Her Dance with a Stranger Debut Makes Miranda Richardson the Hot New Bundle from Britain
Trust the British to nurture an original new star while Hollywood hatcheries content themselves breeding brat packers. Her name is Miranda Richardson. And her film debut in Dance With a Stranger has won the kind of critical huzzahs that would leave even the mouth of a proud mum agape. "Spectacular," said the New York Times, "you almost worry how she'll ever be able to equal—much less top it."
And what a role it is. Miranda, 27, plays the real-life Ruth Ellis, the last woman to go to the gallows in Britain. Ellis, a platinum-blond, social-climbing nightclub hostess, was hanged in 1955 for murdering race-car driver David Blakely, her abusive, philandering lover. She shot him outside a club, leaving a note of apology to his mother that ended: "I shall die loving your son."
The Miranda Richardson of the film—a shrieking, acid-tongued femme fatale tarted up in spike heels and blood-red lipstick—is an image that lingers. Meeting her in a London hotel (she's in the process of moving to a new flat), a visitor is filled with understandable trepidation. "Hello, I'm Miranda," says the soft voice emanating from the surprisingly small creature who offers her hand. Immediate reaction is that she's kidding. This reserved dishwater blonde in a plain wool jumper and orange flats looks nothing like the powerhouse from Stranger. Rubbing the sleep from her blue-gray eyes, Miranda seems amused a-t the reaction. She's getting quite a lot of it lately. "I don't know how I got the part either," she says, laughing. But she's pleased she did. The attention is "extraordinary. I don't think there is going to be this much fuss made about me again. I might as well enjoy it."
Miranda won the Ellis role over 170 candidates the old-fashioned way—she auditioned for it. Originally, director Mike Newell wanted a star. But seeing Miranda in makeup and costume, he was astonished. Something else clinched it: "She came into the auditioning room when a police car went by with its siren blaring. She immediately went over to the window and said, 'Oh, good, I like a bit of trouble.' "
Gazing out a hotel window, Richardson recalls the nine weeks of making the film with mixed feelings. "Everything about Ruth was on edge the whole time," says Miranda. "She lived at a level of tension the whole time and it inevitably affects you. I was like a windup toy." During the last weeks of shooting, she fell ill with fatigue. "I didn't go to bed. I drank and smoked and didn't eat. So there you are."
Indeed. Miranda admits she has always been something of an obsessive personality. Describing herself as a "rebellious," introspective child who did "a lot of internal living," Miranda grew up in Southport, the second child of a marketing executive and a housewife. (Her older sister, Lesley, 35, is a chiropodist.) "I had this feeling of being from another planet," she says. "I didn't really have any friends and certainly never brought anybody home. I drew a lot, read a bit and did things like go for 5 a.m. walks."
She got interested in acting after taking part in school plays. In 1979, after studying two years at the Bristol Old Vic theater school, Richardson began performing in London's West End, touring the country in repertory and playing a few TV roles. But she was still an unknown in the spring of 1984, when she won the role in Stranger.
Success is beginning to intrude on her privacy, and Miranda doesn't like it. She dates writer Richard Curtis, whom she describes as an "old friend." But the only one sharing her new digs in South London is her cat, Pearl. Before moving in she lived for a while with a woman chum from drama school. "I suppose you'll say I'm a lesbian now," she jokes. Fun is falconry ("I've done courses in it"), reading (Damon Runyon and Elizabeth Bowen are favorites) and "having a few friends over or going to a pub."
After the angst of doing Stranger, Miranda is enjoying playing Queen Elizabeth in a zany BBC-TV comedy series, The Black Adder (co-written by pal Curtis). Also coming up is Underworld, a sci-fi epic with Denholm Elliott, in which she plays a mutant terrorist. Since Oscar talk about her performance in Stranger has started already, many are predicting a move to Hollywood. Not Miranda, revealing at last the cheeky side behind that unruffled demeanor. "I don't want to be a mega-American movie star," she insists. Nothing personal. "There just is no way I can do crap convincingly."
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