Exclusive: Miranda Richardson on Made in Dagenham

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Just a few hours after this writer was taken to task for not mentioning actress Miranda Richardson in my Oscar preview of Nigel Cole’s Made in Dagenham and a few days after seeing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1–in which her Rita Skeeter makes a brief cameo–ComingSoon.net found ourselves sitting at the back of the Tribeca Grand Screening Room talking with Ms. Richardson herself about both movies.

We were there for a special presentation of Made in Dagenham for the National Women’s Law Center followed by a Q & A with two of the actual women from Dagenham and U.S. equal pay advocate Lilly Ledbetter, which Richardson was graciously co-presenting.

In “Dagenham,” Richardson plays Barbara Castle, one of the only high-powered women politicians in Britain during the late ’60s who got behind the women of Ford Motors’ Dagenham automobile plant when they went on a strike led by Sally Hawkins’ Rita O’Grady, trying to get equal pay as the men. Castle shows up every so often in the movie to add a few moments of levity and weight to the events happening in Dagenham, and yes, some do think that Richardson’s performance is worthy of a third Oscar nomination. We talked to her about that and other aspects of Castle’s life as well as whether we may see more Rita Skeeter in the final movie, and the movie she hopes to do next.

ComingSoon.net: I’m not sure if you’ve worked with Nigel before this movie but how were you contacted about it? Was it just a matter of getting a script?
Miranda Richardson: By the producers. Yes, they sent me a script and a very nice letter, and I’ve worked Steve Woolley and Liz Karlsen before, a couple of times, and I know that they always do interesting work, so it’s worth a look. I was kind of intrigued. I didn’t know anything about the story, and with Barbara (Castle), I also knew shamefully little about her, just that she was so fondly thought of by so many people, and she’s an icon. At the time this was happening, my head was full of horses and not much else, and it was a blur. Also, it was effectively swept under the carpet very quickly for such a major and potentially, globally-affecting strike, I mean the ramifications of it, so I was interested in the journey. I also thought that her scenes, they felt like they had a rhythm to them, and it’s so nice to have a story that’s driven by women, and that there’s belief that that will actually sell. The fact that it’s a true story and a story that needed to be told, another thing, and as Nigel put it, that’s a celebration of the spirit of these women. It’s an upbeat, it’s an uplifting movie, which also has a serious point to make.

CS: Barbara was obviously ahead of her time, being one of the only female politicians at the time…
Richardson: That’s correct.

CS: Was there any kind of footage of her that you could study of her?
Richardson: Yes, I did. I read her biography, and one of her biographers is here tonight. (Ten years old, the biography.)

CS: Is she still alive?
Richardson: No, she’s not, but she lived a very long, very productive life. Died at 92, so we’re now celebrating the centennial of her birth, and there’s been some recent stuff on the radio, obviously after we finished the movie (laughs) but that’s okay. It’s still fascinating to hear her and (she has) the same engagement, the same enthusiasm about every day it seems to me. I mean, just a fantastic life force who was politicized very early on, so by the time she comes to power, she is at the top of her game. She has a wealth of experience, and one on one genuine engagement on a grassroots level. That’s what I feel marks her out from the crowd. Today, when we’re so used to flim-flam and spin on everything, to hear and see somebody who reeks of authenticity is just so refreshing. I just thought she was just a very humane individual who is a collaborator. I mean, she enjoyed men and women equally, and she could stay up late and debate with the best of them, and it seemed to me that she demanded equality in her communications, and if she didn’t get that, she would abraid somebody. She had a fabulous sense of humor as well. I mean, she’s just indefatigable it seems to me, and I wish I’d met her.

CS: Did you meet the actual women from Dagenham?
Richardson: Well, you have two of them here tonight.

CS: But did you meet them before making the movie?
Richardson: No, no, no, no, no, no.

CS: I know Nigel did and Sally definitely wanted to meet them…
Richardson: Well, that makes sense to me. No, I didn’t, and I didn’t need to. I think one of the good things about the movie is that you do see the women isolated as well as in groups, and I thought it was quite useful to work away on my own until I was going to meet them, and Nigel maintained that he scheduled that in the movie deliberately so we didn’t meet until we meet, kind of. (laughs)

CS: That’s very Mike Leigh of him to do…
Richardson: (laughs) Don’t ask me.

CS: You’re no stranger to awards and all that…
Richardson: Well… not that many! (laughs) (Note: She’s being modest. She’s been nominated for two Oscars and seven Golden Globes!)

