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Rachel Ward: “Thorn Birds” Turned Her Into Director

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Rachel Ward should have had a very bright acting career ahead of her after starring in one of the most popular and beloved mini-series ever made; instead, she walked away from acting shortly after to go behind the camera.

The mini-series was “The Thorn Birds”, and although I was very young at the time of its debut in 1983, I clearly remember my mother and her best friend making plans to watch it for the entire run and then speaking about it in reverent tones afterward, almost swooning with the romantic overtones. In the 80′s, when Harlequin romance novels and soap operas were at the peak of their popularity, a television movie about unrequited love was just what the people wanted. “The Thorn Birds”, about a woman who comes between a priest (Richard Chamberlain) and his church after they fall in love, was a wildly successful mini-series, coming just behind “Roots” with 35 million viewers for each of the 10 episodes.

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Yet, to use the parlance of our time, haters gonna hate. As successful as the series was with people all over the country, several critics panned Ward’s performance. Unfortunately, she hadn’t built up the thick skin one needs in Hollywood and let it influence her in a negative way.

“When I got slaughtered, I really took it to heart,” Ward said. “I never really got my confidence back after that.”

Although she appeared in a few more films and television projects–most notably the Jeff Bridges film “Against All Odds”–she says she feels most confident behind the camera rather than in front of it. She did, however, appear at a Hollywood event this past weekend, where she met up with co-star Chamberlain for the first time in years. The two spoke at a “Pioneers In Television” convention for ABC, during which Chamberlain displayed the charm that made millions of women fall in love with him all those years ago.

“You look more beautiful than ever, by the way,” he told Ward.

Rachel Ward: “Thorn Birds” Turned Her Into Director
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  • Dan Moffatt

    Thorn Birds was to me the best television event of all time! It set
    the bar but nothing has ever been made since to come close! Rachel is the one that put it over the top! I don’t care what critics say she was amazing to say the least!

  • trisha

    I was on my honeymoon when The Thorn Birds debuted on TV in 1983. I wanted to stay in at night and watch it, rather than go out and enjoy the tropical paradise we were in. Best mini series ever ! Great story and acting. They don’t make them like that anymore.

    • Lorraine Bossler

      That is beautuful!

  • neil wotherspoon

    greatest mini series ever!!!!

  • Silk

    Never has anything else on TV compared to that great mini-series…
    Loved Rachel Ward in the part and Richard Chamberlain has always been a favorite of mine!

  • Kieth Parks

    I think everybody involved in the project was spectacular and definitely Rachel Ward; then she turned right back around and gave a great performance in Against All Odds the following year. The Thorn Birds was an amazing miniseries, not only in the decade it was produced, and for all times.

  • Micah

    I thought it was just another typical Hollywood Church bashing production. At the end of the day it’s about a priest not having the spiritual backbone to live up to his vows. Stuff that Hollywood loves. Forbidden love? Give me a break. It’s a polished story about two adulterers.

    • http://yahoo Anita Phillips

      It’s about life! It isn’t perfect Micah. People make mistakes and you can’t help who you fall in love with.

  • Telly

    The Thornbirds was one of the best mini-series on television. I loved the storyline, the acting was superb. I thought Rachael Ward gave a stellar performance, along with the rest of the cast. I became a big fan of Rachael Ward ever since. If only they made mini-series like that today! :(

    • Tina

      Ditto!

  • Patricia Cataraso

    That’s what we need on T.V. & Movies. Love, Love and more Love. Not
    this violence and G-Men & Cops and the rest of the junk in movies. I hated batman. The only one is “Superman”. anyway.

  • Carolyn Deutsch

    Best mini series ever!!!! I had already read the book and couldn’t wait for the series to begin. I’d have to say Thornbirds is my all time favorite book as well. Both Rachel Ward and Richard Chamberlain were excellent performers in that mini series. I’ve often wondered what happened to Rachel. Wish she had thicker skin… she’s a fabulous actress.

  • JFO

    What a lovely thing to say to her; Richard Chamberlain is such a
    gentleman. I have to say I liked the book better than the mini-series but you couldn’t beat either for angst and downright sorrow. It seemed nothing good happened to any of the characters and by the end of each you were just emotionally exhausted.

  • Judy

    What a beautiful thing Richard Chamberlain said to Rachel Ward after 30 years. But I wish he wasn’t so gay. What a waste of mankind.

    • neet

      You know what I wish Judy, I wish you weren’t so narrow-minded, ignorant, and homophobic..

      • Kiko

        I wish you weren’t so mean and judgemental Neet.

  • Q.

