The illustrious actress/humanitarian Vanessa Redgrave is the embodiment of an extraordinary life well lived. Her name conjures up vivid images and memories that span five decades of film and her Theater work is even more encompassing taking in an extra decade of diversely challenging roles. The world renowned actor, who Tennessee Williams called “The greatest actress of our time,” will be honored at this year’s Hamptons International Film Festival with the Golden Starfish Award for career achievement in acting, and she will be making her first visit to our stunning shores as well. Part of the festivities will include the World Premiere engagement of “The Shell Seekers,” a two hour Hallmark Channel original film she made opposite Maximilian Schell that will premiere at the festival, prior to its U.S. television network showing next summer.
Ms Redgrave will receive her honor and take part in a much anticipated 3 pm interview at Bay Street Theater, called “A Conversation with Vanessa Redgrave” conducted by Alec Baldwin that will include audience participation and will precede “The Shell Seekers” screening. The “Conversation With” has become an eagerly awaited festival event, but I was lucky enough to have my own private preview conversation with the legend in a phone chat that took place a couple of days ago.
Speaking about the film “The Shell Seekers” based on the beloved #1 New York Times best selling novel by Rosamunde Pilcher that has captivated millions, Ms. Redgrave wasn’t exactly sure how it came to be, but said “Someone must have contacted her agent. Penelope is a wonderful role and I like the writing. The script is by Brian Finch, a writer with odd and unusual insights. I like him immensely.” The story of love and redemption tests family bonds, and although she made the film in 2005 Ms. Redgrave said. “I haven’t seen it yet and will be seeing it for the first time on Thursday. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any scenes with Maximilian Shell.”
Ms. Redgrave has an abundance of energy, but still finds it difficult she said, “To make time for everything.” Nonetheless just this past March she was nominated for a Tony Award for her latest appearance on Broadway in the stage adaptation of Joan Didion’s 2005 memoir “The Year of Magical Thinking,” directed by David Hare. A passionate reader of Didion’s, she was the only actress considered for the role and will be taking the play to London next season. She won the 2003 Tony Award for Best Actress as Mary Tyrone in Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey into Night.” Prior to that recent New York appearance were Off Broadway as Vita opposite Dame Eileen Atkins in “Vita and Virginia” and as Cleopatra during the 1995/96 season in her own production of “Anthony and Cleopatra” at he Public Theater.
She has been working on the London stage since the mid 1950’s making her West End debut in January 1958 as Caroline Lester in “A Touch of the Sun” opposite her renowned father Sir Michael Redgrave, that turned out to be an accelerated mater class from “The Maestro who spots everything,” she said. Her first appearance in New York was over 30 years ago in Tony Richardson’s production of Ibsen’s “The Lady from the Sea” in 1976. The list of brilliant artists she has worked with over the years is amazingly mind boggling.
Her film debut came in 1959 as her father’s daughter in the hospital drama “Behind the Mask,” and she has been working on and off in the medium ever since, alternating with Theater and Television work that she continues to this day. Her most recent film was last year’s “Venus,” directed by Roger Michell opposite Peter O’Toole. She has been nominated for six Oscars in each of four successive decades, winning for Best Supporting Actress in 1978 as Julia in the film of the same name opposite Jane Fonda. A few of her other films include “Murder on the Orient Express,” “Yanks,” “Howard’s End,” “Isadora,” “Camelot,” and Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Blow Up,” just to mention a few.
Her memorable television projects are numerable and she has won two Emmy Awards including Best Actress in Arthur Miller adapted television movie “Playing for Time.” She will be seen on HBO in “The Fever,” directed by Carlo Nero and featuring Angelina Jolie. She is hardly ever complacent and her edgy choices often push the envelope, which make her all the more provocative. We engaged in a little debate about destiny, which the actress doesn’t really believe in, but she did concede to “a probability,” always mindful that we ultimately have a choice. She appeared in the acclaimed “If These Walls Could Talk,” and from time to time guest stars on the hit series “Nip/Tuck,” which stars her daughter Joely Richardson.
Because of her parents she grew up “surrounded by an extraordinary circle of friends that were not just actors,” she said which probably contributed to her openness. Family and relationships are clearly important to her. She was staying with her sister and spoke about her brother more than once. She has always maintained ongoing relationships with the significant men and women in her life and just this past New Years Eve married Franco Nero the father of her son Carlo who she met on the set of Camelot forty years ago. She is a unique force, which she contributes partly to just being a woman.
Ms. Redgrave has been a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, since 1995. Dissent Projects, the film company she co-produces with her son Carlo Nero, has just made a documentary film, “Wake Up World,” in tribute to UNICEF.
Since Ms. Redgrave has never visited the East End, our publishers wanted to know if there was anything, in particular, she was looking forward to seeing. She said, “She heard it was beautiful,” but she had a priority and she said “I want to see my friend Kathryn Cahill’s ceramic exhibition at the Ross School.” The photographer, who has had five earlier exhibits there, will be seen along side “Silent Witnesses,” a photography exhibition that has toured the world including the lobby of The United Nations in New York, to raise public awareness about the global landmine crisis that indiscriminately kills and maims more than 20,000 civilians, mostly women and children annually. The landmine movement was recognized with a Nobel Peace Prize.
Thank you Ms. Redgrave and congratulations on you much deserved honor. Besides the Oliviers, the British equivalent of the Tony, there are the Tonys, London’s Evening Standard Awards in four separate decades, Best Actress at Cannes twice, six Oscar nominations, 5 Emmy nominations, 13 Golden Globe nominations and now the Golden Starfish. I forgot to ask where to you keep them all, and something she said just occurred to me “Acting was a consolation; I really wanted to be a dancer.” One of life’s little ironies or was it destiny?
By Gordin & Christiano
Originally Published in Dan's Papers