CS: I wrote an Oscar piece and mentioned “Dagenham” in there and as a complete oversight, I didn’t mention your name and someone took me to task for not citing your performance in this, and it’s true, it’s a great performance and something people have been talking about. Do you feel that awards are a necessary evil to get more attention for a movie?
Richardson: I don’t feel (they’re) evil but it’s like a lottery or like the Wild West or something like that, and if something gets attention for the right reasons… I mean this is a movie that deserves attention I think for trying to do something a bit different, and it’s not just a British movie. It’s reaching out to a lot of people and it seems timely, and if we’re telling a story well, then fantastic, and if people are acknowledging that, then fantastic! I’m not going to be curmudgeonly about it, no, and I want to keep working. Quite frankly, I’m very excited about longevity. It is what I want to do and I want to carry on working with fabulous people and contributing and storytelling. It’s the best thing in the world if you get it right. It’s a wonderful profession, and it opens lots of doors, and I think it’s quite right that people can accuse actors and actresses of being dilettante, but you learn on every job, whatever it is, the process moves you on in some way, and yeah, I want to expand my knowledge of our existence, I suppose. (laughs)

CS: What’s amazing to me about this is that this happened only 40 years ago.
Richardson: I know, it’s terrifying in one way and when people describe it as a “slice of British history” I sort of quail at that because, well, it’s not, it was yesterday! It’s so odd to have it put down as a period piece. That means something else to me. That means you know, stomachers (girdles) and frills and furbelows and all that, it’s odd.

CS: I was lucky enough to see “Harry Potter” in England…
Richardson: Oh, you’ve seen it? I haven’t seen it. I just missed the premiere because I was traveling back and of course, I can’t go tonight because we’re doing this. Eventually, I’ll see it.

CS: You only really appear in it sort of as a book cover. I haven’t read the books yet, so will we see more of you in the second half?
Richardson: No, I don’t think so.

CS: Oh, that’s a shame.
Richardson: No, I think that’s it, I’m afraid. They like novelty and although apparently Rita Skeeter is a very popular character, I sort of get it, because she doesn’t move the story on in any way. She just does the same thing. She does what she does, over and over again, and you know that she wants to traduce people and make it up, so she’s an amuse gueule… an amuse-bouche.

CS: I was actually on set the day you did the fourth movie.
Richardson: Really?!?!

CS: Yeah, I was there with a small group of people and got to watch you grab Daniel by the ear…
Richardson: And take him into the cupboard?

CS: Yeah, so I have a fondness for Rita Skeeter that maybe others don’t have.
Richardson: Yeah, she’s somewhat different from the book. I always thought they should cast Dame Edna as Rita Skeeter. I think Barry Humphries would have made an amazing Rita Skeeter, so I had to do something a bit different, but that’s okay.

CS: You didn’t model her after him a little bit?
Richardson: Not really, no. In the book, you kind of feel like there’s this hulking character in the pub and the nails are from some other planet, and I don’t know. My Rita is kind of neater and sweeter and something 18th Century, more like from a chap house in 18th Century, a gossip, you know someone who would have a salon or something, rather than the thing that turns into the scuttling creature… but I’ve got a chance to name a beetle. I won a “Name That Species” at the Natural History Museum. I bid on it, I should say. In lean times, I got the right to name a beetle, so I thought I would approach J.K. and see if she would be willing to let me include “Skeeter” in the naming of this beetle. She may.

CS: Do you have anything else coming up?
Richardson: Yeah, I did “Rubicon” here. I did a series here, which I’d never done before so that was an interesting experiment, but not to be revisited–’cause it’s not coming back–and I’m hoping to do a film in South Africa in the spring, which is another true story, very dramatic story. Essentially, it’s about children being kidnapped to be child soldiers and brides of this self-styled warlord’s army, and what happens is that the children are taken from a mission school run by (points to self) me. This is a real life story, and she goes after them.

CS: What period was this from?
Richardson: It was like the ’70s.

CS: Have you been there yet?
Richardson: Not yet. We’re supposed to be doing a reccy (reconnaissance) trip and sometime in the spring is the idea at the moment. I hope it comes together, because it’s a really great story and we need to be reminded again and again, because it kind of goes out of the frame for a bit, but this child soldier thing is still going on. And that guy still isn’t found. He’s doing his little pensome movement over there and they think they’ve got him and then he disappears on them, so yeah, it’s fascinating.

Made in Dagenham and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 both open on Friday, November 19. You can read our previous interview with Sally Hawkins here and an interview with director Nigel Cole to come, oh more “Harry Potter” interviews, too!