Living legend joins daughter Joely Richardson in tackling Shakespeare.
VANESSA Redgrave was born into acting. Indeed, her arrival was announced on a London stage by Laurence Olivier.
The dynasty continued into another generation with Redgrave’s daughters, Natasha and Joely Richardson.
Yet, at 74, Redgrave is adamant she sees nothing of herself in her youngest daughter Joely.
‘‘ Why would I?’’ she says bluntly, as all in the room freeze in fear that one of the grand old dames of British acting is about to squash another poor journalist like a bug.
‘‘ No, I don’t know why, but I don’t. I grant that it’s a good, fair question’’ – audible sigh of relief – ‘‘ But no. I see Joely as Joely and I learn more about her.’’
Joely begs to differ . . . or at least gives the question a little more weight.
‘‘ I see in my daughter bits of myself, I see bits of myself in Vanessa.’’
She turns to her mum: ‘‘ I think you do see bits of yourself in me . . .’’ Redgrave: ‘‘ No I don’t.’’ Joely: ‘‘ No, you’ve talked before about how there are definite similarities.’’
Redgrave: ‘‘ Thank God I don’t see myself in you!’’
Joely: ‘‘ Stop it, stop it! We’re similar and different at the same time.’’
There’s a pause before Redgrave concedes: ‘‘ We love gardening.’’
It may not sound it, but mother and daughter are closer than ever.
Some of that closeness can be attributed to the loss of Natasha, who died after a skiing accident in 2009. Sharing the regal role in director Roland Emmerich’s new Shakespeare thriller is a perfect fit for mother and daughter Vanessa Redgrave and Joely
Richardson, writes Neala Johnson
‘‘ The whole family [ has been brought closer together] because everyone is deeply caring of each other given that we all took such a terrible knock,’’ says 46- yearold Joely.
Some [ closeness] can also be attributed to working together – the pair play the younger and older version of Queen Elizabeth I ( Redgrave pictured above) in Roland Emmerich’s Shakespeare thriller
Anonymous. But mostly it is the love of the family trade, acting, that has brought the ladies to common ground. ‘‘ I actually talked about acting more with my father,’’ says Joely, of growing up with dad Tony Richardson, an Oscar- winning director.
‘‘ But, bizarrely, not because of playing Elizabeth, but the last two years it seems so much of our conversation now is about acting.’’
With both women doing plays in New York recently – and Redgrave sometimes dropping in to do guest spots on Joely’s television show Nip/ Tuck – their spare time together was often spent nattering about or going to the theatre.
Redgrave calls it sharing their ‘‘ total professional obsession’’.
‘‘ That’s brilliantly put, professional obsession,’’ agrees Joely.
‘‘ We have lately all become very obsessive about the arts. It’s provoked many debates.’’
Did any of that debate revolve around how the pair would approach playing the same character at different ages in Anonymous?
Redgrave’s response is classic nononsense: ‘‘ What you see on the screen is what I tried to do.’’
Joely’s response is classic watersmoothing: ‘‘ I’m going to answer a bit for Vanessa,’’ she says.
‘‘ When I saw Vanessa’s performance, I thought there were moments where Elizabeth has an element of a soul of the age.
‘‘ Someone who’s seen everything, experienced every joy, experienced every tragedy, is phenomenally intelligent, wellread, speaks many different languages, and it’s obviously taken its toll by the end of the film. That’s what I assumed you were trying to play.’’ Redgrave: ‘‘ You’ve said it beautifully.’’ Redgrave has won every award and been proclaimed ‘‘ the greatest living actress’’ by no less than Tennessee Williams. Joely calls her mother ‘‘ the top of the top of the top’’. But such praise falls on unwilling ears.
‘‘ I think it’s stupid,’’ Redgrave sniffs. ‘‘ I don’t think it’s stupid when Joely says it because she’s saying it from the heart . . . but all these terms are relative. Sorry to say something like that, it must have sounded very rude.’’
She attempts to explain her dismissive attitude. ‘‘ I can sit and watch a great athlete and I think ‘ Wow, great’. If you watch Federer, he’s like a Greek god. If you watch Rafa, he’s a different kind of a god. It’s a question of occasion; it’s a question of passion; it’s nothing to do with greatness.’’
Of course, growing up in Redgrave’s shadow meant Joely and Natasha would never be able to escape their mother’s incredible reputation.
‘‘ But we didn’t have to be actresses,’’ Joely says. ‘‘ Mum begged me and my sister not to be. She said, ‘ Please be anything but’. And my father said, ‘ Act!’,’’ she laughs.
‘‘ So this is honestly how I see it: When I first started, I had the arrogance of youth.
‘‘. . . it’s a question of passion; it’s nothing to do with greatness’’
Any 20- year- old thinks, ‘ Oh no, I’m going to do it my way’. That’s why I didn’t do theatre for so long because I had a reaction against the old style of acting.
‘‘ Then after you walk through that there are moments like, ‘ Oh my God my mother’s probably the most famous actress in a very small group of actresses, the top of the top of the top! Why did you decide to be an actress because you’re always going to be less than?’
‘‘ It’s like someone who’s won three Olympic golds – unless you win four or five Olympic golds, you’re always gonna be thought of as less. But then you discard all of it, which is the stage I am at these last few years. I do what I do because I love it. The only thing that matters is if you love it.’’
Joely will next be seen in a supporting role in David Fincher’s The Girl with the
Dragon Tattoo. Redgrave will keep the Shakespeare theme going with a part in Ralph Fiennes’ adaptation of Coriolanus.
Redgrave is undoubtedly a towering figure. But at the end of the day, to Joely she’s just mum.
‘‘ Mum’s a big sender of photos,’’ Joely says. ‘‘ If you’re in a hotel in the middle of nowhere by yourself and you turn on your Blackberry and get a lovely photo of whatever she’s up to, that’s a joyous moment in your day.’’