Tavis: I’m honored to welcome Lynn Redgrave to this program, the two-time Oscar nominated actress on tour this winter in the Oscar Wilde play, “The Importance of Being Earnest.” The production is running here in Los Angeles through March 5 at the Ahmanson Theatre. While in Los Angeles, she’ll also be performing her one-woman show, “Nightingale”, at the Mark Taper Forum on February 27. More on that in a moment – she’ll be busy here in Los Angeles – but first up, here now a scene from “The Importance of Being Earnest.”
Lynn Redgrave: (Laughter) Funny to see that.
Tavis: Funny to you even?
Redgrave: For me because, well, I haven’t seen myself doing it yet. That’s the first clip I’ve seen.
Tavis: It’s an honor to meet you.
Redgrave: Lovely to meet you, Tavis.
Tavis: And delighted to show you a clip of yourself at work (laughter).
Redgrave: Thank you so much.
Tavis: You know, it is so obvious to me, at least. I expect anyone who knows your history or that of your family that you didn’t have much choice in this, did you?
Redgrave: Well, I think in fact I didn’t, but it felt like I did. I didn’t want to be an actor until I was fifteen, which, in my family, was so late. That’s why it was really a late decision. You know, my sister and brother virtually came out of my mother’s womb with a little proscenium arch ready around them and everything.
I saw a production by Sir Peter Hall who wasn’t then even “Sir”, but he was Peter Hall, of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” in 1958. Peter Hall, of course, has directed “The Importance of Being Earnest.” It’s taken us this long for me to work with him. I fell in love with the theater particularly wanting to be an actor because of “Twelfth Night.”
Tavis: Aside from that, tell me why the theater versus movies or television? You’ve done it all, but tell me why the theater.
Redgrave: Well, I love movies. I love the difference, the extraordinary difficulty and fascination and minutia, if you like, of working in front of a camera. But I think it’s in the theater that, one, you have longevity. For as long as you can still learn those lines and get out there and persuade the audience that you are who you say you are, you really have an endless life. In the cinema, you know, you are ruled within in about five years of your own age range probably. You know, that’s the way it is.
So there are still great roles in the theater for actresses of my age and older. You know, I’m about to be sixty-three and I’m playing, you know, fabulous, fabulous roles in the theater. I love the camaraderie of it, I love the magic of it, I love the fact that we’re in touch with a living audience who may be changed by what they see even if the changing is just that they get to have a really good laugh as they do in “The Importance of Being Earnest.”
Tavis: Speaking of your love, I love the fact that, without any equivocation or hesitation whatsoever, you said, “I’m sixty-three.” You’re very comfortable with this.
Redgrave: I’m very comfortable with it.
Tavis: You know, a lot of folk in this business aren’t very comfortable.
Redgrave: Oh, no. They do a great deal of – in fact, I have a line as Lady Bracknell where I say, “No one should ever be quite accurate about her age. It looks so calculated.” And then she says, “I’ve known many women in London’s society at the highest birth who have of their own free choice remained thirty-five for years.” I could be talking about Hollywood, couldn’t I (laughter)?
Tavis: (Laughter) You could.
Redgrave: I think that’s why it goes so well.
Tavis: Why then are you so comfortable with it when so many in this business are not?
Redgrave: Well, first of all, people are going to find out. You know, “E.T.” or one of the programs is going to go, “Today, a birthday.” (laughter) The fact that you’ve been going, “I’m twenty-nine…” Do you remember when Charo, bless her heart, dropped ten years off her age legally? Hello, I don’t know. I’m not sure what the point would be. I’m really proud I’m nearly sixty-three, that I haven’t had a facelift, that I haven’t had anything done and that I’m okay with that. You know, it’s sort of like a badge of courage now. My face is my life, so there you go.
Tavis: That’s powerful and it’s empowering for a lot of people to hear you say that.
Redgrave: Well, thank you, thank you.
Tavis: What’s the value – this is probably a silly question, but I’m curious – coming out of your family background, what’s the value – even though you were late at fifteen deciding you wanted to do this –
Redgrave: - (Laughter) Very late.
Tavis: What’s the value of being a part of a legacy like that?
Redgrave: Well, I suppose one couldn’t put a value on it exactly because I do realize, and I think I always realized, how fortunate I was because I was exposed to theater from a tiny child obviously. My mother and father were actors and our grandparents, you know. We went to the theater as a regular thing to do just like other people might go to, you know, a game or something. The other thing was that we were brought up seeing the best. You know, seeing Lawrence Olivier and my father, Michael Redgrave, Alec Guinness, Peggy Ashcroft. You know, the great, great actors.
