Glenda Jackson (left) and Vanessa Redgrave ride in Mary, Queen of Scots

Glenda Jackson answers your questions: ‘I think that’s a gross insult to politicians and actors, frankly’ | Movies

With a career like yours, people assume that success must have come quickly. Were there times when you struggled to find work as an actor? galactic hero

Absolutely. I had left school and worked for Boots, and joined an amateur band in my home town. Someone suggested I go to drama school, and I was bored working in a store and I was like, “Oh, okay, I’ll give it a try.” And I have a place. With the help of one of Boots’ managers, I got funding to go to Rada [the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art] of Cheshire County Council. After leaving drama school I got a job straight away, doing a couple of plays performing in Worthing and then Crewe.

Then I spent almost three years without a job at all. Mind you, I’ve done a wide variety of other jobs. At that time I was married and we lived in Swiss Cottage [London], so I did everything I could to earn some money. I worked in stores. I had a desk job – I got fired from that, I don’t know why. I’ve been very lucky in the roles I’ve had the opportunity to do and the people I’ve worked with. When the work is done, I have always firmly believed that I will never work again and this feeling does not go away.

The whole world is a stage and political actors are among the least talented comedians. How is an accomplished, intelligent and worldly womann such as you deal with them? acwinterburn

I think that’s a gross insult to politicians and actors, frankly.

You coasted naked in a railroad car at 1971music loversand were a transport means minister under Tony Blair. Did the first role help to prepare the second? Canem Cellar

Not at all. I distinctly remember filming this scene. The train rocked back and forth and luggage fell from the racks above me. i can still hear [director] Ken [Russell] saying, “Oh, she’s fine. She is not bruised. Come on, pick her up. There were about three separate minor accidents, all of which were treated not as hurting me, but as delaying the making of the film.

Glenda, which is faker – Tinseltown or parliament? mictrick

Neither are games. They are both for real. In a way, it’s a compliment to actors and politicians as well as an insult.

“I have immense admiration for her”… Jackson (left) and Vanessa Redgrave in Mary, Queen of Scots Photography: Everett Collection/Alamy

How was your relationship with Vanessa Redgrave during the filming of Mary, Queen of Scots? Was there an element of professional rivalry and does that enhance a performance when playing antagonists like Mary and Elizabeth? Wallace85

In fact, we had very few scenes together, which was a big disappointment because I had – and still have – huge admiration for her. But his political vision was totally different from mine. So when she made various suggestions, I found it all a bit… well, I wouldn’t say difficult, but of course it was a privilege to work with her.

Your breakthrough in Women in Love in 1969 dramatized a society where traditional gender roles and expectations were collapsing… wireless nomad

I don’t think that essentially when you talk to a woman in this profession it’s true. And the age limit for women still tends to be quite young. As this has been my experience all my life, I won’t say I got used to it. It is something that is expected and unfortunately our expectations are usually met.

Jackson when she was MP for Hampstead and Highgate with Labor leader Tony Blair in 1997, months before he was elected Prime Minister.
Jackson when she was MP for Hampstead and Highgate with Labor leader Tony Blair in 1997, months before he was elected Prime Minister. Photograph: Sean Dempsey/PA

What made you want to get into politics? mrblancmange

I had done a lot of things, while continuing to play, for the Labor Party. There had been a few requests asking me to get up. We had Thatcher, so I said yes, never thinking I would be elected. Honestly, I don’t know if I would have done anything differently because it’s something you learn while you have to. I think it’s wonderful that there are more female faces these days. They are all much younger now than when I was first elected in 1992. But please don’t tell me what I think of the current government.

Considering how Brexit has changed politics in the UK, how does the current culture in parliament compare when you were an MP? IscoBusquet

Oh, that has changed dramatically, because the electorate itself has changed dramatically. The vision of what is acceptable in politics has been realized much more individually. The individual-level experiences engaged many more people than when I first got the right to vote. I think there is a real awareness of what it is to be a human being in political terms. And it’s a great step forward.

Are you sending Tony Blair a Christmas card? FlowerCloud

I wouldn’t send him anything!

Jackson dressed in a Cleopatra outfit with a thigh-high slit, holding a bunch of grapes for Eric Morecambe
‘What a pleasure to work with these two!’ Jackson with Eric Morecambe (seated) and Ernie Wise. Photography: Phillip Jackson/ANL/Shutterstock

It’s never Christmas until I’ve seen the Morecambe and the sketch of the wise Cleopatra. Was it as fun to do as it was to watch? Do you prefer to play drama or classic/classic comedy? Mattyjj and JFBridge

I mean, what a pleasure to work with these two because they were so professional; they worked so hard and expected you to do the same. It was just a privilege. Do I have any special memories? My own difficulty not laughing during takes. Comedy is much more difficult. Making people laugh is very difficult to do well.

What is the most shameful thing you can now admit? Busta Bates

The most shameful thing? I’m a bit spoiled for choice here!

Eileen Atkins you lost in an audition for [theatre director] Peter Brook. She tells the story in her 2021 autobiography Will she? of Brook asking you both to undress, you immediately do so and Atkins thinking she heard wrong, and Brook then saying: That’s why I’m taking Glenda for you. You tend to question things and want obedience. Should today’s student-actors be trained in obedience? the sigh

I have no recollection of what happened. But I have always been obedient to instructions. I totally accept it. If it was a director you trusted or really needed the job, you would do anything, up to a limit.

Are there any directors you would have liked to work with, but didn’t? Hoophead1967

I’m sure there were. But my memory of films goes back a long way – long before I started working myself. So don’t ask me to name them because I can’t think of them.

Do you support a football team? daviduse

No. Well, I guess so. I was born in Birkenhead. Whenever people ask me if I support a football team, I always say… which team is Birkenhead? Tranmere Rovers. When was the last time I went to a Tranmere Rovers game? I have never seen them play. Where are they in the league? No idea. Do I know what color they play? No.

Oliver Reed sues Glenda Jackson in Women in Love
Jackson and Oliver Reed in Women in Love. Photograph: Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy

What was it like working with Oliver Reed? Navigator

I don’t think it was a great meeting of minds. Although he was difficult at times, it never interfered with the work. You were never quite sure how he would be, physically. But even when he drank too much, he was still very professional when it came to taking the takes.

In which career do you think you have done the most lasting good: politics or acting? davidabsalom

How would you define that? I was re-elected – 23 years in parliament? Looking back at my movies, some have been surprisingly good, and some that I thought were really outstanding didn’t do so well. So maybe it’s just my lack of taste.

Would you describe yourself as happy and determined, and if so, what is the secret to your happiness and vitality? IgnacioJReilly

You tell me!

While at Westminster, have you ever seen a play or a movie and thought, ‘That’s such a great role, I wish I could play it?’ CraigR

You know, I don’t think I ever went to the theater or to the movies during my entire tenure as an MP. I’m sure I must have seen movies on TV, but I have no recollection of going to the cinema and certainly not to the theater because you worked such long hours. Do I go to the theater and the cinema now? No. There is a difference between going to the theater for entertainment and working there. What do I think of the next Glenda Jackson series at the BFI? I’m amazed that there are so many movies! What happens if I watch TV and one of my old movies plays? Well, they tend to show my old movies pretty late in the evening. So I’m probably in bed and hopefully asleep.

Glenda Jackson: The Art of Conviction is at the BFI Southbank, London, July 2-31. Mary, Queen of Scots is released on BFI Blu-ray on July 11.

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