Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Rosemary Harris saves Tom and Viv


MONTHS BEFORE receiving an Oscar nomination, Rosemary Harris did her part to get ``Tom & Viv'' the notice it deserved. It was when the film, about the marriage of T.S. Eliot and Vivienne Haigh-Wood, had finished production in Harris' native England.

Harvey Weinstein purchased it for Miramax after seeing a trailer.

``I think if he probably hadn't done that, the film wouldn't have left these shores,'' Harris said from London. ``I think my packing scene was on the trailer, and he said, `Well, Rosemary, I'm going to buy the film on the strength of your performance.'

``He was sort of joshing me, but it was a wonderful trailer. He thought it was splendid, and I did have a scene in it, so I feel like I sort of helped it along.''

That scene is among the most moving in the new video. Eliot, who swore to his mother-in-law that he would always look after Vivienne, has had her committed. Rose Haigh-Wood, trying to maintain her composure, is packing a suitcase for her daughter.

``I've lived all my life in the hope that Vivie would be acceptable to someone,'' Harris says, her voice cracking ever so slightly. ``It's not quite the moment to give me the benefit of your mind.''

Today, Vivienne Haigh-Wood would be treated for a hormonal imbalance. In England in the 1930s, she was committed for moral insanity, a rebellious and vulgar disregard for propriety.

Miranda Richardson received a best-actress nomination; Harris was nominated for supporting actress.

The role, Harris said, touched something in her childhood.

``Miranda did have copies of these diaries, which were very revealing and poignant,'' Harris said. ``I don't know what one brings to a role, but there was a slight parallel in my family. My grandmother suffered pretty much the same kind of illness, which was equally as misunderstood, and she was put away for 18 years.

``She sort of went off her tracks (after giving birth). Her hormones got all mixed up - post-partum blues I think they call it. Women couldn't really talk about things like that. There weren't any women doctors, and I think it was all rather a mystery to men anyway.

``So I just thought about how helpless Viv's mother must have felt.''

A distinguished stage actress, Harris won a Tony as Eleanor of Aquitaine in ``The Lion in Winter.'' Among her other credits are ``Othello,'' starring Richard Burton, and Laurence Olivier's production of ``Hamlet,'' with Peter O'Toole as the Danish prince. On film, she appeared in ``The Boys From Brazil'' and ``The Ploughman's Lunch.''

It was hot in London when Harris sat down recently for a phone interview - almost as hot as it was back home in Winston-Salem, N.C., where her husband teaches at Wake Forest University. She had just completed ``The Women of Troy'' at the Royal National Theater and would next be off to the Netherlands to film a TV movie for Disney with Paul Scofield.

Does she have a preference?

``I think if you boil it down, I've played more interesting parts on the stage,'' she said, pausing to laugh. ``Sir Laurence used to think that, while films were not beneath him, they certainly were second-class citizens. Then he lived to eat his words. You know, he simply adored the film.

``I admire film actors so much. I think they have such extraordinary technique and skill. Of course, it is fun going out (on stage) every night, but I love film equally. You've got the same sort of canvas to work with.''

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