Saturday, February 04, 2006


Well, sorta. Blogging from the airpot now. Thanks to Chelsea and Mary for looking after the blog and forum during my absence!

`Tom & Viv' star's happy amid tears
Philip Wuntch
Film Critic of The Dallas Morning News
3 March 1995
The Dallas Morning News
(Copyright 1995)

Rosemary Harris, Oscar-nominated for her poignant performance in Tom & Viv, hopes she can quit crying long enough to attend the March 27 ceremonies.

Not that she thinks she has "even a prayer of winning the Oscar."

Speaking by phone from London, she says she just finished rehearsing The Trojan Women, which will open in London next week. Hence, the crying.

"You know the play, it's all awash with tears," she says, her words falling atop one another in unmistakably patrician tones. "We rehearsed the scene today where Hecuba (her character) learns that one of her sons has been murdered and then watches as her daughter is dragged off into slavery.

"And now it's 9:30 at night, and I just finished looking at this BBC documentary on Walt Disney that's very unflattering. It's like discovering that every Christmas Eve, Santa Claus sniffed glue before his sleigh ride."

Despite the trials of the day, Ms. Harris sounds like a very happy person and seems overjoyed at her best-supporting-actress nomination.

"Oh, but I know I won't win. No, no, no. I don't even have a prayer of winning the Oscar. From the day Bullets Over Broadway was released, everyone knew Dianne Wiest would win. That's a given. I'm thrilled to be nominated, and I'm thrilled Miranda Richardson was nominated (for best actress), and I wish Willem Dafoe had been, too."

Ms. Richardson plays Vivienne Haigh-Wood, the mercurial rebel who becomes the first wife and staunch supporter of poet T.S. Eliot (Mr. Dafoe). Ms. Haigh-Wood's mood swings, caused by extreme hormonal problems, are cruelly diagnosed as a form of "moral insanity."

Ms. Harris, a much-lauded stage actress who has made infrequent film appearances, plays her compassionate mother, Rose.

"There wasn't a great deal of material to be found about Rose. You know, there wasn't a lot written about poor Vivienne until the last decade. That whole part of T.S. Eliot's life was swept under the carpet by his second wife."

Without much written material to be found, she based her performance on a family photograph taken when Vivienne was 12.

"Viv had her elbow on Rose's knee, and her expression was one of total trust. Rose looked at her daughter so lovingly. From that photo, I felt there was a very strong mother-daughter bond. Of course, Rose's love was restricted by the times. Women just didn't talk about such things as hormonal imbalance, and the medical establishment was so incredibly conservative and narrow-minded."

During the 1950s, Ms. Harris met T.S. Eliot when she performed in his play The Confidential Clerk. "He had a very austere face and a stern manner, but he would surprise you with his nice smile. He had married his secretary, and that was exactly what he needed - a wife who would also be an indispensable secretary.

"He never should have married Vivienne, and he knew it. He was naive and inexperienced and should have just had an affair with her. I thought Willem Dafoe was wonderful. There were times when I really thought he was T.S. Eliot. I'm sorry he's been overlooked. I think that's partly because the screenplay was not sympathetic to him. One day maybe someone will write a version told from his point of view. Being married to Vivienne could not have been easy."

Ms. Harris has starred opposite virtually every famous British actor and speaks highly of them all. "But I cherish Lord Laurence (Olivier). All these biographies that make him out to be cold and unfeeling - don't believe them. He was in a position to help me, and he did so very generously. He was incredibly generous with many actors."

She originated the role of Eleanor of Aquitaine in the Broadway production of A Lion in Winter. Former New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael, among others, felt her performance was superior to Katharine Hepburn's in the movie version.

"Oh, the role was always Katharine Hepburn's," Ms. Harris. "I got it quite by accident, and I was 30 years too young for the part anyway. They wrote the stage role completely with Katharine Hepburn in mind. They begged her to do the play, but Spencer Tracy was not well and her thoughts were only on him. I think he died the following year, and she threw herself into her work and did the movie. But, no, Eleanor will always be Katharine Hepburn's role."

Although Ms. Harris' name is synonymous with British theater, her home is Winston-Salem, N.C.

"It's our base camp, anyway. My husband (author John Ehle, whose The Journey of August King is being filmed with Jason Patrick) was born and raised in Asheville, and he likes to write in North Carolina. But, really, we're all over the place. We come home to wash our clothes, you might say. And we have a huge library of books that we keep in Winston-Salem. We read constantly and take whatever books we think we will need.

"Then, when the time comes, we just put on our backpacks and head to London or New York or wherever the work is. It's a good life."

1 comment:

Chelsea said...

Glad to have you back! We have been quite desolated without you!