NEW YORK — It’s not often an actress over the age of, say, 19, is told she is too young to play a particular role. But such was the case when Lynn Redgrave, 63, signed on a year ago for Sir Peter Hall’s production of “The Importance of Being Earnest,” which opens at the Brooklyn Academy of Music April 18.
“A lot of people say to me, ‘Oh, you’re not old enough to play Lady Bracknell,’ because they’ve got it into their heads that it was a role for an old woman,” Redgrave says by phone from Los Angeles, where the Oscar Wilde play had its premiere in February before traveling east. “Of course it’s not. She’s got a younger daughter that she’s trying to get married.”
Despite the naysayers, Redgrave was eager for the part. It is to Hall — not to her famous thespian parents, Michael Redgrave and Rachel Kempson — that she owes her professional acting career. Growing up in England, Redgrave was a competitive equestrian and had lined up a job to work with a world-famous show jumper. But when she was 15, she saw Hall’s production of “Twelfth Night,” her favorite Shakespeare play, at Stratford-on-Avon and was immediately swayed toward acting.
It seems particularly fitting, then, that Redgrave, with her regal bearing and sly wit, should appear in what Hall has told his cast is the most-performed play in the English language. For all its period glory, though, the actress insists it is Wilde’s thoroughly modern resonance that lends the play its popularity.
“You know, the boys seem a bit like sophisticated versions of football jocks going out to find the girls, and the girls are just twisting them around their little fingers,” Redgrave says with a laugh. “And Lady Bracknell could be a real bounty-hunting Beverly Hills matron, quite honestly, determined to get the prenuptial agreement in place for her daughter.”
Redgrave has been busy of late. She starred in Merchant Ivory’s “The White Countess” last winter with her sister, Vanessa, and niece Natasha Richardson, and appeared in “The Constant Wife” on Broadway last spring. But the acting world hasn’t always been so kind to her. In 1991, Redgrave found herself with no job and no offers on the horizon. So she concocted one on her own, writing and touring in the one-woman play, “Shakespeare for My Father.” Two years later, it hit Broadway and earned the actress a Tony nod.
This story first appeared in the April 6, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“The impulse was to write myself a job at a time when I was going through the doldrums that so many of us do go through, inevitably, when all of a sudden it seems like, where’s the work?” she explains. “And that’s when I discovered, well, I guess I can write!”
She has since penned “The Nightingale” for her actress friend Caroline John, who was also out of work. The play ran in London earlier this year, and Redgrave hopes to star in her own production of it this fall.
And while Redgrave has triumphed over momentary doldrums, she acknowledges the phenomenon is more common among the fairer sex, much to her chagrin. “There is a sort of ageist feeling that you could have an aging hero like Harrison Ford or people like that — sort of like the more crumpled they get, the sexier everybody thinks they are,” she says. “But for some reason, they don’t apply the same feeling to women. And that’s a shame, because it’s just not true.”