The story out of Hollywood is that they sorted through more than 400 r,esum,es looking for someone to play Errol Flynn. Some were familiar names, most were not. Which was fine, since the producers wanted a face that was both fresh and familiar -- fresh to the American television audience but familiar in its resemblance to Flynn's.
Out of the stack emerged Duncan Regehr. Born in Canada, Regehr has been in Hollywood only since 1981 -- long enough to appear in productions such as the TV series "V," "The Blue and the Gray" miniseries, "Wizards and Warriors" and "The Last Days of Pompeii," in which he played a gladiator. A good warm-up for playing Flynn.
"I enjoy swashbuckling roles," he said in a voice that resembles Flynn's. "I don't know why we don't do more."
Monday night CBS will offer an ode to swashbuckling in the form of "My Wicked, Wicked Ways . . . The Legend of Errol Flynn."
The story focuses on Flynn's early years in Hollywood, from 1935 to '43, when he established himself as one of the most magnetic male sex symbols American film has ever produced.
"I set out with the idea of doing an interpretation rather than imitating or mimicking Flynn," said Regehr. "He's a legend and you can get into trouble if you try to puppet him. He was a man of elegance, charm and wit and had a sense of humor. And that's what you try to project."
The three-hour film is based on Flynn's autobiography, published after he died in 1959 at age 50, a book that surprised some critics by being racy, readable and frank.
Regehr relied on the book, a fake mustache and a walk he copied from Flynn's film "Gentleman Jim" to help him tailor his part. "I also spoke with a few people who knew him and I watched his films," he said. "He was not a great actor, but there's an indefinable spirit that came across -- that was him.
"He was a guy who never looked before he leaped. He was totally compulsive. He was always perplexed and surprised to find that someone could be hurt as a result of what he did. He had to live up to his own legend, and that was difficult to do. Trying to do it eventually killed him .>.>. It wounded his spirit."
In dealing with Flynn's first seven years in Hollywood, the film's producers have probably served up the most savory portion of his memoir. The show was produced by Flynn's goddaughter, Doris Keating, who declared her intention to offer a valentine to her godfather. So don't look for material from Charles Higham's 1980 Flynn biography Errol Flynn: The Untold Story, in which it was alleged that the actor was bisexual and worked as a Nazi agent.
"We chose to do his first seven years in Hollywood, partly because those were the magic years," said Regehr. "Those would be the most interesting to an audience. After that he began to go downhill, and I think that would get morbid."
The film ends with Flynn's winning a celebrated statutory rape case. "A witch hunt," said Regehr. The following years would make a different kind of movie, he observed, as Flynn's overindulgent ways caught up with him.
Regehr, who is 31, was only a child when Flynn died. Regehr was born in Alberta of Flemish extraction and started his own show business career at 14 when he hosted a teen talk show on Canadian cable television. Growing up in British Columbia, he attended the Bastion Theater School in Victoria and performed in regional theaters and the Stratford Ontario Shakespeare Festival. He is an accomplished figure skater, former Olympic boxing aspirant -- he stands 6-foot-5 -- and is an exhibited artist. He made a number of Canadian feature films, and played in a TV series called "Matt and Jenny" before heading south to Hollywood.
Regehr is surrounded by a cast thatincludes Barbara Hershey as Flynn's first wife, Lili Damita; Darren McGavin as Flynn's friend, Dr. Gerrit Koets; Lee Purcell as Olivia de Havilland, who costarred with Flynn in eight films; Barrie Ingham as John Barrymore, and Hal Linden as movie biggie Jack Warner.
"There's no talk of a sequel," said Regehr, "but there is talk of a prequel, dealing with Flynn's time in New Guinea." Flynn, an Australian, went to New Guinea at age 17 following news of a gold strike. He ended up, among other things, getting involved in slave-trading.
"Wicked Ways" was directed by former actor Don Taylor. "He had a wonderful vision of the Hollywood of that time," said Regehr, "and he knew Flynn a little bit.
"We set out to show the elegance of the period. The sense of humor was different then -- corny and wholesome. And people dressed -- my God, did they dress! And there's the machinery of the studios which punched out stars .>.>. and the Machiavellian way in which things worked."