the queerty interview

Maxwell Caulfield On Gay Parties, Aging In Hollywood, His New Play And ‘Grease 2’

Maxwell Caulfield - HeadshotAsk nearly any non-hetero man who came of age during the 1980s about Maxwell Caulfield, and you’ll likely see his eyes light up with adolescent desire. The English-born actor had few peers during the Reagan era as a heartthrob to gay men. Caulfield first made a name for himself in the late ’70s-early ’80s by appearing in a number of stage productions, such as gay playwright Joe Orton’s The Entertaining Mr. Sloane. His performance in this farce attracted a lot of attention, including the eye of renowned movie producer Allan Carr, who soon cast the sexy young performer as Michael Carrington in Grease 2, the hotly-anticipated follow-up to the 1978 mega-musical. While the 1982 film underperformed at the time, it’s developed a devoted following in the years since and Caulfield went on to deliver a searing turn in the 1985 crime drama The Boys Next Door, which has also become a cult film since its release, and titillated TV viewers as dashing Miles in the primetime drama The Colbys opposite screen legends Barbara Stanwyck and Charlton Heston. Besides appearing in numerous other films and television programs, including Beverly Hills 90210 and the U.K. drama Emmerdale, Caulfield has amassed an incredible theatrical resume, including acclaimed performances in Chicago and the gay-themed My Night With Reg. The now 55-year-old entertainer, who has been married to actress Juliet Mills since 1980, will next appear in his first character role as uptight Felix Unger in Neil Simon’s classic comedy The Odd Couple at the Laguna Playhouse in Southern California March 4-29. Caulfield chatted with Queerty about his hedonistic days in New York before the AIDS epidemic, what happened after Grease 2, working with Stanwyck and what he’s learned about himself playing Felix.

Queerty: You’re starring in a revival of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple. What’s the appeal of this show for you? 

Maxwell Caulfield: I’m getting to step into the shoes of one of my idols, Art Carney with this one. Jack Lemmon immortalized it on film, but Art Carney played it opposite Walter Matthau on Broadway in 1965. I’ve resisted the urge to watch the film again because Lemmon’s performance is just so indelible I’d be hearing it with every line reading. I’d end up doing a facsimile of Jack Lemmon. 

37a9cc169278c4119490ba540d409c47How do you personally relate to a Felix?

I’ve had to investigate my own neurosis. I mean this character is a legendary neurotic. In many ways the part presaged self-analysis and all these terms that are now in the current parlance. There’s no question that Felix has major issues. He’s passive aggressive and a major drama queen. I’m not saying he’s gay, and I’m not playing him as gay because he’s not written as gay. He certainly knows how to milk a situation and make it all about him. I can’t imagine why they thought of me for this role. I thought Am I really right for Felix? Then I began to realize his behavior is what’s so funny about him. His self-absorption and all of his various ailments and hypochondria and obsession with cleanliness. I’ll hold up my hands to all of the above.

In your real life are you more like Felix or Oscar?

The state of my desk would indicate Oscar. As far as Felix goes, without revealing too much there are aspects of my own personality that I’m still trying to modify. They say that once a man hits 50 your overall personality is pretty much set in stone. I just hope I’m allowed a little leeway because of that Peter Pan thing about being an actor. [Laughs]

Although you’re best known for your film and TV work, you’ve always found time to do live theater. What’s the reason for this?

The roles in the theater have provided my better opportunities. I can genuinely say that this is my first true character part. It may be the start of a new phase in my career in terms of not trading on looks. You just can’t sustain them. The reality is that we all age. Well, some people are ageless. I don’t know what the heck Tom Cruise is doing, taking monkey glands or something. Somehow that boy refuses to get past 38, it seems.

30d0aaf379397fe854793732e090e7a3You’ve been a big heartthrob to gay men since you began your acting career. What was your first job when you came to New York?

My first job in New York was in a gay farce called Hot Rock Hotel. I bragged my way into the production that was set in a gay resort in Florida and was about a mix up of Louis Vuitton bags. I came out at the end of the show as the new lifeguard. I brought the curtain down. That was the gag of the show. These two hoteliers had finally gotten their rambunctious guests off the property after a lot of mayhem and their compensation was a new lifeguard so yours truly came out in a pair of white Speedos. That was amusing.

You must have been very popular. What do you remember about those early days in New York?

