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)
BYLINE: SIMON HATTENSTONE
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.
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.”
January 5, 1999, Tuesday
DOCTOR JEMMA’S ACID HOUSE CALL; ROSE TURNS BLUE
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.”
December 20, 2004
JEMMA’S TALL TALE OF ACTORS; DAY & NIGHT
BYLINE: KATHRYN SPENCER, JULIE CARPENTER & KATE BOHDANOWICZ
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.
The Times (London)
March 24, 2001, Saturday
BYLINE: Amber Cowan
The actress Jemma Redgrave relieves aggression through kickboxing, finds Rome very sexy, is a big fan of Nick Hornby and The Clangers, but hates today’s children’s television
I adore Shakespeare and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in particular, has always had a special significance for me. For a start it was the first play that I went to see. My grandmother took me to the Peter Brook production at the RSC when I was five. The performance was set in a big white box and the fairies were like circus performers on stilts. I remember being captivated by the spectacle of it all, but also very confused by the fact that there was no forest on the stage when I had been told that there would be.
It is also the first play that I took my seven-year-old son Gabriel to see, last Christmas. Like me, he was worried about the absence of trees on stage, but was soon electrified by the whole thing. And he thought the fact that Shakespeare had a character called Bottom was hysterically funny.
I am a great advocate of taking children to the theatre as early as possible. We worry that they won’t understand the language of Shakespeare, but children are so used to not understanding the language of adults that they just go with the flow.
Playing Titania at the moment is a real coup for me, as the other actresses in my family (aunts Vanessa and Lynn Redgrave and cousins Natasha and Joely Richardson) usually play Helena. Titania is such a sexy, liberating character. There’s something very “free-love” about her. She has managed to avoid her husband for a whole year, and then she goes and falls in love with a donkey.
I try to get to the theatre as often as I can. The last play I was mesmerised by was Pinter’s The Caretaker with Michael Gambon (left with Rupert Graves). It was astonishing. Gambon’s appearance changes dramatically when he’s in character. Throughout the play he appeared shrivelled and wizened, but when he stood upright to take his curtain call, the stage seemed to shrink in his presence.
I am torn between New York, Paris and Rome for my favourite city, but if you held a gun to my head, I’d plump for Rome. I love the way the Romans live on and around their monuments. And I love the steaminess of it all: sexiness just seems to hang in the air there.
Maybe it’s because Italians generally live at home until they are into their thirties, so they are forced to do their courting outdoors.
I discovered Rome without a map and it was an amazing experience. I spent three weeks there in 1993 filming an Italian television drama and on my days off I would wander around aimlessly with my co-star, Stephen Dillane.
My mother went to school in Rome and so I’d heard all about it, but nothing prepares you for the intense beauty of it all. You walk into a square and suddenly, there’s the Pantheon. You hear the rush of water and look, there’s the Trevi Fountain. That said, I haven’t been to Venice yet and I suspect all those gondolas might make me change my mind.
The design of the Pompidou Centre in Paris (above) is witty and inventive and I love it. There’s something about the juxtaposition of that glass and the external structural architecture that fills me with glee.
The last time I was there was for a season of British Cinema which kicked off with a festival of Redgrave films. As a family we spanned almost every genre of British film, and so we all went over for the launch. I admit I felt like a bit of a fraud because I have done only a handful of films. But there was an irony to the festival as well, in the fact that it was the French celebrating British cinema, rather than the British.
Nick Hornby is a big, big favourite of mine. I’m a huge Arsenal supporter and so I read Fever Pitch (Penguin, Pounds 6.99) and found it absolutely spot-on. There’s one scene where he’s describing the differences between his bedroom and his girlfriend’s bedroom which I can practically quote verbatim. He’s so funny. I also adored About a Boy (Penguin, Pounds 6.99), which was wonderfully witty and touching.
Otherwise, I love Ian McEwan, in particular his novel Black Dogs (Vintage, Pounds 6.99). It is set in the Forties, and is about this couple who are desperately in love but who can’t stand to be together. There is a terrible clash between fervent religious belief on her side, and severe political atheism on his, and they cannot reconcile their differences. It’s romantic, but also psychological.
The Clangers and Captain Pugwash (left) are my all-time favourite television shows. A close second, though, is the series Tough Love, with Ray Winstone and Adrian Dunbar, which ran on ITV last year. That was the absolute antithesis of the usual police dramas where they always know who their culprit is and spend the entire programme trying to gather evidence to convict them. I also enjoyed Donovan Quick with Colin Firth and Kate Murphy. And I love Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? I kid myself that I know all the answers and would make it to a million, but in my heart I know I couldn’t.
