Dame Diana Rigg and Vanessa Redgrave
diana Rigg on why she quit The Avengers, her joy at being a Bond girl and shooting scenes in the biggest show in the world
Drama Game of Thrones Monday / Sky atlantic / 9.00PM
Dame Diana Rigg changed television. In the 1960s almost all women on TV were either happy housewives or damsels in distress, until the actor broke the mould as Emma Peel, a catsuit-wearing secret agent who karate-chopped bad guys in cult series The Avengers.
‘What I remember most is the extraordinary effect she had on the viewing public because she was the prototype of the independent woman,’ says Diana fondly of the role that shot her to fame. ‘Every bit as intelligent as any man.’
At 79, Diana still has the husky voice, wicked smile and razor-sharp wit that made her so popular. And now she has won new fans – and Emmy award nominations – as scheming dowager Olenna Tyrell in
Game of Thrones, which continues on Sky Atlantic this week.
‘She’s brilliantly written,’ smiles Diana. ‘She’s a joy to play.’
Born in Doncaster, Diana’s parents soon took her to India, where her father worked as a railway engineer, before returning to England when she was eight. By 12, Diana had vowed to become an actor. ‘It was a wild hope, coming from a Yorkshire family with no theatrical talent,’ she says.
Fiercely ambitious, she joined the Royal Shakespeare company. Since then she’s been divorced twice, raised a daughter, actor Rachael Stirling, become a dame, and has never stopped working.
Here she looks back at her amazing career and reveals why she’ll never retire…
one of your first acting roles was as a teenager in the 1950s playing a dying emily Brontë. what do you remember about the experience? It was an overdramatic play called Wild Decembers. It was all about the Brontës, and they all, one after the other, died of tuberculosis. I remember taking every opportunity to cough over other people’s lines.
why did you decide to quit your role as emma peel in The avengers in 1968?
I’m deeply grateful to the character, but I needed to move forward and develop as an actor.
I was being offered at that point was a pale imitation of Emma.
a year later you famously starred opposite george Lazenby in his one and only outing as 007 in on her Majesty’s secret service. as Tracy, did you enjoy being the only Bond girl ever to marry the spy?
My God, I loved it. It was so profligate – money was no object. There was a 10-second bit where I looked at my watch, and they sent for a watchmaker to arrive with a case full of watches.
I just chose one, and they gave it to me. I also had a huge beautiful fox fur coat that
I wore in the film, and they gave that to me, too! I loved it. How did you react when the game of Thrones producers asked you to play olenna? I hadn’t seen it. But the scripts were absolutely wonderful, and its production values are wonderfully rich.
what’s your favourite part of making game of Thrones?
Mostly what you remember and enjoy are the scenes you played with people. And quite often they’re combative scenes!
so, you’re enjoying life?
I love my life. I’m very lucky. I’m in a position to do exactly what I want. I travel quite a lot. I read prodigiously. I go to the theatre, to concerts. London is a wonderful city to live in. I’ve played the Greek classics, I’ve played the English classics. I promise you, I’m not complacent, because I hope to be playing all sorts of stuff that I’ve never played before, while the mind and body still functions.
Retiring is not an option, then?
I’m an immensely curious person, I just want to keep learning. Life is full.
My God, I loved making James Bond
Still game: Diana as Olenna Tyrell
Diana with her daughter, Rachael Stirling Leading lady: Diana as Emma Peel (left) and as Bond girl Tracy with George Lazenby as 007