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Old pro Lee: From horror to fantasy

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter   |   May 23, 2002 at 7:34 PM   |   Comments

LOS ANGELES, May 23 (UPI) -- Apart from being two of the biggest movie hits of the past five months, "Star Wars: Episode II -- Attack of the Clones" and "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" have something else in common -- both feature veteran British actor Christopher Lee.

A veteran of more than 250 movie and TV productions, the London-born Lee is most often associated with his work in 1950's horror films -- especially 'The Curse of Frankenstein" (1957), "Dracula" (1958) and "The Mummy" (1959). However, speaking by telephone from his home in England, Lee told United Press International that if he had is way, the entertainment press would get with the times and stop dwelling on the old days.

"The press over here can't keep the word 'Dracula' out of their reviews," he said, "because they don't do their homework. They don't bother to find out what I've done in the last 30 years.

"I think what I have proved over the last years is that I'm not typecast," said Lee, who plays Saruman the White in "Rings" and Count Dooku/Darth Tyranus in "Star Wars."

Still, Lee acknowledges he is glad that the horror genre afforded him an opportunity to take his film career to new levels all those years ago.

"At the time it was of enormous importance to me," he said. "I've always said that I was grateful, but that was a long, long time ago."

Fans of Lee who come to see him in "Star Wars" will need to be patient. He doesn't appear on screen until perhaps one hour into the movie.

Lee, who turns 80 on March 27, is happy to have "Star Wars" on his resume.

"For two reasons," he said, "one, to be a part of cinema history and two, I survived it."

For clarification, Lee said he meant that his character survived in the story. He has played so many villains that he is accustomed to being killed off before the story is over. However, he said his lightsaber fight scene in "Star Wars" pushed the limits of his physicality.

"My hands will move quickly," he said. "My legs won't. I found out the hard way what I can do and what I can't do."

Some critics have registered stern disappointment with "Attack of the Clones," but Lee thinks they must be missing the point.

"George Lucas said to me, 'Star Wars' has never had good reviews,'" Lee said. "But critics lose sight of the fact that this not Shakespeare. This is not the greatest actors in the world with the greatest dialogue in the world. This is entertainment."

Despite his recent high profile as a featured actor in two huge movie hits, Lee said producers are telling him there aren't any parts for people his age.

"My answer is, write them," said Lee.

Actually, Lee said he does get frequent calls to participate in projects, but he isn't wild about what is being offered.

"They're all quite dreadful," he said. "They're all vaguely associated with either very young people where I am practically a biblical figure, or there are four-letter words galore on every page. You know the most important word is what got me into 'Star Wars,' a three-letter word -- fun. You don't hear it very often. You don't experience it very often."

Lee admits, though, that there was a time when he said yes to movies he wished he had said no to.

"I've been in pictures where I knew within hours that it was going to be a disaster but there was nothing I could do about it except present the best I could as an actor," he said. "But I've never played a part that I didn't think was a contribution to the film. Everybody has done bad movies. Everybody has given bad performances, been miscast. Everybody has been in brilliant movies that made no money, and everybody has been in less than brilliant movies that made fortunes. All you can do is the best you can."

All the same, Lee is not interested in retirement.

"What's the alternative? I would go off my head, and so would my wife, if I did nothing," he said. "I'd just sit and look out the window and go crazy, and probably shorten my life."

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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