My cast members took me to gay discos after the show and after hours and it was pretty eye-opening. There was no better time in the world than the late ’70s and early ’80s. Before the damned plague hit it was absolutely party central. On our days off we went to Fire Island and there were tea dances and it was a scene. No one forced themselves on you. Everyone was just in love with life. Some would disappear into the Pines or whatever it was called. Others just carried on dancing and drinking. [Laughs] It was a memorable time. I’m glad I got to come to New York before the Disneyfication of the city and before the pall was cast over it by that dreadful disease. I lost friends like everybody. It’s like anywhere nowadays when you look at it and think it’s changed, but thank God I knew it then. I was lucky enough to experience that.

47a0d22c3de206db3af01b0fcc76cd9cAllan Carr saw you in Joe Orton’s The Entertaining Mr. Sloane and eventually cast you as Michael in Grease 2. Allan was one of Hollywood’s most legendary/notorious characters. What are your memories of him and landing the lead in the musical?

Allan was terrific to me until the film came out. I don’t even know if he was nasty to me but rumor had it he wasn’t my biggest fan after the film crashed and burned. Before that he was amazing. He loaned Juliet and I his house in Hawaii. He couldn’t do enough for us. You’ve got to deliver for people. He took a chance on me. There were a lot of guys who were way more qualified to play that part. There were genuine teen idols with great singing voices. It was Andy Gibb’s part to lose. He obviously looked like a million bucks and sang like a dream but then they realized he had no screen presence or couldn’t act. The role became open so I was in there competing with Leif Garrett and Rick Springfield and Shaun Cassidy. I still don’t quite know why I got it. 

Don’t sell yourself short. I know a lot of people who are earnest in their love for Grease 2. You’re quite good in the movie and you’re widely considered to be one of the most handsome men to ever appear on screen.

Oh, my God. That’s outrageous. You’re too kind. Thank you very much.

john-max
Caulfield with The Colbys costar John James

Another role that endeared you to gay fans was as Miles in the Dynasty spinoff The Colbys. What do you remember about working with Barbara Stanwwyck?

The first day I worked on the set with her the whole Colby family was assembled in the living room and I was supposed to make this flamboyant entrance with my new bride who I’d married in Vegas and who turned out to be my half-brother’s wife who had amnesia. They put me in a white suit with a blue teal shirt, which was a beautiful combination. Just before I came on there were flowers all over the set. The Colbys had about a $25,000 a week fresh flower budget and they flew them in from the tropics. I said I’d like a red rose so I’d be in red, white and blue. Wouldn’t you know it, they didn’t have a single red rose on the set but they had every other flower under the sun. They offered me a red carnation. I told them to run out to a florist and get a red rose, but it held up production for about 15 minutes and Barbara Stanwyck never forgave me. Never. [Laughs] Finally I had a repatriation with her that was ordered by the producer who’d scouted me butt naked in a play opposite Jessica Tandy [1985’s Salonika]. I had a great scene with her outside the Ahmanson Theatre. It was just Miss bdf36bdda1a4637853fdc68ad6bfc00cStanwyck and myself. I’m so glad I did get to work with her that time. She thought I was some young know-it-all, wildly unprofessional brat and she may have not been too far off the mark. I think she favored John James, who played Jeff Colby, but I think it’s because he evoked R.J. Wagner, who Barbara had an affair with years before.

I know that you’re a big fan of James Dean, to whom you were sometimes compared during the early years of your career. What is it about him that appeals to you?

James Dean gave me a sense of myself. I didn’t necessarily look like him or behave like him, but by God I wanted to.

Get Queerty Daily

Subscribe to Queerty for a daily dose of #allancarr #barbarastanwyck #grease2 stories and more

77 Comments

  • stanhope

    I always liked Maxwell Caufield though I was never a fan of his TV acting. He was extremely good looking but didn’t radiate the heat of Jan Michael Vincent who was breath taking for me at least. It is so nice to see he is as nice a fellow as he was good looking and still is. Much continued success to him. Looking like that I know he has a book in him I’d love to read.

  • ggreen

    OMG I bought that After Dark and hid it in my room and stared at the photos inside of Maxwell for hours and hours. What a hunk and a half I think he looks even better now. He is number one DILF.

  • cflekken

    Man, oh, man. He is just as beautiful now as he was back then…maybe even moreso today.

  • dhmonarch89

    he appeared nude in a stage play with Jessica Tandy- I think it was the Gin Game…???? He just lays there nude on the beach while 2 elderly ladies play cards….

