In Evening, Natasha Richardson plays a
difficult role, that of an adult daughter watching her mother slowly
losing the fight for life. The part is probably doubly heart-wrenching
for the actress because her own mother Ė screen legend Vanessa Redgrave
Ė plays the elderly woman coming to terms with her mortality and her
If there is any such thing as acting royalty, then
Richardson applies for the role. As just mentioned, her mother is an
Academy Award-winning actress. Her husband Ė acclaimed Irish actor Liam
Neeson Ė also is an Oscar nominee. Her father Tony Richardson was a
well-known writer and director. Her grandparents were also actors, Sir
Michael Redgrave and Rachel Kempson. Her aunt and uncle are actors Lynn
and Corin Redgrave and her younger sister Joely Richardson has also
taken up the family business.
Natasha Richardson herself has long been a revered
stage and film actress who has tried valiantly to balance an interesting
career with raising two small children. She won a Tony Award for the
role of Sally Bowles in the 1998 revival of Camelot. She has
appeared in such varied and complicated film projects as Patty
Hearst, Nell, The White Countess, The Parent Trap, The Comfort of
Strangers and Maid in Manhattan.
Evening is her latest film, an interesting
gothic mystery about two sisters (Richardson and Toni Collette) who
learn a little about their motherís secret life as she is near death.
The film flips back and forth from the present day to memories of her
motherís relationship with a past love who got away and a good friend
who died mysteriously. The mother is played by Redgrave in the current
day and Claire Danes in flashback.
A few weeks before Evening was due to debut,
we met up with Richardson at the Regency Hotel in New York to discuss
What was it like working with your mother in the movie?
It was unique, a very special opportunity to
play mother and daughter on screen. To not only be playing these
characters, but bring all our history, all our baggage, all our love,
all our painful times to serve these characters in the film.
It was great to be able to do that. It was also very
painful because it was evocative of a lot of things. Seeing her lying
there on that bed, very convincingly, looking very seriously ill, it of
course makes you project the future and the past, like when my father
was dying. So, it was a very special experience.
actors, knowing you wanted to find these characters independently of
your own relationship, it must have been an interesting process of what
to use to make these characters their own entities.
Oh, yeah, but you know your own self Ė that
kind of stuff is sort of in the background. Itís for free and it just
adds to it, but you are definitely playing different women in different
What was it like working with Toni Collette as your sister?
enjoyed that very much. Itís so rich, that sister dynamic in this film.
Itís so treated like how sisters are. That you just know each other so
well and you love each other so much, and yet sisters can push each
others buttons and be absolutely vicious in a way that no one else can
be. I think those scenes, if anything, became more emotional than how
they were written. Lajos (Koltai, the director) really wanted us to go
for it at every opportunity.
ad lib any of it?
I donít know that we ad libbed much. We might
have changed the odd line a little bit.
was your experience like in Newport, where the film was made?
Iíd never been there before...
Yeah, but itís a very exotic location. Youíre
staying in a nice hotel overlooking the harbor, with the seagulls and
nice fish lunches on weekends. (laughs) I donít think it was
quite like Iíd imagined. I had imagined it much more Great Gatsby-esque
and they are veryÖ fortress-like, from the outside. Very, very,
impersonal. I didnít think, oh, Iíd like to live in one of those.
Lajos said that your mom was onboard first.
How did you get the role?
Well, they offered it to me. I was very taken with it. I was very moved
by it. I thought it would be great to work with these people, but I
felt, well, I donít know about this other sister constant. Toniís got
more interesting [things to do.] I like difficult, messed up characters.
And there wasnít a scene between my mother and I. I was like, thereís no
point. The whole point of us doing this would be to have a moment
together. It would be the one and only time. So I said to them youíve
got to take advantage of this. If you feel itís right and if you feel
itís up to the story, then I need a scene with my mum. I need a moment.
If you write that, then Iíll play the part. So, (screenwriter) Michael
Cunningham wrote that beautiful, beautiful scene for us.
looks like everyone had a hand in the process of writingÖ
know. (laughs) I know.
Michael wrote a special scene for you, other actors had their requests.
Did he feel sort of put upon?
Well, Iím sure he did, but he is so gracious. And he is such fun, too.
