A little more than luck colors Clive Revill's career

November 13, 1991|By Winifred Walsh | Winifred Walsh,Evening Sun Staff

To British actor Clive Revill, the role of Alfred Doolittle in Lerner and Lowe's perennial musical "My Fair Lady" is "all meat and no potatoes."

The stage classic relates how Eliza Doolittle, a lowly Cockney flower girl, is transformed into a grand lady by noted speech specialist Henry Higgins.

As Eliza's scroungy father, Revill bounces over the stage like a rubber ball doing hilarious double takes and a lot of shtick.

"When Alfie is on he is really on," observed the actor during an interview in his downtown hotel suite recently. "He has two of the biggest numbers in the show . . . 'With a Little Bit of Luck' and 'Get Me to the Church on Time.' "

Grinning, he added, "He is an outrageous man but he has certain principles. And he has one of the worst jobs in the world . . . a dustman. No plastic bags then.

"He is part of the undeserving poor up against middle class morality, which finally does him in."

Revill is appearing with acclaimed English actor Sir John Neville and Christine Andreas in the musical based on George Bernard Shaw's venerable "Pygmalion" at the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre through Nov. 24. Baltimore is the last leg of the 21-week, DTC cross-country tour.

Revill is the veteran of 29 films, including the cult classic "The Legend of Hell House" and "Avanti," and numerous television and stage shows. His friendly countenance is so familiar that people come up to him and say 'I know you. You are . . ."

"They do that," Revill said, laughing. "I say 'I am Clive Revill' and they say 'That's right. That's who you are.' "

Of moderate height, with reddish hair, a ruddy complexion and bright blue, merry eyes, Revill has a keen sense of humor yet he is very serious about his craft. A natural storyteller he enjoys relating colorful tales of his many theater and film experiences.

One of his favorite stories concerns the mystery film "Bunny Lake Is Missing," which he made for Otto Preminger. "Laurence Olivier was the detective, and I played his sergeant standing around looking meaningful," he said, laughing.

"In a scene shot late at night, Larry confronted Noel Coward who was one of the suspects. But their shoes were making too much noise on the floor so someone had the bright idea of putting rag mops on their feet. As they shuffled around, they suddenly broke into screaming laughter.

"Otto with his bald head kept hissing 'Vat iss da mattah!' It turned out the two had worked together years ago when the then brilliant young playwright took his then young, brilliant, virile leading man to task at the Old Vic. This silly predicament is what they had come to after taking themselves so seriously."

Born in New Zealand, Revill came to London in 1950 on a scholarship and studied at the renowned Old Vic Theatre School.

"It was very intense, classic and unique," he said. "We took classes in everything -- theater architecture, costume design, classical movement, voice -- and studied the various period plays -- Elizabethan, Restoration and Naturalism.

"We worked with masks. The most vulnerable part of the human body is the face, you know. Cover up the face and that is power. The eyes can do almost anything. They are the mirror of the soul."

Revill's first job was on Broadway in "Mr. Pickwick" but he soon returned to England to tour the provences with a repertory company. "Rep took me to the trenches," he said. "I was so idealistic, full of high-flown, unformed ideas. I played everything from leads to walk-ons."

The actor spent two years at Stratford-upon-Avon theater performing Shakespearean roles. "I played the jester to John Gielgud's Prospero in 'The Tempest,'" he said. "Gielgud had a wicked sense of humor."

Revill was recruited by Peter Brook for the narrator/barman in the musical "Irma La Douce" and received a Tony nomination. Later, he was nominated again for his portrayal on Broadway of the devious Fagin in "Oliver."

"I originated the role of Marat in 'Marat Sade'," he said, "directed by Peter Brook for the Royal Shakespeare Company. It is about the inmates of an asylum who put on a play by the Marquis de Sade. It was heavy. I played opposite Glenda Jackson who is supposed to murder me in the bathtub.

"The concentration was so intense I was certain Glenda was actually going to stick her knife in me," he said, laughing.

Revill toured in "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" the summer of 1988. "I had to learn the part of The Chairman fast after George Rose was murdered," he said. "I was stuck together with spit and string. I never want to do that again."

As for the future, he takes that as it comes. "I consider myself a journeyman," he said. "I can play anything. I carefully plan out each nail on the stage but the trick is to make the role you are playing look spontaneous."

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