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Glenda Jackson is back on Broadway for the first time since 1988, starring in Edward Albee's "Three Tall Women." Jackson, 82, sits down with Jeffrey Brown to discuss the challenge of finding interesting female roles and why she spent 23 years away from acting as a Labor Party member of the British Parliament championing women's rights.
Now the return of one of the greats of theater and film, after many years she spent in politics.
Two years ago, Glenda Jackson made a powerful acting comeback, and now she's back on Broadway with a third act to her remarkable career.
As Jeffrey Brown reports, she is also a strong favorite for a Tony Award later this week.
It was quite a return. After 23 years away from the theater, Glenda Jackson took to the stage of London's Old Vic in 2016 in Shakespeare's "King Lear" playing Lear.
That's one of the endearing things about the theater. I can put it into a kind of immediate context. You work with people, you may not see them for decades, you bump into them in the street, and it's as though you have just walked out to the same coffee bar. You know, there's no time gap.
Now 82, Jackson is back on Broadway for the first time since 1988, starring with Laurie Metcalf and Alison Pill in Edward Albee's "Three Tall Women."
It's a play about memory and aging that appealed to Jackson partly because of its strong female roles, something she says is a rarity. We talked recently at the famed Sardi's Restaurant in Times Square.
It has been my experience, ever since I first walked onto a stage and got paid for it, that contemporary dramatists find women really, really boring. We are never, or hardly ever, the kind of dramatic engine of what they are writing.
Why do you think that that's been the case?
You're a man. You tell me. Why do men, who are in the main still the majority of contemporary dramatists, find us so boring? They just don't seem to think that being a woman is either interesting or dramatic or challenging or dangerous, or any of the things that any woman in the world knows our lives can and not infrequently are.
And has this been a problem for you in your career in finding roles that you like?
Well, of course it's a problem.
And it's a problem that doesn't seem to have changed.
That is bemusing to me, because it hasn't shifted in all the years that I was in the theater, and now I am back in it.
It's hard to imagine anyone finding Glenda Jackson boring. Beginning in the 1960s, Jackson was a prominent presence on stage and screen on both sides of the Atlantic.
I could never love you.
She reached wide fame in the 1969 film "Women in Love," for which she won her first Academy Award for best actress.
Her performances, often playing strong, dynamic women, continued to win acclaim and awards, including two Emmys for the 1971 BBC series "Elizabeth R," which aired on public television's "Masterpiece Theatre."
She won a second Oscar for the 1973 film "A Touch of Class."
But in 1988, Jackson, a longtime critic of the government of conservative British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, left acting for what would become a decades-long political career as a Labor Party member of the British Parliament.
By far, the most dramatic and heinous demonstration of Thatcherism was where every single shop doorway, every single night, became the bedroom, the living room, the bathroom for the homeless.
When you left acting, was it because you had done enough or had enough?
Good heavens, no.
My country was being destroyed. Anything I could do that was legal to get Margaret Thatcher out, and her government out, I was prepared to have a go at, and because everything I had been taught to regard as vices, she told me were virtues.
Greed wasn't greed. It was doughty independence. Selfishness wasn't selfishness. It was taking care of your immediate responsibilities.
Did you come to feel that you accomplished something meaningful as a politician? Was it…
Not as an individual, because the idea that you have individual power in that sense is actually not true. You have clear responsibilities towards your own constituents and your own constituency.
And that was for me the most interesting part of it. But, yes, we did make changes. But then, of course, along came the Iraq War, and it went boom, like that, as far as I was concerned.
One issue she championed, women's rights in the home and workplace. I asked if she was surprised by the force of the MeToo movement now.
What surprises me is that people are surprised. I mean, in my country, for example, two women die every week at the hands of their partner, not infrequently male, usually, invariably male, every week.
Now, that's not on the front pages of our newspapers every week. So this sudden almost cataclysm of surprise, shock, horror, how could this have happened, I don't buy it. I mean, people are deluding themselves. I mean, we fail to acknowledge it, we fail to really work to eradicate it, and it — it takes more than just being shocked to eradicate it.
So, for you personally, do you have any regrets about having taken the time away from acting to be a politician?
I mean, it is an inordinate privilege to be a member of Parliament. I mean, people give you their trust, and they also give you what I regard as their most valuable right in a sense, their vote.
And that is a very humbling and privileged experience to have.
So, now that you're back, do you plan to continue acting?
Well, I would hope to. Yes. I mean, you know, yes. It's one of the things that have been and is at the moment very central and essential in my life, if the work is that exciting and daunting as I have been privileged to experience over the past couple of years.
"Three Tall Women" runs through June 24.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Jeffrey Brown on Broadway in New York.
Watch the Full Episode
In his more than 30-year career with the NewsHour, Brown has served as co-anchor, studio moderator, and field reporter on a wide range of national and international issues, with work taking him around the country and to many parts of the globe. As arts correspondent he has profiled many of the world's leading writers, musicians, actors and other artists. Among his signature works at the NewsHour: a multi-year series, “Culture at Risk,” about threatened cultural heritage in the United States and abroad; the creation of the NewsHour’s online “Art Beat”; and hosting the monthly book club, “Now Read This,” a collaboration with The New York Times.
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