18 December 1972: Time

Who Is That Lady?

So fair and foul a night in London playgoers have seldom seen. Dark, suffocating, nameless terror creeps everywhere. Sounds of shrieking horses and gales of bone-rattling electronic music zap the eardrums. It is the National Theatre's production of Macbeth, raising new shudders in the definition of gore, new questions about the existence of the supernatural -- and new developments in the black art of scaring up tickets. As Macbeth, Anthony Hopkins is a restless animal, hopelessly possessed, feeding on eerie fears until they devour him. But soft, who is that lady he was seen with? That lady whose steely resolve disintegrates in guilt, who seizes her crucifix like a dagger, spits venomously on its tip, and invokes the spirits of night to fill her with direst cruelty?

It is Diana Rigg. American TV audiences know a certain Diana Rigg as Mrs. Emma Peel, that so-cool, so-luscious British counterspy with wicked brown eyes and auburn hair who effortlessly karate-chopped and kneed her way through 34 episodes of The Avengers. If this is the same Rigg, what's a pop actress like that doing in a nice place like Shakespeare? "I'm both a commercial and a classical actress," Diana says flatly. "They want to box me up, frame me and put a title under me, but I defy that. Besides, it doesn't matter what you do as an actor. We started as vagabonds, playing in churches, barns and halls. I'm only tramping the same route."

Diana's life is no less unconventional than her attitudes about acting. Unmarried, she lives alone in a nondescript house in Barnes, a decidedly unfashionable London neighborhood south of the Thames. She reads books. She is blunt. She speaks out, at times in four-letter words, on Women's Lib or birth control. She frankly discusses the fact that she lived for eight years with a married man, probably will do so again, and has no intention of ever marrying.

She is, by her own admission, too impatient with others. By way of a compliment, Director Peter Hall once told her that in her early days as an actress she was the rudest walk-on he had ever seen. "I am lacking in charity a bit," she admits. "I'm told I'm too independent. It's a fault when you can't say 'Help!' but all I can do is retire and get solitary and work things out for myself." On such occasions, Diana will sometimes slip away to an old finca she bought some years ago on the Mediterranean island of Ibiza. There is no electricity at the house. Characteristically, she does not plan to add any.

Independence is typical of girls from Yorkshire, where Diana was born 34 years ago. She spent her first eight years in India, where her father was a civil engineer. At 17, after an English boarding-school education, she entered the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. For two years she studied the R.A.D.A. way -- the upper-class voice, the elegant movements. "It was too rarefied," she says. "It had nothing to do with real life. As a matter of fact, I very nearly got thrown out of R.A.D.A. because I was having a dose of real life on the outside." Did that mean she had a lover? "Let's say," she replies, "divers lovers."

After R.A.D.A., Diana took the predictable route to provencial repertory, then made a lucky connection with the Royal Shakespeare Company, in which she spent five years and worked up to such leading roles as Viola in Twelfth Night and Cordelia in King Lear. In 1966 she took on The Avengers, still fitting in occasional stints with the R.S.C. Later she branched out further with an unspectacular U.S. tour in Abelard and Heloise and some unremarkable movies (On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Hospital). Last year, she made her debut with the National Theatre in Tom Stoppard's Jumpers, a black comedy in which she appeared 1) nude, and 2) swinging on a papier-mache moon while singing Sentimental Journey. Proclaims National Theatre Director Laurence Olivier: "She is a brilliantly skilled and delicious actress."

The commercial Diana, meanwhile, is not being neglected. She has recently finished filming a horror movie, Much Ado About Murder, with Vincent Price and her next Hollywood venture is the pilot film for a proposed TV comedy series about a British girl confronting the peculiarities of American life. The theme is about as stimulating as the thought of yet another season of The Beverly Hillbillies, but Diana is undismayed. She believes that "if you care about the theater, you can feed new audiences into it from television." Besides, another TV lark will satisfy her continuing yen for variety. "Of course," she says, "I could end up a Jack-of-all-trades and master of none. But then, to be a master of one would spell infinite boredom."

Copyright | Disclaimer | Sitemap | Contact us at


News Archives




Audio Clips

Video Clips