  • hrnpip

    He didn’t do anything for me back then, but now…!

  • musctop

    Total DILF–looks even better now.

  • wade.l

    Wow..he and Juliet Mills are still together after 35 years. I bet they would have some stories to tell together.

  • Doughosier

    Matthew Caulfield! Be still my dick!

  • Low Country Boy

    He is just getting better with age. Good for him for being married to the same person for so long.

  • Kenover

    Mr. Caulfield…please write your autobiography. And don’t leave any of the nasty bits out!

  • natriley

    Entertaining Mr. Sloane at the Cherry Lane Theater is a memorable production of the Joe Orton Play. Caulfield captured the sense of entitlement beautiful people can feel when everyone wants to please them. But John Tillinger’s direction deserves the credit. While all eyes are on Caulfield, the trope is that everyone is lying and the lies are transparent. It was frightfully funny and became much larger than a comedy. This little Greenwich Village off-broadway production captured Joe Orton’s true genius. In the end the play isn’t about sexuality, it’s about lying and becomes political. The lies resemble those uttered by politicians, and the show demonstrates Orton’s ties to Jonathan Swift’s biting satire. I’ve never seen a better production.

  • ApolloDionysus

    He can be my new daddy :D

  • stranded

    Man oh man, i still remember when i was a kid and Grease 2 came on channel 13. I was so fucking stunned by his beauty. It was the late 90s and there wasn’t much on the internet but i was able to find a picture of him. Jesus i was so in love.

  • Blackceo

    Yes!! Maxwell could still get it. I love a handsome, seasoned man.

  • JROBGF

    Yup. Mister Caulfield fueled my furnace thirty-five years ago. Sure as hell wish the years had been as kind to me…

  • startenout

    Dear sweet Lord, yes! He was beautiful in Grease 2, hot on The Colbys and don’t forget him having sex on a copier in Empire Records. He turned me on when I was in HS and still does today. Kudos and looking forward to more from him whether it’s in film or maybe some East Coast theatre?

  • avesraggiana

    Oh, Daddy…

  • Cagnazzo82

    Never heard of the guy, but he was cute back then.

    I wouldn’t say he has no equals because there are so many absurdly hot guys in film and modeling these days. But he is certainly up there. Great hair, nice eyes, and very symmetrical face.

  • gawatcher

    I was fortunate enough to see Mr.Caulfield when he was in the play that he mentions in the interview, Salonika, in which he stars with Jessica Tandy. Let’s just say that Maxwell is a BIG star. I still flash back to his nude scene. No one had ever told me that they come in that large a size. Glad to see that he is still a handsome man.

  • Lakeartist

    You are adorably hotter now

  • Maude

    @stanhope:
    stanhope, Sorry to tell you Jon M Vincent became a rather sloppy drunk’d and ruined what would have been a brilliant career……well into his eighties.

    He hit skid row in LA, and Phucked ugly hags for money.

    If I remember correctly, 60 Minutes or some other expose’ show ‘did’ him and he didn’t care that he looked like hell, and slurred his words during the interview.

  • SteveDenver

    He has always seemed like a sweet guy. Glad to hear that he and Juliet Mills have endured, perhaps flourished. Their age difference seemed a big deal when he was in his 20s, but not so much now. He wears the years very well.

  • BGinBigD

    I’d take Maxwell Caufield over Tom Cruise (yuck) ANYDAY of the week. Maxwell is too kind. Congratulations to him for surviving in an industry that worshipped his looks yet was always ready to criticize him for those looks. He is still a beautiful man on many levels. And he has it together in so many ways, also! No wonder all the boys fell in love with him. I congratulate him on his long time marriage (lucky woman) and hope to see him on the screen. He REALLY could write a fantastic autobiography!

  • [email protected]

    I’ve been waiting for him to come out for the past 35 years. Guess he’s really not a member of the team. “SIGH.”

  • nature boy

    Maxwell Caulfield to be the new James Bond please !! I will go see whatever big screen movie he might be in ! He was the best thing in Grease 2 and the only reason I ever watched that movie again. To think he might have been blamed for its low numbers is absurd.

  • stanhope

    @BGinBigD: autobiography….he could never tell the real stories I know he has to tell. My question is with him still looking so hot, what the hell happened to John James? Al Corley has just barely held up. The book we would all want to read is Jan Michael Vincent’s biography. It has long been my belief that he went off the rails because of what Hollywood did to him because of those once in a generation looks.

