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Friday, 22 June, 2001, 14:16 GMT 15:16 UK
Topol's tuneful return
By BBC News Online's Rebecca Thomas
Israeli star Topol is someone who makes his presence felt before it is seen.
Waiting for him in a London hotel, a frisson of excitement from the room next door gives a hint of his arrival.
But it is the sound of his husky tones, made famous in the movie Fiddler on the Roof, that truly give the game away.
Fiddler is the reason for Topol's UK visit. The musical classic is being re-released in celebration of its 30th anniversary.
And, as its star, Topol is promoting the role he has made his own on screen and stage.
"Last night, I saw the film again for the first time in many years and I started sobbing. The whole audience was in floods of tears," he says.
Slim, clean-shaven, with a mischievous grin and twinkle in his eye, Topol is nothing like the portly, bearded, worried Tevye.
He also looks considerably younger than you might expect. When he played the old man Tevye on screen he was only in his early 30s. Three decades later, he is still largely wrinkle-free.
It is an observation Topol seems to enjoy as he describes his fitness regime of a healthy diet and daily run on Tel Aviv beach.
The sophisticated image is far removed from the harsh, peasant surroundings of Fiddler on the Roof.
The movie was adapted from the stage musical which was itself based on the stories of Sholom Aleichem.
Set in pre-Revolutionary Russia, it tells the tale of Jewish peasant Tevye and his struggle to uphold his cultural traditions faced with three rebellious daughters and a domineering wife.
It is a heart-warming story that looks wonderful and became a global hit. It also gave rise to several popular songs, such as If I Were A Rich Man and Sunrise, Sunset. And it made Topol an international star.
But 30 years later, some critics accuse it of having dated, particularly since screen musicals have gone out of vogue.
Topol, disagrees, however. He says its family story is what keeps it universal and fresh.
"There is something for everyone in this film," he purrs. "After 25 years, all married couples will question whether they are still in love.
"Children will always think they know better than their parents.
"And the film is particularly popular with girls in Japan because they identify with the conflicts that can be caused by arranged marriages."
The movie was made in rural, underdeveloped Communist Yugoslavia. The harsh surroundings were ideal for the context of the film.
However, Topol needed a lot of work to be transformed into Tevye. It took two hours in make-up to give him the milkman's wrinkles and paunch.
He was chosen for the part on the strength of his praised stage performance, particularly in London.
The film won him an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe award.
Different film roles followed, including parts in Flash Gordon and For Your Eyes Only. He has also performed Shakespeare and Brecht on stage.
But Tevye has remained a constant, with Topol's last major performance on a UK tour in 1994.
The actor says he has a great affinity for Tevye. He reminds him of his late father, and increasingly of himself.
Like Tevye, Topol - a committed but not "kosher" Jew - talks openly to God.
He admits that most of the roles he has been offered since are for "warm, bearded and husky" men. But he has never regretted playing Tevye.
"I am very proud to be one of five or six actors - like Rex Harrison or Roger Moore - who have been lucky enough to be identified and remembered for a great part," he states.
In Israel, he has a daily spot on TV. He is also director of a stage company which puts on musicals all around the world.
Topol lives in Tel Aviv with his wife Gallia. They have three grown-up children.
They married after meeting on a kibbutz in their early twenties. And it is Gallia who remains the stabilising influence in his showbusiness life.
"It would be easy to take the fame bit seriously," he laughs. "I have to keep saying to myself, 'Hey, wait a minute, I know who you are'.
"But it is my wife who really makes me come back down to earth - she regularly whispers in my ear, 'Just don't forget, we started out on a kibbutz'."
Fiddler on the Roof is re-released on 22 June.
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