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Glenda Jackson: Can-do Actress Still Does All

September 07, 1986|MARY BLUME

PARIS — More than just about any actress, Glenda Jackson has shown that she can do just about anything, although she has not always thought so. In the early 1970s, for example, already an Oscar winner for Ken Russell's "Women in Love," she expressed reservations about her ability to play comedy, then went off to win a second Oscar for the comedy "A Touch of Class."

The ability to do anything is one thing: Glenda Jackson actually goes out and does it. The one theatrical form she hasn't tried is musical comedy, and she is perfectly game for that, although not sure that her voice would hold out for eight shows a week. Just in the last year or so in the theater, she has been in Eugene O'Neill's five-hour drama "Strange Interlude," in which she was onstage throughout, Racine's "Phaedra" and a contemporary comedy, "Across from the Garden of Allah."

This summer, right after winding up Robert Altman's zany film farce "Beyond Therapy" in Paris, she went to the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith to join rehearsals for Garcia Lorca's "The House of Bernardo Alba," directed by the Spanish actress Nuria Esperta. And right after that she will make "Business as Usual," a film by a total unknown.

Jackson is a fluent, intelligent, no-nonsense woman: To call her a star would offend her and suggest a certain weakness. She despises any expressions of temperament: "Part and parcel of the whole thing of acting is that you, the individual, don't exist," she said just before returning to London. This doesn't mean that she won't use what she calls her clout to get projects she cares for afloat on the grounds that if you have worked so hard to get a name, why not use it.

"It always strikes me as ironic that when a woman gets to an age where she's fairly experienced both as a woman and, if she's an actress, as an actress, there's nothing to capitalize on that combined experience in a continuum of roles. I've had to hunt them out and I'm very lucky in that they've either come to me or I've found people who would be prepared to put them on.

"Certainly in England there's never been a really a particular interest on the part of people thought to be producers to put money into British subjects. They'd rather do a spinoff of a television series or a cheap copy of some American film or just have lunch. I mean, they'd be quite happy just having a lunch a lot." She doesn't eat lunch. "I think it's doubly difficult for women to do anything that is outside an already defined concept for them. And if you want to do anything that has the slightest hint of feminism, forget it because they get very frightened indeed."

In 1971, Glenda Jackson starred in John Schlesinger's "Sunday Bloody Sunday," which she says had the most intelligent script she has read. Certainly it was one of the best films of the last 20 years and, sadly, it is hard to imagine such a film being made today. "Where are they now? Not only did this one have an intelligent script, but it presupposes an intelligent audience, while most pictures today assume that their audiences are blind, mentally retarded or 2 years old. It's television, of course."

What she finds missing in contemporary British films is contemporary Britain. "A great deal is happening in Britain at the moment. Britain's own sense of herself has changed and is in the process of changing and I think we should be examining these changes. You can, of course, do it in the theater, but the audience you touch in the theater is very small. I was thinking of film subjects that would be interesting to Britain and to the world outside. There is an undoubted lack of present concerns being treated in dramatic forms, theater or films, and I think we have to break that trend."

Her next film, "Business as Usual," is based on the true story of a woman who was fired from her job in Liverpool because she complained about sexual harassment in the office. "It's essentially about that, how you take a case of sexual harassment and try to prove it. I mean, it's so difficult to define and argue it through. It's not only about England, it's also about a woman's view of herself as opposed to how society sees her."

Resolutely anti-glamour, Jackson wins her audience on the stage by working through the text. She is literally compelling. It is, in a sense, a show of force and one in which the director, to her mind, is of relatively minor importance.

While it is the fashion today for actors to inveigh against the power of directors, Jackson says the final ingredient of any performance is the audience--and "what is shocking is when the audience dictates what they want."

Silent battles with the audience are not rare. "I'd sooner fight them and wake them up. Apathy is the killer."

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