Miranda greeted me at her rented flat in Edinburgh where she was performing at the Festival in Orlando adapted and directed by Robert Wilson. Miranda had gotten superlative reviews, the production had not. Miranda was following in the footsteps of the German production with Ute Lemper and the French production with Isabelle Huppert. Wilson has collaborated with luminaries such as: Lou Reed; Tom Waits, and Phillip Glass, amongst many others. So, it wasn’t surprising that he chose to work with Miranda, of whom (for her performance in Orlando) one critic wrote: “She is the best actress working in any medium in our country.” An apt testimony to Miranda’s celebrated work in film, on stage, and for television, and her long list of BAFTA, Academy Award, and Olivier nominations and awards.
The first thing that struck me about Miranda is how tiny she is, and then, how much younger, more delicate, and prettier she is in person than on screen. Some people look very plain when you meet them and miraculously engage with the camera in a way that transforms them, while others are not flattered by the camera, and I think Miranda is one of those people.
Miranda seemed fragile and tired.She was a bit withdrawn (as well as drawn)and did not seem to want to talk perhaps because of the exhaustion of her long solo performances where she was onstage for hours.
Miranda is an intensely private person and it was difficult to get her to speak, or to get any personal information about her – everything seemed off limits that was not part of her professional brief. That’s a choice, but it makes an interview subject more difficult to connect with on a human level. She clearly wanted to keep a distance, which made her somewhat remote and not easy to speak with. It is not for nothing that Miranda is known in the British press as “Ms. Sourpuss,” because of her unwillingness to speak with the press, and her general refusal to do publicity for her films, or attend social functions with her peers.
I don’t have any quarrels with Miranda’s stance regarding publicity. There is a high degree of hustlerism in the film world, and actors have no obligation to do anything more than their job – which is acting. Some actors, like Gene Hackman, have resolutely refused to play the publicity game, and more power to them.They have the right to set boundaries if they feel their work on a project is finished. After a while, I came to believe that the act of interviewing was something of an intrusion on an actors’ right to privacy, although I don’t regret having spent years doing these interviews – I do find they help young actors to hear how actors think and feel about what they do.
Miranda was forthcoming about performing. But she almost seemed irritated at times when I asked her about characterizations, and a little disinterested in the interview. Not great for the process, but those are things you just deal with. She was very feline, crouched down with her arms wrapped around her legs. I respect Miranda as an actor particularly for the varied work, her risk-taking (think of David Cronenberg’s Spider where she plays 3 different roles, and her obvious commitment to the profession.
At the precise moment I turned off the tape recorder, as if by magic, Miranda suddenly became quite animated, as if a cork had opened on a bottle of champagne. This was something I had experienced before with other actors who are very guarded and wary of the interview process, and suddenly, once the apparatus is switched off they enter a completely different zone of engagement. While she had maintained her distance during the interview, now Miranda asked if I wanted to have a cup of tea and a good chat! Why not when the interview was happening? Suddenly, it felt like we were two women having an afternoon together, but by then it was too late. The tape recorder was off and I had a flight back to London, so I declined, although it would have been interesting to speak with her in an unguarded way.
I always enjoy Miranda as an actor, and have watched her take on quirky roles as she has become more of a character actor, which I think was always her destiny. Too unconventional to be a leading lady, and certainly too independent to be groomed for stardom on an international level. Miranda turned down the Glenn Close role in Fatal Attraction, and chose to work in the very unglamorous role of Mrs. Victor, Christian Bale’s surrogate mother, who succumbs to the deprivations of a Chinese prison camp in Empire of the Sun, directed by Steven Spielberg. She has worked with the people she wanted to, and done the jobs that intrigued her. Miranda has remained true to herself and refused to be commodified or hemmed in, and has had the sort of interesting career that comes with that kind of spirited individuality and self-determination, and pure talent.
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