like much of his career, it’s all good, entertaining stuff, but he admits that occasionally, just occasionally he hankers for a role with a little more meat.

“The only regret is that maybe I neglected my brain a little. When Ken Branagh started doing Shakespeare on film I remember wishing then that I’d had more experience of the classics. I think it strengthens your pedigree.

“Maybe it’s not too late, as I have been throughout my career, I’m always open to offers.”

Singin’ in the Rain, Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, to September 13. 01274 432000, www.bradfordtheatres.co.uk