Paul Michael Glaser is best known for his role as Starsky in the 1970s hit TV show Starsky & Hutch. The actor, director and author tells Louisa Walters about his upcoming role as Tevye in a new stage production of Fiddler On The Roof.[divider]
In a game of charades, you would depict the most famous role of this American-Jewish actor by miming shooting gestures with your hands. But to mimic his latest performance, you’d have to do your best to portray a bearded milkman surrounded by lots of children.
I chatted to the lovely Glaser on a rainy Friday afternoon, as he drove through the gloriously sunny Malibu, California. Despite my protestations about the weather, he is very much looking forward to coming here. “I have always loved the UK, and particularly the audience. British theatre is so much better than its American counterpart, both for its historical value and its training. The audience is appreciative and discerning and I’m really excited about performing for them.”
Glaser hasn’t exactly been sitting around waiting for the phone to ring since he laid down his pistol when Starsky & Hutch ended in 1979.
Acting, directing and writing have all been on his agenda – nevertheless, he was thrilled to get the call offering him the role of Tevye and knew immediately that he would accept the offer.
“What’s not to like about playing such a part? I’m told I can sing, I know I can act and I’m already growing a beard – plus I’m playing a man younger than me so I’m honoured to have been asked!”
Glaser says he has never seen the whole stage version, although he did have a role in the original Fiddler On The Roof movie in 1971 as Perchik, who falls in love with Tevye’s second daughter, Hodel.
Stepping up to the lead role on the stage is a fine recognition of how far he has come in his career – almost a rite of passage. He has yet to meet Craig Revel Horwood, who will direct and choreograph this new stage production, but they have chatted on the phone and Glaser says they got on well.
He adds with a laugh: “I know that even today I am still associated with Starsky. I’ve never really been able to shake him off, but that’s not to say I ever really wanted to! “He was an interesting character and I was able to explore a whole range of levels with him. Tevye has many similarities to Starsky. Starsky is silly, stupid, sad, funny – I had to play all those sides of him and I see that Tevye has all the same characteristics.
“In many ways Teyve is also like me – he’s an ‘everyman’ and I do so many things in my life that I could be called that, too. I can relate to the character because he is trying to reconcile himself to the way life changes and to stay true to himself and his Jewish faith in an ever-changing society that is rigid with specific rules.
“Coping with change is a universal thing and it’s something I’ve had to do several times in my life.”
Born in 1943 in Massachusetts, Glaser was the youngest of three children and says that it was his middle sister who influenced his passion for theatre.
She was determined to become an actress and Glaser followed in her footsteps, landing his first role when he was 14. Glaser’s parents were both Jewish, but his mother was something of an agnostic. He recalls: “My father came from a very traditional, kosher home [Glaser’s grandfather was a religious man, who founded a synagogue in Boston] but my mother was not into it at all. I spent lots of time trying to encourage her to believe and to be more spiritual.
“We did high holy days, but all in all, my upbringing was a bit of a mixed bag when it came to religion. I enjoyed going to synagogue with my father, but after my barmitzvah, I found myself on a spiritual journey. I was exposed to many different beliefs and I got quite into the whole Jewish/Buddhist thing.
“I kept finding parallels between religions – it seemed to me that they were all trying to accomplish the same thing and maintain an identity. As a young man I didn’t have a clue who I was. But now I have a strong sense of myself, which permeates everything I do.”
Glaser has been married twice (his first wife tragically died of an AIDS-related illness, which also claimed the life of his first-born child, Ariel), and both wives were Jewish, but he didn’t bring his children up in the faith.
“Having been on my spiritual journey, I wanted to let them choose for themselves,” he says.
Glaser has recently published his first book, a fantasy tale called Chrystallia and The Source of Light. It is the story of a teenage girl and her younger brother dealing with the loss of their home and their mother through an adventurous underground journey in the world of crystals and minerals.
“This project is extremely dear to me,” he says. “I wanted to share what I have learned about loss and helplessness and explore the purpose of fear in our lives.”
Tevye knows only too well about loss and helplessness. He is losing his daughters to their fiancés and is helpless to convince his wife that they should be allowed to marry for love, rather than having arranged marriages as is the tradition – as Tevye would say in his thick Yiddish accent.
Given the parallels between his own life and Tevye’s, Glaser says he feels more than confident in taking on the role and making it his own.
He adds: “I know I will be compared to Chaim Topol – but I will shed my own light on the role. He did a fantastic job – and now it’s my turn to do the same.”
• Find out more at http://www.fiddlerontheroof.co.uk/