LONDON -- Miranda Richardson is creating a spiritual bubble.
"Envision a color, then breathe out to form it around you," the actress says, waving her delicate hands. "White, for example, represents purity and serenity. It's a shield that protects you. It simply deflects things."
And so does Richardson. The 36-year-old actress is a master at guarding her privacy. She may be an Academy Award nominee for "Damage" and command Hollywood-style fees as one of Britain's best-known actresses, but she maintains an almost invisible profile off-screen. Richardson, who's latest film, "Tom and Viv," just opened in the U.S., grapples to remain enigmatic, and so far she has been successful.
Richardson can be barbed, can chill with the simple arch of a pencil-thin eyebrow above her ice-blue eyes and turn an interview into a duel as she parries questions with ease. But she says she's a down-to-earth person who's trying to maintain relative normality in a business that can be decidedly weird. And she resents being branded a grouch.
"I'm me," she says, shrugging. "Some days I'm more open than others. It annoys me that if you aren't forthcoming or are slightly defensive, they level all the same old junk at you. People are complex and I've always tried to keep my private life private. It's not that I have anything dark and awful to hide; I don't get into all that self-revelation."
Richardson hates to be pigeonholed, in her acting or her personal life. Her career has been eclectic, in the best sense, since "Dance With a Stranger" made her an art-house star nine years ago. She has more or less spurned Hollywood's advances ever since to focus on less mainstream films, like "Enchanted April," "The Crying Game" and "Century," and even the television comedies "Blackadder" and "Absolutely Fabulous." Few of the films have been big box-office successes, but Richardson's versatility persists.
"I don't have one image, so people can't put me safely in a box," she says, scratching at a wooden booth in a Covent Garden coffee shop. "If it's right for me, I'll do it; if it's real, I'll do it."It was the reality of Vivien Haigh-Wood that attracted Richardson to that role in "Tom and Viv," the story of T.S. Eliot's troubled first marriage. Eliot (played by Willem Dafoe) had Vivien committed to an asylum for "moral insanity" in 1938 and she died there nine years later.
"Vivien was misunderstood in her time," Richardson notes. "She was exotic, but everyone is, in a way. Just look at people on the street."
Immediately following "Tom and Viv," Richardson made another movie with Dafoe, "Night and the Moment," an 18th century erotic romp. Most recently, she finished playing Antoine Saint-Exupery's wife Consuelo in a film about the writer, played by Bruno Ganz.
"I wear a tremendous black wig," she adds. "Very Dorothy Lamour."
The daughter of a marketing executive and housewife in Southport, England, Richardson grew up as a solitary, shy child and the aura remains. But now, more relaxed, she talks openly about perhaps one day getting married and having children.
"I am much more open to the idea than I used to be," she says, staring off. "It makes more sense than not if you want to be with someone. But for now, it's just me. I'm certainly not celibate, but I like to be able to make all my own choices and decisions. I don't like to refer to others."
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