Michele Manelis talks with Vanessa Redgrave about her latest film, Mrs Lowry and Son - and why schools need to teach art.
How familiar were you with the artist L.S. Lowry?
I was familiar but not to a great extent.
What about your relationship to art and painting? Do you have a lot of art in your house? Maybe children's art from your kids or grandchildren?
Well, I try to promote art in any way that I can. It's important for children to be able to have the materials so they can paint, because through that they can begin to release any traumas they might be suffering. It's a very well-known method of helping children. But schools are not providing children with art and paintings anymore. I get really passionately angry when I look at how my country isn't funding schools and the children properly. What do we pay taxes for? So, that's my relationship to art, because I know how I've been affected as a person. But I don't mean it makes me nice - I'm just saying that I know how I benefited from my art classes at school. And whatever the result it doesn't matter. I still make quite nice cartoons of family life and so on. And I've got a number of paintings done by my grandchildren and some done by my daughters and son.
How do you feel about this role, Mrs Lowry? She's such a domineering mother and so different from my impression of you as a real mother. What was it like for you?
Well, if you're acting you have to go inside a person as much as you can. You can't stand outside and say, "I don't like her." That's no good to anybody. Do you see what I mean?
Yes, of course. Do you spend a lot of time with your family?
Yes. We're all in what they call "the business". We all write, we all make films, we all act in films, we act in the theatre too, we write a lot and we watch films a lot. My son and I have a film company and we make films. I get excited about our work and I try to get financing for the films we produce. With my daughter, Joely [Richardson], I watched a magnificent, magnificent TV series, Fosse/Verdon, recently. I was absolutely blown away.
Do you remember your first audition?
Well, I can remember an audition for the man who later became my husband, Tony Richardson, to play the actress Helena in Look Back in Anger. I auditioned and I didn't get it. And that was fair enough. And another audition was for Cabaret. And I made a huge mistake. I'd sung all my life with my family around the piano on Sundays and proper lessons, etc - drama school and so on - but I decided I'd choose the worst possible song from a point of view of my accomplishment, a brilliant song called, The Girl from Ipanema. It was way out of my reach, way out of my capacity, way out of my anything so I didn't get the part. And the girl I'd been at drama school with the same year, Judi Dench, got it.
It must have been a thrill for you, then, when your daughter [Natasha Richardson] performed in Cabaret and won a Tony?
Well, she was stunning, extraordinary and it is, of course, a very extraordinary piece of work in every part of the choreography and the dance and the libretto. I would have liked to have gone every single night.
How do you feel about the de-ageing of actors on film? I'm sure you've heard about Robert De Niro in The Irishman, where technology has been able to make him decades younger on screen.
I don't like trying to be made younger off the screen. I don't do the stuff. It's legitimate if women want to do it, of course, it's just my personal approach. I just go with the flow and certainly, since I was about 30, I've been playing old women as well as young. Now I can't play young, obviously. But it makes me feel a bit freaky hearing about that process on screen. Scorsese's a great film-maker so I want to see The Irishman and I worship Robert De Niro and the whole lot of them, so I'll go and see it but I must say I feel a bit freaky about the idea of digitally doing something. It's another art but I love art where we actually do it ourselves with the help from lighting, direction and everything else.
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Do you still enjoy acting?
I do. I was warned once by a wonderful actress, "You may find when you get to my age, (she was in her mid-60s), that you don't enjoy it anymore." And I thought, "Oh my lord, how terrible to know that this lady doesn't enjoy it." And I'll tell you frankly, two things. When you get to work with people who know how to work, it's joyful. When you get to 82 and you find that there's an awful lot of people who don't understand how to work together, then it's not enjoyable, obviously. But then I have to think, "Well, I'll try to set an example if I can." Now I fail at that because I'm better just doing myself. I'm not in that sense a good director, although I have directed a film, I have directed a play and written a play. But I'm at my best when I'm actually acting with my friends.
Mrs Lowry and Son is in cinemas now.