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Old Interview #16 – “Telling Dad to Slow Down is Pointless”

The Daily Telegraph

Wednesday 10 October 2007

Actress Jemma Redgrave speaks for the first time about her father Corin’s heart attack and tells Maureen Paton about how acting together at last is a dream come true

BYLINE: Maureen Paton

LENGTH: 1249 words

In poignant circumstances that she could scarcely have foreseen, Jemma Redgrave has finally achieved her lifetime’s ambition to act alongside her father Corin. The Redgraves share three scenes in a new television drama based on eyewitness accounts of the British-led liberation of the Nazi death-camp Bergen-Belsen in April 1945. Jemma plays the female lead as the Red Cross nurse Jean McFarlane. Corin is cast in the key role of Brigadier Glyn Hughes, who led the medical team that fought to save the 40,000 inmates of the camp. But what makes this performance remarkable is that the scenes were shot just over a year after Corin, now 68, had a heart attack that nearly killed him.

Jemma, 42, found her eyes filling with unscripted tears on set for the first time in her career. “Luckily the cameras weren’t on me,” recalls the actress, who once said that her beloved father had always seemed “indestructible”.

In the 1970s and 1980s acting took a back seat while Corin Redgrave slogged his guts out as a fund-raiser for the Marxist party. He returned to acting in 1993 in In the Name of the Father, then, in 2000, took prostate cancer in his stride and went on to deliver an acclaimed King Lear for the RSC in 2004, followed by a one-man tour de force playing the theatre critic Kenneth Tynan. Then, despite taking on the role of Pericles at night, he returned to campaigning, championing the cause of gypsies, by day.

“Did I ever say to Dad: ‘Slow down’? There was no point, because he would always reply: ‘Yes, yes, I will, I will, I will’ – just like Mrs Doyle from Father Ted,” says Jemma as we talk in a private members’ club in Soho. “And of course he never would. Kika [Markham, Corin’s second wife] says exactly the same thing. Politics is part of him; he will always want to be active in humanitarian causes, the things that really occupy…” – she pauses to correct her tenses – “…had occupied his time.”

In June 2005, Corin’s heart stopped during a speech he was making to councillors in Basildon, in which he pledged to form a human shield to stop 600 travellers from being evicted from a local campsite. He suddenly faltered and sank to the floor, losing consciousness. After his heart was started again with defibrillators, he was rushed to Basildon Hospital. “I don’t know if it was true, as reported, that two policemen brought him back to life at the meeting. I was in such a bad state myself when I heard the news that I didn’t ask,” admits Jemma.

She had been filming in Ireland and the first she knew of her father’s collapse was when a friend rang to tell her that it had been shown on the news. “Somebody had a camera at the meeting, so my father’s collapse was televised,” says Jemma, her tone of voice deploring such an invasion of privacy. “He was on life support for three days and then in various other hospitals after that.”

The Redgraves – the acting dynasty includes Corin’s sisters Vanessa and Lynn, and Vanessa’s daughters Natasha and Joely Richardson – closed ranks around Corin, and none has spoken publicly about his condition until now.

“His recovery is astonishing,” Jemma says. “All the family were there in the intensive care unit, like Orpheus waiting for Eurydice to come back from the underworld. We were all praying for him to step back into the world, and he did. It was a wonderful moment when he opened his eyes. Did he recognise us immediately? He sure did,” she says, grinning at the memory.

Yet when I ask about any lasting effects of his cardiac arrest, she hesitates and then confides: “He’s still, you know, there’s a frailty there; and there have been consequences. The recuperation took a long time, probably about a year, and he’s still in the process of recovery. But he’s doing brilliantly, and his genius as an actor is undiminished.”

She declines to go into details of those “consequences”, a defensive glint in her eyes.

“In the four, five months after the heart attack, when Dad was in various hospitals, I really felt that I wanted to be there a lot,” says Jemma, who lives in London’s Tufnell Park with her husband, the human rights QC Tim Owen. “In fact, we all needed to be around him. He had never had any heart problem before, or not that we knew about, but he did have arrhythmia [an irregular heartbeat], which is a slight problem but not a heart disease in itself. Lots of people have arrhythmia – Tony Blair has it.”

As for speculation about possible memory loss following any brain damage from cardiac arrest, she says simply: “I think my father’s work in the Belsen drama speaks for itself. He was word-perfect, absolutely spot on, and he didn’t need any looking after during the filming; he’s from that stoical war-child generation.”

Seemingly unburdened by either dynastic or political baggage, Jemma has pursued a successful, rather sexy career in television drama while raising a family – she’s the mother of Gabriel, 13, and seven-year-old Alfie. Yet despite her approachable manner – there’s nothing remotely grand about this girlish-looking, 42-year-old yummy mummy who, when asked how long she has been a blonde, gives one of her shouts of laughter and says frankly, “not long enough” – she can be as clannish as the next Redgrave when it comes to protecting her own.

For the second time in her life, the traditional parent-child roles have been reversed. Jemma is now looking out for her father, just as she and her younger brother, Luke, nursed their late mother Deirdre, who died of breast cancer in 1997.

The Relief of Belsen shows Redgrave on screen for the first time since his cardiac arrest. The drama was filmed in Dorset and the scenes shared with Jemma were filmed over an intensive three days.

During the shoot he was accompanied by Arden, his 24-year-old son from his marriage to Kika, who is also an actress. “Kika was working at the time, so Arden came to the filming,” explains Jemma, telling me that her adored half-brother even landed work as an extra in the crowd scenes.

In fact, says Jemma, Corin was offered a role in The Relief of Belsen before she was. “And then the director asked me if I’d be part of it, too. Well, you wouldn’t say no, would you? It’s such a privilege to work with Dad.”

He’s a wonderful grandfather, too, she adds – something that might surprise those who associate his ascetic political image with solemnity. “Solemn is one word I would never use to describe my father,” she insists. “He isn’t solemn: he’s wicked, provocative, funny, brilliant, intellectual, committed, passionate – but not solemn.”

