Interview: Jemma Redgrave – My greatest love affair of all

We continue our press update with this interview from 2000. Enjoy reading!

To say that the last few years have been tough for Jemma Redgrave is something of an understatement. The Bramwell star has been through more traumas than anyone deserves. But now she has a reason to smile again, as her dream of having another baby is about to come true.

“I’m delighted to be having another child,” says Jemma, 34, who already has a five-year-old son, Gabriel. “There is nothing more rewarding than having a baby. It provides the meaning to everything. I love being a mother. It’s the greatest love affair.

“And I am, of course, looking forward to those sleepless nights in late April,” she adds with a smile.

“I never wanted Gabriel to be an only child. I’m very close to my brother Luke, and I don’t know how I’d have organised everything without him when mum died. It’s nice that someone else knows exactly what you are going through in that situation.

“I wouldn’t want Gabriel to have to decide whether to put me in an old people’s home on his own. When Tim and I are old and decrepit, I think it’s important Gabe has someone to sound off to.

“Raising my children is definitely the most worthwhile job I’ll ever do. If you don’t do that right, everything else you achieve is meaningless.”

For Jemma, who is back on our screens this week in the ITV thriller Blue Murder, the delight of becoming a mum again has a special poignancy. Having a second child will go a long way to helping heal the heartache and grief of the past few years.

Her mum Deirdre, a 1960s model, lost a long battle against cancer in 1997. And just a few months before her death, Jemma and her husband of seven years, barrister Tim Owen, decided to part. Happily, after an 18-month trial separation, she and Tim, 37, patched up their marriage. They have been back together for more than a year and are delighted that they are going to be parents again.

Jemma, who became a household name in the period drama Bramwell, blames hectic work schedules for putting their relationship under pressure in the first place. While she was busy establishing herself as one of Britain’s most versatile stage and screen actresses, Tim was working long hours in court and their marriage suffered as a result. But when they decided to part they were still very involved in each other’s lives. Tim even moved into a flat just around the corner from their North London home, so that he could see Gabriel every day.

“There were a lot of pressures put on us because of the hours I worked and the hours Tim worked, and it got out of hand,” says Jemma.

“We didn’t cope with it at all well. In some ways, you cope better before you have children. Suddenly another pressure is brought to bear. It was hard on both of us but we managed to work through it and I’m so glad we did. It’s really been worth it. It’s been worth all the difficulty.

“Tim is a wonderful dad. It has made us stronger and I feel very lucky.”

The experience made her re-evaluate her life. “You have to look at what is important and what isn’t,” she says. “If the important things are right, then everything else seems trivial by comparison. The important things in my life are my child and that the people I love are healthy and happy. Nothing comes close to that.”

The loss of her mother also prompted Jemma to reassess her circumstances. Deirdre, who was divorced from Jemma’s dad Corin in the 1970s, was diagnosed with cancer in 1992. Her family believed she had beaten the disease after a long battle. Ironically, it wasn’t cancer that killed her. Following a dinner date, she died suddenly of pneumonia aged 58.

“Mum was coming up to the five-year clear period when she got the secondary tumours,” explains Jemma. “It was terrible. It takes a year after losing a parent to even begin to be normal again. You don’t bounce back, it changes your life completely.

“You recover and go on, but life is different afterwards. It’s huge and awful and I still miss her terribly. We were very close, particularly because she had cancer for five years. Over that time we became incredibly close. You are so aware that a clock is ticking. Mum was very strong throughout her illness which helped us all.

“The one big thing I’ve learned from her death is to grab life with both hands and not to let a moment pass. That was the way she lived her life and it was a big thing for me to learn because I’m quite a shy, retiring person.”

Jemma is anything but shy and retiring in the Carlton thriller Blue Murder. She plays Gale Francombe, a millionaire’s wife whose passionate affair with a detective (Peak Practice’s Gary Mavers) leads to murder.

After years of playing goody-two-shoes it will be a shock to see her as a femme fatale, manipulating her lover into killing her husband. Gale has no redeeming qualities, she is bad through and through, and that was what drew Jemma to the part.

“I liked making Blue Murder a lot,” she says. “It’s not the sort of thing I usually get offered, so maybe it will break down people’s expectations of me. Gale is completely cold-hearted and calculating, which was an irresistible challenge after playing someone as intensely warm as Eleanor Bramwell.

“I liked the contrast. I also liked the fact that the character was so open to interpretation. Just as you think you are working her out she changes again. She plays every situation for what she can get.”

The part called for a dramatic change of look as well as personality. “They wanted a bold look and, I must admit, I gulped a few times when they talked about dying my hair platinum or black,” she says.

“In the end, we compromised with a deep red and a lot of make-up. I really liked it. I don’t usually get to wear a lot of make-up playing these ‘good women’ roles. I also got to wear all the designer kit, which was good fun.” Jemma has also completed a legal drama called Fish which co-stars Paul McGann.

And later this year she makes her comedy debut in Cry Wolf with Peter Egan. In that she plays GP Jocelyn Wolf, who finds herself pregnant with her business partner’s baby. “It’s been great to be offered such different roles,” she says.

“I was delighted to explore something new. “I laughed my head off filming Cry Wolf and it has been wonderful – laughter is the best therapy. It was very different performing in front of a studio audience.

The best thing is they don’t mind if you cock up and accidentally swear, they think it’s great.”Given the diverse roles she has been working on it’s hard to believe she once thought she could never cut it as an actress.

You’d think that belonging to the great Redgrave acting dynasty – her dad Corin is the brother of Lynn and Vanessa, whose actress daughters Natasha and Joely Richardson are Jemma’s cousins – would be added pressure, but she insists not.

In fact she reckons her laid-back, bohemian upbringing gave her the self-confidence to succeed. “I’ve never felt fearful or worried about the way I’d be perceived by other people,” she says. “I’ve had a lot of self-doubt about whether I could do the job or not but I haven’t felt intimidated by the name.

“Maybe that is blinkered of me but I think it’s more to do with the good job my family did in bringing me up. My parents made me feel I could achieve whatever I wanted to. Perhaps that is why Inever gave a second thought to whether people were thinking, ‘Oh, here comes another Redgrave’. They just focused on me and my brother Luke.

“All I felt very early on at drama school was that I might not be good enough, that maybe there wasn’t room for me as well. But there is, which is nice.” Any lingering doubts Jemma had were dispelled by her huge TV success.

Playing pioneering Victorian doctor Eleanor Bramwell in the hit drama made her famous in the mid-1990s. The roles that followed in The Buddha Of Suburbia, Mosely, Howard’s End and The Acid House, only shored up her reputation as one of our most versatile actresses. And she has done it all by managing to combine a career with motherhood.

She got her big TV break in Bramwell within months of giving birth to Gabriel, but admits the timing made life difficult.

“I was optioned for three series when Gabriel was just three months old. Going back to work when he was so young turned me into a basketcase,” she says. “I was working 90-hour weeks, getting hardly any sleep and I was exhausted. Looking back, I don’t know how I coped. I wantedto prove to everyone that I was going back to work and I put so much pressure on myself that it was ridiculous.

I wouldn’t do it again.” With so many projects already wrapped up, Jemma intends to take a break from her hectic schedule to be with her new baby, rather than rushing straight back to work. Second time around, she made sure her timing was right.

Blue Murder, Wednesday, ITV, 9pm.

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