Richard Chamberlain and Rachel Ward from the 1983s ABC miniseries “The Thorn Birds” reunited on stage for the first time in decades on Sunday night in Beverly Hills.
The two, who played Father Ralph de Bricassar and the woman who got between him and the church – Meggie Cleary – hadn’t seen each other in years, having just one short encounter in an airport at all beyond filming the show.
“We did run into each other very briefly in an airport in Thailand,” Richard said at the “Pioneers of Television” Season 3 presentation during the PBS portion of the Television Critics Association summer tour in Beverly Hills. “We were working on the same project, but we didn’t have scenes together. Rachel was just leaving town and I was just coming in and we met in the airport for about 10 minutes and it was so great to see you.”
“It feels like I’m still in ‘The Thorn Birds,’ because I was always waiting for Richard,” Rachel laughed.
Looking at his co-star, Richard leaned in and said he was pleased to be reunited with the woman he made television history with. (“The Thorn Birds” is the second highest rated miniseries ever — after “Roots” — and its audience during the 10-hour miniseries brought in more than 35 million viewers an episode, per TV By the Numbers.)
“I’m absolutely thrilled [to be together again] and it just seems like not much has changed. You look more beautiful than ever, by the way,” Richard said.
“It’s scary, isn’t it?” Rachel replied. “It just feels like moments ago.”P
Decades ago, when the show was being filmed, there had been reports of drama on the set – at one point Richard broke his hand — but on Sunday, the actor set the record straight on what really happened.
“I was so in love with her and I loved working with Rachel so much, I couldn’t believe that there was any talk about us not getting along,” he said.
“I’d never heard that before,” Rachel said.
“There was, there was, and it was totally made up,” Richard said. “I did break my hand at one point. I was having a lot of trouble remembering my line, and it was a scene with, I think, Barbara [Stanwyck] and Jean Simmons, the [camera] dolly … had seats and I thought they were soft and I [slammed my hand down, and said] ‘Oh sh**,’ and broke this bone. What a fool. What a stupid thing to do, but we carried on, the show went on, but that part was true.”
Rachel admitted that some bad reviews by television critics of her performance in the much-beloved miniseries actually prompted her to leave acting as a profession, moving instead behind the camera.
The former actress, who married her “The Thorn Birds” on-screen husband, Luke O’Neill, played by actor Bryan Brown, said she “didn’t have the self-confidence” to continue acting.
“Pioneers of Television” Season 3, featuring Rachel, Richard, Bryan, Michele Lee, Cloris Leachman, Lou Gossett Jr., Larry Hagman (of “Dallas”) and more, premieres in January 2013 on PBS.
-- Jolie Lash