Old interview #5: “It’s in the blood”

The Express

February 7, 2002

TVEXPRESS INSIDE TELEVISION: INTERVIEW JEMMA REDGRAVE TELLS GAVIN DOCHERTY ABOUT THE ALBATROSS THAT ALMOST RUINED HER CONFIDENCE; IT’S IN THE BLOOD

SITTING in a London hotel, Jemma Redgrave (pictured), 36, has the twinkle in her eyes of a woman confident that anyone who wrote her off as a TV one-hit wonder will shortly be choking on a slice of humble pie, and it is with some justification that her latest TV offering, The Swap, is being flagged as one of ITV1’s big gun dramas of the winter ratings war against the BBC.

This is due in no small measure to the emotional punch she brings to the role of a London townhouse-dwelling wife and mother.

Battling to give her crumbling marriage one last try, she takes her workaholic husband (Michael Maloney) and young family off halfway round the world on one of those home swap holidays arranged over the Internet.

Things go horribly wrong when the apparently trustworthy academic whose idyllic Australian beach-front home they are temporarily occupying, turns out to be a raving psycho who proceeds to strip the fittings and terrorise everyone around their home back in England.

“The script was the draw for me, ” says Jemma, a theatre actress who became best known for playing ITV’s Victorian medic, Bramwell. “The very premise of the story and the director David Drury wanting to film it to create a sense of tension and menace got me hooked.”

The producers swear that, under the loopholes that exist in the law, everything that happens is completely possible, but for Redgrave there is only one thing that mattered – successfully turning in a performance that would make people sit up and take notice. After all, so many of us had become just a little bored with six seasons of that worthy, 19th-century quack, Dr Eleanor Bramwell, who finally bit the bullet in 1998.

With a mixed bag of so-sos (The Acid House) and no-nos (Fish) since, it was important for Redgrave to succeed – she does have the family reputation to uphold. In theatrical terms, it is some family: she is the daughter of Corin Redgrave and the niece of Vanessa Redgrave and Lynn Redgrave. Her cousins are Joely Richardson and Natasha Richardson. Natasha’s married to Liam Neeson.

Is it a help or an albatross? The Redgrave name, she says, might open doors – but also increases expectations.

“It isn’t something that I worry about anymore. When I started acting all those years ago, I was worried in case I embarrassed anybody. I don’t think I have. Every time you don’t embarrass people, you grow in confidence. But it’s all sink or swim, because if you weren’t any good you wouldn’t get any more jobs.”

Like us all, she just wants her work to be successful and to be appreciated. The Swap should provide the focus for both. “It would also be nice to think that a lot of people will watch it, ” she says with genuine modesty.