  • Enron

    Man, he is gorgeous, instant hard on looking at his pics!

  • Tad

    Indeed he was THE heartthrob for those of us “of a certain age”. The After Dark cover was memorable, although he was a name in NY by the early 1970’s. Wonder why he didn’t mention his two kids. They certainly have grown up under the radar, unlike so many of the others. My guess was that Maxwell had his “Bi” days but married that lovely Juliet Mills daughter of Sir John and sister to Hayley.

  • dommyluc

    I’m surprised no one mentioned Matthew’s hilarious guest shot on “Modern Family”, where he played Claire’s professor from her college days that she had an affair with. His character was such a pompous asshole, and he nailed it. And I agree totally with BGinBigD: why is Caulfield doing regional theater while that overrated Tom Cruise makes feature films. And I would also like a tell-all from Jan Michael Vincent. When I was a teenager he was the Hollywood star I wanted to get off the most, and I have a feeling he has had a few gay encounters in his Hollywood days.

  • Addyboo

    @dommyluc … That’s because that wasn’t him. No shade.

    He did however play a hysterical role in Empire Records that no one has mentioned. That was my first introduction to him.

  • LadyL

    Only years after they are gone will the real Hollywood stories be told about the beautiful men of the seventies… and maybe not even then. Too many closet doors would get yanked right off their hinges.

  • LadyL

    …But kudos to Mr. Caulfield’s surviving the Hollywood meat grinder. Shame about Jan Michael–he was such a beauty back in the day.

  • tusgold

    Where’s THE QUESTION?? Was Barbara Stanyk a notorious lesbian?

  • Ricky Cavazos

    Great actor. He was creepy in The Boys Next Door with Charlie Sheen and he was awesome in Grease 2.

  • John Kuehnle

    He’s aging really well, still looks great

  • Robert Cella

    Him and his wife stayed at a hotel I used to work at. Very nice!

  • William Meyer

    He does look fantastic.

  • John Dobie

    Yes looking truly amazing…but then he always did didn’t he?

  • Dietrich Van Oyen

    I just love grease 2! Why? Maxwell! He was/is handsome! With that leather jacket on that bike ?? hahaha

  • Mel McDonald

    Danielle McGregory

  • Dennis Sandoval

    He was the impetus for my puberty

  • Ely D. Trovela

    I first saw him on TV way back in 1984…. Happy Birthday!!!

  • Rick Bard

    I would marry him in a new york inute.

  • Jennifer Leanio

    It’s Rex Manning Day!

    But really he’ll always be Michael to me.

  • Irish Ryan

    He was a gorgeous guy

  • Kevin J Desmond

    He’s ok I guess, he’s just never done anything for me and I never thought he was that attractive. I’m sure he’s a nice guy though.

  • Craig Quinn

    Loved Grease 2 and Maxwell is as handsome now as he was then

  • Michiel Naude

    Is this Hake from Beverley Hills 90210?

  • Dafydd Ab Gwaredd

    Excellent interview! How refreshing to see someone reminisce the pre-AIDS era in a positive, nonjudgmental light. What a gorgeous man and human being…still crushing on him since the After Dark cover.

  • John Malin

    When you’re hot, you’re hot!

  • Raymond Ess

    Did you hear that it’s where I’m at?: “Lost touch” with reality.

  • Jason Starr- Nolan

    My younger person dreamboat! Still pretty smashing if you ask me! Still my cool rider!

  • Chris Barrett

    Lucas: Hey, Rex, what happened to your hair?
    Rex: Well, the er, stylist – if you can call him that – got a little carried away. No biggy.
    Lucas: It looks good.
    Jane: See, he likes it.

  • Eric Karas

    He’e still so handsome

  • Doug Bowser

    If I was more vapid I would bring up that he is said to have a really large penis.

  • William Vives

    This man confirmed for me that I was gay, I couldn’t help but melt into those eyes and lips in Grease 2!!! Yummmm

  • Stephen Greco

    Handsome then, handsome now

  • brickdr66

    I’ll take that place on the bike.

  • nitejonboy

    @Jennifer Leanio: Oh Rexy, you’re so sexy!!

  • nitejonboy

    @Addyboo: Oh Rexy, you’re so sexy!!

  • operaqueen

    @tusgold: I believe she was. Funny about that. Now what about him?

Comments are closed.