As a young, unknown actor Paul Michael Glaser made his film debut in the classic musical Fiddler on the Roof, playing Perchik. In a neat twist of fate, he is currently touring the UK playing the lead role of Tevye in a stage version, which next week plays at the Hall for Cornwall in Truro.
“That’s how life happens,” says Paul, who turned 71 last week. “It was my first film. I had never worked in the movies before and I didn’t know anything about the process. Norman [Jewison, the director] was terrific.
“But I found the whole experience of being directed in film really tedious. There was a lot of sitting around. I just wanted them to hurry up.
“I do look back on it with affection… but at my age you look back on everything with affection!”
Paul is best known for playing David Starsky in the iconic Starsky and Hutch (1975-1979) opposite David Soul. He has many other TV credits to his name, over 50 theatre roles and film credits include Something’s Gotta Give alongside Diane Keaton. His directorial credits include several episodes of Starsky and Hutch, Miami Vice and Judging Amy, as well as the children’s film Kazaam.
He clearly recalls the filming of Fiddler on the Roof in 1971.
“I didn’t know the show when I made the film, but I love the role of Tevye,” says Paul. “It’s such a good role. He’s such a classic character; an Everyman. What appeals most to me is the range of emotions and feelings. He’s sly and sentimental and funny and serious and foolish.
“This is a show with actor/musicians and an important part of it is that feeling of community. The theatre is the place where we go to experience ourselves and our connection to humanity.”
Fiddler on The Roof is filled to the brim with memorable and instantly recognisable songs including If I Were a Rich Man, Matchmaker Matchmaker, Sunrise Sunset and To Life.
This new production is brought to the stage by the award winning producers of The King and I and High Society and directed and choreographed by Strictly Come Dancing’s Craig Revel Horwood –
Tevye, the local milkman in his village of Anatevka, has always stuck by his traditions but suddenly his headstrong daughters decide that they want to marry for love rather than accept whatever Yente the Matchmaker comes up with.
Paul is relishing the role of Tevye, surrounded by young actors.
“I’m the Papa,” laughs Paul. “They are very talented and very gifted… but I remember what it was like working with older actors when I was young.”
Although the long UK tour has been a tiring experience, it has been an uplifting one for Paul who loves the British stage and has appeared in panto here before. “That’s a different thing. Panto is a bit like vaudeville,” he says.
Although the theatre isn’t in his family, he and his two sisters were always encouraged to perform by their mother and music too has been a huge part of his life.
“I’ve always enjoyed music, but I’m not an expert at it. I play a guitar but in the show I’m surrounded by people who play up to six instruments.”
Paul is, however, multi-talented in other areas. He is a keen photographer, has directed TV dramas and has written a book, Chrystallia, about two children whose mother is dying.
“I think it is extremely valuable to people,” says Paul, who own life was touched by the death of his wife, Elizabeth, and their daughter Ariel from Aids-related illnesses after Elizabeth was given an HIV-infected blood transfusion during childbirth.
“The book takes a classic direction like an Alice in Wonderland or a Wizard of Oz. It asks what is the purpose of fear in our lives.“I’m now working on my second book. I haven’t got a clue what this book’s going to do. It’s such an odd piece. It’s about connecting and helping other people connect. I’ve always been very spiritual, but I have discovered more of my spiritual side in the past 20-25 years and the journey with my family; that was part of the background of my book.”
“I originally wrote Chrystallia as a screenplay 15 years ago but they didn’t have the technology to make the properties of light. I’d never written a book and the process was intriguing for me.
“After James Cameron’s Avatar, it’s easier to get visual information on the screen. I self-published the book and if it was going to be made into a film, I wanted it done the right way. I want to make sure it remains intact in terms of its subject.”
The subject of Starsky and Hutch is never far away. Paul gets recognised on an almost daily basis. But It’s easy to forget what a ground-breaking series it was, and how successful.
“Starsky and Hutch broke all the rules. He was a mere human. He had his foibles. The success was pretty mad… it was insane at times. I look back on it with a sense of… well, relief really that it’s over. But I still keep in touch with David.”
Our time is up and I ask Paul, to steal a song from the show, what he would do if he was a rich man.
“I’m not rich materially, but I am rich in life. I suppose if I was rich materially, I would share as much of it as I could.”
Fiddler on the Roof is at the Hall for Cornwall, Truro from Tuesday until Saturday, April 12.