Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou were partners-in-crime on stage in “Sweeney Todd” and crime busters in episodes of TV’s “Murder, She Wrote.”
The actors were also friends and admirers, staying in touch after becoming the toasts of Broadway and Tony Award winners in 1979 for Stephen Sondheim’s acclaimed musical.
They made a point of speaking on their birthdays — Oct. 16 for Lansbury, Sept. 30 for Cariou — and on each anniversary of the play’s opening night, Cariou said Wednesday, a day after Lansbury, 96, died in her Los Angeles home.
“She was a great artist,” Cariou said. “I know she’s with Peter (Shaw) now, her husband, who I think she missed terribly. She said to me on her last birthday, a year ago, ‘It’s just silly being this old.'”
Cariou played the title character in the macabre “Sweeney Todd,” a London barber who dispatches customers with a razor and turns their bodies over to Lansbury’s Mrs. Lovett, a baker who repurposes them for meat pies.
The play won eight Tonys, including best musical and actress and actor. It was Lansbury’s fourth best musical actress award in 13 years, to be followed by a 2009 award for “Blithe Spirt” and a lifetime achievement award at the Tonys in June.
“There is no one with whom I’d rather run a cutthroat business with,” Cariou said in accepting the award for Lansbury.
In the interview with The Associated Press, he recalled the concerns they shared about taking on “Sweeney Todd,” which he described as a “pretty bizarre piece.”
“We were both a little trepidatious about it. We found out pretty early on that we had to be very careful or it could go over the top pretty easily and become farcical,” Cariou said. “We were very proud of the fact that we were able to do it for a year and not go over the top.”
“We made it our business to get to know one another,” he said, lunching together during rehearsal so we could “establish some kind of shorthand and get to know one another better, just as people.”
“We had a wonderful time doing it together,” he said. “We were really proud of what we did, and really grateful for it.”
They also had “great fun” on her hit mystery series “Murder, She Wrote,” in which Lansbury starred as writer-amateur sleuth Jessica Fletcher. The Canadian-born Cariou appeared in seven episodes, airing between 1985 and 1992, in the recurring role of former British intelligence agent Michael Hagarty.
As talented and admired as she was, he said, she was never demanding. The British native did expect tea (preferred type: Yorkshire Gold) and never coffee during set breaks, Cariou recalled.
Lansbury was a remarkable talent, he said, but it was “very easy to be with her.”