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York has the Powers of revival (seth green)

Bruce Westbrook

Thursday 8 December 2005, by isa

As a young man he acted in artful classics such as Romeo and Juliet and Cabaret. Recently he’s played Basil Exposition in the wacky Austin Powers flicks. Somewhere in between is the long and respected career of Michael York.

At 63, he’s grateful to get any roles, much less the top-billing he first got for 1975’s Conduct Unbecoming, released last month on DVD. In the drama, York plays a British officer in colonial India probing a scandal among soldiers played by Christopher Plummer, Stacy Keach, Trevor Howard and Richard Attenborough.

’A lot to prove’

"That was a great cast," said York, who does a commentary on the disc. "Given the privilege of first billing, I had a lot to prove, to justify."

Soon after the film he made the sci-fi saga Logan’s Run, shot partly in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. He also hit ’70s paydirt with The Three Musketeers, The Four Musketeers, Murder on the Orient Express, Cabaret and The Island of Dr. Moreau.

The British-born York then segued into dozens of TV movies and stage roles. But for the big screen, it took 1997’s Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery to put him on Hollywood’s map again.

Now a prequel is rumored, though it may bring back only Seth Green (Scott Evil) as a young Dr. Evil. York doesn’t know if he or Mike Myers, as oafish spy Austin, will return.

"I keep hearing the oddest rumors, but no one’s called me," he said.

’On the nose’

His part as plot-blabbing spy boss Basil was beefed up for the first of the three films.

"It tested badly, and I kept being called in to add lines, because I was, after all, Basil Exposition and could add exposition," he said. "Talk about being on the nose, that name."

Lately York has done voice work for video games and has written his fifth book, Are My Blinkers Showing?: Adventures in Filmmaking in the New Russia (Da Capo Press, $22), based on shooting the film Moscow Heat.

"It’s about making movies in Moscow, but also with a sense of a country in tremendous transition."

He’s done other DVD commentaries, too, but only for vintage films, such as Logan’s Run and The Three Musketeers.

"We keep waiting for the pendulum to swing back toward grown-up movies, but at least DVD keeps older films alive," York said. "It’s a brilliant institution, plus you can add all that extra information."

’Little diaries’

Watching Conduct Unbecoming again after 30 years was a revelation, he said. "You see it much more objectively. My more recent films are like little diaries - you remember things that happened, that were cut out. But on an older film, you wonder what happens next. You’re not into the process so much as the story. A great movie carries you away."

York is no different from some older viewers who have shied away from theaters to watch films on DVD. Yet he also has another option.

A Los Angeles resident since 1976, he currently lives near the Writers Guild, Directors Guild and Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences screening rooms in Beverly Hills. And that’s where York sees big-screen movies.

’State of the art’

"They’re wonderful screenings - no smell of food, and nobody talks. I don’t go to the public cinema because I’ve been spoiled. I see films properly - state of the art."

One suspects he’s also invited to George Lucas’ Northern California screening rooms. York is the stepfather of Rick McCallum, Lucas’ right-hand man and producer of the Star Wars saga.

"Spending time on movie sets as a kid, something must have rubbed off on him," York said. "Now he and George seem joined at the hip. I don’t think he’s sat down in years."