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Focus : License to Change : DALTON PLAYS THE FLIP SIDE OF 007 IN THRILLER ABOUT A MASTER CRIMINAL

September 19, 1993|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Timothy Dalton's limpid green eyes are blazing with emotion.

"Movies are getting more and more simplistic, don't you think?," he asks in his mellifluous voice. "When you look at the record books and you look at the kind of movies they were making, they get better, and more of them, the further back you go in time. The kind of movies we all grew up with are all disappearing."

The movie's latest James Bond ("The Living Daylights," "Licence to Kill") stares out the window of a Universal City hotel room and takes a long drag on his cigarette.

Part of the reason films are becoming more simplistic, Dalton believes, is that filmmakers play down to their audiences. "Once you play down to an audience, what do you do next year?," says the Welsh actor. "You've established a standard down. So you play down again. We always wanted to go see grown-up movies, the ones we weren't supposed to understand. When you're given a problem in a piece of work, something you don't understand, that's part of the drama. That's why you turn the page to find out."

"Framed," Dalton's latest project that airs Sunday and Monday on cable's Arts & Entertainment, is definitely a page-turner. Written by Lynda La Plante of "Prime Suspect" fame, the taut thriller finds Dalton playing the dashing Eddie Myers, a British "supergrass"--a master criminal turned police informer.

Supposedly dead, Myers actually is living the good life in Spain. Even with a new face and name--Philip Von Joel--he's spotted by an ambitious young police officer (David Morrissey) on vacation. Once Myers is captured and extradited back to London, Myers and the young officer become involved in an intricate game of cat and mouse.

"I was impressed with her script," Dalton says, lighting up another cigarette. "I read a lot of scripts. It's one of a handful that I loved the most. It's rare these days. What's distressing is the ones you do think are great, you don't get offered. The ones you do get offered are the ones you don't want to do. So it's wonderful when something comes along you do want to do."

An actor can only give a great performance if the script is equally great, Dalton says. "If you get a good script, you stand a chance of giving a great performance. If you get a mediocre script, you are spending more of your energy trying to make it work. If it's well-written, it's full of richness and possibilities. Your job then becomes a joy. The problem you then face is to try and pull out the possibilities and reveal (them) in a way that's interesting."

Dalton was fascinated with Myers. But not for the obvious reasons. "I'm sure most guys, if you ask them if they would like to fantasize about pulling off the most wonderful robbery, they all would say yes," Dalton says. "I don't know about the ladies. We think of how to rob Fort Knox or something and get away with it. Of course, we don't do it. So the criminal mentality is very fascinating."

Even more so because Dalton believes the criminal mentality is exactly the same as a hero's. In fact, there's really not much difference between Myers and James Bond.

"What do you have to be to be a top criminal? You have to be ruthless. You have to have a lot of courage. You have to be intelligent. You have to have imagination. Those are the same qualities you give to heroes or the military or leaders of industry."

Dalton refuses to believe a story he heard earlier in the day from an A&E publicist. Supposedly, when the real Eddie Myers had plastic surgery, he had his new face fashioned to resemble Dalton's.

"I don't believe that for a second," he says, laughing. "If I was a criminal on the run, I'm sure I'd try to get some plastic surgery. But I think it's idiotic to suggest he wanted to look like me. It would be a very dumb move. Why make yourself look like someone who is relatively well-known--who is playing James Bond? In truth, he's probably 5 foot 3 and fat."

Next month, Dalton goes from playing a wolf to actually meeting a family of wolves on the delightful "Nature" documentary "In the Company of Wolves With Timothy Dalton," premiering Oct. 3 on PBS.

"I was interested in why the wolf has gotten such a bad rap," Dalton explains, grabbing for his fourth cigarette. Ironically, Dalton also played a werewolf last year on HBO's "Tales From the Crypt."

"I believed if you met a wolf, it would kill you," he says. "I went up and talked to the Eskimos in Northern Alaska and went as far north as you can go on land on the planet--600 miles from the North Pole--and had wolves come as close (to me) as you are."

Dalton hopes he'll be filming a new 007 flick in 1994. "I've enjoyed playing Bond," he says. "At the same time, let me qualify that by saying one of the things that's really, really pleased me is the tremendous amount of good will and enthusiasm for those movies. I encounter it every day on the street. People are always saying, 'When are you going to be doing another one?' "

He'd like to take the Bond films to new heights. "I'd like do a fantastic Bond movie," he says. "If there are any lessons to be learned, not just for Bond but for all action movies, it is in the end you have to go back to the people. Have the adventure, have the high action, have the gadgets, but care about the people involved in the dangerous situations. That's how I think it's got to be."

The actor pauses.

"And we've got to have a girl," Dalton says, grinning. "It's important!"

"Framed" airs Sunday and Monday at 5 and 9 p.m. on A&E; "In the Company of Wolves With Timothy Dalton" airs Oct. 3 on PBS.

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