January 02, 2003      


Tea With the Antichrist

Michael York takes time out to chat at Take One.


by Rob Kendt


"I'm totally corrupted by living here," said Brit-turned-Angeleno Michael York with a self-deprecating chuckle. He was referring to his impulse, upon completing a guide for actors and directors on tackling the Bard, to call the book Shakesperience!. At a colleague's insistence, the title became the more high-toned, Stanislavskian A Shakespearean Actor Prepares. But York might just as well have been summing up a career that began at the National Theatre in London under Laurence Olivier's tutelage and has come to a supporting role in the Austin Powers franchise and the diabolical lead in a pair of Christian-right potboilers, The Omega Code and Megiddo. Along the way, to be fair, were such high points as Cabaret, The Three Musketeers, and, of course, Logan's Run.


This still youthful-looking 60-year-old (might we suggest that Dorian Gray would have been a perfect role?) hasn't been entirely robbed of his Englishness, though: He is still like a "Pavlov's dog" every afternoon, jonesing for his spot of tea, and he's graciously agreed to share his fix with attendees at a free appearance at Take One Film & Theater Books on Saturday, when he'll answer questions about his career and his craft--and sign two of his books, the aforementioned Shakespeare guide, as well as Dispatches From Armageddon, his diary from the set of Megiddo.


"I tend to do things rather than not," said York by way of explaining how he got roped into the original The Omega Code, in which he played the Machiavellian world leader Stone Alexander, who, when he doffs his power tie, happens to be the Antichrist. "And the devil has the best tunes. It was around the time of the millennium, and this was a millennial film. Trinity Broadcasting Network wanted to broaden their appeal beyond their core audience, and play Hollywood at its own game. It became the biggest-grossing limited-release film of the year."


TBN's follow-up, Megiddo, which depicted a final world-ending conflict in the Middle East, had the misfortune of hitting theatres a week after Sept. 11; some exhibitors pulled it out of respect for perceived public sensitivity to its apocalyptic themes. While York agreed that "we're all a little leery of any kind of religious fundamentalism right now," he said he wrote the book "in a celebratory mood, not to make pot shots or settle scores." He said it was inspired in part by Emma Thompson's diary from the set of Sense and Sensibility. And according to a review from Professor Richard Brown of N.Y.U., the result is "one of the most readable 'literate' and insightful works ever written on the process of making movies."


Still, one can see why the part of Stone Alexander appealed to the man who starred in The Island of Dr. Moreau and as John the Baptist in Jesus of Nazareth: There were bees to vomit, lightning to shoot at crowds, and a creepy Satan get-up complete with claws and wings. York hasn't lost the taste for on-set action: He just returned from Croatia, where he was filming La Femme Musketeer, a miniseries follow-up to his successful Musketeers films. "I thought I'd buckled my swash," he said, "but there I was playing the elderly D'Artagnan, dueling with kids half my age."


It's enough to work up one's appetite for a cup of Earl Grey.


Michael York, appearing Sat., Jan. 4, 2-4 p.m., at Take One Film & Theater Books, 11516 Santa Monica Boulevard, five blocks west of the 405 Freeway, between Butler and Colby. (310) 445.4050.