I think we've got the best actress in Britain," said the producer of Tom & Viv, talking to The Sunday Times of London. He was speaking about Miranda Richardson, who plays Vivien Haigh-Wood, the wife of the poet T.S. Eliot, in the new movie about the couple's disastrous marriage.
Ms. Richardson was in Manhattan recently, and I went up to the Regency Hotel on Park Avenue on a windy, rainy winter's day to see her and ask a few questions. Her film had opened briefly in New York and Los Angeles before Christmas, to qualify for this year's Academy Awards, before opening nationwide early in the new year. The reviews had been strangely mixed, with one critic complaining that Miranda had been handed "a role that approaches cliche," while an other reviewer raved, "Miranda Richardson merits an Oscar nomination."
Now here I was, dripping rain from my coat and shaking hands with a small very pretty woman with a short, Joan of Arc at the stake sort of haircut, a green wool overshirt, black leather pants patent-leather shoes and black socks. I knew about the socks, because the shoes had been kicked off near the couch "Patent leather is wonderful," Miranda informed me. "you can walk in the rain and the mud, and they never need shining." That's how the British are, even their great actresses: sensible. So I set right to work asking if people ever got Miranda confused with any of the other British acting Richardsons, such as Natasha "everyone asks me that," she complains "and there's no confusion. I don't know the Richardsons, but I know who I am." She was more forthcoming about her role in Tom & Viv and about T.S. Eliot, a great writer but apparently a dreadful man. Had Viv been a masochist to stay with this guy?
"No, she had to prove it hadn't been waste of time," Miranda said. "It's the story of a marriage, and in marriage there are always the two parties. Viv just never had a hearing before." Had she know much about Eliot before taking on the role? "I knew some of the poetry, but not much about the man," she said. "I'd spoke some of his lines at I7 in a youth theater."
The stuff I'd read about Miranda sketched her as a solitary sort of kid who didn't express herself very often or very eloquently. Yet the next thing you read is that she's in drama school and on the way to becoming a great actress. "what happened in between?" I asked.
"What happened was a great English teacher I had who helped me to love language," she said. "Especially Shakespeare English was not my favorite subject before. And I discovered that when I read, I had an effect on others. It was something I could do."
In the new film, Willem Dafoe plays Eliot "I'd not worked with him before," Miranda said, "but I knew and liked his work, liked his choices." What did that mean? "His choices of roles," she replied. "and, yes, his choice of the way he ought to speak a line, both." She has since done another film with Dafoe, The Night and the Moment.
Miranda said she enjoyed New York and would be coming back again to promote Tom & Viv. So she likes this movie? "I wouldn't be promoting it if I didn't like it," she said, living up to her reputation as a no nonsense woman.
I'd heard Miranda was a tough interview. And she was. I think it's part shyness, part smart. She's smarter than most people and doesn't like dumb questions, and she doesn't bother trying to charm you. But when she lets herself "relax, she's okay. I asked about the story that she'd turned down the starring pole in Fatal Attraction with the - remark "who wants to see people stabbing people with scissors?" True? "I don't go around saying things like that," Miranda said, "but it is true they talked to me about that role, and I said no." For a while now, Miranda has been living (alone but for two cats) in South London "still driving the old Honda". I asked. "StilI living in South London, still have the cats, still have the same Honda," she replied "I should probably be sensible and get a new one, but I keep spending money on it" She gave me a helpless look. I understood. Haven't we all fallen in love with old cars? When we finished, Miranda walked me out into the hotel corridor, still wearing socks. I didn't care anymore that she was a tough interview. Anyone who likes old cars and walks around in socks is okay.
Even you, Miranda