Eighty years old and despite having caught a chill, Angela Lansbury calls me as arranged on the dot of 9 a.m. to talk about Emma Thompson, Nanny McPhee and a bit more on the side.
On playing a snobby aunt in Nanny McPhee:
As an actress it’s hard to not be challenged by a woman as outrageous as this. She’s a bitch, a character out of fairy tales, and they’re so much fun to play. The false nose was uncomfortable, but we Brits are terribly good at doing this.
On Emma Thompson:
She’s one of the most outstandingly terrific women in the business, and a wonderful human being. When I came to work on the picture in England, she was the first person who came to see me in my trailer, asking, “Would you like a cup of tea? Are you warm enough?” She has an unselfish attitude toward the work and an ability to rally everybody. She’s marvelous with the children. She picks up the phone, writes the letter, takes the trouble; it’s built into her. And she’s a very original woman — knowledgeable and intelligent and smart.
On returning to movies after a long absence:
I took the role just because it was offered to me. You go with what’s out there, and I haven’t made a movie in L.A. since Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971). I have a home in Cork, Ireland, so for me to go to England is easy. I kept nipping over to my house.
On being an American Brit, or a British Yank:
I’ve been here for 60 years and feel like an American, though my English heritage shows up in the way I run my life. I run my house like an English house and serve English food. My children and grandchildren are very American. But old habits die hard, and I don’t want them to die.
On actresses who undergo plastic surgery to stay in the game:
I don’t know that it’s always successful. The ones who manage to remain in the business are those like Diane Keaton, who has had no surgery and yet can and will still be cast in romantic roles. It’s the real beauties who have a big problem. The ones with personality will last; I’m a good example of that. I’ve found worldwide acceptance through television, playing a woman [Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote] akin to myself. I understand what her aims and attitudes are. She’s reasonable, kind, and has a nose for mystery. I’m not a writer, but I write good letters, first on yellow lined paper, then on the computer.
On actresses she likes today:
I don’t go to the movies, but I see those that are sent to my house. This young woman Johansson is good. She’s interesting, enigmatic and beautiful. She was lovely in Girl with a Pearl Earring, and in Match Point. There’s also that young actress in The New World. She’s young and unspoiled; not really an actress, just a beautiful young woman.
On the new Manchurian Candidate:
It wasn’t the Manchurian Candidate that I know, but the actors did a good job. The [original version] was so different — the climate in Washington was quite different. There was the Korean War. In the new version, they were dealing with something else; I don’t know what the heck it was.