The great British actor Terence Stamp shares his thoughts on Fellini, Brando, George Lucas, the swinging 60s, and his own brilliant life and career.
By Sam Wigley
Born in East London to a merchant seaman, Terence Stamp was Oscar-nominated for his screen debut in Peter Ustinov’s film of Herman Melville’s Billy Budd (1962), before becoming one of the defining actors of swinging 60s Britain. Roles in Ken Loach’s Poor Cow (1967) and John Schlesinger’s Far from the Madding Crowd (1967) earned him critical acclaim, even as his offscreen relationships, with Julie Christie among others, kept him in the media spotlight.
He lived in Italy in the late 60s, working with Federico Fellini on his ‘Toby Dammit’ section of the Edgar Allan Poe portmanteau film Histoires extraordinaires/Spirits of the Dead (1967) and Pier Paolo Pasolini on Theorem (1968), in which the actor plays a mysterious visitor who seduces each and every member of a bourgeois Italian household.
When leading roles dried up after this, Stamp disappeared from the public eye to live in India, returning to mainstream filmmaking when he was offered the part of General Zod, playing opposite Marlon Brando, in Superman (1978).
Adjusting to a career as a character actor rather than a top-billed star, Stamp has continued to seek out creatively interesting projects, starring as a retired gangster living in Spain in Stephen Frears’s The Hit (1984), a transsexual in the Australian road movie The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert (1994), and – most recently – an ageing husband coming to terms with his wife’s illness in Paul Andrew Williams’s Song for Marion (2012).
We spoke to him about the tumult of his early celebrity life, the directors he admires (and the ones he doesn’t), and his knack for a comeback.