"Oh, God, this isn't going to be another interview about The Avengers is it?" Diana Rigg asks plaintively. "No? Well, how wonderful. I suddenly feel much better."
And Rigg leads the way from the lobby of Hollywood's Century Towers hotel to a nook in the bar where we can hide behind pillars and not be disturbed. After ordering Earl Grey tea - it is afternoon after all - she fluffs her hair, reaches for a cigarette and grins. "Shoot. Ask me any question. I may even answer some of them."
It's not that Rigg isn't happy she's so well remembered in North America as Mrs. Emma Peel. But life goes on. "It's my calling card, really. The series is still playing in some cities, I'm told. But that was a lifetime ago and, my goodness, I haven't been Mod and dressed in black leather for ever so long!"
In fact, Rigg, still gorgeous at 51, unpeeled Emma 20 years ago and hasn't had time to look back. She has returned to the U.S. as Vincent Price's replacement as host of PBS's long-running Mystery! series.
"I have no reason why I was chosen," she shrugs, "because I'm not particularly associated with mystery, am I? I'm not a female Vincent Price, although Vinnie was my father in the movie Theatre Of Blood. I'm sure Pa will be tickled his girl's taking over for him and I plan to telephone him while I'm out here."
Rigg says she jumped at the hosting offer "because it was a challenge. I've always tried to get varied work. After Peel I did Shakespeare. Then came a James Bond film (On Her Majesty's Secret Service with George Lazenby)." More recent movies include The Muppets Take Manhattan and Evil Under The Sun.
Rigg agrees it's odd she's rarely been in Hollywood. The last time was way back in 1973, when she briefly, "ever so briefly", starred in the sitcom Diana.
"I did it to prove I was a funny person. I wasn't. Can't do pratfalls. I couldn't just go out there and be funny, which is what the producers wanted. The scripts were so bad I prayed for cancellation and my prayers were answered. I could have been stuck out here for years!"
She's rarely done TV in more recent times, with the memorable exception of her mysterious Lady Dedlock on Masterpiece Theatre's Bleak House and King Lear when Laurence Olivier specifically asked for her. "We watched as a doddering, old man gained strength day by day until he was stealing scenes from all of us," she recalls of Olivier's performance as Lear. "He was so competitive, this was the essence of his greatness. He never settled for the merely second-rate, not even when he was very ill."
It was Olivier who always twitted Rigg about acting nude in the Broadway version of Heloise And Abelard opposite an equally bare Keith Michell. "Yes, he liked my bosom. But he was a very sweet man, very supportive of my work. I could have stayed as Mrs. Peel forever and been typed as a TV actress. But Sir Larry helped me ease back to the stage, which is where I have always felt most at home."
Rigg hadn't taped her introductions for Mystery! yet but had seen drawings of the new set, "an absolutely fantastic white and black creation that's hard to describe.
"I shall look sensational wearing red. It will be much cooler than The Avengers. Wearing leather under hot lights is a killer."
Later in the year she'll co-star on Mystery! opposite James Wilby in Mother Love. "Yes, my first mother part." She sighs.
There's stil a few minutes before she has to go downstairs for a mass press conference. "Oh, all right I'll say something about The Avengers," she laughs. "It was popular (in the States) because it was very English. We never thought we'd sell it abroad, so we made no concessions. You see, Mrs. Peel was written as a man's part and they changed it at the last moment and that's where the hardness came in.
"I simply got bored after two years. Mrs. Peel left to become a housewife to her long-lost aviator husband who staggered out of the South American jungle. Can you believe it?"
What's she do when she's not working? "I rusticate. I just go on long walks with my husband and daughter. Picnics. Woods. I work intensely, then I go away intensely to Scotland and I can't be found."
Just to prove she's still a rebel, she says with a chuckle that although she left India (where she was born) for boarding school at age 8, "I can still swear in Hindustani. And I do!"
- Jim Bawden