'What I like about her is that she's got one of these faces-she's such a mess when she's not acting, but as Ruth Ellis she was really stunning looking, you'd hardly recognize her." Rupert Everett is talking about Miranda Richardson in her debut-and breakthrough-film, Dance With a Stranger, in which he costarred. "I think she's our best actress in England. When she's in character, she's incredibly strong."
She's certainly strong as Viv, her latest triumph; Viv is T.S. Eliot's wife in Tom & Viv, a film that manages to be wildly overacted and underacted at the same time but nevertheless works perfectly.
Richardson has appeared in thirteen features, and has made a strong impression with each, even Damage, in which she has a decidedly secondary role as the dishrag wife-until, that is, she awakens the somnolent audience in an electrifying scene near the end by fixing the sexbesotted Jeremy Irons character with an agonized look and saying, "You should have killed yourself when it began." On the basis of that scene alone, she was nominated for an Oscar.
Richardson-five foot five, blond, and quite attractive at 36, pace Everett-prefers to do her interviews, at least this one, lying down, reclining on a sofa at the Regency Hotel in New York. She's wearing black leather pants and a cheery blue top that belies her dominatrix bottoms.
Richardson doesn't particularly like interviews, and although she's friendly enough, she won't provide much for the tabs. She allows as how the sea near Southport, where she grew up, "was always full of dead jellyfish," and "you make a lot of shell dolls in South-port." She was a John Wayne fan as a kid. "I would usually come out of the theater imagining myself as the guys, because the guys had the best roles. So it was Lawrence of Arabia and Cromwell." She complains that women don't see much variety in the scripts they're offered "a lot of vengeful knife wielding, or uninspiring housewife roles."
She turned down the Glenn Close role in Fatal Attraction because she didn't want to be pigeon-holed after Dance With a Stranger, in which she played a killer; even so, she threatens Virginia Woolf with a toy knife in Tom ~ Viv. Hard to avoid in the era of Disclosure.
You might not think episodes from the life of T.S. Eliot would be all that interesting-desiccated Anglophile that he was-but you'd be wrong. He married a brilliant, rebellious, erratic woman who agitated the waters of domesticity a bit more than he desired, and he had her committed to a mental institution for "moral insanity." She spent nine years there and then expired. "I love the fact that she's a truth seeker, a debunker," says Richardson. "She's trying to break through all this social code that she's been surrounded by and get somebody to say what they really mean." (Needless to say, the Eliot estate wasn't too wild about the great poet 5 dirty laundry being hung out for the delectation of the public, and placed restrictions on the number of lines of poetry that could be recited in the film and how they could be used.)
With Willem Dafoe, who plays Eliot in Tom & Viv, Richardson has just finished another film, The Night and the Moment, which she describes as an 18th-century romp, whatever that is. But good scripts are still few and far between, and she is tired of waiting for the right material to present itself on her doorstep. "I think you have to generate stuff yourself," she says. That shouldn't be too difficult. "Miranda," says Everett, "can do most anything."