After a two-year absence from the stage, Diana Rigg has returned to theater in roles that will remind fans that the former star of TV's "The Avengers" is a classically trained actress.
The auburn-haired performer opened recently at West London's Lyric Hammersmith Theater in Henrik Ibsen's "Little Eyolf". This summer, she will play Cleopatra opposite Denis Quilley's Antony in Shakespeare's "Antony and Cleopatra" for the Chichester Festival in southern England.
The elegant, 46-year-old Rigg admits she is undertaking two unusually demanding parts but said such sudden immersions in work have always defined her career.
"This is an intense period of activity for me," she said. "It will be followed by disappearance, and then I'll find something else to do. I don't work at full tilt all the time. I give myself pauses to lead a completely different sort of life -- it's quite important to me."
Rigg played the passionate Rita in "Little Eyolf" -- Ibsen's 1894 play about familial collapse -- for British TV three years ago, but this new production marks her stage debut in an Ibsen play.
"It was deeply unsatisfying to do an intricate part over a period of three to four days in a studio and never touch it again," Rigg said.
"Ibsen's very rich," she continued. "The fascination for an audience at an Ibsen play is that he presents a perfectly 'normal' family and then, through the death of their child, the cracks are revealed: all the self-delusions, the pretense, the evasions."
Rigg called Cleopatra, Shakespeare's celebrated Queen of the Nile, "the most complete female character in Shakespeare."
"She has everything," Rigg said. "She's funny, bitchy, wise, highly educated, sensuous, imperious -- it's all there."
Cleopatra marks Rigg's return to the Bard, the playwright on whom she tested her youthful mettle as a student at London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. Later, as a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), she played a notable Cordelia in "King Lear" and Viola in "Twelfth Night".