“Don’t laugh at my flabby ass, all right? Just don’t laugh,” one-time heartthrob Christopher Atkins laughs himself, speaking to us from his home in freezing Connecticut before he boards a plane to Australia for his role in the play, Ladies Night.
Written in 1987, a whole decade before The Full Monty, the New Zealand play is our southern neighbours’ most commercially successful of all time. Like The Full Monty, Ladies Night is about a bunch of unemployed middle aged blokes who decide to form a strip act. Hilarity ensues.
Surprisingly, or maybe not, Atkins says that he hasn’t read the play yet, signing on based on the pitch. “They have been after me for a couple years to do this play,” he tells us. “I’m a little bit nervous about theatre because I like ‘take two’. I haven’t done a heck of a lot of theatre. The last play I did was 20-some-odd years ago with Lori Loughlin. We did Grease. Man, I’m not a singer and I can barely dance, but I did it. The thing about theatre though is that once you’re out there, it’s electric. And the audiences in Australia are just magical. They’re fun people looking for a good time all the time, and that’s why this play is perfect for that. It’s kind of naughty, it’s kind of silly and it’s really funny, so, I’m really looking forward to doing it, but at the same time I’m a nervous wreck.”
We suggest that the nervous energy and lack of dancing skills is possibly why he was cast in the first place. “Hey, hey, hey, that clumsy dancing is my real moves, man,” he hams it up. “Go easy on me, go easy on me. In The Pirate Movie they put me in the back because I couldn’t dance, and I was the star of the movie!”
Which is a perfect segue to discuss Atkins’ rapid rise to fame with The Blue Lagoon, and the fall was equally sudden with The Pirate Movie, before he gained further notoriety with a recurring role on soap opera Dallas.
“Completely by accident,” Atkins tells us about scoring the role in The Blue Lagoon. “It was nothing that I was ever aspiring to be. I was modelling with Ford Models in New York, and through another modelling agency I ended up auditioning. It was the first movie I ever auditioned for, and I went in just for fun so I could have an experience and tell all my friends. I didn’t expect that I was going to be the guy actually in the movie!
“When I went and did the movie, my mom said to me, because I was only 18, ‘It’s a wonderful experience if it’s something you want to do, and if you don’t want to do it, you don’t have to do it ever again’.
“Well, after that I ended up coming back from the movie and I was supposed to go away to college, but by the time the movie was over college had already started, so I missed it. I was sitting for a couple of months while they were editing the movie, and I had no idea what to do with myself. I didn’t know where my life was, I didn’t know what was going on. It was really hard during that downtime.
“Then all of a sudden Columbia Pictures started calling me up and telling me all kinds of things, and I had to learn all sorts of stuff. Before I knew it, I was travelling all over the world on a tour for the movie, and that was literally for a year or so, just touring. During that time the movie took off, so I had offers coming in, and it was just laid out for me.
“The acting became my job, and that gave me the opportunity to do all of the other things that I love to do. I really do love acting. When I’m in front of the camera and I get to be in that creative zone, it’s exciting and fun. I think that’s just who I am, more of a creative person than I am anything else.”
The Blue Lagoon was shot in Fiji, which meant that the crew was made up of Australians, many of whom have actually remained in touch with Atkins, and have created a real love for our country for the actor. “It was a young film industry back in 1979 when we shot the picture, and these Australians were just dynamic,” Atkins recalls. “I’m absolutely 100% convinced, if it wasn’t for the Australian crew that they had on that movie, it wasn’t going to be the movie that it became. It was a life experience.
“For whatever reason I kept finding myself back in Australia, for another project or for another publicity event, I was just constantly going back there, and my wife [Lyn Barron] was Australian. I was married to her for 20 years and both our kids were dual citizens. Australians are just crazy, they’re fun and full of life.”
Atkins’ love of Australia extends to doing business, which includes working with a local producer on an upcoming adventure reality show shot in the Spice Islands and throughout Indonesia, and also a screenplay called Lucky Valentine, set in an Australian regional town and the world of competitive cricket!
“It’s a fun, funny, sort of a Crocodile Dundee picture in reverse. It deals with two of the biggest sports on the planet, cricket and baseball, and it combines them into this wonderful family heart and soul movie that will just make you laugh till you fall out of your seat and stand up and cheer. Americans will eat it up.
“The big dream is to take a blank page and put it on the screen,” he tells us of his writing aspirations. “That’s the big dream. The ‘yets’ are the things that I dream of, and that I have not done yet, but I’m very, very close. I’m really looking forward to getting out there to be able to get in front of some finance people and put this picture together, and be able to fulfil one of those ‘yets’, and then be able to make a beautiful film so that we can make the next one.”
A keen fisherman who has even patented a fishing lure, Christopher Atkins is still recognised for his roles in The Blue Lagoon and Dallas. Does he think that his launch in showbiz as a heartthrob hurt or hinder his life and career?
“Yes and no,” Christopher Atkins answers. “It’s a little frustrating because I’d like to be seen as a comedian, or I’d like to be seen in some other role… So, you get a little typecast in that way. But at the same time, no, because every single actor wants to be a star. Every single actor that comes out, their dream is to hit the big time. I was lucky enough to get it, and for that I’m very, very grateful and I’m very lucky that happened in my life and in my career. And it happened early, and gave me an opportunity to be a dad and to step away for a little while and be married and have my kids, and enjoy them doing their baseball and their ballet and ice skating or whatever my son and my daughter were involved in, and I got to be a dad.
“It’s very flattering to be in a movie that is that recognisable to this day. For that I’m a very lucky person, you know?”