    Tv programming was better back then, audiences have been dumb down with so called reality shows which are nothing more than badly scripted filler programming, or over stiff acted police shows. Someone had to actually think to write shows like the Thorn Birds and Roots, along with all the other great programs of that day, and by the way, Rachel Ward was a perfect cast for that role. She was an excellent actress and amazingly beautiful. The show was well done by all envolved.

  • Atomicsynth

    I am old enough to remember both “The Thorn Birds” and “Against All Odds” when they were released.

    Rachel Ward was stunning and lit up the screen. There is a big intangible as to why an actress’s career is or is not catapulted. Rachel speaks of taking criticisms of those works to heart, making her want to withdraw from acting in favor of her production company where she directs work that has not gone big budget Hollywood.

    It is much like Tom Selleck, who try as he did, was not accepted as a movie star. He couldn’t make the leap off of television because “they” wouldn’t let him, they being critics, the industry, whomever. I don’t know if Tom took this to heart, as did Rachel, by her own admissions.

    So what makes, say, Kristen Stewart the highly paid actress presently in movies? Is it hype and PR? Yes, coupled with fate’s roll of the dice, meaning luck, and being catapulted by the Twilight saga. Same for Pattinson.

    One cannot wear their heartson their sleeves and survive in such a cold and cruel industry, where, in particular, woman lose their screen appeal to the studios when they age. This happened to Joan Crawford, who owned Hollywood. Louie Mayer dumped her and put her out to pasture, so to speak.

    Pierce Brosnan was fired from Bond because they thought he was too old. Same for Roger Moore.

    Very few actresses defy and survive this dilemma. Meryl Streep has, but will she do Out Of Africa 2? Probably not. Nor can Robert Redford yet pull off the boyish charm of past anymore, yet both are giants. Meryl is more active where Redford has withdrawn into his Sundance world, rejecting the powers of Hollywood.

    I think Rachel should have made it, myself, during her time, but everything is a roll of the dice. Even Richard Chamberlain went back to live theater afterwards, saying it was his true love and calling. Is it really? Or did the movie industry just stop knocking?

  • susan713

    I loved “The Thorn Birds” and “Against All Odds” as well… I was still young then and can think of no one I would have wanted to look like / be like more than Rachael Ward…she was beautiful and classy and as lovely as is possible to be, no matter what any critic thought… today I looked her up on Wikipedia, and am so happy that she is still married to Bryan Brown and that they have three children — so, so happy that her marriage has lasted thru the years. That may not have happened if she had stayed with acting… . About three years ago I met a beautiful young woman named Meggie, Rachel’s character’s name in Thorn Birds. Her mother had named her after that character because she thought she was so amazing… :)

  • Jennifer

    Against All Odds, WOW, I love that movie so 80′s and so sexy. Jeff Bridges, come on people who was hotter?
    I wish Rachel would’ve did more, so beautiful, I wounder if Jeff named his daughter after her character? I can watch that movie over and over.

  • SHARKY

    Rachel is still worth it all…like Helen of Troy. ~

    • Theoptimizers

      Fell for her in “Sharky’s Machine”. Not a great movie, but she was so beautiful that I would never miss a Rachel Ward movie.

  • Cheryl

    I remember hearing that Jane Seymour was supposed to play the part of Meggie……well, while Jane could have done a great job, Rachel Ward shined in this movie and made it very believable. the best mini series ever, by far. She and Richard Chamberlain had amazing chemistry on the screen in all their scenes. I’m with the other posters, too bad they don’t make shows like this anymore……….

  • http://yahoo Leroy Peritos

    I saw the series. I will always LOVE Rachael. I fell in love with her in that movie and felt sorry for Father who was married to the church. Lucky hubby who was in the movie and married her in real life. I was totally jealous. Take good care of her. I still love ya Rachael!

  • http://yahoo Anita Phillips

    The Thornbirds was unforgettable! So emotional. Only thing that has touched me as much since is maybe HBO’s Game of Thrones. Total different except you become emotionally invested. That’s good writing.

  • LeslieT

    I loved the Thornbirds, and so did my mother. Actually, I think about my mother when I think about the Thornbirds, but that’s another story. Both Richard Chamberlain and Rachael Ward were beautiful and WONDERFUL in this series, and I truly wish that some TV station would air the whole thing now. There were some great series back then… on Masterpiece Theater, and otherwise…. TV has definitely deteriated. Makes me sad, and nostalgic.

  • Carol

    Thorn Birds was the best, I have it on DVD and still love watching it

  • Caudate

    She was involved in the drug related death of David Kennedy, reason enough to stay out of the limelight.

  • alani

    This was one of the best mini-series ever! After it aired I waited for Rachel Ward to appear in something else. She just dropped off the face of the earth. She should have listened to her real fans and ignored the haters. That is the best sign of success, when losers hate on you. So good to see an update on her.

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