Grant Bowler has appeared on hit shows including Lost, Ugly Betty and True Blood. The Australian actor is now taking on one of his most demanding roles as the late Richard Burton in Lifetime’s Liz & Dick opposite Lindsay Lohan as Elizabeth Taylor. The project has been regarded as a comeback of sorts for Lindsay and, as expected, it’s garnered its share of controversy. We spoke to Grant about the legendary couple’s chaotic love affair, his trepidation about working with Lindsay and how he prepared for the project.
You said Lindsay Lohan is “pretty much Elizabeth Taylor reincarnated.” How so?
Lindsay was really smart casting, because there’s a lot of parallels. Elizabeth Taylor was a child star and grew up making movies. I’ve worked with a few actors over the years who grew up in the industry, and they have a very different reality than someone who came into acting as an adult. Filming and being on a set is where they are, not what they do. And Taylor had her troubles with different things and a lot of scandal in her life. Lindsay’s had the same. It closely mirrors that intrinsically. The mindset is very similar.
Did you have any apprehension going into the project once you heard Lindsay was cast?
Yeah, of course. You read a lot of stuff and hear a lot of stuff and it’s like, “Oooooo-k!” It’s definitely something you consider and you think about how much time is going to be spent shooting and how much time is going to be spent doing other things. That’s just from a professional standpoint, because I had my own role to play and a lot of pressure. You want to give yourself the best chance you can to succeed and not run the sword through yourself before you even get going. But the chance to play Burton doesn't come around twice, and I was never going to turn it down. We all worked very hard, and I think we got it.
Were there any tumultuous relationships in your past that you drew from?
Plenty. I cherry-picked the most eruptive of every relationship I’ve ever had. Taylor and Burton had a classic car wreck, but they adored each other so much. They just kept crashing into each other for many years. They had some hilarious, oftentimes painful encounters, not only with each other, but with the world. The movie gets inside what it’s like to be in that whirlwind. They were an adventure, those two. I’d never want a relationship like that.
What did you want to get across about Richard Burton?
He was a hell of an actor. He came from this tiny coal-mining village in Wales, and he didn’t speak English. He spoke Welsh until he was 15. The guy was nominated for seven Academy Awards. Sometimes that gets a bit lost. He was one of the finest stage actors that ever lived and managed to become a huge movie star as well, which is something that few actors have accomplished.
We’ve all seen the scene of you on Ugly Betty coming out of the ocean. Did you have to downplay your physique to play Burton?
I’m definitely a bigger unit. He was an action guy in an era when action guys were just action guys because they looked mean and talked tough. We have this different aesthetic now. It was great. I had a couple months’ break from going anywhere near a gym. I had to lie around at home and do very little.
You have a successful career, yet you can walk down the street and not get mobbed. Would you ever want the level of recognition Taylor and Burton had?
For me, acting’s about the acting. I love testing myself to see if I can do things or not. I love the process of acting. I’ll work 15 to 20 hours a day quite happily. I adore it. But then there’s the flipside of it, which is fine. I don’t mind it. It’s nice meeting people, but I like my life. It’s a balancing act between maintaining the normalcy of your life and what you do for a living. There are a lot of people who enjoy the more public things, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But I’d probably rather go bodysurfing with the kids.
Liz & Dick airs Nov. 25 on Lifetime.