But I do think itís one of the triumphs of his screenplay and his film.
Also, I was terrified. I thought even if they write this scene, itís
never going to be in the final movie. Itís just not going to be in
there. What happens so often in a film is in the editing a couple of
characters take over the film and other characters have to Ė for reasons
of time and pace Ė become cut or subsidiary characters. I think itís
amazing that they juggled so many important characters in this story.
When you saw Lajosí film
Fateless, did that help drive your interest in this?
was a very powerful movie and I met him and talked with him, too. He
seemed like an incredibly sensitive man. Often you think when directors
of Photography become directors; itís often style over content. Thatís
not him at all. In fact, I loved working with him so much that it
literally restored my faith in the process of filmmaking. Unlike most
modern directors, heís not sitting behind a bank of monitors miles away,
sort of shouting at the actors do this, that or the other. Heís right
there and just is so respectful, appreciative and sensitive to what you
need in the room. How actors work. So, he just created conditions where
you could just do your best work. It was just all pouring out of you.
was watching the film and thinking itís got such a big cast, and you and
your mother worked so well together. There must have been something for
your aunt in hereÖ
know. (laughs) We were good together, I know. Lynnís the missing
link. Letís get Michael Cunningham back. (laughs harder.)
I was thinking that it was interesting to have Toni in there as well as
a sister. If you had your real sister in there, it might have been
almost too familiar. Having Toni there added an element of conflict.
think so. It did.
You and Toni must have worked hard to get that dynamic.
think because we were very different. Weíre different people. We didnít
know each other well. We have great mutual respect but kind of very
different approaches and personalities. That added to the sparks.
Some of the scenes had the intimacy of theater. I could have really seen
this as a play with some of the parts taken out. Did it feel theatrical
didnít feel theatrical, but it did feel very intimate. Very, very
intimate. It felt like they were eavesdropping on us. Thatís what I love
about it. Itís a special knack.
Does it make you want to be on stage again soon?
have to find what I want to do next on stage. I have to find that play
or that part that makes me go: I must! I must play this. You just have
to have a really deep connection yearning to put yourself out there.
Well after this, maybe you could do the classics. Is there something you
could see from the past you want to do?
No, there are, but they are either something you want to do but somebody
did it recently, so you canít or maybe thereís something you donít feel
quite ready for Ė like play Cleopatra. I donít think, having been
accused of being too young for Blanche (DuBois, the Streetcar Named
Desire character Richardson played), which is in fact not what
Tennessee Williams wroteÖ but anyway, maybe Iím not ready to take on
Cleopatra just yet. And probably that would be something Iíd do in
you prefer working in the theater in England?
love to work in New York. New York is my home. At the same time being
English and the theater being such a different worldÖ you know thereís
not the commercial pressure there is here. Itís not a one-newspaper
town. It doesnít all rise and fall on one manís opinion. I often think
about trying to work in the theater in England, but itís hard for me
because my children are in school here.
this movie your mother is playing this dying woman, and then she is
playing this role on Broadway of a woman who is dealing with her husband
and child dying (in Joan Didionís
The Year of Magical Thinking). It must have made you think about
mortality and dying.
assume youíve seen her in itÖ
have, twice, yes.
Have you talked about it at all?
course, because itís so present, you know. What it makes you do is it
makes you just cherish every moment that you have, knowing that it can
all change in an instant.
You also realize in this movie that someone you are so close to and so
intimate with Ė there is so much about them that you really just donít
know. Do you ever get that type of moment with your mother or have other
people get it with you?
mum is very good about being very open to any questions, but I am sure
there are things about her life that I donít knowÖ and maybe I shouldnít
know. When my sons grow up, I donít know if Iíd want them to know
everything about me. (laughs) There is always that fascination in
children as to what happened in your life before I was born. My son is
fascinated that I was married before I was married to Liam, soÖ
The character you played is the grounded one, your sister is not. Do you
feel youíre as grounded as your character, or more ethereal?
think Iím a bit of both, to be honest. All my damage, my stuff, my
vulnerability, I suppose I put out in my work. I try to make my home
life as ordered and grounded as possible to enable both. To enable me to
do the work I do and to live. So both, really. Iím a capable caretaker
type, but I also have another side of me too.
Features Return to the features page