WHAT I WISH I’D KNOWN AT 20

Four of Red’s favourite women share what they’ve learnt

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I’ve dis­cov­ered, if you’re in a long-term re­la­tion­ship of any kind and any gen­der, you’ll have more than one re­la­tion­ship with that per­son. I’m in a long-term re­la­tion­ship [with ac­tor Greg Wise] and I’ve learnt you’re not go­ing to have the same re­la­tion­ship af­ter 20 years as the re­la­tion­ship you had when you met – peo­ple change and it’s im­por­tant to be hon­est about that. When cou­ples say they’ve had two decades of un­bro­ken bliss, they’re ly­ing. Within that time your re­la­tion­ship will die and come back as a new one maybe four or five times. If you’re

lucky, it’ll be with the same per­son. When things do go pe­cu­liar, the world isn’t fall­ing apart – the old re­la­tion­ship is mak­ing way for the new one. I’ve had the same three best friends since my teens. They are the rock upon which I put my feet, espe­cially if I’m feel­ing wob­bly. I’ve known my best school­friend since I was nine. Now our chil­dren are nearly grown up, we’re go­ing to be able to hol­i­day to­gether again!

I’ve never had any pre­con­ceived ideas about fam­ily – whether I wanted one or, if I did, what kind. Think­ing ahead too much makes it more dif­fi­cult to be alive to the present. It’s nice to have dreams, but un­der­stand they might not come true. They’re dreams for a bloody good rea­son! I be­came a par­ent nearly two decades ago. What do I wish I’d known back then? Any­thing! Par­ent­hood is syn­ony­mous with guilt and ev­ery­one thinks they’re a ter­ri­ble par­ent. Mostly I was ig­no­rant and learnt the hard way. While we were ‘good enough’ par­ents, I wish I’d known more about the brain de­vel­op­ment of chil­dren and teens. Our neigh­bours had a daugh­ter two years be­fore us, and see­ing her de­velop helped when our daugh­ter was born. It’s also help­ful to look at your own par­ents, con­sider where you think they got it right and wrong, and try not to re­peat their mis­takes – but that’s an­other whole nest of vipers! Ul­ti­mately, it’s use­ful to bring up chil­dren with con­sis­tency and calm, though I don’t think I was con­sis­tently calm or calmly con­sis­tent! If a par­ent can be ob­ser­vant but non-judge­men­tal, so a child feels seen and loved but not de­fined, that’s great.

Through­out my ca­reer, I’ve been lucky be­cause I do writ­ing and act­ing, and when there’s been no act­ing

I’ve been able to make a liv­ing writ­ing. My mum was eman­ci­pated and I’ve been fi­nan­cially in­de­pen­dent from a young age; my fa­ther died young and I started earn­ing at 20 – I didn’t have a choice. I con­sider it for­tu­nate that I’ve never had to do work I’ve hated. Some peo­ple have to do jobs they don’t much like, so to be able to make a liv­ing as an artist is, frankly, a bloody mir­a­cle. I don’t know what a nor­mal job is like. Ac­tors are used to feel­ing in­se­cure, whereas some peo­ple aren’t. If you’re go­ing through a ca­reer rough patch and cir­cum­stances al­low, take some time out and give your­self space to look around.

I find the con­cept of ‘suc­cess’ flat and uninteresting – our so­ci­ety places too much em­pha­sis on it, and not enough on the im­por­tance of fail­ure and dis­ap­point­ment. I wish I’d known that suc­cess is a byprod­uct, not some­thing to be strived for. The process is the most im­por­tant thing. Be­sides, con­sider the cor­ro­sive ef­fect of great fame on peo­ple like Ge­orge Michael and Amy Wine­house – it’s dif­fi­cult to shoul­der. Small suc­cess is best, then you can build on it slowly.

Ac­tors and writ­ers get minty about crit­ics, but I’ve learnt you need strangers who are will­ing to say why they do or don’t like your work; it makes you look afresh at what you’ve done. What’s much harder to deal with – and takes more work – is the in­ner voice, self-crit­i­cism. I don’t know any­one who doesn’t have it, but you can’t al­low it to drown you out; you have to make friends with it. That nig­gling in­ner voice has caused me se­vere de­pres­sion in the past. My friend calls it ‘Shit FM’ – the chan­nel in your brain that says you’re not wor­thy.

You need to be able to ac­cess the knob that muf­fles it out.

Now I’m older, peo­ple be­have them­selves on set around me, but I’ve felt com­pelled to speak out in work en­vi­ron­ments in the past. When a young ac­tor was asked to lose weight by pro­duc­ers, I ob­jected – loudly. If I hear any­thing like that, I will say some­thing. When you’re young or in­ex­pe­ri­enced it can be scary to speak out for oth­ers and you some­times feel it’s not your place.

But I’ve learnt that if you don’t join your voices, you might be hauled off your­self. It never oc­curred to me not to add my voice to the Har­vey We­in­stein con­ver­sa­tion. When News­night asked me [for an in­ter­view], I knew

I’d re­gret it for ever if I didn’t speak. It felt ter­ri­bly im­por­tant to say what I had to say – he is a preda­tor, and there’s a broader prob­lem with ex­treme mas­culin­ity harm­ing women and girls.

I don’t har­bour ca­reer re­grets – what would be the point? In 1987, I made a TV se­ries that was a hu­mil­i­at­ing fail­ure – the great­est fail­ure of my life – but out of it came my friend, pro­ducer Lind­say Do­ran. She asked me to write the screen­play for Sense And Sen­si­bil­ity, so in a way, my great­est fail­ure birthed my great­est tri­umph. That said, there are as­pects of the act­ing in­dus­try I don’t care for, such as red car­pets. I’ve never liked the process, but recog­nis­ing they’re part of the job makes it eas­ier – I’m not trot­ting up it for the good of my health. At my first Os­cars, a fash­ion re­porter said, ‘She looks dowdy in any­thing’. I wore that as a badge of hon­our for years! I’m grate­ful when stylists help me, but I’d be per­fectly happy not both­er­ing. Hon­estly? I don’t give a toss.

‘I FIND THE CON­CEPT OF “SUC­CESS” FLAT AND UNINTERESTING’

Sense And Sen­si­bil­ity: ‘My great­est tri­umph’

Emma with hus­band Greg Wise

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