There’s clearly some campaigning life left in Corin yet, because he is making his stage comeback for one evening only. He is reprising his role in Tynan on October 22 at the off-Broadway Public Theater as a fund-raiser for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids and the Actors’ Fund. A post-performance reception will be hosted by his sisters Vanessa and Lynn. Jemma, needless to say, will be flying over to join them.

As stoical as her father, she plays down the question of whether he will ever be able to return to the stage full-time. “I don’t know if he will go back to the theatre; we’ll see. But I hope so, I really hope so. Who knows what the future holds, but it would be lovely to work with Dad again. Any time, frankly. And to have worked with him for the first time on a drama like this is a wish fulfilled.

“It would,” she adds superstitiously, “be greedy to wish for more.”

* ‘The Relief of Belsen’ will be screened by Channel 4 on Monday October 15 at 9 pm

Categories Articles & Interviews Media

Old Interview #15 – A Very Special Sisterhood

The Observer

December 9 1990

Review: A very special sisterhood – The Redgraves are a theatrical legend. The latest episode in their remarkable story is a new production of Three Sisters in which the title roles are played by the sisters Vanessa and Lynn Redgrave and their niece Jemma.



LENGTH: 2889 words

SIR Michael Redgrave loved Chekhov’s Three Sisters. He said it had an ‘authentic thrill.’ How gratified he would be, if he were still alive, to see his two daughters Vanessa and Lynn on stage for the first time together and to see his grandaughter, Jemma, who in Robert Sturua’s production opening in London this week, shines out a new Redgrave star. Together, the three actresses two sisters and a niece are an overpowering combination. They are uncommonly tall, each has presence but it is Vanessa who, although she talks far less than Lynn, commands attention right from the start. She is one of the greatest actresses alive and one of the most difficult to interview.

She requires interviewers to sign a contract before meeting her, agreeing not to ask about ‘non-professional matters.’ She also asks to check copy before it goes to press.

She expresses distaste for talk of ‘personalities’. To ask her about family arguments is to contravene her contract. She lets it be known that she has more important things to do in life than discuss family rows. Any attempt to ask about her relationship with Lynn provokes rolling of eyes.

‘Vanessa is great on gravity,’ Michael Redgrave once wrote, adding the warning: ‘Gravity can be mistaken for severity.’ It’s still easy to make the mistake. At 53, Vanessa has made of herself a garrison; even her haircut is fierce although her beauty is not defeated by it. There’s more than a suggestion of Virginia Woolf about her. Her stare is spectral, her smile a relief. Michael Redgrave described it as ‘joyous’ and it is.
She mentions her father once to tell of the first advice he gave her as an actress, which she has tried to follow ever since. ‘I remember the first thing my father ever told me when I worked with him. I went home one night. He said: Did you enjoy today’s rehearsal? I said: No, I didn’t enjoy it at all. He said: Yes and you let everyone know it. Oh, I shouldn’t have then? and he said: No, you certainly should not, and I said: But the thing is, you see, I don’t think my character would feel like that I wouldn’t feel like that and he said: Excuse me, but it’s not a question of whether you’d feel like that; it’s a question of your character feeling like that. Get it straight.’

It’s a little story but it reveals the two most important things about Vanessa: her single-minded dedication to work to getting it straight; and her professional lack of self-importance. She has a studied humility, the rigour of her outlook on life curiously contrasted by her self-effacement.

She compares Chekhov’s writing to a musical score and says, ‘I am like a musician I only wish I was a musician I’m not.’ The character, Olga, is her instrument: ‘I don’t have to worry about whether this is my Olga; of course she is my Olga. I’m playing her.’ When she plays the Olga ‘conducted’ by Robert Sturua, ‘all I surrender is my ignorance.’ It is the ability to give herself up to a part that makes her such a compelling actress to watch: she, quite simply, becomes someone else on stage.

When she speaks she does not hurry, or emphasise anything unduly. There’s little excitement but the pace gives every word weight and deliberation. Even when talking about her character Vanessa puts the work before the personality. Olga is the eldest of the three sisters a tired, disappointed, unmarried schoolteacher whose idealism has been tarnished by experience. If Olga is the teacher, then Vanessa has become the pupil, reading about the Russian education system of 1901, learning about the reasons why Olga would not want to become a headmistress.

Vanessa does not find any of her parts depressing to play and she talks positively about Chekhov’s characters: ‘I don’t think any of them are depressing, either for the actors or for the audience.’ You could say she has more charity than critical edge. When asked, in a recent Kaleidoscope interview, if the sisters would be happy if they ever got to Moscow, as they long to do, she unhesitatingly and likeably answered, ‘Oh yes.’

The word ‘work’ appears and reappears like a repeated footprint in her conversation. ‘Chekhov is not one-sided in his work. He shows that human beings are not trapped and fixed for all time, however outrageous their circumstances ..they can change. That’s how he sees life. He’s not an optimist, nor a pessimist, he sees things as they are.’

Vanessa is bowled over as all three Redgraves are by their director Robert Sturua, of the Rustaveli Theatre from Georgia in the Soviet Union. He is quite unlike contemporary British directors. She likens his method to Tyrone Guthrie’s. When Guthrie directed All’s Well with Dame Edith Evans, he ‘choreographed physically every single moment of the whole and of the individual parts. He told every actor the rhythm they had to play a speech at. He did not make an exception for Dame Edith.’

It was always obvious that Vanessa would become an actress. On the night she was born Lawrence Olivier announced to the audience at the Old Vic: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, tonight a great actress has been born.’


NOBODY welcomed Lynn into the world with a helpful label and for a long time she did not know who or what to be. Corin and Vanessa remember Lynn, as a child, calling out: ‘Wait for me!’ The Lynn of those days was a drag. Six years younger than her sister she was ‘a plump little dumpling’ (her father’s description). She was also desperately shy. graceful, willowy and talkative (an active promoter of Weight Watchers) Lynn has no need to call out ‘Wait!’ If Vanessa is a garrison, Lynn is an open house: she is an articulate speaker and a feminist heroine in the United States. It has been said that her eloquence is the result of years in California appearing on chat shows. But this is to undervalue Lynn’s intelligence and imagination.

