LOS ANGELES — HE has had a long career as one of England's best actors. He has earned knighthood from the Queen and Academy Awards for directing and producing ``Gandhi.'' For all this, Richard Attenborough may be most remembered as the builder of ``Jurassic Park.''
This bothers Sir Richard not a whit. After 50 years at his trade, he knows the value of starring in what is likely to be the most successful movie of all time.
``Probably in that one movie, more people have seen what I've done than in all the other films put together,'' he muses during a visit here for the opening of his latest film as a director, ``Shadowlands.'' He adds with a chuckle: ``I've done one or two things that were better than that. Not much, though.''
Attenborough almost didn't play the pivotal role of John Hammond, the tycoon who replicates dinosaurs for an island attraction. Steven Spielberg previously had asked him to appear in two of his films, but Attenborough was unable to do so.
Spielberg made his plea: ``I can't see my way to cast anyone in `Jurassic Park' until John Hammond is cast. It's the leading part, and I can't see anyone else playing it but you.'' Spielberg even offered to adjust his schedule to Attenborough's work on ``Chaplin.''
Attenborough succumbed to the flattery - and immediately regretted it.
``I hadn't acted in 14 years,'' he says. ``It's much easier to be a director than an actor. If you're an actor, you've got to get it right. Who's to say whether you got it right as a director? I thought to myself, all those lines to remember!
Richard Samuel Attenborough was born 70 years ago in Cambridge, England, where his father was a college president. He won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and soon was appearing in West End plays. An agent took him to Noel Coward, who was seeking fresh faces for his film tribute to the navy, ``In Which We Serve.''
His budding film career was interrupted by the air force, and Attenborough ended up photographing bombing missions over Germany. ``That's when I got to know all about cameras,'' he says.
After the war, Attenborough's acting career flourished, both in British films (``Brighton Rock,'' ``Dunkirk'') and American (``The Great Escape,'' ``The Sand Pebbles''). By the mid-1960s, the acting life had paled.
Attenborough began producing films with Bryan Forbes and turned to directing with ``Oh! What a Lovely War.'' His 20-year effort to make a film biography of Gandhi paid off in 1982 with eight Academy Awards, including best picture and director. He has also directed ``A Bridge Too Far,'' ``Young Winston,'' ``Cry Freedom,'' and ``Chaplin.''
When asked to analyze why ``Chaplin'' failed at the box office, he replies, ``I don't know quite why. I do think Chaplin is totally out of fashion. And I think we didn't make as good a film as we ought to have made.''
The director has bounced back with ``Shadowlands,'' a singular love story based on a real-life English writer-teacher and the American divorcee he married. Attenborough described the contrast in styles of Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger.
``Tony in large measure confines himself in preparation and study.... He'll read the script 100 to 150 times so that he is so certain in his mind that he never has to think of a line. The script is back here in his head. Immovable. Solid.
``Debra is the opposite. She probably knows more about Joy Gresham [her character] than anyone alive.... All that, rather like Tony's lines, is lodged in the back of her head. They arrive by different ways. Debra likes rehearsing, Tony doesn't like rehearsing.''