Christopher Lambert first made waves as Tarzan in 1984’s Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, becoming a sought-after Hollywood heartthrob. But a lifelong visual impairment brought its own set of challenges to his work, especially as he swash-buckled and battled as Connor MacLeod in the Highlander movies.
Since childhood, Lambert has been near-blind due to severe short-sightedness, also known as myopia, with the actor requiring special glasses to help him see. And yet, across his career, Lambert has often acted blind, even going so far as to film dangerous stunts and action sequences without glasses or contact lenses.
“He would seem to look through you into the distance”
A dual French-American citizen, Christopher Lambert was born Christophe (he only adds the ‘r’ to his first name for English-language work) in Great Neck, New York on March 29, 1957 to French parents. As his father Georges Lambert-Lamond was a French diplomat at the UN, Christophe’s parents frequently travelled abroad for work. He would as a result spend much of his childhood at boarding school in Switzerland, and see his parents for only a few months each year.
In his parents’ absence, Lambert had to grow up quickly. His childhood hero was Tintin: “He gave me the strength to survive as a kid,” Lambert has said. “I was captured and inspired by his adventures, imagination and relentless optimism.” An upbeat attitude was doubtless helpful for dealing with both the frequent absence of Christophe’s parents and a serious problem he had with his vision.
From a young age, Lambert’s myopia has made it difficult for him to see objects at a distance. This didn’t stop him from throwing himself headfirst into acting, with Lambert having known he wanted to become a thespian after starring in a school play at the age of 12, and subsequently winning roles in various French movies while still in his early 20s.
Then on March 30, 1984, the day after his 27th birthday, Lambert was catapulted to international fame with the release of his first Hollywood production, Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes.
The French-speaking Lambert knew very little English at the time of filming, but his minimal dialogue as Tarzan meant that this was easily concealed. A different potential hurdle – his weak eyesight – also proved a blessing on the movie.
Lambert has always worn blue-tinted glasses to protect his eyes from the sun’s glare, and to correct his short-sightedness. Going into his audition for Tarzan, Lambert figured his look would be all wrong: “I had big glasses, I was a matchstick and Patsy [Pollack, casting director] said you have to test this guy, so [director Hugh Hudson] tested me.”
When Lambert took off his glasses in the audition, Hudson was captivated. “He had this strange quality – somehow, because he was myopic, when he took his glasses off, he couldn’t really see properly so he would seem to look through you into the distance,” Hudson explained.
“When you miss with heavy steel, it can be bloody”
Lambert went on to star in action-packed movies like 1985’s Subway, in which his impaired vision was occasionally a hazard – especially as his particular eye condition prevents him from wearing contact lenses. Lambert, however, was determined to complete his own stunts despite his disability.
“If each time there is action, you sit in a chair and let the stuntman do it, then you’re not doing an action movie,” Lambert commented in 1986, when he took on his most action-heavy role to date in Highlander. To play an immortal warrior, Lambert trained in sword fighting with Bob Anderson, best known as the stunt double for Darth Vader.
“I’m very short-sighted and was nervous,” Lambert later reflected. “We started with plastic swords, then wood, then aluminium, then light steel, then heavy steel. When you miss with heavy steel, it can be bloody. You have to practise – a lot.”
Performing stunts in a state of near-blindness has naturally resulted in Lambert suffering some accidents. While filming the battles of Highlander II, he accidentally chipped one of Michael Ironside’s teeth, and in return Ironside unwittingly severed part of Lambert’s finger. Later, on 1992 sci-fi movie Fortress, Lambert was singed in an accident involving a burning truck.
Further action-heavy roles followed in such films as Mortal Kombat, Mean Guns and 1999’s Beowulf, as well as the third and fourth Highlander movies. Lambert doesn’t wear glasses in any of these films, meaning he was essentially acting blind in all of them. However, Lambert commits to his roles by paying attention to all details on-set, not only the visual.
For instance, when filming an emotional scene for 1988’s To Kill a Priest in the late 80s, Lambert drew heavily on his hearing. “The first scene we did, the church scene, there were about 2,500 people in the church and the first five rows were Polish. I can’t see very well without my glasses, but I felt those Poles and the way they were listening and the way they were crying. That’s all you need.”
“I find it is easier to get a true sense of who someone is by hugging them”
For Lambert, eye contact remains a crucial part of getting to know someone. “I use my gut feeling, my instincts to discern people, especially in show business where you can find all types of individuals each with their very own agendas,” he once noted.
The actor explains, “I find it is easier to get a true sense of who someone is by hugging them, holding them in my arms and somehow feeling their souls. To look into their eyes and see what lies behind the façade. Eyes are the window to the soul. This is the way I have found the few friends I still have today.”
Currently single, Lambert was married to actress Diane Lane from 1988 to 1994; they share a daughter, Eleanor Lambert. Later, he was briefly married to actress Jaimyse Haft, and he dated Sophie Marceau for several years.