By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
“Fiona’s about as different from me as anyone I’ve ever played,” says Christie, a committed feminist who argued with Polley “for hours” over whether such a dinosaur could have existed in the 1960s. She could, and did, and she’s a typical creation of writer Alice Munro, from whose short story Away From Her was adapted. Christie claims that Polley conceded the point, but having met this determined but savvy young director, I suspect that she knew exactly what it took to smooth the feathers of her highly politicized leading lady.
“I’m an ideologue,” says Christie proudly. To put it mildly. There seems to be a yawning gap between the primarily humanitarian causes she lends her name to — animal rights, nuclear disarmament and a British organization that helps torture victims — and her politics, which boil down to unreconstructed Marxism bolstered by a bilious, partly deserved and slightly smug view of America common among extremely privileged British leftists like her friends Vanessa Redgrave and Tilda Swinton. “Well, it’s the imperial culture, isn’t it?” she says. “For anyone who’s not keen on the workings of a massive, ruthless, greedy empire.” (Not unlike, perhaps, the one in Troy, in which Christie had a small part.) The night before our meeting, Christie had seen Rendition, which she calls fantastic and I call a blunt instrument, prompting her to call me back several days later and argue her case all over again. Though her taste in American filmmakers is bracing — she admires Hartley and Todd Solondz — she thinks we never have nor ever will see a politicized American New Wave, and holds firm to the rather astonishing belief that there have been no political films made by a studio since Beatty’s Bulworth. When I bring up the recent spate of Iraq movies, she waves them off as “masking their agendas.”
Still, Christie is far from humorless. She has a big, appreciative laugh and readily lampoons herself. “That’s the thing,” she says about her activism, “you get labeled as something or other, when actually you’re just chuntering along thinking, ‘Oh my god, I must tell people about that because nobody seems to know, and then’?” — she roars — “?‘they’ll change their entire way of being.’??” Christie is unfailingly loyal and generous toward actors she admires, among them Redgrave, Swinton and Helen Mirren. And behind all her vehemence, one senses that the tremulous uncertainty that has served her well onscreen has also made it quite difficult sometimes for her to get through the day. When I suggest that maybe she will be remembered as an actor who embodied wistful sadness, she nods. “I can’t avoid the fact that vulnerability is something I seem to do. I think it’s part of my character and I fight it because it’s not a very empowering image.”
Listening to Christie talk about her early life makes you want to turn back the clock and give her the childhood she deserved instead of the one she got as the daughter of a tea-planting family in Assam, India, who was sent to England at age six and bounced from one boarding school to another. “It was so bad that I have actually erased it completely,” she says without a trace of self-pity. “And with it a whole lot of other stuff. I’m quite effective at lobotomizing.” When former schoolmates reminded her recently that she always wanted to act, she told them, “Now that’s a very peculiar thing to say to someone who spent their life in a boarding school and grew up in a jungle.”
Christie’s parents divorced when she was about 12. Her mother returned to England and moved with her children to a farm in Wales, where Christie put on plays in the barn. “I sent out absolutely proper invitations to the poor, long-suffering country folk, and they came,” she recalls. “It’s a mystery to me.” After that, Christie trod the statutory path of British actors of her generation: drama school, where she learned “absolutely nothing”; a stint in repertory theater (“how unfortunate people are now that they can’t do it”); then “a bit of telly,” meaning the hit sci-fi series A For Andromeda; and a partnership she failed to appreciate until long after it ended, with the great English comedians Leslie Phillips and Stanley Baxter in Ken Annakin’s 1962 Crooks Anonymous. And so to Billy Liar (her favorite role), and Hollywood, and back to Wales, where she mostly lives with friends but without Internet or e-mail, not far away from her brother, a historian, and his grandchildren.
Depending on how you look at it, Christie has either had a short, sharp career or a long one that keeps on going, despite her insistence that she’s done with movies. “People like Helen will go on and on, and Tilda will be ruling the world or whatever,” she says cheerfully. “But many actors my age prefer hanging out with the people they love just before they pop off. I’m not working on a film now, and I won’t be when you ask me next time either.” And off she goes to take a meeting, “as a favor to a friend.”
Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, film info & more!
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city