Everyone’s talking as if Meryl Streep had already won an Oscar for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher, The Iron Lady, though the film will not be released for another month. In the meantime The Sunday Times talked to the actress about the effort in playing such a formidable character.
On seeing Margaret Thatcher speak at her daughter’s university campus in Illinois, ten years ago
“The university president said Mrs Thatcher would take questions for one half-hour precisely. She carried on for an hour and a half — she never tired. She sort of gained, if anything, interest in going on. Speaking in really cogent, beautifully wrought paragraphs. Very, very impressive. Even though the politics were not anything we agreed with, she was impressive. Just that galvanising intelligence — making her point, never losing track of the question, always circling around to the point that she wanted to make.”
On Thatcher’s drive
“I do have a lot of energy, but I have nothing compared to this woman.”
On the Commons in the 80s
“It was a men’s club. There were women there, but I think it was 16 or 17 out of 630. I went to a men’s college back in the 1970s — I was one of 60 women, and there were 6,000 men on this campus. This was Dartmouth — in the days of Animal House… That was it. We were the first, the canaries in the mines, while these schools in the United States were deciding whether to go co-ed or not. It was a really interesting time. The world was changing. You could feel the old order breaking down. There were many people who really didn’t want it to change, really didn’t want us there. You could feel it. White-hot rage that didn’t speak — just emanated. I’m sure she experienced that. I’m sure she experienced it.”
“It’s hard to quantify which prejudice kept her out of the inner circle more. But for her to achieve that at that time was incredible. Incredible. And to stay there. And stay there. To be the longest-serving prime minister of the 20th century. Amazing.”
On the film industry’s choices
“It’s the financiers. Narrowing, narrowing who they aim at. It just has to be a game. ‘If it can morph into a game, we can really make our money!’ That’s where it has devolved to. But with the atomisation of the business and how people assume these things will be delivered, immediately, on demand [through the internet and television], then they’ll find out there’s an audience lying in wait, parched, that hasn’t been served what it wants for years and years.”
On female studio executives
“They’re essentially playing football. They have to learn how to play football. It’s not necessarily that they’re playing a woman’s game. That’s what’s so cool about this project. It was generated by Phyllida [Lloyd, the director] and Abi [Morgan, the screenwriter], edited by Justine [Wright]. We all collaborated. It was a really unusual thing. Oh and Cameron McCracken [managing director of the film’s distributor, Pathé]. An honorary girl! I can say that. He’ll like that. But this was extremely unusual. It’s rare that those voices dominate. I don’t know why, but it is.”
On her panic at playing Thatcher
“I’m all over the place. Calling my husband [the artist Don Gummer], saying, ‘Why did I ever say I could do this? I can’t do this!’ And he says, ‘You always say that. Always.’ I say, ‘I do not, this is the first time.’ I just have to immerse myself in the messy way I do it. It’s a sort of focused chaos, is how I’d put my process.”
On preparing for Thatcher
“Listening, listening, listening — rather than watching. I don’t hear anything that isn’t her. In the end, you just have to throw all the words away. Just live and live. Walk up the stairs and walk down the stairs. The time that I know I have it is when I’m in a rehearsal and the other actor laughs. I know I’ve surprised them with something. Whether it was true or not, Jim gave me that, Jim Broadbent.”
On leaving the role
“With something like It’s Complicated, I really left it at the set, but this I carried with me more, because it was more personal. Just standing that way for a long time was wearing. And the banked energy of playing someone whose energy has ebbed, it had an effect. It did have an effect. It reminded me so much of my mother and my grandmother. It’s emotional to go into these places.”
On The Iron Lady
“What I loved about the way Abi constructed this is that it starts as being about Margaret Thatcher — but it ends up being about you.”
via The Sunday Times
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.