It was a simple question that unleashed his inner Swami.
Terence Stamp, the once-a-hearthrob British star of such sixties-era films as Far From the Madding Crowd and Billy Budd, was holding court in the Presidential Suite of the Intercontinental Hotel in downtown Toronto, dressed in a baggy white T-shirt and black "Livestrong" sweatpants, his sockless feet in Birkenstocks.
In his new film, A Song for Marion, which closed TIFF Saturday night, the 74-year-old plays a curmudgeon who is perplexed when his ailing wife (Vanessa Redgrave) insists on staying involved with a seniors' choir. When she dies, he eventually joins the choir and, by the end of the film, manages to transcend his grumpiness and grief by singing.
I ask if he believes in late-life redemption. (It seemed a bit of a stretch in the film, to be frank.) "It was the main reason for doing the film," he begins, his deep voice soft and melodic. "Redemption through the voice."
He then launches into an explanation of his spiritual awakening in India, where he disappeared into an ashram (learning to be a tantric master, he explains) for eight years, starting in 1969. It has been widely reported that he travelled there to recover from a broken heart after Jean Shrimpton, the British beauty, dumped him.
But he doesn't mention that bit. Instead, he explains that the year before he had met " a little Indian guy" who helped him try to grasp the unbearable beauty of things like trees and clouds.
"I couldn't rest after that," Stamp muses. "I understood [that] I couldn't understand it." He felt compelled to go to India and once there, he learned that the "breath is the condition under which we are here. So if we are the breath, what's the first manifestation of the breath?"
No one in the room – four journalists and a PR babe – says a word.
"The voice," Stamp says, answering his own question in a hushed tone that sounds like a prayer.
Everyone nods meekly.