It isn't easy making Miranda talk

February 19, 1993|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

I am about to be Mirandized.

I have the right to ask stupid questions; she has the right to call me stupid. I have the right to ask inane questions; she has the right to denounce me haughtily. I have the right to ask impertinent questions; she has the right to remain silent.

The Miranda in question, of course, isn't the Miranda ruling of the Supreme Court under which, at least in theory, the police are prevented from brutalizing confessions out of suspects without advising them of their rights, but the Miranda Richardson ruling under which the British actress, ardently prodded by her American studio, agrees to talk to the American press but not necessarily to indulge its vanities.

So she talks to a number of us, the stories are printed in newspapers where all can see them, and she quickly builds a reputation as a wasp-tongued perfectionist who will brook no idiocies from inquiring minds -- or non-minds as the case may be.

Another of her formidable qualities is a reputation for thorny, rock-ribbed integrity. Shown a fat role that would have made her a world-wide phenomenon back in 1987, she declined it because she felt the script was too anti-woman.

The role went to Glenn Close; the movie was "Fatal Attraction."

Some might have considered that a bad career move, but she didn't give it a second thought.

And it certainly turned out OK for her. She's had an incredible 18 months: She did a small, made-for-TV job called "Enchanted April" that blossomed into a global theatrical success; she did a small, British IRA thriller called "The Crying Game" that became the most sensational and talked-about film of the year; she did, finally, "Damage," which would -- on the day after the interview -- win her first Academy Award nomination.

So why is she so formidable a person? Because she's Miranda Richardson, that's why.

Asked, for example, if she builds her performances from the inside out -- from motives and pasts to gestures -- or from outside in -- gestures and mechanical tricks -- she says tiredly, "I can't really answer that." And yawns. The time ticks by a second . . . every . . . minute. And at last she seems to say, "Oh, all right, I'll answer it.

"I don't like to think of it that way. For every role you just do what feels right. For some roles, the research is necessary and very helpful. Sometimes the externals help a lot. Others are built of pure instinct. But the most important thing is to stay open, let the other media in your life -- theater, television, reading, that sort of thing -- influence you. Everything contributes something."

In fact, the miracle of her own work is something that seems to fascinate her, even as she's doing it. It's as if she herself doesn't quite understand it.

"I think actors work at light speed, almost off an electrical impulse. The connections that get made in a performance are sometimes astonishing. I can't really explain it. I don't really know."

She does recall with a good deal of precision her extraordinary performance in "Damage," which won her the Oscar nomination. In that movie, she plays the comfortable wife of a prosperous British politician whose life is blown apart when her son discovers his father's affair with his fiancee and, in a miasma of grief, dies in a freak accident. It's a scene of great primal power, an explosion of animal hatred that is completely unsettling to anyone who sees it.

"I remember we'd been fighting horribly the day before -- not that that's particularly different from any other movie set. So everybody wanted to have a nice day, without any problems and it was an eerily calm day. I had one small idea, a physical idea: I wanted to do something normal amid the madness. So -- I just did it. The scene was well written and it just happened. I think, somehow, it's about concentration."

Despite the Oscar nod for "Damage," the movie that's still got people talking is "The Crying Game" with its "big" plot twist:

"I never got the sense of it, the impact, from just reading the script. I just saw a wonderfully written piece. I was surprised at the American reaction to it; it went completely beyond the British."

And now, of course, she's a member of the cosmopolitan society of international film talents who will jet to any place in the world if the script --and the price -- is right. But some of this takes some getting used to -- the hype, for example.

"Somehow, it's so American. When Americans hype a film, that's all right, because film is so important in American culture. But when we British try it, it feels somehow phony, as if we're faking it. It's just not in us."

But, however reluctantly, she's agreed to do this press blitz by phone and answer all these irritating questions in quest of something so low and crass as an Academy Award nomination.

"I do care. . . . And the nomination, most importantly, is a mean by which you can extend your reach, your access to a certain kind of role."

But would she move to that Babylon by the sea known as Los Angeles?

:. "It has no appeal to me," she says tartly.

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