LONDON — Jodie Foster and Julia Roberts are reputed to be the hardest-working women in Hollywood. Forget it. Joan Plowright probably tops them both.
Plowright, the 64-year-old widow of Laurence Olivier, has been so busy for the last several years that she’s come to dominate the screen for a specific type of character.
She’s currently playing an eccentric Irishwoman in “Widow’s Peak,” a role that is closer to her roots than her string of American women in such films as “Dennis the Menace,” “Last Action Hero” and the recently completed “Pyromaniacs: A Love Story.” “Maggie Smith says I’ve cornered the market in playing emigre grandmothers,” Plowright says with a throaty chuckle. “I suppose I have.”
While Plowright is thrilled to be working so much — to the point of nearly buying a house in Los Angeles until the earthquake struck — she admits she needs a break.
She’s planning to take the next five weeks off at her English country house, catching up with her two sons and two daughters before starting work in one, or possibly two, more movies. She declines to name them, since the timing of the films conflicts and she may have to give one up, but a copy of “The Scarlet Letter” (which will star Demi Moore) is on her sofa. “There’s been a real snowballing effect in my career lately,” says Plowright. “It’s very exhilarating, but also a bit nerve-racking — especially when you have to turn things down.”
The actress both credits and blames director Lawrence Kasdan for initiating the recent avalanche of roles. He cast her as a grandmother in 1989 (the year Olivier died) in “I Love You to Death” with Kevin Kline, Tracey Ullman and Keanu Reeves.
Plowright still perks up when she talks of making the film, including the fact that Keanu Reeves, the new mega-star, used to borrow money from her. “He always paid it back,” she says, “but he never seemed to have any when he needed it. I suppose it’s much different now…”
Plowright, one of the legends of the British theater, says she doesn’t have any immediate plans to return to the stage as long as the movie offers keep rolling in. “I’d much rather do three different film parts than play Mrs. Malaprop in the 150th revival of “The Rivals,”‘ she says. “There aren’t that many scintillating new plays these days pertinent to my age group.”
Nor does she have any intention of retiring to the quiet life in the country. After 45 years in the theater and movies, Plowright is aware that her latest string of parts is bound to peter out sooner or later. Her attitude: Enjoy the ride while it lasts.
“I will act until the roles stop, either because they no longer are offered or I get too old to remember my lines,” she says.
“I’ve always been aware of the dangers in the acting profession. There are two main rules: Don’t sell your soul — and don’t sell your house in England.”

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