June 1973: Movie Mirror

"Don't let yourself love him until..."

Several months ago when Diana Rigg split with her lover of eight years, film director Philip Saville, it was another example of her irrevocably independent spirit reasserting herself, a confirmation of her own emancipation proclamation.

For Diana is definitely a loner. It's the style of life which has given her the greatest satisfaction personally and in her profession. No longer with a man to consider, Diana promptly set up a bachelor-girl home in Barnes, a nook of southeast London.

But Diana has always been ruggedly individualistic. She usually arrives at parties and premieres alone. She detests chauffers, sports cars and taxis, whilst cavorting about London in a battered Land Rover. She goes to dinner alone. And at the present time, she would appear to have no obvious maternal inclinations. Yes, if women's lib was looking for a lady to live up to some adages, Diana Rigg would fit the bill.

"Liberation helps a woman develop from within," Diana tells me, as she busily unpacks crates in her new home. "Any sort of spiritual or sexual freedom is something everyone must work out for themselves.

"One must learn not to care too much. I think one of the reasons I've been successful is that I don't give a damn. I really don't. I don't give a damn about being wealthy. I couldn't care less about jewelry, furs, luxury cars, expensive home trappings. No, none of that. I live to work!

"Oh, I got a bit of money for that James Bond film, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and The Avengers series, at the time. But for the role of Lady Macbeth at the National Theatre, my net pay comes to about a hundred dollars a week, after everything is taken out. And I'm not doing this horror film with Vincent Price, Theatre of Blood, for the money either. It's just a lovely part. I parade about in men's clothing, wearing a mustache as Vincent goes around killing the drama critics who panned his play."

She adds jokingly: "I've thought of doing those critics in several times. I was especially disappointed that Heloise and Abelard didn't have a longer Broadway run.

"Well, there are a lot of disappointments in life. And in these past few months, I've discovered how to deal with certain emotional problems which I had never been required to face. It's inevitable, I guess, when you love with someone for eight years. You can't walk out of a relationship without leaving traumas. I tell myself, we never said it would be 'for always'."

Philip Saville is ten years older than Diana. He never divorced his playwright wife, Jane Arden, although at one point it appeared he would. They had two sons together, Sebastian, now nineteen, and Dominic, fourteen.

He and Diana shared a quaint Hampstead house which once belonged to the painter Augustus John. It's a charming place, filled with potted plants, stuffed birds, busts, socking chairs, and all sorts of bric-a-brac. Here, they lived the all too brief years of happiness. Now Philip occupies the house alone.

"At the beginning, we agreed to play it by ear. We discovered happiness day by day. I realize it sounds trite, but that's how it was. We believed our life together would be fantastic and lovely just so long as we didn't expect oo much from the other. Maybe that's what sowed the seeds of discontent."

She stands up. Her rich auburn hair is done up in a bob. She has a good figure. Her manner gives the impression of fortitude and stability. Instinctively you feel she is not a lady who broods about either love or life.

"Come, help me unpack these books," she says, as she starts to open a case. She lifts a pile of books out - Joyce, Beckett, Pinter. She places them delicately on a library shelf. Suddenly, I am terribly aware that here passing through her hands is a lifetime of hopes, aspirations, and dreams.

"I recall it was very difficult when I first told my parents that Philip and I were living together, unwed. They couldn't readily accept it. I had been raised with all the moral middle-class conventions. A girl was to be honest, unafraid and proper. I broke the last rule when I appeared nude on stage in Abelard and Heloise. But I had not been disciplined as a child, to be frank. My father was with the army in India, whilst I was away in schools in England. I never saw my parents for two to three years at a time.

"The schools tried to impose their rigid morality and values upon the girls. But I resented this and inwardly revolted. At one school, St. Christopher's, I managed to become a leader. Yet looking back, perhaps I wasn't wise enough to use my power constructively. You know what young girls are like, so terribly involved with their little loves and hatreds. However, the experience was positive. I managed to evolve a constructive philosophy and become an individualist, despite the fact that the faculty tried to drown the character of the girls. Marriage was one of the conventional values which I learned to make my own mind up about.

"Eventually, my parents adjusted to the idea. They saw that I was happy, and that was their primary concern. They saw that my reasons were valid when I explained them. For me, marriage has never been necessary to complete love. Alas, love being what it is, it is an inconstant emotion. It changes. It has to change, otherwise it would not be a human instinct. I never used the word 'forever'. Such a dangerous word. Perhaps I said 'I love you', 'I want to be with you'!

"Then the day comes gradually, almost imperceptibly when two people realize they stop loving each other. I used to be afraid of that moment. But I'm not anymore. When you become frightened of terminating a relationship, it starts to lose it's meaning.

