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Dalton leaves Bond behind with ‘Hercules’

The former 007 plays the strongman's stepdad, Amphitryon.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Timothy Dalton thinks Paul Telfer should be the one being interviewed.

After all, Telfer got to play the title role in NBC’s movie “Hercules” while Dalton filled the part of the strong man’s humiliated stepdad, Amphitryon — hardly a character whose name resonates with the masses.

But Telfer’s a name that hardly resonates with the masses. Dalton was James Bond — in 1987’s “The Living Daylights” and 1989’s “Licence to Kill.”

So Dalton’s getting interviewed here.

A bit unsure about what he can find to say that’s interesting about Amphitryon, Dalton takes a noble stab at it. “I’m cuckolded by the god I suppose I worship, which is a pretty difficult situation if you think about,” he says, laughing.

That god is Zeus, who has a tryst with Amphitryon’s wife, Alcmene — the union that produced Hercules.

The three-hour movie based on the classic Greek legend airs 8 p.m. EDT Monday, May 16. Another lavish, special effects-enhanced production from Robert Halmi Sr., the saga also stars Elizabeth Perkins as Alcmene; Leelee Sobieski as Hercules’ lover, Deianeira; and Sean Astin as his music tutor and friend, Linus.

Dalton has worked for Halmi before — as Julius Caesar in “Cleopatra” and Rhett Butler in “Scarlett” — and his respect for the producer counted in his choice to play Amphitryon.

“He does things well. He goes for it. He doesn’t always get it right, but he’s got chutzpah, panache and style,” Dalton says.

‘A revolutionary story’Before taking on this project, the 59-year-old actor had only a superficial grasp of the Hercules legend.

“I thought it was just about a strong he-man. I didn’t realize it was quite a revolutionary story, too. The thing about the Jesus legend is it’s all about getting into a heaven outside earth. The Hercules legend is about finding, in a sense, heaven on earth by growing to your highest fulfillment.”

Dalton “keyed into this notion of fatherhood” as the hook to playing Amphitryon, describing how the character learns to love and support Hercules as though he were his own.

“He’s a perfectly decent, nice fellow. Not the sort of part I usually do. Miles outside my normal range,” he says, exploding again with laughter.

Dalton made his film debut as the young King of France in 1968’s “The Lion in Winter,” starring Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn. Since then, on stage and screen, he’s tackled various historical roles and classic parts made famous by others, including several tempestuous lovers such as Heathcliff in “Wuthering Heights,” (originally played by Laurence Olivier), the Rhett Butler role (synonymous with Clark Gable) and Rochester in “Jane Eyre” (notably depicted by Orson Welles).

“It just happened, but I suppose there’s a side of myself that walks into the lion’s mouth, which I think I must stop doing,” he says, chuckling.

He views iconic screen roles as a stage actor might — worthy of continued reinterpretation.

“You can’t really beat what is already established as myth in people’s minds, but if something comes along and someone says ‘Will you do this?’ and the script is good — and as I’ve always loved a challenge — then you just say ‘Yes,’ and see if you can dodge the arrows.”

His dark, tough interpretation of Bond was the target of a few of those arrows. An escape clause in his contract kicked in when extensive litigation between producers and studio delayed the start of his scheduled third 007 adventure. He escaped.

“It was a bit imprisoning, and still is to an extent,” he says.