I have never been hooked on soaps, though having just had a baby I find myself listening to The Archers on Radio 4 at bathtime in the evenings. For some reason the theme tune has a very soporific effect on the baby. In contrast I am usually on the edge of my seat, worrying about whether Phoebe is about to be kidnapped and taken to South Africa or whatever.
Kick-boxing is a major passion in my life. I took it up about two years ago and I have earned my second belt, which I’m very proud about. It’s strange: I think gyms are mind-numbingly boring -hideous inventions of the Devil in fact -but I love kick-boxing. Perhaps because it’s more of an art than a sport, as every move is impeccably choreographed. And pad work is a great way to relieve aggression. It’s my ultimate goal in life to get my black belt. It’s probably going to take ten years, but I’m determined to do it.
At the moment, my listening habits are dictated by the whims of my son Gabriel. He’s into Shaggy, Destiny’s Child, Madonna and Craig David. Of course, I listened to terrible music when I was his age, too, so it’s churlish to complain. The first record that I ever bought was Gary Glitter’s I’m the Leader of the Gang (I Am!), with 50p I was given as a reward for being good at the dentist’s.
I like Coldplay and David Gray and, of course, old favourites such as the Beatles and Bowie. I sing the Beatles’ Love Me Do to my baby son Alfie and he gurgles back at me.
As a family, we have a formidable working knowledge of the soundtrack to My Fair Lady. On a trip to Italy last year, all the CDs we had packed were stolen from the car, and so for four weeks we were forced to listen to the only CD that we could find in the guest house, which was My Fair Lady. I suspect we’ll be going to see the production at the National (London SE1), with Martine McCutcheon (see review, page 25). She is such a good actress.
There’s a certain form of television-speak that really winds me up, and it seems to have crept into all areas of broadcasting. There’s one presenter on Blue Peter, for example -I don’t want to name her -who is particularly guilty of it. She sucks in her words and makes a funny smacking sound when she starts her sentences. In fact, I despise children’s television presenters. They are so patronising. Children’s television really makes me rant.
Jemma Redgrave was interviewed by Amber Cowan. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is at the Albery, London WC2, until May 12
The Guardian (London)
October 8, 1988
Saturday People: No rules, just principles – Jemma Redgrave
BYLINE: By DENNIS BARKER
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.
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.
Daily Mail (London)
March 4, 1993, Thursday
THE RETIRING REDGRAVE
BYLINE: Katy Macdonald
AS A third-generation member of the famous thespian dynasty, Jemma Redgrave has acting in her blood. She is the daughter of Corin, niece of Vanessa and Lynn, granddaughter of the late Sir Michael, and cousin of Joely and Natasha.
Jemma, 28, has taken leading roles on stage in such classics as Cyrano de Bergerac and As You Like It, and played Alan Alda’s leading lady in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. From next week she stars in Anthony Burgess’ new version of the Russian comedy Chatsky at London’s Almeida Theatre.
Her parents split up during Jemma’s teenage years, with her mother Deirdre declaring that Corin, a member of the Workers’ Revolutionary Party, was trying to turn her into ‘Mrs Lenin’. Jemma divided her time between both parents. Last year she married her barrister boyfriend Tim Owen, and they live in Kentish Town.
* YOUR FAVOURITE CLOTHES?
‘Apart from jeans I have an English Eccentrics shirt that I live in. It’s got acorns and wonderful swirling patterns. I bought it two years ago and walked out of the shop wearing it. I like Nicole Farhi’s jumpers since they last for ever and are one designer item you can buy conscience-free, whereas I couldn’t possibly buy one of her tiny T-shirts for £100, or whatever they cost. At Christmas I tried on a fantastic Vivienne Westwood bodice with extraordinary angels and a tight velvet shirt. I was tempted, but I didn’t have the guts to spend so much on something I wouldn’t wear very often.’
* YOUR FAVOURITE SHOES?
‘A pair of old-fashioned plimsolls, which are very hard to get now. I’ve worn them to death and they’re full of holes, but I can’t find a replacement pair. Incredibly loud trainers are all that’s on offer in most shops. I have a pair of platform shoes, but they raise me to 5ft 10in – I’m 5ft 8in without them – making me feel terribly tall and intimidating. I bought my long suede boots from Russell & Bromley and I wear them with leggings and skirts. You have to be careful when you wear them with minis, though, otherwise you can look as if you’ve stepped out of the Starship Enterprise.’
