Ides of McCallum
Man from 'U.N.C.L.E.'
plays 'Caesar' in the park

Daily News Feature Writer

Know what David McCallum has to look forward to tomorrow night?

Being murdered in Central Park, that's what.

In fact, since he has the title role in Shakespeare in the Park's production of "Julius Caesar," he'll be stabbed to death by a bunch of Roman senators six times a week.

David McCallum is set to play the title character of Shakespeare's 'Julius Caesar.'

He says he's looking forward to it. After all, once the foul deed is done, he lies in state for most of the rest of the play and gets to hear himself eulogized. What could be bad?

The slightly built McCallum, 66, is probably planted in everyone's mind as the ash-blond, Russian-born superspy Illya Kuryakin in the late-'60s spoofy espionage series "The Man From U.N.C.L.E."

"I still get 'Illya-d' at least once a day," he says.

A classically trained actor who can rattle off Shakespearean verse as easily as kids sing "Farmer in the Dell," McCallum seemed a bit embarrassed the other day during rehearsals when asked for the last Shakespearean play he had done.

"I don't know. It was so long ago," he said, looking sheepish. "'A Midsummer Night's Dream,' maybe. Or 'The Tempest.' I did a lot of Shakespeare in repertory theaters all over England.

"Actually, I'm an actor because of him. I was 8 or 9 when I played the young king in 'King John,' and when the play was over, everybody in the audience stood up and yelled. It all seemed so wonderful. I was so pleased, I thought, why go to school? Why do anything else? This is great! So I didn't do anything else. And still haven't," he says with a smile.

He's looking forward to his role as Caesar. "There's a great sense of decay about the play," he says, "and I want to put that into Caesar. Rome was falling apart at the time, and he was about 56 years old then — in today's time, he'd probably be more like 96. He's epileptic, somewhat deaf and senile. All the ingredients are there to make this role very exciting."

The politically conservative McCallum has been living here for nearly 40 years, having left England because he felt it "sort of was leaning to the left. I'd like to see the days again when everybody knew that when you'd buy something made in England, it was absolutely the best."

His father was concertmaster and sometime conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. At first, young David thought he'd follow in his father's footsteps by entering the Royal Academy of Music. He was going to study the oboe, but then enrolled in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He was soon signed by the Rank Organisation, one of the leading film producers in England at the time.

His first American movie was "Freud" (1962), directed by John Houston and starring Montgomery Clift and Susannah York. But despite its U.S. roots, "Freud" was filmed in England. So the Scottish-born McCallum's first movie filmed in the States was "The Greatest Story Ever Told" (1965), in which he played Judas.

When he told his mother about the film, she was not happy. "She said, 'All your life you've been playing villains and people who get killed. Now you're going to America, and for what? To be Judas, the greatest villain known to man.'

"I did it anyway," he says, dropping his eyes.

McCallum keeps trim by bicycling. He's already done the Boston to New York AIDS Ride and is looking forward to entering it again this fall. But that may have to be postponed until another year: When he finishes his role as Caesar, he's off to England to appear in a BBC film, "Victoria and Albert." He'll play Sir Robert Peel, a British prime minister.

He sounds as if he'd rather just stay put. "I'm happy to stay home," he says. "I don't have to put any more children through college."

None of his four kids seem particularly interested in following their dad into the acting biz. And McCallum isn't surprised.

"They've all seen what it's like," he says.

Original Publication Date: 8/7/00
New York Daily News