If Rossetti saw her, he would kidnap her. Her hair is a pile of copper curls. Lynn plays Masha the only sister to experience romantic love. Once, Vanessa and Lynn would have fought for the part. But there was no argument when they met for supper to discuss it. It was the first supper they had ever had on their own together which suggests, whether by choice or chance, that they can never have been close. Vanessa said: ‘I’ll be Olga, you can be Masha.’

Yet as a child Lynn idealised Vanessa and it seems, at least when she talks about their past, that she still does.

Vanessa was a ‘wonderful sister’ who made her childhood ‘heavenly’, who ‘looked like Tenniel’s Alice only prettier’, entertaining her with puppets, decorating the doll’s house or inventing stories for her. Lynn’s first memory is of a longing to go into Vanessa’s bedroom in their house in Chiswick.

‘I always wanted to go into her room ..there was a little platform in it which was exactly like a stage. It was full of treasures, books and illustrations she was a very good artist, she drew beautifully. I would try and copy her.’

Vanessa was trained to be a ballet dancer until she grew too tall while Lynn, as so many girls do, turned into a horse. At 11, she was given a pony by her godmother which she kept on Wimbledon Common. She rode all the time and dreamed of the Olympics. Lynn remembers she and Vanessa both had long plaits which were cut at the same time. They persuaded their mother, unwilling Rachel Kempson, to let them go to ‘a sordid hairdresser in Hammersmith’.

Vanessa, Lynn and Jemma all felt as children: life must get better as we grow up and they agree that it did.

Lynn says that she and her eldest daughter Kelly, now at drama school in England, had the same problem. Kelly’s teacher summed it up, saying to Lynn: ‘Your daughter is no good at being a child. She is just not cut out for it.’

Lynn lives in California with her husband, the director John Clark with whom she has three children. Her CV is a dizzying assortment of jobs classical and commercial. She has two children in their twenties Benjie and Kelly, and Annabel, who is eight. Lynn has invented a marvellous entertainment for Annabel while they are apart. They send each other postcards which tell a story; each card adds a sequel and the contents are suggested by the pictures on the cards. Lynn has dreamt up a character called Lucia who is searching for ‘three lost sisters’. Let’s hope they turn up before the first night.

Lynn plays Masha as a potentially suicidal rebel, but with a strong ‘life force’. ‘Life force’ is a phrase which Lynn uses more than once and a quality she has in abundance. She says that acting with family is quite unlike acting with anyone else. ‘There are some extremely famous actors I’ve acted with some of them but when you look into their eyes, there ain’t nobody home. They fool everybo dy.’ Lynn says that the family feeling has to do with ‘the look in the eye, the touch of skin on skin’, the sense of ‘looking into the soul’ of the other. It has to do also with shared memories and recognition.

She says that in their production they believe that though the three sisters are depressed, they are not (as is the case in most productions) lethargic or apathetic. ‘We are desperately trying to cheer ourselves up. No one is sitting around saying, God, I’m depressed. When we’re sad, we’re furious that we’re sad.’

Three Sisters is like a calendar in which the sense of time passing is so concentrated that it often seems as though mortality were being measured in a minute. But the three sisters find it hard to live in the present. Lynn says it’s hard but necessary.

‘I’ve changed my feelings over the years. I suspect it is to do with ageing. One summer, my parents rented a place in Portofino. It was the most extraordinary, exquisitely beautiful place. My father was in a rather expansive frame of mind which was not his mode. Expansion was not something he played very well.

‘Every day we did fabulous things in Portofino. We would take a boat, go and fish, we’d eat marvellous Italian food. I had been offered my first job as a student ASM, working on John Dexter’s production of The Kitchen, earning pounds 1 a day and I was looking forward to it so much that every single second I was wishing away and I hated myself for it; I willed my life away. I remember crying to my mother about it. I was only 18. I knew that I was doing it and I knew that it was wrong.

‘Now, at the grand old age of 47, having had three children, it has even changed my attitude towards them. Because I had Annabel in my late thirties, I was already able to view mortality a bit and because birth always reminds us of death I suddenly found myself saying when my third child arrived: I want to hang on to every second, I want fully to experience every second.’

She is no longer capable of sleeping in in the morning as she once did: ‘I dread missing something, I have a real sense of time running out.’

Does she feel, as Vershinin says, that if we could have our lives over again we would live them differently? Lynn would prefer to think that the mistakes were worth experiencing: ‘In our profession, we are open to great disasters as well as successes and mediocre in-betweens. I have had these terrible days, I’ve had these disasters. I’ve been told my acting is appalling and it’s all frightful but I will rise again. After the disasters I can say, like Stephen Sondheim, I’m still here.’

Lynn believes that Jemma, the third sister, rounds off their circle perfectly. If Irina had been played by Vanessa’s daughters or her own there would have been an imbalance.

Besides, ‘Jemma is fabulous. I’ve adored her since childhood. I don’t think of her as my niece. I said to her the other day,’ (this with a trace of melancholy) ‘Do you think of me as your aunt? I feel she’s like the sister I never had, my little sister. Although there is nothing about Jemma that’s little. I don’t mean size-wise. I mean in character.’


TWO DAYS before opening as Irina in the West End, Jemma Redgrave looks calm. She stands in the kitchen of her Kilburn flat, which she shares with her boyfriend, talking as she slices up a marzipan cake, makes tea and sets the table under a big window looking out on to a winter view. Her boyfriend is not in evidence: ‘He’s mending the bed,’ she says disarmingly. She’s dressed in black. Chekhov would approve, though he might be surprised by her jaunty shorts. Jemma is 25 but looks younger. Her manner is robust, her laugh delightfully hearty. She wears no make-up; her open face matches her forthright character. Like Lynn, she is a free and bold talker. She volunteers for example that her private life is ‘increasingly happy’.