Name of the game; INTERVIEW: JEMMA REDGRAVE
BYLINE: James Rampton
Actress Jemma Redgrave runs a mile when she hears the word “dynasty”. It’s not that she has a loathing of glitzy American soaps; it’s just that when your grandfather is Michael Redgrave, your father Corin Redgrave, your aunts Vanessa and Lynn Redgrave, and your cousins Natasha and Joely Richardson, the word tends to attach itself to you like a barnacle to the bottom of an old boat.
So it is with no little feeling that Jemma Redgrave expresses her delight that she is finally being viewed as an actress in her own right, irrespective of her famous name.
All the same, she claims her name was never a passport to work. “Nobody ever seriously thinks you get a job because of your name, because if you can’t do it, you don’t work. They might trot you round the paddock, but they’re not going to put you in for the race if you’re not up to it.
“At drama school, I felt I was getting away with it, I felt outside things. I would have good attempts but I could always hear my own voice. Now I feel connected. I don’t care what other people think, because I feel I’ve established myself.”
And she’s right. Her performances in the title role of Bramwell on ITV, as Sir Oswald’s wife in Channel 4’s Mosley, and as the lover in The Buddha of Suburbia on BBC2 have placed her at the forefront of TV performers.
In all Redgrave’s roles, viewers are drawn to her warmth and humanity. One critic observed that what marked her out was “her sense of heart”. Think of the poignant look of hurt that crossed her face when her husband (Jonathan Cake) in Mosley had the gall to blame her for his serial philandering. “People say you are so lovable, and I am so interesting,” he sneered. “I will try to be more lovable, if you’ll try to be more interesting.”
Bramwell, showing in two World Cup-busting feature-length episodes this week, was the show that really made her. Created by the acclaimed writer Lucy Gannon, the character – a doctor battling against prejudice and scant resources in the East End of Victorian London is both feisty and fiery.
A tall, elegant figure in a blue dress and pale cardigan, Redgrave reckons that “the good thing about Eleanor is that she’s not ingratiating. People say to me, ‘God, I want to slap her sometimes.’ And so do I. I think, ‘calm down, and just count to 10’. She frequently puts her foot in it, and she’s not afraid to be bad-tempered. But a lot of people identify with her strength and her determination, and her will to forge a career for herself in a male-dominated profession. That strikes a chord even now. She’s headstrong, bloody-minded, passionate and difficult, but naive and vulnerable at the same time. It’s a good rich mixture.”
Viewers have also been attracted, Redgrave admits, by the often gory hospital scenes. “People are fascinated by Victorian medicine because it’s so gruesome. A hundred years ago, they were removing a woman’s ovaries for what is now called post-natal depression.”
This is all of a piece with the gritty feel which distinguishes Bramwell from the chocolate-box look of much costume drama. “It’s less well-pressed than a lot of other period drama. It looks cold in the same way that Persuasion did – people are crumpled and muddy. There is a sense in Bramwell of a time when there was no central heating. It was freezing in that hospital. Poverty was filthy and not glamorous in any way.”
For all Redgrave’s success over three series in Bramwell, it was Mosley that grabbed the most headlines. Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran’s drama copped a great deal of flak for supposedly glamorising the British fascist leader. “It was obvious the series was going to be a talking-point, but I had no idea it was going to be so controversial. People asked whether it should have been made. The answer is yes.
“Mosley was a despicable monster, but he was part of our particular history. It was because Mosley was charismatic, fantastically articulate and a brilliant speaker that he was so dangerous. You can’t help thinking, ‘what a waste that a man with such promise and talent should have thrown it away and espoused such an evil cause’.”
“It’s now a very febrile time in Europe,” Redgrave says. “There are fascist movements in Russia and the Balkans. We must look at people like Mosley and understand them, so we don’t repeat our mistakes.”
Despite her telly hits, for a long time Redgrave had the makings of a severe case of stage-fright. “I hadn’t been anywhere near the theatre for five years. I went to a first night a year ago, and I got a panic attack. I thought, ‘how can they possibly do it when they know Michael Coveney the Daily Mail theatre critic and Nicholas de Jongh from the Evening Standard are sitting out there sharpening their pencils?'”
