WOODWARD, EDWARD

British Actor

Edward Woodward has enjoyed a long and varied career since he first became a professional performer in 1946. A graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, he has acted in England, Scotland, Australia and the United States, on both London and Broadway stages, and has appeared in a wide range of productions from Shakespeare to musicals. Despite being known for dramatic roles, he can also sing and has made over a dozen musical recordings. In recent years, his distinctive, authoritative voice has narrated a number of audio books.

Although he has played supporting roles in prestigious films like Becket (1964) and Young Winston (1972), Woodward is best known for two hit television series, Callan in Britain and The Equalizer in the United States. Despite the fact that the series were made over a decade apart, Woodward played essentially the same character in each--a world-weary spy with a conscience.

Woodward's definitive screen persona of an honorable gentleman struggling to maintain his own personal morality in an amoral, even corrupt, world was prefigured in two motion pictures in which the actor starred, The Wicker Man (1974) and Breaker Morant (1980). In The Wicker Man, Woodward was a priggish Scottish policeman investigating a child's disappearance; he stumbles upon an island of modern-day pagans led by Christopher Lee. In Breaker Morant, Woodward starred as the title character, a British Army officer well-respected by his men, who is arrested with two other soldiers for war crimes and tried in a kangaroo court during the Boer War. In both cases, Woodward's character's life is sacrificed, a victim of larger hostile social and political forces he is too decent to understand or control.

Callan, an hour-long espionage series which ran in Britain on Thames Television from 1967 to 1973, starred Woodward as David Callan, an agent who carried a license to kill, working for a special secret section of British Intelligence. The section's purpose was "getting rid of" dangerous or undesirable people through bribery, blackmail, frame-ups or in the last resort, death. Described in one episode as "a dead shot with the cold nerve to kill" Callan was the section's best operative and indeed, killing seemed to be his main occupation. The character paid a high moral and emotional price for his expertise: he was brooding, solitary, and friendless except for a grubby petty thief named Lonely (Russell Hunter), and his only hobby was collecting toy soldiers. Callan also had two personal weaknesses: he was rebellious and he cared. Although he always did what his bosses told him, he inevitably argued or defied them first, and more importantly, he often became concerned or involved with those whose paths he crossed during the course of his assignments. Despite its bleak subject matter, Callan was a hit in Britain. It spawned both a theatrical film (Callan, 1974) and later, a television special (Wet Job, 1981) in which loyal viewers learned of Callan's ultimate fate.

On one Callan episode, "Where Else Could I Go?", a psychiatrist working for British Intelligence says that Callan is "brave, aggressive, and can be quite ruthless when he believes in the justice of his cause." This description could also be applied to Robert McCall, the lead character of The Equalizer which ran in the United States on CBS from 1985 to 1989. McCall was a retired espionage agent who'd been working for an American agency (probably the CIA). After forcing the agency to let him go, he decided to use his professional skills to aid helpless people beset by human predators in the urban jungle, usually free of charge. His ad running in the New York classifieds read: "Got a problem? Odds against you? Call the Equalizer." Although McCall's clients came from all walks of life, they shared one thing in common: they all had a problem that conventional legal authorities, such as the courts and the police, could not handle. McCall had an ambivalent relationship with his ex-superior, Control (Robert Lansing), but often borrowed agency personnel (Mickey Kostmayer, played by Keith Szarabajka, was a frequent supporting player) to assist in the "problem-solving."

In a time of rising crime rates, The Equalizer was a potent paranoiac fantasy, made more so because Woodward as McCall cut a formidable figure. He seemed the soul of decency, always polite and impeccably dressed, but one could also detect determination in his steely-eyed gaze and danger in his rueful laugh. To many critics familiar with Callan, McCall seemed to be just an older, greyer, version of the same character. However, there were significant differences. Like Callan, McCall was suffering from a crisis of conscience, but unlike his earlier incarnation, he had found a way to expiate his sins. While Callan was the instrument and even the victim of his superiors, McCall was the master of his fate.

A year after The Equalizer's healthy run, Woodward was tapped to star in another detective drama, Over My Dead Body. An attempt by producer William Link to create a male version of his successful Murder, She Wrote, the show paired Woodward as a cranky crime novelist with a young reporter turned amateur sleuth played by Jessica Lundy. Unfortunately, there was a lack of chemistry between the stars and the series lasted barely a season.

