24 August 1984: Boston Globe


Diana Rigg, the British actress, describes herself as a free spirit.

Her first show of independence was at age 7, when she climbed to a treetop on the grounds of her boarding school to get a view of the world beyond. It was a symbolic sighting that she says has followed her through whole life.

Rigg, 51, is the Shakespearean actress who gained worldwide fame as the sexy undercover agent Emma Peel in the ABC series "The Avengers." She was also one of the first major actresses to appear nude in a love scene on London and Broadway stages ("Abelard and Heloise").

Born in Yorkshire, England, and now a resident of London, Rigg was in Boston recently, staying at the Ritz-Carlton hotel and working at WGBH-TV. She will be replacing Vincent Price as host of the "Mystery!" series. The program has its new season premiere Thursday, Oct. 12, at 9 p.m. on Channel 2 and PBS stations nationwide.

Rigg graduated from Fulneck Girls' School in Pudsey, England, and studied two years at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. She married Scottish businessman Archie Stirling in 1982; they have a 12-year-old daughter. Rigg was divorced from Israeli painter Menahem Gueffen in 1976.

"I was 7 years old when I was sent off to boarding school. I took a memory with me. I had seen one film in my life. I remembered dancers gliding across a shiny floor. I remembered pretty women in floating dresses. I remembered glamour.

"So, at age 7, in the misery of boarding school, I dressed in someone else's clothes. A red dress! I looked at myself in the mirror and thought I discovered someone else. Without knowing what I was doing, I tapped into the power of my imagination. I imagined glamour.

"I took boarding school in my stride, as children do. Children are gallant. But I used to climb to the top of a very, very tall fir tree. The view in the distance was misty. The landscape beyond was outlined hazily. I imagined other places. I imagined that I was actually in those other places.

"This is how I learned independence at an early age. The powers of my imagination could transport me from the distress of my environment.

"My daughter is 12. She's going to boarding school in September. She's gregarious. I hope she enjoys boarding school. If she doesn't, she knows we will think it over again. But she knows she's got to try. My mother didn't do that for me.

"I come from a traditional Yorkshire background. Yorkshire is slightly taciturn and understated. I'm a renegade. Goodness knows where I came from. Maybe it was a genetic leap of some sort.

"Early on, I decided to honor the difference. It wasn't always easy. But even my wilder pronunciations were spontaneous and natural. I just knew I was different.

"I was engaged when I was 17. My father, a wise man, said I'd have to choose between acting and my fiance. He knew very well that the object of my affections wasn't worthy. Sooner or later I would have found that out myself. Anyway, he issued an ultimatum. I chose acting.

"In later years I told him it was the best thing he could have done. He was a gentleman. He simply smiled. He didn't say, 'I told you so.'

"When I was accepted at the Royal Academy, I studied days and worked nights as a waitress in a bar. I was young and poor. I worked there of necessity. The tarts on the streets of London came in to ply their trade. They were nice to me. They gave me huge tips. They sensed I offered them no competition.

"I've been called unconventional. Conformists are critical of nonconformists. I haven't done anything terribly startling. I just go my own way quietly holding on to my independence.

"Actually I subscribe to convention. There are moral obligations we should all follow. I am unconventional in one area: I hold personal freedoms to be sacrosanct. We should be free to choose the way we live, the religion we practice and satisfying our appetites.

"But it's our very individuality that makes us interesting. Our individuality is the most precious thing we have. It is to be revered. I take love and laughter seriously. That's how I approach life. Haven't you noticed that I have a lot of laugh lines on my face? I laugh a lot. Laughter gets me through.

"In order to be a good actress you need a powerful imagination. That's what makes an audience believe that you are the character you're playing. When you believe it, the audience believes it.

"Let's face it, sometimes I was bad in parts. It was because I didn't believe in the work I was doing. I didn't go deep enough into my imagination. You can disguise disbelief with technique or with energy. But it's not really disguised to the discerning.

"As an actress, I could have stayed in the classical Shakespearean groove. But I thought there was a world elsewhere. I stepped out in it.

"Yes, I was one of the first actresses to appear nude in a love scene on the stage. The director told me the nudity was absolutely necessary, which was absolute rubbish. It wasn't necessary at all. It was the most horrible thing I've ever done. I agreed to it because I was stupid. But I don't regret it. It's too small a thing to dwell upon.

"I believe in self-maximization. I have a span of years in front of me. I have further to travel. There's more I want to know, to express, to absorb and to do. Self-maximization is based on a complete grasp of the present and vast expectations of the future. You run a home and act, the toll is enormous. When I did a play, the lead actor would arrive at the theater rosy-cheeked, fresh as a daisy. He had slept late, had a light meal and gone for a walk.

"I tumbled in after having done the shopping and straightened the house. I was a wreck. But a miracle happens in the theater. There's an expectation out front.

"Dear people have paid heaven knows what for a seat, traveled the tube, had an indifferent meal, are seated side by side with strangers and are lending us their presence and their belief in us.

"That's the magic. It always turns me on, no matter how I feel."

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