'Come now, darling," says Peter O'Toole in his deep, dramatic voice, putting his arm around my shoulders. "Come and talk to me."
I've been waiting for my cue as to when the promised interview would begin and wondering if it ever would. When he arrived on the set -- at the Parkwood Estate in Oshawa, Ont., the grand art-deco-era mansion built for Robert Samuel McLaughlin, the founder of General Motors of Canada -- around 3 in the afternoon, he looked weary. I could see him sitting alone in his movie-star chair, drinking tea from a stainless-steel thermos and occasionally passing one hand over his wan, gaunt face.
Once, when he was called onto the set, someone asked how he had spent the weekend. "I blew my nose," I overheard him laconically reply.
But now, he seems to have revived himself somewhat. "Have you seen my young ones?" he asks, as he glides up for a little chat with me and Gino Empry, a Toronto publicist and long-time acquaintance of O'Toole's. In this comedy, Global Heresy, co-produced by GFT Entertainment in Toronto, and Ultimate Pictures UK in London, O'Toole plays Lord Foxley, an eccentric British aristocrat, who decides to rent out his ancestral heap to pay for some repairs. Through a series of mishaps, he and his wife, played by Joan Plowright ( Tea with Mussolini), end up impersonating the butler and housekeeper, and the people who lease the place are not the IBM-esque types they expected but a loud, young American rock and roll band.
All his "young ones" talk about is how "humbled" they are in his presence. "He gives and he creates. He's a God, man," effuses Canadian Jaimz Woolvett. In one scene, Lochlyn Munro, another Canadian actor, had to pick up O'Toole and shove him into a table, filled with glasses. A stunt double was available, but O'Toole wanted to do it. "He took the whole scene to a higher level," Munro says. O'Toole has also regaled them with stories. "He stands on the side of the set or whatever, and he says, 'Did I ever tell you about the time that me and Omar Sharif [during David Lean's epic Lawrence of Arabia in 1962]gambled our entire year's wages over two days in the desert?' " laughs Keram Malicki-Sanchez. "Or we'll be talking about France, and he'll go, 'I had a drink in a bar in France once. Woke up in Corsica,' " puts in Amy Phillips.
O'Toole is 68, lean and tall, his handsome face lined with wrinkles, his once-blond hair grey, and his famous blue eyes limpid and engaging.
He plays the role of screen legend beautifully, the aging matinee idol who has seen it all, done it all, heard it all, darling. Empry tells him that Alicia Silverstone ( Love's Labour Lost, Batman & Robin), who plays one of the rock stars in the film, would not speak to me, as her agent and manager had not okayed it.
"Ah," says O'Toole. "So fancy," he grimaces elegantly.
He sweeps his hand in front, guiding me to where we can sit together.
But if I had thought I would be charmed and indulged by the screen and stage legend, I would be sorely disappointed. He will spar. He will flirt. He will employ his trademark rakish wit. He won't always be as gentlemanly as he appears.
Dressed as a butler, with thin-striped pants, a black jacket and a white shirt, he takes off his white gloves, pulls at his tie to loosen it and plops a beaten-up old porkpie hat, his own, on his head. He pulls a small blue pack of Gauloises from inside his jacket, jiggles one free, and places it in the end of an ebony cigarette holder. If smoking is banned in the historic house, no one is about to tell him.
"You are enjoying a new popularity," I begin. In the summer, he completed a film in London, Final Curtain, by John Hodge, the writer of Shallow Grave and Trainspotting.
"Comes and goes," he says with dramatic flourish. "Every three or four years I'm hot again," he laughs.