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Topol has been fiddling on the roof for more than 40 years.He first played the role of Tevye, the shtetl dairyman plagued by a trio of rebellious daughters, in Tel Aviv, where he sang in Hebrew. His most recent appearance was in New Zealand last year, and he's currently in negotiation with producers eager to take him out on an American tour.I just learnt today that in the book the character doesn't exist. It's because of Maurice Chevalier of course."Topol is fresh off the plane and speaking on the first day of rehearsal for the stage version of the musical adapted from the 1944 novel by Colette. "I'm not sure it was innocent, but no one talked about it."Topol stumbled into musical stardom. He said things like, 'Mrs Finkelstein, are you yawning because I'm boring you or was it because your husband kept you awake all night? I telegrammed back saying there was no way I wanted to be connected to that show."Another actor took the part in Tel Aviv. In my imagination a 50-year-old man would sit down slowly. His family, including his wife of 51 years, know him as Chaim, which the producers struggled to pronounce and, with his permission, omitted from the marquee.But he has already decided how to deal with the moral timebomb planted in the show's best-known song."You have to push quickly towards 'Without them what would little boys do? On the back of his performance in 1964 as a much older man in the Oscar-nominated immigration comedy Sallah Shabati, which he also produced, he was invited to take a look at the Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof starring the great Zero Mostel with a view to originating the role in Israel. After a year Topol's old teacher took over, only to fall ill. When the show opened in London and he was summoned there, even then he assumed it was because the producers had happened to see him in the role in Tel Aviv rather than the other, more established actor."I had no doubt if they had seen him they would have asked him to do it. Now I jump much more and dance much more vigorously."It was in his last month in the role in London that Topol was cast by Norman Jewison in the film. Perhaps it was easier to acquiesce when in English he himself "had a very limited vocabulary of about 50 words".So presumably Topol will finally have some inkling of how it feels to play Tevye when you're not Topol."They're very big shoes," he concedes. We saw the film and thought it would be a good idea to bring over the old man from Tel Aviv.' So it's all luck."Nowadays his old-man act isn't quite so faked."But Maurice Chevalier moulded them very nicely so it's comfortable to come into them. Singing just the first line, 'Thank heaven, thank heaven, thank heaven for little girls' - that sounds…"Like a relic from a more innocent age? "When I started, I kept muscles contracted so as not to come out of the silhouette that I built of an old man. I hope it's not because I was the cheapest."It was during the London run that Topol was cut loose from his first name.Following the release of ‘Skyfall,’ the real MI6 put an ad in the “The Times” with the header, “If the qualities of a good spy were obvious, they wouldn't make a very good spy." They went on to debunk other myths about spies and the ad became known as one of MI6’s most open recruitment drives.Long before Israelis like supermodel Bar Refaeli and Wonder Woman actress Gal Gadot made their names internationally, Chaim Topol was winning Golden Globe awards as his country's most famous ambassador to Hollywood.
In an era when many Israeli entertainers try to make it big in the English-speaking world — and even the most minor global achievements of Israelis in the arts are championed as a source of national pride — it is often forgotten that a generation ago one of their own was so successful that he came to be known by a single name: Topol.I was brought up in a kibbutz here and I started to work at the age of 14 in a printing house," he said, seated in a living room adorned with paintings, sculptures and Judaica."Obviously, when you are successful in a film and the money flows, yes, obviously, it is very nice.After years of playing Tevye on stage in London and on Broadway, he scored the lead role in the 1971 Norman Jewison-directed film version, winning the Golden Globe award for lead actor and being nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award.He lost out to Gene Hackman in "The French Connection."He estimates the film has been seen by over a billion people and it sealed Topol's status as an international film celebrity and Jewish symbol for his renditions of such hits as "If I Were a Rich Man." All told, he said he has played the part more than 3,500 times on stage, most recently in 2009. Topol appeared in more than 30 movies, including the lead in "Galileo," Dr.