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Tv Actor Gets Big Lift, Lands 'Bird' Role On London Stage

April 13, 1985|RODERICK MANN

"This is a great chance for me. I've had good parts on television--and some good reviews--but it always seemed that movie and theater producers just weren't watching."

That's Michael Beck talking, the 36-year-old American actor who this week left for London to start rehearsals with Lauren Bacall for Tennessee Williams' "Sweet Bird of Youth," which Harold Pinter is to direct in the West End. Beck will play Chance Wayne.

For him it's a dream come true. He trained in London at the Central School of Speech and Drama and did two years in repertory there before coming home nine years ago. Since then he's worked mostly in TV, winning good notices for his performances in "Celebrity," "Fly Away Home" and "Rear-View Mirror."

"This will be my first time working in London since 1976," Beck said the other day. "I'm trying not to build my hopes too high, but obviously I'm excited to be doing such a great play and to be working with Harold Pinter, whom I consider to be our greatest living playwright."

When Beck, who lives in Los Angeles, heard they were casting "Sweet Bird of Youth," he paid his own fare to fly to New York to audition for Bacall and Pinter. It proved to be money well spent.

"I'd never met Pinter, but I'd done a couple of his plays in drama school," Beck said, "and luckily I'd done 'Sweet Bird of Youth'--playing Chance Wayne--in my final year there."

Pinter said yes right away. And Beck then asked Bacall if this was a play she had always wanted to do. "No," she told him, "it's not. I'm doing it because I'm so sick of all the trash that's been offered me lately."

This will be Beck's first time back on stage since he left London.

"I've done no theater work at all over here," he said, "just TV and movies ("The Warriors," "Triumph of a Man Called Horse"), so this is very important to me. I've always wanted to work on the West End stage.

"I'm grateful for the chances I've been given in TV here, of course. But I must say it's depressing to realize what little impact you make--unless you're in a series."

SURPRISING: How much longer will people go on being surprised at Ann-Margret as a good actress? For heaven's sake, she got her first Oscar nomination (for "Carnal Knowledge") 14 years ago; her second (for "Tommy") four years later. And she's been turning in fine work ever since.

Yet still some critics confess themselves surprised by her work--the latest being Vincent Canby of the New York Times, who was not only astonished by her performance in "Return of the Soldier" (in which she stars with Alan Bates and Glenda Jackson) but admits that, for a while, he hardly recognized her in the role.

It's meant as a compliment, of course, but she must be weary of it now.

"Return of the Soldier" opens the Houston Film Festival on Friday. The day before there's a tribute to Ann-Margret at the San Francisco Film Festival. And today, here in Beverly Hills, she's being honored as a Woman of Achievement by the Business and Professional Women's Club of Beverly Hills.

No surprise.

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