The last time stage and screen star Max Caulfield visited Milton Keynes he made his 67-year-old wife, Juliet Mills, a member of Britain’s acting royalty, “schlep” (his word) up from the rail station to the theatre hauling her own luggage.
He got lost. “Everywhere looked identical. I kept saying: ‘It’s the next block’ and it wasn’t. She wasn’t best pleased”.
He’s back at MKT on July 1 (if he makes it from the station) with this summer’s blockbuster musical Singin’ In The Rain.
The revival of this iconic show was first a smash hit for Chichester Festival Theatre in 2011 before winning new fans with a West End residency. Now it’s on the road and heading for a venue near you.
Max is not Gene Kelly’s film star, Don Lockwood, or Donald O’Connor’s clown prince, Cosmo Brown, and he doesn’t get to dance with Debbie Reynolds’ blonde actress character Kathy Selden.
Instead the 54-year-old Hollywood star is playing someone he’s only too well acquainted with, a big time studio boss called RF Simpson who wants to take a chance making “talking pictures.”
It’s a character part, not huge, but it enables him to work, which he loves. “Hey, I get to wear fabulous suits and have my arms around cute showgirls. It ain’t all bad!” he joked.
“I first became interested in acting at my boy’s school when we put on this show with the girl’s school. That was a wonderful experience – discovering girls and musical theatre at the same time!
“It’s a great tour,” said Max. “And a wonderful experience – not only to be in a show of this pedigree, a joyous classic musical – but also to get the chance to see a bit of the country.
“There’s barely a ticket to be had anywhere. It’s doing great business.
“It’s a huge tour. We’re on the road until the end of the year. I’m getting a little disorientated.
“Almost every week we’re in a different town and I sometimes stand there in the middle of the street wondering where I’ve got to make for!”
“The show is set in Hollywood and I have a strong association with the place, so I suppose the producers thought I could bring a certain resonance to the role, an authenticity.”
Of course Max couldn’t be a less authentic Californian. He was born in Derbyshire and went to a boy’s public school in London.
He’s a Brit through and through (even supporting Chelsea) who, reputedly, earned his equity card by working as a male stripper in the famous Windmill Theatre before crossing the pond at 18 to make his fortune.
The transition has left him with dual nationality and a strange Pan-American accent that swings from posh English to East Coast New York and West Coast LA.
Losing his way could almost be a metaphor for the handsome actor’s career that started off brightly, with leading roles in Grease II opposite Michelle Pfeiffer, Dynasty and its spin-off, The Colbys.
However, tainted by TV soap success, most of his roles since have been off-Broadway. There have been wrong turns and dead ends that, perhaps, have resulted in him not having the celebrity and success he’d have liked.
In later years we have seen him back in the UK for parts in Emmerdale (as bigamist Mark Wyde) and Casualty (medic Jim Brodie).
Max is used to commuting from his home in California and Juliet, his wife of 34 years, regularly jets over to keep him company.
He had said yes to an interview but it had to be conducted on the hoof as he trotted from his digs to a theatre for a matinee, juggling his mobile phone with a bunch of red roses raided (with consent) from his landlady’s garden.
“They’re for the lovely ladies in wardrobe,” he confessed. How romantic I thought. Then.. “I’m hoping one of them will do my washing!” (Oh, you silver-tongued fox).
There was no time to quiz the star about that equity job or the pitfalls of too much too soon but he did admit: “Working for Aaron Spelling (the phenomenally wealthy and powerful TV mogul who seemingly controlled output in the 1970s onwards) was a double-edged sword.
“The rewards were enormous but his stable of soap actors became tainted as having no depth or range.
“My doing theatre, although most was off-Broadway, was the only way I could get away from that.
“Hollywood would let you do anything so long as it was successful. Sustaining a career is really tough.
“I’m happy to be in work. Show-business is the most competitive game there is, fraught with job insecurity, but I was determined to make it in legitimate theatre.”
But back to getting lost. “In 2010 we were both appearing in Bedroom Farce and I thought that Milton Keynes Theatre was next to the rail station. We kept walking and walking!”
His career has swung from musical theatre to straight drama – Pirates of Penzance, La Cage Aux Folles and Chicago to Loot, Entertaining Mr Sloane, The Elephant Man and An Inspector Calls.
He’s even played James Bond – voicing 007 for a video game.
“I took part in West End Live in Leicester Square, which was songs from the great musicals and I got to sing a tune from Chicago in front of thousands of people which was just amazing. I felt like a rock god!
“I didn’t really get Singin’ In The Rain at first because I hadn’t seen the film and didn’t think Gene Kelly could act.
“But then watching him dance was something else – and O’Connor – and Cyd Charisse!
“If you can’t express it in words then sing and if you can’t sing then dance and, boy, could they dance!!
“Simpson isn’t a huge part, and I thought that I’d go mad on a tour of this length, but I wanted the challenge to sustain something for this long.
“And I really wanted to work with this director. Jonathan Church (artistic director at Chichester) is just incredible.”
Singin’ In The Rain, also with James Leece, Stephen Anelli and Amy Ellen Richardson, runs at Milton Keynes Theatre from July 1-12.