Afterward, Woodward returned to the England to lend his authoritative voice and presence to a real-life crime series called In Suspicious Circumstances, a sort of British version of the syndicated American show, Unsolved Mysteries. In 1995, Woodward was back on U.S. television screens in a TV movie, The Shamrock Conspiracy, playing a retired Scotland Yard inspector who tangles with IRA terrorists. The film, reportedly the first of a series starring Woodward as the inspector, was shot in Toronto, Canada.

In addition to his series work, Edward Woodward has appeared in several other television movies both in Britain and the United States. His roles have been offbeat to say the least, including most notably Merlin in Arthur the King, a strange version of the Camelot legend told by way of Lewis Carroll, and The Ghost of Christmas Present in the very fine 1984 production of A Christmas Carol starring George C. Scott as Scrooge.

-Cynthia W. Walker


Edward Woodward as The Equalizer

EDWARD WOODWARD. Born in Croydon, London, England, 1 June 1930. Attended Eccleston Road and Sydenham Road School, Croydon; Elmwood School, Wallingford; Kingston College; Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Married: 1) Venetia Mary Collett, 1952 (divorced); children: Sarah, Tim and Peter; 2) Michele Dotrice, 1987; child: Emily Beth. Began career as stage actor at the Castle Theatre, Farnham, 1946; worked in repertory companies throughout England and Scotland; first appeared on the London stage, 1955; continued stage work in London over next four decades, occasionally appearing in New York as well; has appeared in numerous films and in over 2000 television productions, including Callan, 1967-73, and The Equalizer, 1985-89; has also recorded twelve albums of music (vocals), three albums of poetry and fourteen books on tape. Officer of the Order of the British Empire, 1978. Recipient: Television Actor of the Year, 1969, 1970; Sun Award for Best Actor, 1970, 1971, 1972; Golden Globe Award; numerous others. Address: Ginette Chalmers, Peters, Fraser and Dunlop, 503-04 The Chambers, Chelsea Harbour, London SW10 0XF, England.

TELEVISION SERIES

1967 Sword of Honour
1967-72, 1981 Callan
1972 Whodunnit? (as host)
1977-78 1990 1978 The Bass Player and the Blonde
1981 Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years
1981 Nice Work
1985-89 The Equalizer
1987 Codename Kyril
1990 Over My Dead Body
1991 In Suspicious Circumstances
1991-92 America at Risk
1994 Common as Muck

MADE-FOR-TELEVISION MOVIES

1983 Merlin and the Sword (U.S. title, Arthur the King)
1983 Love is Forever
1984 A Christmas Carol
1986 Uncle Tom's Cabin
1988 The Man in the Brown Suit
1990 Hands of a Murderer
1995 The Shamrock Conspiracy

TELEVISION SPECIALS

1969 Scott Fitzgerald
1970 Bit of a Holiday
1971 Evelyn
1979 Rod of Iron
1980 The Trial of Lady Chatterley
1980 Blunt Instrument
1981 Wet Job
1986 The Spice of Life
1988 Hunted
1990 Hands of a Murderer, or The Napoleon of Crime
1991 In My Defence
1994 Harrison
1995 Cry of the City
1995 Gulliver's Travels

FILMS

Where There's a Will, 1955; Inn For Trouble, 1960; Becket, 1966; File on the Golden Goose, 1968; Incense for the Damned, 1970; Charley One-Eye, 1972; Hunted, 1973; Sitting Target, 1974; Young Winston, 1974; The Wicker Man, 1974; Callan, 1974; Three for All, 1975; Stand Up Virgin Soldiers, 1977; Breaker Morant, 1980; The Appointment, 1981; Comeback, 1982; Who Dares Wins, 1982; Merlin and the Sword, 1982; Champions, 1983; King David, 1986; Mister Johnson, 1990; Deadly Advice, 1993; A Christmas Reunion, 1994.

STAGE (selection)

Where There's a Will, 1955; Romeo and Juliet, 1958; Hamlet, 1958; Rattle of a Simple Man, 1962; Two Cities, 1968; Cyrano de Bergerac, 1971; The White Devil, 1971; The Wolf, 1973; Male of the Species, 1975; On Approval, 1976; The Dark Horse, 1978; The Beggar's Opera, 1980 (also director); Private Lives, 1980; The Assassin, 1982; Richard III, 1982; The Dead Secret, 1992.

FURTHER READING

Jefferson, Margo. "The Equalizer." Ms. Magazine (New York), September 1986.