06/20/2013 09:09 am ET Updated Aug 20, 2013

Interview: Terence Stamp and Unfinished Song

It's post-lunch hour and the lounge at the Gordon Ramsay at the London in midtown Manhattan is nearly empty as Terence Stamp settles himself into a banquette.

At 74, his eyes are still exceptionally blue and a little bit mischievous. He sits calmly, listens to a question about how often he is offered roles like the one he plays in Unfinished Song, and smiles.

"Rarely," he says. "I'm always out there. But this is the first romantic lead I've been offered since Far From the Madding Crowd. And that was 1966."

In Unfinished Song, Stamp plays Arthur, a grumpy pensioner in London whose wife, Marion (played by Vanessa Redgrave), is a member of a senior-citizen chorus that performs contemporary hits. Arthur disapproves for a couple of reasons: For starters, he worries she'll make a fool of herself. He's also concerned that Marion, who has cancer, is wasting what little strength she has. But when she dies, he winds up taking her place in the chorus, though Arthur's musical tastes tend toward Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, Stamp notes.

"One's musical choices are made early on," he says. "It's the music you were exposed to as a teen-ager."

Stamp had worked with Redgrave once before, doing Ibsen onstage: "She was just a dream to work with," he says. "She's as brave a theater actress as there is. I'm not - and that's nothing I pride myself on."

When he burst on to the scene more than 50 years ago, Stamp seemed destined for stardom. His film debut, playing the title role in Peter Ustinov's adaptation of Herman Melville's Billy Budd, earned him an Oscar nomination. He was chosen for the title role in William Wyler's film of the best-selling novel, The Collector, and was hailed as the most beautiful man in film, a description Stamp says he can't relate to when he looks at himself in his early films.

"I see a creature who was not that good-looking," he says. "What they're seeing is the work of the lighting cameraman. I was lit by the Turners and Monets of cinema, people like Robert Surtees and Nicolas Roeg. I'm realistic enough to know I never looked that good in real life."

This interview continues on my website.