Are you having as much fun now as you’ve ever had with your work?
It’s never fun. It was never fun. You don’t look at it as fun. There are so many ups and downs with it. You get really anxious about it. Is it going to be OK?
Hampstead is loosely based on the true story of Harry Hallowes, an Irish squatter on Hampstead Heath in London. How important is it that we still have people living outside the system?
Oh, well, the more the better! I mean, what a unique person. Just so imaginative and unusual. That’s to be cherished, I think. I mean, he wasn’t a criminal!
Read David Gritten's review of Hampstead
What do you make of your character, Emily?
She’s a lost soul. She can’t make it on her own really. But she finds somebody… she can see that Donald needs help and that gives her the strength to address her own problems. He’s helping her as much as she’s helping him. As we get older, we get stuck sometimes. And feel we can’t address new ideas, new ways of living and new people.
If you hadn’t been an actress?
I wish I could’ve been an architect, I really do. I love buildings. London is particularly amazing because of how well thought-out – how beautiful – the buildings are. It’s like you’re walking into history. I just built a house in fact… it took me about two and a half years. I’m doing a book about it… we’re just about to go to press. It’s called The House That Pinterest Built. I’m addicted to [design website] Pinterest.
You’re 71 now, and you sound very active. What advice would you give to women over 70 who are finding life difficult?
Oh, I don’t think I should give anybody advice. I wouldn’t take my advice!
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Are you happy getting older? Has it ever bothered you?
Of course it bothers you, because you have to die! It’s not a great thing. And with time, you just get closer and closer to addressing the ultimate, which is that you’re going to die. So you have to be engaged in order to manage it. I’m engaged!
How do you do that?
Well, to me, these adventures with architecture help me not get stuck. I have the responsibility of building a house – how many mistakes did I make? Millions! That’s something that keeps you fresh. And of course, acting is a great career for just throwing you into other people’s lives and identifying with them. It keeps you alive and interested.
If you could meet your younger self, what would you tell her?
It’s a little too late to do that! I don’t know what I’d tell myself, because I’m stuck with me. I feel like I’m a combination of my mother and father, obviously, and I learned from them what I didn’t want. But I don’t think I addressed some of the important things they probably tried to teach me. You know, I was hell-bound to perform.
I think my mother, too, secretly wanted to be a performer. She played the piano, but she didn’t have the opportunity. She was a woman of her time and she was married. I’ve never married.
Do you regret that?
No, I don’t regret it because of me. How would I have handled that? Would I have been someone who couldn’t really give it what it needed because of my own self-interest? I see people who have been married for a long time and I admire it. I admire their ability to stay together, to form a life together. I do.
You have two children, Dexter and Duke. Do they want to act?
No, they do not. I think they see me and they think I’m nuts! ‘Why do that? Who is she? She’s a crazy woman! I don’t want to do that.’
When was the last time you did something naughty or broke the law?
I have a lot of problems in the car! I’ve broken the law a lot in the car… I’ve got to stop texting. And phone calls – do you have to make them? I’m a criminal… there’s an aspect of me that doesn’t obey the law all the time in a car and it’s got to stop.
Hampstead is released on 23 June.
A version of this article appeared in the July 2017 issue of Saga Magazine.
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