“FRIENDLY VILLAIN” by Joan Quatim
El Paso Herald June 19, 1965
The American premiere of Irving Allen’s epic ‘Genghis Khan’ in Dallas on Thursday was a hospitable social occasion, which gave representatives of the Texas press an opportunity to fly in and meet old friends. Columbia Picture’s Bill Lewis is an excellent host with a knack for making people happy, and Stephen Boyd, who stars as the villain Jamuga, was on hand to prove that he is really a friendly Irishman with an imposing background in theater.
Stephen Boyd does not grant interviews. He holds friendly conversations instead. Over coffee, he explained that he did not become an actor, for every Irishman is born one. His professional life began early, when he played Hamlet at the age of eight, for the Belfast B.B.C. Children’s Hour. Work with the Ulster Theatre Group was followed by summer stock and broadcasting in Canada and some near-starvation in London, where he actually “busked,” or entertained lines waiting to enter the theaters he had to be near. He got as far as the door- as doorman- when Sir Michael Redgrave noticed him, and with the strange acumen of the profession, recognized an out-of-work actor. Sir Michael Redgrave gave Stephen Boyd his first break, and had remained a close friend and guide ever since.
Asked about The Method, Mr. Boyd pulled a slightly Jamuga face. The term, he stated, is much misused, for method is part of an actor’s training and no more to be emphasized than an athlete’s push-ups. An actor learns by working, and the wider the variety of his roles, the more he learns. For that reason, to be type-cast is to lose creativity, and to lose that is death.
Although he works entirely in films now, for stage and screen are separate masters hard to mix, Stephen Boyd uses stage techniques in his screen work. He rehearses alone onset at night, for example (unheard-of diligence), and “walks” his lines as he learns them. He considers movies a challenge to any serious actor, for they play to the masses unreached by other art forms, must have commercial appeal, and yet must keep truth.
The screen actor can only guess and hope – and his performance is on record unalterable, without hope of doing better tomorrow night. Like all good actors, Stephen Boyd cares intensely about doing his best and bringing truth to his work, whether his audience will understand it and feel it with him, or not.
After his success as Messala in “Ben-Hur,” Mr. Boyd was cast as Anthony in That Film. Miss Taylor’s illness delayed shooting for six months, directors and story slant were changed, and he decided to do “Jumbo” instead. So history was made, but he has no regrets. “I’ve played opposite Bardot, Loren and Lollobrigida,” he commented quietly, “They were all beautiful to work with.”
Most of the time, as in “Genghis Khan,” he prefers to play villains. He finds them more interesting, and is enthusiastic over his forthcoming role in “The Oscar,” about an actor unlike himself, promoted through publicity rather than hard work, who decided to remove rival candidates for the Oscar Award. When Stephen Boyd’s own Oscar nomination arrives, however, he will remove his rivals by talent alone. He is his own stunt man, who learned trapeze work for “Jumbo,” and whose horsemanship is as remarkable as his swordplay.
In “Genghis Khan,” Stephen Boyd co-stars with Omar Sharif as the good Genghis, who unified the Mongol tribes. The film, however, is not history. It is a rip-roaring adventure magnificently photographed in wild beautiful Yugoslavia, with enough battles and horses and duels and fireworks even to suit vacationing little boys.
And I do recommend it to them. Adults will find the climax excellent, although early scenes have been cut so that continuity suffers, and motivation becomes at times a mystery. But if they will just sit back and not worry about why Princess Katke’s brothers happily joined her captor, instead of avenging her, and why James Mason is unintelligible as a kind wise Chinese, and why Eli Wallach hasn’t more to do (for he does it well), the Mongolian hordes will thunder across their vision, and they will have a thoroughly exciting and entertaining evening.