Daily Mail, Tuesday, March 10, 1992

I can never get rid of UNCLE

Cab drivers are always saying: 'Hey Dave, you got a portrait in the attic or what?  I do look young for 58, but it's from the neck up.'

If anything, my mother's genes have allowed me to grow old more gracefully than many of my contemporaries. That and taking a positive attitude in everything.  I doubt if it's anything to do with diet, though I try to eat raw broccoli, parsley and brown bread as often as possible.

But handsome? Oh no.  I'm partially blind in the right eye, so my had tilts to one side and I have a lop-sided walk.  I can also turn on double vision at will, which gives me a crazy look and comes in useful for playing mad scientists.  My nose is crooked because I bust it once playing rugger, and that increases the decibel-level of my snoring.

I think my hair looks a bit silly, though in an odd way it's become a kind of trademark.  If I weren't an actor, I'd have it Marine Corps length.  Sadly, there aren't too many parts for Scottish actors playing middle-aged Marines.

David McCallum, who plays the police chief in the new film Hear My Song, talks to Corinna Honon

If you look at the roles I've played over the years, you'll find most of them have been weirdoes or vague eccentrics.  Extra terrestrials, Russian spies working with Americans, even an invisible man.  There's an oddness about them all, and I think that's because, physically, I'm not normal.  I don't fit into any ordinary, everyday stereotype.  Perhaps my whole career is based on the fact I'm a freak...

I'm not aware of an image. People say I have an absent-minded-professor manner, a vagueness.  But even if I put on a hat and dark glasses and turn my collar up, someone will still say: 'Didn't you used to be Illya Kuryakin?'

Man from UNCLE stamped me with an indelible profile.  At first I wasn't aware of the image we were creating.  I'd go to MGM studios at 6:30 am and work there till 8:30 at night, concentrating on the work in hand.

But at the same time, the studio was doing it's job, sensationalising everything we did.  Seventy-five per cent of my interviews were written by MGM's publicity department.  I made it a rule never to have a journalist in my house, so instead, we'd go down to the local marina, borrow a yacht and do the interview there.  I'd get letters admiring my 60ft yacht. So many lies, but they worked.  Ratings are the life blood of any American series, so publicity becomes a necessary part of the job.

As time went on, I became aware most people only saw me as Kuryakin.  And then I came frightened about losing my privacy.  Once, I was at home and heard a strange rattling outside. I looked out to see a female going through my dustbins.  When challenged, she innocently replied: 'Oh, don't worry, I'm just trying to find a few souvenirs.'  I told her to leave and I wasn't that polite about it.  You couldn't help feeling a bit paranoid.

The worst thing for me about the whole Sixties frenzy surrounding Man From UNCLE was that I was robbed of my ability to go out and take photographs. I've always been a bit of a voyeur, always loved watching people on buses, in shops, in the park.  Ironic, isn't it?  The goal was to try to capture what the great photographer Cartier-Bresson used to call the 'le moment decisif' -- the instant that summed it all up.  But to do it, you had to be totally anonymous.  Now I'm always recognized.

My Favorite Picture
Some of my children live in LA, some in New York, so to get them together is rare. This picture was taken in 1971, long before my son Jason died (from a drug overdose in 1989), at a time when everybody was very happy.  From top left, clockwise: Val, Paul, Jason (from David's first marriage to actress Jill Ireland), myself, Peter, Katherine and baby Sophie.

The hero worship never went to my head.  I'm a realist, a pretty fundamental kind of guy.  There are too many times in my life when the name has been up in lights, the hype has been about how wonderful and successful a particular venture is -- then you spend the next six months out of work.

The hype was never so intense as when I was out promoting UNCLE.  At Louisiana State University, I was mobbed by 3,000 people.  The police had to push me into the ladies room for my own protection.  Phew.  But then the girls started pouring in through the windows.  They kept coming and coming, like ants when you disturb the nest.  I was pushing at the door but the police wouldn't open it.  I lost a lot of hair, and I got my tie off just in time to avoid being strangled.

