DREAM team. In the seventies, that’s exactly what TV producers got when they paired Paul Michael Glaser with David Soul as Starsky and Hutch, the street-wise crime fighters who patrolled the Bay City area of California, in a Ford Gran Torino nicknamed the Striped Tomato.
Starsky & Hutch ran for 92 episodes from 1975 to 1979. With millions tuning in worldwide, it wasn’t long before its lead actors were international household names.
Starsky, the dark-haired one with the woolly cardigans and twinkle in his eye, quickly became a favourite pin up. Today, at 70, the twinkle is still there as Glaser takes a break from rehearsing his latest role, that of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, which opens at the Festival Theatre, on Tuesday.
It’s been a busy morning, but the actor is gracious and thoughtful as we settle down for a chat in a rehearsal space just off King’s Cross. Reflective even, as he reveals, “My attitude towards acting is much healthier now than it has ever been. I understand now where it belongs in my life because I’ve done a lot of things.”
A quick look at his CV confirms that to be the case, he may have started as an actor, but there’s far more to Glaser than Starsky; writer, director, producer, author - he’s even published a fantasy novel, Chrystallia and the Source of Light, and is currently illustrating his second novel, Hook-Foot and Peg, A Cautionary Tale.
Explaining his constant desire to find new challenges, he says, “In life, we are always searching for something. We don’t quite know what and we don’t quite know why. As we get older, we realise it doesn’t really make any difference what you do as long as you enjoy the present, are honest and at peace.
“I think in the past I adopted some of my mother’s attitude towards acting, in as much as, although I enjoyed it, I never really, deep down, accepted myself as a performer.
“So I went on this journey and became a film director, started writing, now I’m illustrating a second book.
“Then, about six months ago, I was doing a job as an actor. I came away from it and suddenly thought, ‘Wow, I really had a good time there.’ I realised that I had created that for myself. I understood it in the context of my mother’s attitude.”
Elaborating, he says, “My parents were very supportive of me, but my mother felt there was more to me than just Starsky and Hutch. So, I would have to say that, right now, I am far more accepting of myself as a performer and therefore can finally enjoy what I am doing.”
It was the success of Starsky and Hutch that first steered the young Glaser away from acting, candidly he reveals that the recognition the series brought was not something he found easy to handle.
“I don’t think celebrity is ever easy to deal with, if you are being honest,” he says. “It confers an illusion of success. When I achieved celebrity I found myself weighed deep down, saying, ‘Wait a minute. I’m not the best thing since sliced bread! Why am I being celebrated for this?’
“I didn’t understand the function of celebrity in society until much later, but I definitely think it falls under the heading: Be Careful What You Wish For.”
Consequently, it’s safe to say that Glaser, who famously appeared as Perchik in the 1971 movie version of Fiddler on the Roof, never wished for the role of Tevye, although it was one he had thought about, despite having never seen the stage version.
“When I was in a play on Broadway, the Fiddler stage door and our stage door were next to each other. I was dating a girl in the Fiddler cast and our curtain rang down ten minutes before theirs. Each evening, I’d go in and watch their curtain call... that is all I had ever saw of the show.
“But when I was offered the opportunity, I almost knew immediately I wanted to do it. I was familiar with Tevye. I have a real affinity for this guy. I like that.”
Set in Tsarist Russia, Fiddler on the Roof tells the story of Tevye, the milkman. Tevye has always stuck by his traditions but suddenly his headstrong daughters decide that they want to marry for love rather than accept whoever Yente the Matchmaker pairs them with.
Tevye loves his daughters but has to convince his wife and the villagers, that their decisions are actually falling in with tradition. Even if it means conjuring up ghosts of dead wives and scaring his own wife to bits in order to get her to agree.
It’s a role that has set Glaser thinking about his own past.
“The thing that strikes me the most is that I find myself really resonating with the sense of history of the piece. It’s where I’ve come from, and from where my parents and their parents came - my father is from Riga and my mother and her family were from St Petersburg, they were all part of that migration.”
Directed and choreographed by Craig Revel Horwood, of Strictly Come Dancing fame, this production finds Glaser surrounded by actor/musicians that are all a lot younger than he, which he confesses is particularly challenging when it comes to the dancing.
“I’m learning a lot from the very talented people I’m working with but I didn’t have the same formal dance training they did, so I’ve had to really concentrate and be aware of everything that is moving around me.
“That’s a real interesting talent. The actor in me would love to go and play and run with the ball, but you can’t do that in this, so, sometimes I do very well, and others I absolutely surprise myself with how much I can screw up.”
And what does his choreographer think of that?
That trademark twinkle returns as he admits, “It’s met with a tremendous amount of frustration and humour from Craig.”
Fiddler On The Roof, Festival Theatre, Nicolson Street, Tuesday-Saturday, 7.30pm (matinees 2.30pm), £15-£42.50, 0131-529 6000