Last August, at one o’clock in the morning, Vanessa phoned Jemma from France. Jemma was sure something terrible must have happened. ‘How are you?’ Vanessa said. For God’s sake, tell me the worst, Jemma thought. ‘Would you like to play Irina?’ Vanessa eventually asked.

Jemma stayed awake until four in the morning: ‘I drew a fear chart listing all the things I was frightened of and then arguing against them one by one. Could I act beside Lynn and Vanessa? Was I good enough? Would being part of the family be a problem?’

Jemma’s grandmother Rachel Kempson is still acting at 80; so is her father Corin. When asked about the Redgrave sense of humour, Jemma says that she and her father have a sort of private sign language.

When Jemma was five, Rachel took her to see Peter Brook’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Jemma adored the white set, the swing, the feather that was Titania’s transport. As a result, in spite of indifferent teaching at school, ‘I was never scared of Shakespeare.’

At 10 or 11, she knew that she wanted to be an actress. Most 10-year-olds don’t suffer from self-doubt but she was in a flap: ‘I remember eating nut brittles from the sweet shop near our mansion flat in Earl’s Court and crying out, I want to be an actress but maybe I won’t be any good.’

In spite of her outer composure, her unconscious is still crying out. She wakes in the middle of the night shouting and says that she has been having recurrent nightmares featuring severed limbs ‘the style is somewhere between Macbeth and David Lynch.’ She dreams that she has forgotten her lines.

But the fear of acting with her two aunts has proved baseless. She knows Vanessa well and is devoted to her she lived for a year in her house between school and drama school. Lynn she knows less well, although like Lynn feels she has acquired a sister (Jemma has three brothers).

Jemma realised, in a flash, that there is a practical way in which family counts, a closeness that makes acting with your family quite unlike acting with anyone else. Once, during rehearsal Vanessa put an arm round her, and she found herself crying. What she felt was, literally, familiarity.

Although part of the Redgrave clan, she remembers Michael Redgrave, her grandfather, as ‘a mystery’. She used to go and stay with him and Rachel in the country. But while she was growing up, he was already ill with Parkinson’s Disease. ‘Although I think he liked his grandchildren, he preferred them to be in another room. But he liked to hear our voices and I remember his voice. I loved it it was very deep, always on the break.’

Jemma’s voice is deep and unpredictable. She falters sometimes as she speaks, her long fair hair, which she has to curl every night for Irina, hangs down one shoulder.

In a very Chekhovian fashion, she addresses no one directly as she says: ‘More and more I identify with Irina. I feel her getting under my skin. I remember, when I was 16, feeling as she does that I suddenly understood the world. Of course that is to do with youthfulness. It’s a cliche that the older we get, the less certain everything seems. I absolutely identify with her longings especially the longing to work.’

Jemma was out of work for six months and does not know how she endured it. She bangs her fist on the table: ‘You’re not an actress when you’re not acting. You can paint on your own, you can write on your own but you can’t act. You can be a waitress. I’ve done all that clothes shops, hamburger joints. But acting is the way I express myself. And it’s much easier to organise and control your life when you are working. There is nothing worse than having too much time.’

In Three Sisters, Jemma says it is the failure to act, the crime of passivity that their production aims to bring out. ‘Why did no one prevent the duel? Everyone must have known the baron would be hurt.’ Sturua, she explains, wants audiences to remember that since Three Sisters was written we have seen the Second World War, Vietnam, Pol Pot he wants us to be ashamed.

Jemma pulls down a red notebook from the top of a cupboard in order to read out some of the things Sturua said on the first day of rehearsal. She pores over her tiny blue Biro script: ‘He said that the play is a cemetery of talent I can’t forget that. He said: Everything begins with our attitude ..Pain reveals complexity ..Why is this wonderful world perishing? What is happening to us? ..The tragedy is that I will still do what I should not be doing.’

Who is he talking about there? ‘Oh,’ says Jemma, surprised, ‘everyone.’

‘Three Sisters’ is at the Queen’s Theatre, London, from 12 December until 2 March 1991.

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Old interview #14: “Sex and fame for the quiet one”

Daily Mail (London)

October 11, 1993, Monday


BYLINE: Lester Middlehurst

IF THERE could ever be such a sub-species amid theatre’s most controversial family group, then Jemma Redgrave would be marked down as the Quiet One.

She has somehow managed to avoid all the lurid headlines which attach themselves to the rest of the dynasty like clingfilm.

While her father Corin and her aunt Vanessa suppressed their talent in favour of Marxist rantings, the Quiet One kept her political opinions to herself and established herself as one of Britain’s most gifted young actresses.

While cousin Natasha Richardson was making news by cavorting with her leading man Liam Neeson, during her marriage to impresario Robert Fox, the Quiet One married a barrister, an eminently non-showbusiness figure, and has become happily pregnant.

And while her other cousin, Joely, was being denounced far and wide for the graphic and lingering nature of her sex scenes in the televised version of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, the Quiet One was winning acclaim for her role as Anthony Hopkins’s daughter in the rather more bucolic Howards End.

But once a Redgrave, always a Redgrave. Next month, it would seem, the soubriquet of Quiet One will be lifted from Jemma’s shoulders for ever. She is about to star in what is perhaps the sexiest series ever to appear on British television.

In her first scene during BBC2’s adaptation of The Buddha Of Suburbia, Hanif Kureishi’s subversive novel of a young Anglo-Indian man’s voyage through sex, drugs and politics in the Seventies, Jemma is seen doing the ironing naked.

From then on, there are very few areas of the Redgrave form which are not featured. The four-part series, is certainly one of the most sexually explicit I have ever seen.

EVEN Kureishi was worried when the BBC bid for the rights to the book, which won the Whitbread Prize for a first novel. He said at the time: ‘I don’t think they can re-create all the book’s sex on television because it is so explicit.’ Well, the BBC has remained so faithful to the original that the American networks have refused to buy the series.