All that changed when Peter Hall persuaded her to take the lead in his production of Major Barbara at the Piccadilly Theatre in London. “She’s such a surprising character,” Redgrave enthuses. “You have certain expectations and preconceptions about a Salvation Army major of the early Edwardian period. She subverts them with her humour and humanity.”
Earnest, passionate, engaged, Redgrave displays a commitment to her work that she says she learnt from her father. “He has huge integrity and believes that one should be serious about what one does. I’ll end up in “Luvvies” for this, but there is value and weight in what we do.
“Gombrich says that you respond to painting because there’s something familiar in it that you understand even if it’s abstract. It illuminates and you connect with it. So whether it’s painting, opera or theatre, it’s important that you don’t short-change people. If you don’t take something seriously, what’s the point in doing it?”
‘Bramwell’ is on Mon and Thur at 8pm on ITV.
LOAD-DATE: June 15, 1998
The Daily Telegraph (LONDON)
May 31, 2008 Saturday
MY PERFECT WEEKEND Country gatherings and card games are a winning hand for actress Jemma Redgrave
BYLINE: Interview by Yvonne Swann
A perfect weekend for me would be reminiscent of the weekends of my childhood. It would be just like the recent bank holiday when I stayed with friends in Norfolk with my husband [barrister Tim Owen] and our sons Gabriel, 14, and Alfie, eight. No weekend could be perfect if the children and my Labrador weren’t part of it.
The sun was shining and the Norfolk light in the mornings was magical, glowing on the views over the salt marshes towards the sea.
It was idyllic. There was a little boat and we sailed out on the ocean waves and watched the seals and wild birds at Blakeney Point. We went for long walks, read the papers and the dads played football with the boys.
That really is my ideal weekend: lots of children and games. As well as table tennis, card games with good friends is brilliant. You laugh so much, but it’s also seriously competitive.
We also like to play “First Lines” with the children. We find a book, read the blurb off the back jacket and everybody has to write down what they think the first line might be. You win if you pick the real first line out of everyone’s efforts and you win if your invented first line gets the most votes. It’s ridiculous fun and the sort of communal living among friends that I love.
We live in London and don’t get away to the country much at weekends, because my sons have a busy social and sporting life in the city. They love their football and cricket. Country breaks are very special to me.
As a child, I have very fond memories of being with my maternal grandparents, who lived in Shepperton, right on the Thames, in the grounds of a big house. There was always a dinghy nearby. My grandfather had been in the Navy and was a great sailor. I remember boating with him and in my mind it seems to have been forever summer there. We had a lot of freedom. We’d go off by ourselves and fish for pike. I also remember a lot of croquet in the grounds of the big house on summer evenings. It was lovely.
My paternal grandmother [actress Rachel Kempson, Lady Redgrave] had a cottage in Hampshire and I used to stay with her regularly. It was different again. She had a dog, which I adored, and those memories seem to be autumnal -all about bonfires and beautiful woods.
My mother [Deirdre Hamilton-Hill] had a vintage clothes stall in an antiques market in the King’s Road in London and took a stall in the Portobello Road to sell the leftovers. I used to go with her to the markets on Saturdays and was sometimes left in charge of the stall. As I had no idea what I was doing, I sold wonderful things for a pittance. At the time, I didn’t like the old clothes at all. Like most children, I was quite conservative and wanted a conventional life. I yearned for Marks & Spencer, not Victorian gowns. I’d love to have the whole stall now.
When I was little, I saw a Play for Today on the BBC about a Jacobean village. Clothes arrived in the village full of plague-carrying fleas. The play marked me. I was absolutely convinced that some terrible disease was going to be shipped in with the old clothes when they arrived at our house. I’d skirt the walls in terror.
In later years, I grew close to my paternal grandfather, the actor Michael Redgrave, who was divorced from my Hampshire grandmother. He taught me to play canasta, which is where my love of cards comes from. My father [actor Corin Redgrave] taught me poker when I was 10 and I still like to play it at weekends.
My recent Norfolk weekend was entirely wonderful because it was closely linked to my childhood memories and to the days when my parents were still together. We’d all gather for heavenly weekends with lots of friends, grandparents and children. Could anything be better than that? I don’t think so.
Jemma Redgave is starring in the play The Cherry Orchard, by Anton Chekhov, at Chichester Festival Theatre until next Saturday.