Because I did not marry Philip did not mean that I wasn't fully committed, that I did not fully believe in our relationship. For I did. But there was also the boredom, the day to day chores..."

"Then you believe that some people are simply better off not making a commitment, that it goes against their character?"

"Quite sincerely, yes!"

"Is Diana Rigg one of those people?"

She smiles, avoiding a reply. Instead, she hands me a copy of Shakespeare's plays, saying, "Do put that up on the shelf near you."

I do so. She adds: "Now that I've played Lady Macbeth, shall I push for Portia? It's somewhat of a letdown."

"They're both women who know their minds."

"Yes, but not cold women, as some seem to think. Calculating maybe," she pauses. "People call me cold. I'm not, really. I tell you, I even allowed myself to be picked up once by a very nice man, on Fifth Avenue. I was on my way to a luncheon, the thought of which did not particularly amuse me. Then I met this gentleman. He was tall, quite distinguished, with a camel's hair coat. We had a few drinks. It was all very pleasant. I think that every now and then you've got to let yourself go, get caught up in a stream of things...

"I don't like to plan ahead. If I know what I'm going to be doing a few days hence, it depresses me. I adore the unexpected and the odd.

She picks up a volume of poetry by the late poetess Sylvia Plath.

"I admire her work, even if it is a bit depressing. I occasionally write poems, myself, although I doubt whether they'll ever be published. It's a form of catharsis, I know. I often feel miserable, upset about things. It's an awareness of my own limitations that does it to me. Often I wish people would accept me as I am, not as the actress Diana Rigg.

"Sometimes when I come into a room I'm very aware of all these men's eyes upon me. Yet, I don't think I consciously project sex appeal, outside the fact I'm a woman and sex is always there. No, sex appeal is a charisma, a projection of certain inner qualities of one's personality. The least overt women can have it.

"Except for Assassination Bureau, the pictures I've made have been terribly successful financially. And I liked working with George Scott on The Hospital. I'd rather not comment on George Lazenby who played James Bond in On Her Majesty's Secret Service except to say that the press blew up the disagreement between him and me. Newspapers thrive on that sort of thing. I recall, the gossip columns reported George Scott and I were having a romance. It was highly unrealistic in view of the fact that Trish Van Devere, whom he later married, never left his side.

"I dislike the gossipy side of the business. I'm usually very cooperative, but I could live without a star's obligations. In America, one seems expected to act like a star. When Keith Michell and I were doing Abelard and Heloise in New York, we found it difficult to get close to the rest of the company. I believe they wanted us to act like stars. In fact, I'm too accustomed to acting with the rep companies in England where everyone is treated equally.

"I was criticised for showing my body on stage. You'd think the contrary. I see nothing private about showing one's body. It's my spirit which I feel is private, not my body. To be physically naked is comparatively little compared to being emotionally naked. That is entirely another matter."

She stands up suddenly, and says: "I'd like a cup of tea. And you?"

"Fine for me," I reply, and add: "It's the English in you!"

"I suppose there has to be something conventional left."

In the kitchen, she plugs in a shiny new kettle. I look around. It is unusually neat, except for a pile of unwashed dishes in the sink.

"You realize I can cook too," she says. "But usually I don't have the time. So I eat in restaurants a lot. Now that I'm living alone, I shall probably be eating out much more.

"I keep receiving invitations from my gentlemen friends for dinner. They must think I'm lonely. But I'm not at all. Perhaps they don't realize that a woman can get a great deal of satisfaction out of her work, even out of reading a book. In other words, out of an activity that involves something other than being with a man."

"A matter of mind of man," I comment.

"Maybe not quite that. But I do feel that the brain should control a woman's biological processes. Too often it is the reverse. Oh, people have a lot of strange notions. Another is that actresses are stupid."

"Who believes that?"

"Certainly not the fans, but a number of people in the business. Well, we may not be intellectuals, but we're an improvement over the girls of the thirties and forties. Look at Glenda Jackson or Janet Suzman or Diane Cilento. There's a big difference now in this new breed of actresses. We've had the opportunity to work with minds superior to our own in the theatre, and cinema, and we've learned from them.

"An actress should realize when an important break is thrust upon her, and she should take advantage of it.

"Have you?"

"I hope so! But let's not talk about actresses. I don't even wish to talk about women any longer."

"And men?"

"Despite everything I may have said to the contrary, I prefer their company. But without marrying, without the necessity of having children."

"You'll change your mind some day."

"Want to make a bet?"

She laughs, but I know that anything is possible with the unpredictable Miss Rigg.

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