I started my career – I was an actress for about three years, I was at the National Theatre of Great Britain under Lawrence Olivier acting with Maggie Smith. So having all that, it rubs off. You notice the work ethic of your parents, see how they prepare for something. Of course, it’s absolutely invaluable. There have been many great actors who’ve come out of families where there hasn’t been a theater within sight in their entire lives, but somehow something landed in them that made them want to express themselves that way. But I do know how fortunate I am.
Tavis: Let me talk simply about these productions. We’ll start with “Nightingale.” Talk to me about that.
Redgrave: Oh, “Nightingale” is my first play. I started writing plays when I was fifty. I wrote “Shakespeare for my Father.”
Redgrave: 5-0, yes. Not fifteen, no. The later one.
Redgrave: I wanted to write myself a job. I was going through one of those very bad periods, you know, which actors, particularly female actors can go through, where suddenly it’s, you know, “Didn’t you use to be Lynn Redgrave?” You know, one of those (laughter). I thought I could write myself a job, then I could go to colleges and, you know, like one-night stands and earn a living. I wrote myself a play that ended up on Broadway, ran for ten months, toured the country, toured in Europe and everywhere.
So then I thought, oh, this is so much fun to feel that I created this and therefore any place that I can get people to come see it is up to me. It takes that sort of victim thing out of you which actors can feel very much. You know, you’re not young enough, you’re not blonde enough, you’re too short, you’re too tall, whatever. Then I thought I’d write another play, so I wrote a play called “The Mandrake Root” that was done at San Jose Rep and that was with other characters as well, for other actors. I wrote jobs for other people as well as myself.
Now I’ve gone back to just how about number one? I’ve written another play for me. I’ve been developing it, along with a wonderful director, Joseph Hardy. Because I’m appearing at the Music Center, Michael Ritchey and everybody said that I could have the Mark Taper Forum on my night off. This will be the first time that I’m doing a staged version of it and hope that this fall that will be my job somewhere, whether it’s New York or Chicago or Los Angeles or whatever.
Tavis: So you’ve got one play at the Mark Taper and the other at the Ahmanson?
Redgrave: Yep, just covering them all there, and I’m going to sing a little opera with Placido another day (laughter).
Tavis: (Laughter) Why at this point staying so busy doing all of these plays?
Redgrave: Well, then I take time off, you know. I’ll take a big chunk of the summer off to have my daughter from England. One of my children lives in England with her three children. They come over for a big chunk of the summer when I won’t work. I’m sure you know that I’m a breast cancer survivor of three years.
Tavis: I want to talk about that, sure.
Redgrave: And, you know, I’m so lucky to still be doing what I do and doing what I love. Breast cancer really taught me to live because I thought I might die. It changed my priorities, so I work extremely hard, but I also play hard and relax hard, if one can say such a thing. I never used to be able to relax and now I do take the time. I live in Connecticut in the country up on a mountain and looking at another mountain. I do smell the coffee and the roses.
Tavis: We were talking earlier about how blessed you are and how blessed you have been in your career and your family. If that is a blessing, and obviously it is, did you see the cancer as a curse?
Redgrave: I didn’t, I didn’t. Shocked, yeah, because I didn’t have breast cancer in my family. I was incredibly fit at the time that I was diagnosed which was on Friday, the 13th of December, 2002.
Tavis: Friday, the 13th.
Redgrave: Yes, and I was going to have a dental appointment. I remember thinking, “Hmmm, shouldn’t make a dental appointment on Friday, the 13th”, but I did anyway. Little did I know that actually the day before, I would find a quite large lump and be at the doctors and be diagnosed on that day. But I don’t look on it as a curse. I didn’t think I’d still be here during the period of my treatment, although I wanted so much to live because I like life a lot. I felt, oh, I’ve just discovered how to do this. I don’t want to miss my grandchildren growing up. Then I kept feeling I was greedy. You know, you’ve had sixty years. That was at the point that I was diagnosed.
It actually, in every way, has been a blessing. If it should shorten my life – of course, I hope it won’t, but there is every possibility unfortunately that that could be so – at least I didn’t wait too long to find out how to really live and really love my family and my friends and my work and be generous with it and also be very clear in my mind about how I want to live. I have to say, if I had to do it again and I could change it, I think I wouldn’t change it because I wouldn’t learn the lessons I’ve learned.
Tavis: You’re way too mature for sixty-three (laughter).
Redgrave: Oh, thank you so much (laughter).
Tavis: It’s an honor to have met you.
Redgrave: Lovely to meet you, Tavis.
Tavis: Thanks for coming on the program.
Redgrave: Thank you, Tavis.
Tavis: That’s our show for tonight. You can catch me on the weekends on PRI, Public Radio International. Check your local listings. I’ll see you back here next time, though, on PBS. Until then, good night from Los Angeles. Thanks for watching and, as always, keep the faith.