Diana Rigg’s relationship with Patrick Macnee on The Avengers was always ambiguous, but there’s no question about one love of her life.
Although the tall, auburn-haired Yorkshire lass undulated lightly through The Avengers as the droll Emma Peel, she finds more satisfaction doing the compulsive hand-washing bit, floating down rivers bestrewn with flower petals and holding forth in balcony scenes.
Thus it is that the lithesome Miss Rigg shed her swinging image and left the debonair Patrick Macnee to the more fluffy-feminine wiles of the Canadian Linda Thorson with few regrets.
Two seasons as a swinger was enough. Now, turning down film offers, she’s returned to her first love, Shakespeare, and is once again a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company.
“I’m back playing Shakespeare,” she says. “Back where I belong.”
And while Linda Thorson and Patrick Macnee face the threat of pending cancellation, Diana returns to the TV screen as Helena in a CBS TV telecast of RSC’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Sunday, Feb. 9.
Says Diana, looking back on her two seasons as Macnee’s dashing companion in bizarre adventures: “Emma was and is a marvelous part… but the poor thing couldn’t help not being a Shakespearean girl. They, to me, are by far the most interesting.”
“It’s true I loved the excitement that went with playing Emma Peel, and I must say it was great fun at being recognized on the street as a result. But, you know, I’m really not equipped to be a celebrity.”
“I loath intrusions on my privacy, for example. I hate premieres – being put on show. And the autograph syndrome is simply beyond my comprehension. I remember once when a stranger came up to me in London and asked me for my autograph. I froze. And I’m afraid I was terribly rude. I should have been flattered, of course, but I do remember mumbling something awful about it being illegal to sign autographs in the street, and fleeing in the opposite direction.
“Oh, I know I’m a case,” Diana cheerily admits. But alas, there’s not a thing in the world I want to do about it.
“No, as a matter of fact, that isn’t strictly true. I have done something about it. I gave up playing Emma for this.”
With Diana in the play, shot on location outside Stratford-upon-Avon, the first of three productions under a long-term agreement with the Royal Shakespeare Company and Filmways Inc. are David Warner (Morgan), Ian Holm, Paul Rogers, Ian Richardson and Judi Dench.
Peter Hall, directing the two-hour special, compares Diana to French actress Jeanne Moreau: “She is like a medium soaking up a part so it speaks through her. She is what the French call a theatre animal, one of those people born with the theatre in her blood. I truly pray she’ll never leave us again.”
British-born Diana, daughter of a civil servant, spent her early childhood in India, studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art as a teen-ager, then in 1959 at the age of 19, auditioned for and was accepted by the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.
She spent the next five years as a regular member of the company, touring Britain, the United States and Russia, making her reputation in such plays as Ondine, Becket, The Comedy of Errors, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and in a highly individualistic performance as Cordelia in King Lear.
Born under the sign of Cancer, Diana, who is never at her best in the morning and who it is said must be slightly stoned to relax properly for still photography, is definitely her own woman. Marriage, she says, is not for her. This doesn’t preclude men in her life, but she doesn’t believe in talking about them.
In the historic Mayfair home she took over a couple of years ago, she likes to cook gourmet dishes, read serious literature, biographies and contemporary novels, entertain friends, play records and think. For nights on the town, it’s likely to be dancing or gambling into the small hours at London’s smarter discotheques and casinos.
An intriguing combination of the kooky and the classic, Diana does not go along with the snob remarks that her career ranges between the sublime and the ridiculous.
“Television,” she says, “taught me an economy of style I didn’t have before. I feel it has done me nothing but good. When I meet directors now my attitude is different. I can be constructive instead of being simply their instrument.”