Given that her scenes make cousin Joely’s romps with Sean Bean in Lady Chatterley appear rather prim, how does 28-year-old Jemma feel about the prospect of becoming the most talked-about Redgrave of them all?

‘Do you think it’s explicit?’ she asks, wide-eyed. ‘I suppose it will provoke a reaction. I hadn’t really thought about it. I just think that there have been explicit things on telly for a very long time, but each time it happens it seems to provoke a new reaction.

‘I suppose it sounds cliched, but when I had to do those scenes I so loved the part that I thought they went hand-in-hand with the character. You always have thoughts about exposing yourself to that extent and the reactions it may provoke, but when it came down to it I didn’t have any real qualms.’

Jemma stars as Eleanor, a neurotic young actress who takes hero Karim (Narveen Andrews) on a sexual voyage from adolescence to adulthood.

She says she discussed the scenes with her husband before taking on the role and he gave his blessing. ‘If he had objected we would have had to talk it through, but he read the scripts, thought they were terrific and said I had to do it.

‘He hasn’t seen it yet and I doubt very much that we’ll watch it together. He can watch it if he wants to when it’s on television, but I shall probably go out and get quietly drunk. I’ll video it and watch it later with the curtains closed.’

Jemma has already seen the series at a private screening with other cast and crew members. She says she is proud of it. ‘I thought that if I was able to sit and watch it with other people then I would be happy for it to go out on television.

‘The hardest part was walking out of the darkened room when the screening was over, but I didn’t feel embarrassed. I thought the director, Roger Michell, had done it very well.

‘I met Roger twice before I accepted the part and I trusted him. You do feel terribly vulnerable when you take on something like this, but Roger made us feel quite safe.

THERE was no salaciousness of any sort. Narveen and I had two weeks of rehearsals before we started the first block of filming, and another two weeks before the second block, so we were able to talk about the scenes and establish a friendship.

‘It wasn’t like turning up on the set for the first day and not knowing who you were going to be working with.

‘If I’d thought at the time about the millions of people who might be watching I would have stayed under the covers and never come out. I would have been frozen to the spot, so I didn’t allow that thought to even enter my mind.

‘I know actresses who say they could never do nude scenes, but I don’t have a hang-up about it. I don’t think it’s because I’m an exhibitionist, it’s just that I don’t lose sleep over what people might think about my body. I’m not a supermodel, but I’m not unhappy with my body either.

‘Doing sex scenes is not the easiest thing in the world, but it’s part of the job. It’s acting. And whatever confidence it takes to get up and do any performance, or create any role, is the same confidence it takes to do those scenes. If you view them as another piece of acting it’s not so hard.

‘I don’t mind people switching on to be titillated, as long as they switch on. They can decide afterwards whether they thought it was a good piece of telly or not.

BUT IT worries me if they think it’s filth, because I don’t think there is anything filthy about it. I don’t worry about people watching for the wrong reasons. I don’t know that there is such a thing as an audience you don’t want.

‘What you want is for the maximum amount of people to switch on and then have the debate after they’ve watched it. There will be people who will say this sort of thing shouldn’t be on television, and that’s their prerogative.

‘But I expect it will carry all sorts of warnings beforehand. There are three other channels to watch.

‘I know people are going to dwell on the series’ sexual content but there is a lot more to it than just the sex. It is representative of the times we are living in. It is being screened when we are still living in a very worrying time of increasing racist and fascist attacks.

‘That’s why I think a series like this has its place on television alongside all the period dramas and other programmes.’ Perhaps it is a sign of the theatrical bohemianism she has inherited from her fellow Redgraves that enables Jemma to view her most controversial role with almost child-like confidence.

It will be interesting to see how the Quiet One reacts to the furore which is about to engulf her.

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Old interview #13: “Jemma is stage stuck”

The Express

September 28, 2004



ANY pairing of the Redgrave acting dynasty is guaranteed to pull in the punters, so its good news that Jemma Redgrave has a burning ambition to appear on stage with her father, eminent thesp Corin.

The problem?

Corin, only brother of Vanessa and Lynn, can’t fit it into his packed schedule. “I’d love to do pretty well everything with him but he’s so booked up, ” says flamehaired Jemma, 38, who starred with Vanessa and Lynn in 1990 in Chekhov’s The Three Sisters and played the 19th-century physician Dr Bramwell. “He’s playing King Lear at the moment but I couldn’t go on stage and see his character get his eyes gouged out.”

There could, she says, be a fourth generation of actors on the way in the shape of her sons Gabriel, 10, and Alfie, four, by husband, QC Tim Owen. “Gabriel wants to be a comedy actor and Alfie is the most dramatic person I know.”

Categories Articles & Interviews Media

Old interview #12: “Role is family affair for Jemma”

Sunday Express

January 23, 2005



In her latest TV drama, Jemma Redgrave plays a struggling single parent. Here, she talks to PAULA KERR about her famous relatives and rather complicated family history

WHEN IT came to playing a single mum in the new ITV thriller, Like Father Like Son, Jemma Redgrave had only to look to her own childhood for reference.

In the dark two-part drama, co-starring Robson Green, she plays the struggling single parent of a boy suspected of murder.

She also enters into a relationship with her son’s teacher (Green), admitting to him that her ex-husband, played chillingly by Phil Davis, is a serial killer.

Jemma was born into a distinguished acting dynasty.

Her father is veteran actor Corin Redgrave, her aunts are the highly respected actresses Vanessa and Lynn Redgrave and her cousins include stunning Natasha and Joely Richardson. Corin and Jemma’s mother, the society model Deirdre Hamilton-Hill, split when Jemma was nine.

“My mum was a single mother, ” she says. “When my parents were together, I remember there were lots of rows. It caused terrible unhappiness to both of them and a certain amount of misery to me and my brother. Afterwards, though, it must have been bloody hard for mum to be on her own, ” says Jemma, who is married to QC Tim Owen, 42. They live in north London with their children Gabriel, nine, and three-year-old Alfie.

