Sydney Chaplin isn’t surprised his father–the late, great Charlie Chaplin–still has so many fans worldwide.
“He’s larger than life to a lot of people still,” says Chaplin, 77. “He’s even bigger in Europe than he is here. I remember meeting a guy in France. He shook my hand and started to cry. If he met my father, he would’ve had a stroke!”
Reflecting, he adds, “But who else can people look up to? Actors today are so mediocre. I don’t really like to go out to the movies today. I don’t find them as interesting or inspiring as the ones we had way back when. Even a film everyone says is wonderful–like ‘Saving Private Ryan’–wasn’t that artistic. It was enormously loud and I wanted to get out of there.”
Not that he would relay that tidbit to the film’s director, Steven Spielberg.
“I wouldn’t bother him,” Chaplin said. “I’d leave him alone. Everyone has their own vision of what’s great and a lot of people really liked it.”
Four films that fulfill his vision of greatness will be released on DVD Tuesday. “The Chaplin Collection” (Warner Home Video, $89.92) includes “Limelight,” “The Gold Rush,” “The Great Dictator” and “Modern Times.”
Unlike Charlie, the younger Chaplin concentrated on stage roles. He starred on Broadway in “Bells Are Ringing” with Judy Holliday and acted opposite Barbra Streisand in “Funny Girl.”
Though he downplays most of his own films as “nothing important,” Chaplin is proud of acting alongside his father in 1952′s “Limelight.”
“That was the first picture I ever did,” Chaplin says. “It was nice working with my family. There’s always the pressure of your father hoping you’re going to be marvelous, but I just tried to do the best I could.”
The picture also starred silent film star Buster Keaton, whom Chaplin cheekily points out didn’t talk a lot.
“Acting is really easy if it’s well-written,” he says. “Most of the credit for anything good should go to the writers. If it’s just the actor who makes something good, why wouldn’t everything they do be good, right?”
Named after his uncle Sydney, Chaplin recalls his namesake giving his father a tip that helped ensure the family fortune.
“During the Great Depression before the stock market crashed, my uncle told my dad to get out of the market,” he says. “Other people looked at him like he was nuts. But my dad did and then the market exploded. My uncle had no education, but he had great instinct. My father admired him enormously. I think he looked up to my uncle the way other people looked up to him.”
Chaplin remembers life wasn’t always smooth for his father, who once was accused of being a Communist. But he always kept his perspective.
“So many people came to him and said he was a hero because he stood up for himself and told them all where they could go,” Chaplin says. “My dad said, ‘I’m very, very rich and can tell people to go to hell. I’m loaded. I can tell anyone off.’ “
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