Self-preservation came into gear.  I had to get the attention of the guys outside, so I grabbed a girl and forcibly pushed her ahead of me through the door. Yes, I was scared.  Terrified.  And I'd only been trapped maybe a minute.

How did I rationalize what was happening?  The answer is you don't.  Don't forget this was the Sixties when things were breaking loose.  In some ways it was all wildly exhilarating.  But the sex symbol thing was a joke.  My Scottish aunts would smile and say: 'Och, it's all so silly.'  It made me giggle.

I've never been an actor in the conventional sense. Anthony Hopkins once said he'd never been able to take this business seriously and I know exactly what he means.  So many actors can't do anything but act.  They have to get together constantly and talk -- usually about actors and acting.  I've never been very good at that, so I don't have too many friends who are actors.  In fact, I'd infinitely prefer to talk about the American presidential campaign than about how so-and-so was absolutely fab in whatever.

My emphasis has always been on the education of David, the person, not the actor.  If someone offers me a job in a country or town I haven't seen, I'm likely to accept just because I'm curious about the place.  The script becomes secondary.

Frankly, I have little idea how people see me.  The only time I get to see myself, a Goethean version, is when I watch an old movie of mine.  Once, at my mother's cottage in Arundel, we watched Robbery Under Arms, which was made in 1956.  After two hours of watching myself on the TV screen, I suddenly saw my face framed in the mirror.  Thirty years went 'snap'.  Fascinating.  Like seeing the portrait fall off the wall.

As a child I was a total loner.  My father was an eminent violinist who traveled a great deal and was by necessity, very self-centred.  My mother took care of the home and believed people should get on and do their own thing.  I could be perfectly happy on my own no matter where I was.  This, if you want to get analytical, produced a shyness of horrendous proportions, which is the reason I'm an actor.  If your world isn't comfortable, you create a safe place, a world of the imagination.  When I discovered the stage, I realised that by playing other people I could create an identity for myself.

I was very self-conscious, still am.  Never the tough athletic type, though I wanted to be.  As a child I was so thin as to be almost emaciated.  Now I'm probably five pounds heavier than I should be and I know I should spend more time working out.

Sensual pleasures are an essential part of my life.  Eating, sleeping, listening to music, touching, loving and anything visual.  My sense have to be indulged.  As a philosophy, it doesn't sit easily with my Scottish Calvinist upbringing.  But then neither do sun-dried tomatoes, virgin olive oil, freshly baked Italian bread and Women's Hour, all of which I've grown to love.

I'm an idealist.  I know life is doing it's best to turn me into a cynic as I grow older and my body falls to pieces, but I intend to put up a good fight.  Mercifully, I am married to a women who shares this shiny outlook.  I first saw Katherine's picture of the cover of Glamour magazine; this extraordinary face, eyes, dark hair.  An exquisite creature.  These things are chemical, visceral.

We finally met when my co-star Bob Vaughn and I did a series of pictures for Glamour.  There were two girls there.  One was Katherine, who was sitting in make-up doing her eyebrows.  I thought, 'I've seen that face before somewhere.'  After looking around for a setting, I said: 'Why don't we use the elevator? I'll slide down he ropes and we'll put her up on the doors.'  I slid down three floors on the elevator wire while she posed above in a wedding dress.  How romantic can you get?

(Click here for the Glamour shoot described by David)

But she lived in New York and I was working in L.A.  We corresponded for almost a year before we came together.  It's now 25 years since we married and we still have an extraordinary romantic relationship.  At home, we're all for ritual, for the whole family sitting down to a meal with candles at a well-dressed table.  I'll do all the cooking while Katherine makes things beautiful.  She does that better than anyone.

I often think I'd love to see the world from a feminine perspective. To find out if women really are smarter than we are.  If I could do it all over again, I'd probably choose to be a woman, probably my 21-year-old daughter Sophie.  Very Freudian, isn't it?