My Secret Life: Robert Vaughn, actor, 79


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The Independent Online

My parents were... always on the road. They were actors, so I was raised predominantly by grandparents in Minnesota. I spent holidays with my mother and stepfather but lived in my grandparents' house.

When I was a child I wanted to... There was absolutely no question in my mind – from the first moment I was conscious of it, when I was about six, I wanted to be an actor. It was so thrilling to watch people on stage saying lines and making people happy – even when I didn't know what it was, I could see what a pleasure it was for the actors and what a pleasure it was for the audience.

If I could change one thing about myself... I think I appear to people who don't know me as distant, cool, but I'm none of those things – when you get to know me I'm a lot of fun! I'm more of a listener than a talker; I can't change it but I would if I could.

You may not know it but I'm very good at... sports. Throughout school I was very active; I was captain of the track team and played basketball and football.

You wouldn't know it but I'm no good at... There is something I desperately want to be good at but I'm not – I would love to have learnt to sing.

At night I dream of... Marilyn Monroe. I did have occasion to meet Marilyn once, when I was very young. I had a job escorting interviewees at a television studio. This girl came in, her name was Norma, and she had dark glasses, very pretty. She stopped to drink from a water fountain and she was really struggling, I had to hold her head and help her drink!

I wish I'd never worn... During The Man From UNCLE I got into a gorilla suit.

I drive... a 1962 Lincoln Continental convertible. It looks very much like the car Kennedy was assassinated in. She's called LC – her initials – but I call her Elsie.

The person who really makes me laugh... My best friend of almost 50 years, an actor and colleague of mine, Sherwood Price. I know that when I put my hand on the doorknob, that within 15 minutes of being inside I'll be screaming with laughter. He's what's called an insult comedian – he insults you and makes you laugh at the same time.

My secret crush is... Marilyn Monroe – but it's not a secret!

Movie heaven... My favourite movies are Gone with the Wind and Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront, directed by Elia Kazan. No matter whether I look at it once a week or once a year it still stands out as the best directed and acted film in American cinema.

My greatest regret... That I never got the opportunity to have one of the Hamlets I did photographed. I didn't think about it at the time, but I wish I could give that to my children as a memory of their pop.

My real-life villains... Such a long list, starting with Mao Tse-Tung, Hitler, Stalin – all the 20th-century villains involved.

The last time I cried... When my dog died about two or three years ago. I was here filming Hustle but I thought I'd get back to see him before he died. I didn't, but his ashes are on my mantelpiece.

My five-year plan... Well, to stay vertical and stay articulate.

What's the point? I'm not a person to dwell on the meaning of life; I go from day to day. My grandmother said: "Live for today, for tomorrow may be as yesterday". Live each day, for you can only control the present.

A life in brief

Robert Vaughn was born in New York in 1932. He has appeared in over 150 films, including The Magnificent Seven and Bullitt. In 1959, Vaughn was Oscar-nominated for his role in The Young Philadelphians. He went on to star in the Sixties TV series The Man from UNCLE and then The Protectors in 1972. Vaughn wrote a PhD on blacklisting in Hollywood, published as Only Victims. Since 2004, he has appeared in BBC1's Hustle; the new series begins on 6 January and the DVD of season seven is out on 9 January