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Miranda Richardson Articles

'Still Stranger'

By Lesley White, October, 1987
Miranda Richardson pale, frail, 29 - will not die young in a limo collision, wear dark glasses to restaurants or learn to love Betty Ford: she is not a star. Nor will she appear on Blankety Blank, attend PR parties or launch a range of cosmetics: she is not a celebrity. She will continue, unobtrusively, to gather reviews, respect and reputation by interpreting other people's fictions, turning up on time and not confusing art with life: she is an actress. The sort who liked Shakespeare at school, trained at the Bristol Old Vic and did rep in Derby, Lancashire and Leicester. The sort who specialises in neurotic women overwhelmed with Inner Life; she has the right look for it - somewhere between cautious and murderous.
She was picked from the shadows for the lead role in a film by director Mike Newell (Ruth Ellis in Dance with a Stranger). She portrayed the high-minded, hanged-for-love club hostess with a dangerous precision. She played a hysterical Queen Elizabeth I in BBC television's Black Adder and a hysterical waitress in David Mamet's Edmond at London's Royal Court Theatre. She made a terrible horror movie, Underground, which she hopes you will never see.
Last week she was rehearsing alongside Geraldine McEwan and Paul McGann under the direction of the Court's Simon Curtis in A Lie Of The Mind by Sam Shepard. Richardson plays Beth, the braindamaged victim of her life-damaged husband,
Jake, in a painful and stupid story about obsession and betrayal. Shepard calls his piece 'a little legend about love'; Richardson, who finds herself 'not much good at deciphering plays', says, 'It's about love, all types of it, what people say they will do for it, how far they will actually go. Beth and Jake are like two terrible children - everyone is affected by what they do. I don't find her depressing, she's too strong to be just a victim. If she was just that, they wouldn't be together. It's a play that travels ridiculous distances - over land as the characters travel, and also across the gap between them.
It's very strong on the feeling of people being cut out - as Beth says she has been. I know that Shepard is concerned about that Red Indians and what has happened to them; they've been turned into Disney. The Lie could very well refer to the lie of the American dream.'
Whatever. It's a tough part to play and to direct because, even if Beth has her own logic and sees life more clearly than the other characters at times, she lives mainly in her bruised mind. But then Miranda Richardson is an actress with no interest in easy jobs, still less in playing herself, on the subject of whom she can be very hard work. Without cues provided by the play in hand, she does not opine or contend or seduce or tell jokes or want to say much. Whether through modesty or irration (she frequently looked as if she might lean over and pinch me very hard), she tends to answer questions with sad little trailing
phrases. Would she describe herself as neurotic? 'Depends on the situation.'
Was she a fan of Shepard's work before the play? 'Not really.'
Why was Underground a disaster? 'It just was.'
What does her boyfriend do? 'This and that.'
What has she been doing since we last met? 'Didn't you receive the biography?'
The facts of the life are simple enough. She was born in Lancashire; attended Southport Girls Grammar; did a secretarial course. Her parents never asked her when she might get a real job. She has one sister, eight years older, who works as a chiropodist. She buys second-hand clothes; reads and swims and lives in a Forest Hill (south-east London) maisonette - a gift from her part as Ruth Ellis, that and a nice jumper - with her Siamese cat Pearl. She works on her garden all the time to alleviate the stress that media attention inflicts.
She loathes to be singled out, prefers theatre because it means working in a team, hates to be photographed ('how do models do it? What do they latch on to for the feeling you need to perform?'), and doesn't much care to see herself on film. She remains astonished at a story she heard recently about Meryl Streep who apparently prefers to be filmed alone when other actors aren't strictly necessary for the shot. To Richardson, the idea of being that self-contained, that sure of one's self-image is anathema. 'Acting has to be about change and fluidity, about being open to new ways of doing something. What I like about Lie is that all eight characters have substantial parts and affect each other.'
She likes to act in the US, but cannot see herself treading the road to movieland; it's too big, she might get lost, and besides, an LA agent once told her, 'This town kills talent quicker than you can say knife.' Thinking she may have made a criticism, she adds, 'But they work hard over there because the competition is so strong. The win thing is inbred.' How ambitiousa is she? 'I'm not good at being a bitch but I can be obsessive, I get furious that I still can't do this job as well as I should, and scared that people will stop challenging me.'
Miranda Richardson is also scared of the media turning against her, of the new wave of young hopefuls creeping up behind and, escaping back to rehearsal, of forgetting to say the one thing she wanted to say. 'I hope everyone will come and see the play.' It sounds strangely naive.