Categories Articles & Interviews Media

Old interview #6: “Saturday People: No rules, just principles – Jemma Redgrave”

The Guardian (London)

October 8, 1988

Saturday People: No rules, just principles – Jemma Redgrave


There are obvious advantages, if you are an actress, in being a Redgrave.

If your grandfather was Sir Michael Redgrave, who lived in Palatial Bedford House on London’s Chiswick Mall; if your father is Corin Redgrave, stalwart of the actors’ union Equity; and if your aunt is Vanessa Redgrave you do not have to persuade theatre directors and film producers that Jemma Smith is a food name to put on a marquee.

On the other hand, as Jemma Redgrave has discovered, people do tend to ask you questions about whether you stand for the same beliefs as your family, which no one would bother to do if you were plain Jemma Smith. And you have to say you admire their commitment to whatever they are doing and will discuss nothing on the negative side.

Jemma Redgrave, now 23, and about to appear in her first film, a psychological thriller called Dream Demon, which opens next week, after some weighty work on stage (including her favourite, a revival of Strindberg’s little-known Easter at the Haymarket, Leicester) is a bright, fine-featured, and unconsciously elegant woman who says she tries to be true to herself but finds that things change within her so rapidly that she hesitates to state any opinions.

‘How I have been influenced by my family is a difficult question,’ she said yesterday before setting off for Bristol Old Vic to be in its production of The School for Scandal.

‘As fast as you make up your mind about something it becomes changed, and probably the best thing to learn at the moment, or maybe for life, is that there are no rules and no right and wrong ways. It is a question in life of having principles and trying to stick to them and that is very hard – there you go, you see, I have changed my mind already!’

Jemma has a sense of humour, which is possibly not the most conspicuous of the many Redgrave virtues. She laughs when told the film (she plays a debbish socialite about to marry an army hero beset by nightmares of being attacked and spied upon) has been dubbed by some as Nightmare on Sloan Street. She herself might pass for a Sloane Ranger. Though in fact she lives with her father at his home in Balham, London, the way the film came to her was almost casually Sloanish. In London for auditions, she had one last-minute appointment – at Lee International Studios to meet Dream Demon producer Paul Webster and director Harley Cokliss.

She had been auditioning for Romeo and Juliet. ‘Harley said, ‘Read us a bit of that.’ I tried to prevaricate, but I did it. They said it was nice having some Shakespeare at the end of a long day. Two days later they offered me the part.’

The girl’s fiance in the film (the one she must have been uneasy about all along) is in the end shown as something else besides a Falklands hero – he is an utter cad. Did that mean Dream Demon was an Establishment-knocking exercise a la Vanessa, suggesting that an apparently respectable society was really sick and corrupt?

‘It isn’t Establishment-knocking,’ Jemma replied. ‘That would be taking it too deep. Some people say that it is never made specific whether it is in her mind that he is a rotter or whether it is reality, though I myself think it is in reality.’

Her way of life certainly mirrors present-day realities more than her grandfather’s handsome life-style. Her two requirements, she said, were a modest place of her own, difficult without a fixed income, and a car. She already has the car – a 16 year-old Beetle. Not the sort of car to park in Chiswick Mall.