When her parents split, mother and daughter moved to Earls Court, London, while Jemma’s brother Luke, now a film director, was sent to boarding school.

Jemma’s childhood took on a Bohemian theme.”The flat was open-house to actors and musicians. Mum also had a boyfriend, who I didn’t get on with, whose friends were into all sorts of dodgy stuff and called themselves the Chelsea villains.”

When her mother, who died seven years ago, wrote her scornful memoir, To Be A Redgrave, about her failed marriage, Jemma, 37, refused to read it. “She wrote it to make money. She was always broke.

In her day, you married a man who could provide a good home.

She wasn’t fitted for a career. She was a model, though that work ended when she had children.”

Most of her family have hit the headlines at some time. Vanessa Redgrave’s ex-husband, director Tony Richardson, died of Aids while sister Lynn’s husband, John Clark, fathered a child by their daughter-in-law. Joely Richardson has split from her husband, while Natasha Richardson is married to outspoken Irish actor Liam Neeson and Jemma’s late grandad, Sir Michael Redgrave, admitted to bisexual activity.

Jemma, 38, remains staunchly loyal to them all and says she has learned to brush-off attention from the Press. She is especially defensive of her grandad. “He kept that secret for a long time. That part of his nature was illegal when he grew up, so he couldn’t reveal it, which was tragic.”

Through her teenage years, she fought the idea of becoming an actor. “I felt under a certain amount of pressure to give acting a shot. “I tried to encourage myself to have an alternative route but acting was a compulsion.”

She enrolled at drama school Lamda and went on to win parts in Howards End, with Sir Anthony Hopkins, and controversial TV drama Buddha Of Suburbia, with Brenda Blethyn, although she made her name as Eleanor Bramwell in costume drama Bramwell, seven years ago.

More recently she was in ITV’s Tom Brown’s Schooldays, as Mary Arnold, wife of education reformer Thomas Arnold, played by Stephen Fry.

She harbours an ambition to work with director Mike Leigh.

“He uses improvisation in such a way that the actors surprise each other on camera. It’s such an exciting challenge for any actor.”

Like Father Like Son, ITV1, tomorrow and Tuesday, 9pm.

Categories Articles & Interviews Media

Old interview #11: “So whose daughter are you?”

The Guardian (London)

January 6, 1999

Portrait: ‘So whose daughter are you?’; She’s the Redgrave you’ve probably never heard of. But not for long. Simon Hattenstone meets Jemma, daughter of Corin, niece of Vanessa (and so on)


There are certain conventions you have to respect when talking about my family, suggests Jemma Redgrave. Certain preferred words and phrases. ‘Firebrand’, for example, is a must – to describe the politics of Redgrave’s father Corin and Auntie Vanessa, both of whom were active in the Workers’ Revolutionary Party. And then there’s ‘theatrical dynasty’, of course. As in grandfather Michael and grandmother Rachel Kempson, dropping a generation to Vanessa, Lynn and Corin, dropping another generation to Natasha and Joely Richardson (Vanessa’s children) and Redgrave herself.

Jemma Redgrave is all of a black huddle. Black top, black trousers, black suedey shoes and black leathery coat, illuminated by red cheeks and red nose. She could have walked straight out of Chekhov’s cherry orchard. ‘It’s freezing in here, isn’t it?’ she says, giving herself a good cuddle. ‘I’m sorry if I don’t make much sense today. I’ve been up all night with my son. Rubbing his tummy every hour. Poor thing.’

In her new film, Redgrave plays the mother of a baby boy with the brain and speech pattern of a drug-addled yob. It’s based on an Irvine Welsh short story, one of three (from the original 22) that make up the film The Acid House. This highly stylised segment is difficult to describe – part rap video, part kitchen sink drama, part hallucinatory trip. Perhaps gritty surrealism is most apt. It’s a nice surprise to find Redgrave stewing in the contemporary mulch of a Welsh story. After all, she is an actress largely defined by the corsets of period drama, from her early stage work with Lynn and Vanessa in The Three Sisters to the Victorian doctor she played in the TV series Bramwell.

She says that Welsh takes our most ‘subliminal subconscious fears’ and stirs them into a disturbing fantasy. ‘You know, I used to have nightmares when I was pregnant. . .’ And she stops. She tells me I don’t want to know about them, really I don’t, now’s not the time for psychoanalysis. Oh go on! She laughs, and that huge, tender Redgrave mouth opens wide enough to swallow the world. ‘. . . I had these dreams that the child would come out fully formed, adult. You always have a fear, not quite a fear, but you never know what your relationship will be like with your child.’ Her laugh is loud and brutal, with something of the wicked witch in it.

Interviewers often accuse Jemma Redgrave of having a sense of humour, of letting the side down. ‘Well it’s just bollocks, this whole thing.’ What’s bollocks? ‘It’s bollocks. This ridiculous notion that if you’re involved in leftwing politics or you spring from a serious acting family you don’t have a sense of humour . . . It’s just not true. Look at Tony Benn – he’s incredibly cool and very funny and politically committed.’

I’ve been thinking about the Redgraves, thinking that I would not fancy following in all those footsteps. Didn’t the inevitable comparisons make her wary? ‘It was quite hard. It’s ‘So whose daughter are you?’ constantly, like the rector’s wife.’ She tried to think of other career options, unsuccessfully. And yes, naturally, she was worried she wouldn’t measure up, but it would have been crazy to deny her vocation simply because of family history.

Of the third generation, Natasha Richardson has enjoyed the greatest success. The Guardian’s theatre critic, Michael Billington, says all three have inherited the talent – that curious mix of intelligence and strangeness – but Joely and Jemma remain unproven. Earlier this year, Jemma played the messianic Salvation Army leader Major Barbara in the West End, and Billington praised her ‘clarity and purity’. He says that the Redgraves are often late developers and that Corin has only recently matured as an actor, so it’s early days yet for 33-year-old Jemma.

