I was very dreamy at school. I spent a lot of time staring out of the window, watching the birds. There was a small handful of people I wanted to hang around with. I felt oppressed by crowds. It wasn’t that I didn’t know how to have fun – in fact I was apparently regarded as a ringleader at my junior school. I had good ideas. I would form clubs and people would turn up. I’d say, right, we’re the fruit and nut club. And people would say, so what do we do? But I hadn’t thought about that. I’ve been like that all my life. I suppose I should give my younger self a pat on the back for having any kind of career, albeit an occasional career, at all.
I didn’t have many plans, just thought I’d throw myself upon the universe and see what happens
I didn’t have many plans. I just thought I’ll throw myself upon the universe and see what happens. I did the odd school play. I joined the local am dram society. I had elocution lessons. Finally I applied to Bristol Theatre School and when I started there I did finally think, oh thank God. It felt like a vocation. And then there were a few stand-out moments. Leaving home to live in digs while I travelled around doing rep theatres, that felt like a big leap into independence. And I remember feeling very happy doing the David Mamet play Edmond at the Royal Court in 1985. That feeling doesn’t always come when you’re working, but it has always come to me intermittently, enough to remind me why I’m doing what I do.
I feel incredibly privileged to have been able to buy my own house. And I do enjoy it. Other people would be out living their lives, and I’d be at home thinking, right, I’d really like that colour on the walls. I’m laughing but that kind of thing is actually incredibly important. When you’re in the profession you go away all the time, you’re scattered in so many directions, physically, emotionally, financially. It’s so important to have a base you can go back to. And friends who are going to make the distance. I don’t do any social media. I need the human voice. I would say to my younger self, impose on your friends. I don’t do it enough. Yes, you will test the strength of the friendship, but… just ask for help more. All through my life, my personal and my professional life, I’ve felt like I’m supposed to already know the answers to everything. But I don’t.
If I were giving my younger self advice, I’d say don’t be so hard on yourself. Like many actors, I’ve had times when I’ve questioned if I really contribute much. I’m quite clear on the value of the arts, no question. But me as an individual, I’ve sometimes given myself a hard time. Am I an idiot? What use am I? I’d tell my younger self, don’t overthink things. Okay, you don’t have to be a genius to be an actor, but you do have to have some understanding of human psychology, and a good instinct. It’s an okay thing to be doing.
This conversation we’re now having about sexual harassment – it feels desperately overdue, and I can’t quite believe we’re still asking those questions. But we are. And there are some very ugly things on the middle of it. There are also people looking to make money but those people will find out that they won’t make a lot of money and their stories aren’t necessarily right. Personally, nothing bad happened to me. Either I was very lucky, or I gave off something which told these people, don’t even go there. Or perhaps the intelligence came rocketing off me and they were just cowed by me. I’ve actually been told I don’t flirt, which is rather insulting. Maybe I do, and they just don’t get it. Of course, there’s also the perverse thing – women often do ourselves down – so there’s also that little part of me asking, well what’s wrong with me?! No one came on to me! Maybe there was nothing worth coming on to. But really, I tell myself, just be grateful.
I’ve actually been told I don’t flirt, which is rather insulting
If I could go back I’d like to have more discussion time with my parents. I didn’t have a horrible childhood but I do feel there was not enough connection. I’d have liked more quality time. I don’t think we had real learning conversations about anything. Or get any instruction or advice, even just so I could reject it. We didn’t really get to talk. I’d have liked to have had more.. adventure. I think my dad – I won’t say sexist, but I think he’d have been much happier with boys. I think he wanted a cricket team. I remember being dragged to a football game when I was five. But I’m afraid I wasn’t a natural football fan. My mother was rather independent. She taught us that very early on.
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Someone said to me, when it comes to thinking about dying, you should live either as if you had all the time in the world, or no time left at all. In the end, you’d probably respond in exactly the same way to both. As I get older I appreciate anything that keeps me in the moment. Work is good for that – you can’t act and have your mind drifting off all over the place. Body maintenance is so tiring. With the face, I think the main trick is not to look miserable. But if your face makes you upset, I’m not going to judge you for doing something about it. You’re under scrutiny in this profession all the time. That’s why it’s helpful not to be in social media. The trolling is just ghastly. I used to get a lot of nasty little letters from some person who was clearly fucked up in the brain.
If I could go back to any time – there was a moment when I was 11 that did inform the rest of my life. A connection I made. I was sitting outside an empty tennis court in Southport. And I saw this kestrel just sitting in the court, looking rather dazed after flying into the enclosure’s wire netting. It looked okay, it was just having a bit of a think. So I went and sat with her. After a couple of hours she came and sat on the toe of my boot. Then she moved up on to my shoulder. I was just amazed. I stood up incredibly slowly and walked out of the ground with her and watched her take off and join her mates, who were all sitting on the church tower waiting for her. A happy ending. And I just thought, I want more of this. I felt the ramifications of it were huge. It gave me this feeling of us all being part of the same universe. That feeling has been very important to me ever since. I’m now an ambassador for WWF and a trustee of the International Bird of Prey centre. I have a cat and two dogs and birds. I’m completely smitten. I think all creatures have great souls.
Miranda Richardson stars in Stronger, out now in cinemas, and new ITV drama Girlfriends in January