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Tuesday, 8 August, 2000, 04:56 GMT 05:56 UK
Typecast? You're not the Obi-Wan

Some people spend their whole lives chasing fame. But for a host of stars, running away from what made them a household name has become a full-time job. By BBC News Online's Ryan Dilley.

Say you were a legend of stage and screen, which line would you most like to be remembered for reciting?

Mark Hamill, Sir Alec Guinness and Harrison Ford in Star Wars
"And Larry, he wasn't Sir Laurence in those days, turned to me... "
A) "If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?"

B) "These aren't the 'droids you're looking for."

The versatility of the Oscar-winning actor Sir Alec Guinness, who died on Saturday, was never in doubt. He could be a comic everyman, a Shakespearean villain or a psychologically battered martinet.

The one and Obi-Wan

But to audiences on every continent he is a craggy old hermit, decked out in a moth-eaten robe, holding a buzzing light sabre and spouting semi-mystical claptrap.

Sir Alec Guinness was, is and always will be synonymous with Star Wars' Obi-Wan Kenobi.

With foresight now legendary in the film industry, Sir Alec arranged a 2% cut of the gross royalties from the low-budget sci-fi film, rather than a safer straight fee.

Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson in Star Wars Episode One
"Typecast me and see what you get!"
Despite netting an estimated 120m, he was never slow to express his distaste for the whole venture. "The dialogue! It's all frightful rubbish!"

Yet even when recovering from an eye operation, Sir Alec, veteran of countless classic films, was asked by medical staff to sign autographs saying "May the Force be with you".

Sir Alec's experience has not discouraged young star Ewan McGregor, who willingly took on the veteran's Jedi mantle as Obi-Wan in the recent Star Wars prequel.

Jedi for anything

"I can't prevent what is going to happen and whatever the film does for me, I'll deal with it. If I'm typecast I'll simply turn to directing," he said.

McGregor may have to start his new career abroad, for - as Dracula actor Christopher Lee once found - the British public love a familiar face doing a familiar turn.

Christopher Lee as Dracula
Dracula: Fangs, but no thanks
After more than a dozen outings as the blood-sucking Transylvanian aristocrat, Lee said "never again" to repeating the classic horror role.

"People said to me, 'If you stay in Britain you'll make a very good living but you'll never be asked to do anything else'."

So Lee went to LA for 10 years.

This is an ex-Python

Comedian Eric Idle also found a move to California was the only way to escape from the shadow of his success, with the Monty Python team.

"What do I not miss [about Britain]? Answering endless questions about Monty Python - like nothing happened for 16 years," he told BBC News Online.

Eric Idle
"Ex-Python Eric Idle went that way, honest."
Though Idle did not appear with his fellow Pythons in a BBC tribute marking the 30th anniversary of the famous TV series, he is not averse to having some fun with the comic millstone around his neck.

A recent run of shows comprising his repertoire of funny songs was waspishly entitled "Eric Idle Exploits Monty Python".

Having a hit record may be even more of a creative burden than starring in a hit TV series.

Stardust memories

Having to please fans nostalgic for the songs of their youth has proved particularly arduous for David Bowie, an artist who has built a career on constantly reinventing himself.

David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust
"Ground control... to, er... Major... someone."
"It is still extremely hard for me to sing songs that I no longer enjoy because of my over-familiarity with them," he said before his performance at this year's Glastonbury Festival.

However, putting together a set of his best known hits for the event, Bowie found over-familiarity didn't mean he could reel off the lyrics from memory.

"The least I can do is get the words of 'Major Tom' right. Well, not 'Major Tom', actually. I can't face doing that one again yet."

Running away from Holmes

David Bowie, a veritable chameleon of a performer, has more than once had to kill off an alterego. He has successfully buried Ziggy Stardust, Alladin Sane and the Thin White Duke.

Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes
Put that in your pipe, Conan Doyle
However, some characters refuse to die.

Victorian author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had no qualms about killing his golden goose, Sherlock Holmes, when the fictional detective threatened to colonise his life completely.

But a public outcry at the death of the sleuth in 1892 forced Conan Doyle to recant. A decade after plunging from the Reichenbach Falls, Holmes returned alive and well to print.

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See also:

01 Oct 99 | Monty Python
Python's long shadow
26 Jun 00 | Entertainment
Bowie ends 'best-ever' Glastonbury
12 Jul 00 | Entertainment
Legend Lee joins Star Wars cast
08 Feb 00 | Entertainment
Hammer's chilling comeback
22 Sep 99 | Entertainment
Homing in on Sherlock
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