The major influence on Redgrave’s life seems to be her mother, Deirdre Hamilton-Hill. Redgrave’s parents split up when she was nine. Deirdre, the reckless daughter of a naval commander, wrote a book in which she claimed that Corin wanted her to be Mrs Lenin and had banned wine and French food from the house because they were bourgeois. While bringing up Redgrave and her younger brother, Luke, Deirdre opened the house up to any number of lovers, strangers and rock ‘n’ rollers. Even Redgrave described her as flaky.

Meanwhile, the wheel was turning and Redgrave was rebelling against her mother. She became known as the sensible one. ‘At 18, I thought I’d do the ultimate teenage rebellion thing and go incredibly straight. I thought I would vote Tory. I didn’t in the end. I thought that’s not rebellion, that’s just sad.’

She married a barrister (they recently got back together after splitting up for a year), had a son and apart from ironing in the nude in the TV serialisation of The Buddha Of Suburbia, led a quietly respectable actor’s life. There has often seemed something Sensible Shoes about Redgrave’s career.

She says she’s not so sure about being innately sensible; she thinks it is something imposed on her in childhood. Deirdre was so irresponsible that she had to take control. ‘There was a total lack of structure, and I longed for structure so I set about trying to create it.

‘I wasn’t trying so much to impose order as trying to show my mum that certain people were hanging around who weren’t particularly nice.’ She says the house was stuffed with visitors, some of them lovely, gentle people like Who manager Kit Lambert, others just there to exploit her mother’s trust. The trouble with Deirdre was that she found it difficult to tell the difference.

Did Redgrave make it obvious when she didn’t approve of the hangers on? ‘Yeah, I did. Mum used to call me the Attitude Squad. There were always lodgers, and one of them stole and she and her boyfriend had this awful, violent relationship, and I’d break it up sometimes.’

I tell her I wouldn’t fancy stepping into a domestic. ‘I can’t stand violence. But you can’t just stand there, can you?’ There is something open and vulnerable about Regrave, even when she’s talking up her toughness. You get the impression that however streetwise she is, she has also inherited some of her mother’s naivety – but whereas it followed Deirdre like a curse, for Redgrave it is a strength.

She genuinely believes that there would have been no option but to step in and break up the fights. Likewise, she says how could you not be interested in politics – everyone wants better schools, more jobs, social justice.

Did she miss not being mothered? ‘Yes, probably I did.’ When her mother was dying, the roles finally reverted to form and she was allowed to be a child again. ‘Every time she had bad news, she’d absorb it. It took a week and she’d say I’ll beat his, don’t worry I’m fine, and she’d take care of me. She really took emotional care of me. That extraordinary strength. It was incredible. Incredible.’ She stares into the distance as if it’s struck her for the first time.

Redgrave says she spent a lot of her childhood scared. She insisted on going to the grammar school that turned into a private school because she’d heard stories about kids being stabbed at the comprehensive. Didn’t it cause a row between her parents? ‘Yes, Dad wasn’t best pleased. But I was such a coward. I know this all sounds very contradictory. . . there I was, hard bastard telling people to fuck off, but I was quite shy.’

When she got to the school she felt inadequate because she was no longer near the top of her class. She started to comfort eat and became self-consciously plump. ‘Have you heard of the rower Steve Redgrave?’ she asks. Is he a relation? ‘Apparently he is, but I don’t know him. Anyway, he talked of the psychological advantage of being able to see the others behind you and how it’s much more difficult to come from behind. That’s how I felt at school. I struggled.’

When she went on to the stage she loved it, but discovered a new fear. Every first night she considered jumping on to a plane for Australia and not returning. Why did she act if it was so painful? ‘I think it was an escape. . . a means of expression. I wasn’t artistic. I’m still shy, still self -conscious.’ She lights a fag and gives herself another cuddle against the cold.

We talk about childhood and growing up and how you bleed for your children. She’s a very good listener, more relaxed asking questions than fielding them. Is she in a political party? No, she never has been, has never wanted to toe a single line. She’s quiet, mulling over the question of politics. ‘I do think acting can be very self-absorbed, and I find that slightly embarrassing. Sometimes it seems such an uninquiring profession.’

She tells me how her husband Tim is often in court, challenging the Home Secretary’s right to ‘raise a tarriff when the judge has already set one, like in the Bulger case, just because he has received 100,000 coupons from the Sun imploring him to. Tim does really interesting work, and often we’ve been out and nobody’s asked him a single question.’ Redgrave makes plenty of claims for the work of her husband, her brother, her cousins, her aunts, but none for herself. She says she was lucky to get a television series because it gave her a profile, and now it’s finished she’d like to do more stage work, expand her repertoire, discard the corsets.

She shows me how to work the coffee machine, apologises profusely for the cigarettes she’s smoked, apologises some more for her red nose and tiredness, thanks the PR for organising the interview, thanks me for coming, tells me not to worry that the photographer is the best part of an hour late.

I can’t help thinking that sometimes Redgrave must find it difficult with her family. They all seem so terribly confident. ‘Yes. Everybody was always quite confident of their opinions. I didn’t feel as confident or as articulate.’ You sense she gets the jitters even contemplating such words, but maybe this is what makes her so likeable. ‘I mean, I’m still quite chary of expressing opinions. . . unconfident to some extent about my own opinions. I find it quite hard, yes.’ The Acid House is on general release.

Categories Articles & Interviews Media

Old interview #10: “Keeping Mum”

The Sun

January 22, 2005


BYLINE: Diana Harris

Jemma Redgrave is a mother living in the shadow of her jailed serial killer ex-husband

LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON. Monday & Tuesday ITV1

Actress Jemma Redgrave has had her fair share of tension-packed roles, starring in thrillers such as Amnesia and The Grid. But the actress still found playing the ex-wife of a serial killer in her latest show a harrowing experience.

In the two-part drama Like Father, Like Son, Jemma plays single mum Dee Stanton, who is leading a life shrouded in secrecy.

Since her husband was found guilty of murdering four young women, she’s created a new life for herself and her 15-year-old son Jamie (Somerset Prew) in a town miles from their previous home, which they were driven from by angry locals. But sadly for Dee, the past has a nasty habit of catching up with people.

“Dee and Jamie are guilty by association,” explains Jemma, 40, who in real life has two sons, Gabriel, 10, and four-year-old Alfie with her barrister husband Tim Owen. “Since they moved, she has changed her name and keeps herself to herself in their new community.

“She created a comfortable fiction for Jamie that his father was an RAF pilot, who died a hero. It works until the point where she falls in love again. For the first time in 11 years, she feels she has to be honest. But what happens when the truth comes out is frightening.”

Things go wrong when Dee falls for her son’s English teacher Dominic (Robson Green), who has lived with his daughter Bethan (Francesca Fowler) since his wife’s death. She confides in him that she was once married to killer Paul Barker, played by Phil Davis.

Jamie overhears this conversation and demands to see his father in jail.

Meanwhile, gossip spreads through the town and when a girl at Dominic’s school is found dead, both Jamie and Dominic are suspects.

“Dee’s story is so traumatic,” adds Jemma, who is one of the Redgrave acting dynasty – her granddad was Sir Michael Redgrave; her dad is Corin Redgrave; her aunts are Vanessa and Lynn Redgrave and her cousins are Natasha and Joely Richardson. “Soon, she’s not only doubting her son’s innocence, but she’s also wondering if it’s to do with his genetic inheritance.”

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Old interview #9: “Doctor Jemma’s Acid House Call”

The Mirror

January 5, 1999, Tuesday


BYLINE: Exclusive: By Gavin Docherty

SHE is a gem among Britain’s best known theatrical dynasty and famous for portraying the perfect English rose.

But Bramwell star Jemma Redgrave is about to trash her goodie two shoes image with an all out assault on a new Scots movie.

In The Acid House, Irvine Welsh’s controversial follow-up to Trainspotting, she’ll shock fans with a string of four letter words and obscenities

Jemma, 33, and Men Behaving Badly star Martin Clunes team up to play the parents of a devil baby in the darkest of black comedies.

Rattles at the ready – the film hit the cinemas last week and Redgrave just can’t wait to see the reaction of audiences.

Jemma is the daughter of actor Corin Redgrave and granddaughter of Sir Michael Redgrave, as well as being the niece of Vanessa and Lynn Redgrave.

She said: “Having done period drama for two years, to go to Scotland and be able to say ‘f***’ a lot and work with Martin and wear jeans was great.”

The otherwise genteel Ms Redgrave swears by her role in this demented fantasy from the pen of the celebrated bad boy of Scottish literature.

“I got this script and I thought this is the most bizarre thing I have ever read in my life – I just had to do it.”

Even by Welsh’s outrageous standards, The Acid House must rate as one of the sickest movies ever.

It’s the story of Jenna Moore and Rory Weston, a yuppie Edinburgh couple whose baby is born in the middle of a fierce thunderstorm in an ambulance en route to a maternity unit.

The birth happens at the same time as Hibs supporter and Pilton punk, Coco Bryce (Ewen Bremner), is wandering around aimlessly, high on a terrifying LSD trip.

In a grotesque plot twist that combines Chucky Doll horror with X-Files fantasy, a bolt of lightning hits the ambulance and the soul of the acid head switches with the soul of the baby.

Next day the police find the near-comatose punk whom they think is in a kind of drug- induced catatonic state.

In fact, he is a newborn baby and can only gurgle and cry.

Meantime, Jenna and Rory’s baby has the brain of the 18-year-old and begins to speak to the mother at eight months.

She immediately thinks she has a genius.

The mother has no idea that her newborn baby is possessed by the malevolent spirit of Bryce.

But she begins to suspect something is terribly wrong when he prefers steak to Farleys Rusks, his breath begins to smell of alcohol and she finds empty bottles of wine under the cot.

He also demands to be taken to the Easter Road terracing to watch a Hibs game.

The film, shot at locations in Glasgow and Edinburgh, will be screened with two other Welsh shorts, The Soft Touch and The Granton Star Cause.

For The Acid House, Jemma spent many hours filming complicated scenes with a lifelike doll operated by animatronics.

She explained: “You are working with a mechanical doll and everywhere you go the baby has to be carried around.

“You are being followed by four puppeteers who were all working different bits of this thing. Someone else was doing the baby’s dialogue.”

She’s read Welsh’s hit novel Trainspotting previously, and it was sufficient to know she was on to someone who was an extraordinary writer.

“He is an incredibly powerful and individual voice,” she continued.

“I got sent the script and I said ‘great!’

“It is the most bizarre story. It didn’t quite know what it was – comedy, science fiction, X- Files genre or tragedy. Martin defined the scenes as comic and I think it is a very funny story.”

Off-screen, Jemma is blissfully playing happy families for real, having reunited recently with her barrister husband, Tim Owen, after an 18- month separation.

The pair are now living together again in North London with their four-year -old son Gabriel.

She said: “Tim is a fantastic and very devoted father. Juggling family and work can be tricky but he really is a wonderful support.”

Categories Articles & Interviews Media

Old interview #8: “Jemma’s tall tale of actors”

The Express

December 20, 2004



SHE hails from one of the tallest acting dynasties but Jemma Redgrave believes that performing opposite Stephen Fry is, quite literally, a pain in the neck. The actress, 38, who portrays the 6ft 5ins actor’s wife in the new ITV adaptation of Tom Brown’s Schooldays, explains: “He is the tallest actor I have played against and it feels like you are looking up at the Eiffel Tower. As a result you get a crick in your neck from repetitive strain.” Jemma – daughter of actor Corin Redgrave and a respectable 5ft 8ins – has since had to cope with a further tall order in the shape of ex-Stars In Their Eyes host Matthew Kelly. The pair star in another forthcoming ITV drama Cold Blood and, like Fry, Kelly is almost a foot taller than her. “I’ll need a physiotherapist when I work with him, ” she says.