AGE INSIDE: Siobhan Redmond

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Siobhan Redmond, actress
Birthday: 27 July 1959
Age Inside: I live in hope of arriving at it.

[NB: we had this conversation in 2010]

I think it would be a great pity to die uncomfortable in my own skin, but I’m quite optimistic that I’m beginning to get there. I’ve probably got two ages, one that’s pre-verbal, and one that I’ve yet to arrive at.

My granny, who was very shy all her life – not that one could say that of me – in her fifties, said ‘Right, I’m not doing this anymore,’ and suddenly found life much easier. I’m hoping that there’s a family consistency there, that if you’ve lived long enough you get to that point. Who knows, any minute now?

It’s taken me a very long time, for instance, to learn to disagree with people. I dislike conflict so intensely. It’s taken me a very long time to learn to realise that it isn’t the end of the world if I like something and my friend doesn’t. My impulse has always been to do what they want because it’s not forever, and because it’s easier for me not to cause a potential moment of discomfort. I’m getting much much better at that.

When I was a kid, I didn’t feel like a kid. Not that I felt fraudulent, I considered other people my age to be children. Schooldays were not the best. I remember being in the gym hall, at my school in Glasgow, in my little chiffon with velvet,  I’m dressed as a child, looking at all the other little girls running about, and thinking, ‘There’s years of this!’ That’s depressing, isn’t it?  As soon as I could get away with it I used to go hide in the music class and read. I didn’t read anything brilliant. I read far too many fairy stories.

It is only recently that I’ve come to realise that this isn’t an accident. I don’t mean it was fated that I be born, I mean that I am here, because my livelihood allows me to spend a lot of time in unreal lives, and constructing other lives with a history and hinterland, for characters who have a point of contact with me only in that I am making them manifest on the stage, I spend a lot of my time not dealing with my life, at all.

When my sister, who is four-and-a-half-years younger than I am, was born, I was disappointed. I think I was expecting someone roughly the same age as me, who I could have conversations with, but she was much smaller, obviously. Though she was very good at making her feelings known from the get go! The gap between us has closed and we’re now very close – although still not the same age.

As soon as I left home and started earning money I started indulging myself in the childhood that I wouldn’t necessarily have thought that I would choose. I developed a love of pink; I started wanting to wear things from shops like Miss Selfridge, the kinds of clothes I hadn’t had before then, probably because I wasn’t in charge of choosing. It’s still a little bit like that, I can’t quite believe that I’m being paid to do what I do for a living. I’m sure there are a lot of people who can’t believe it, either.

I have a tendency to spend my money on stuff, rather than think, well I’m going to live to be 95, I should save up for a cottage in the country. I think that’s a completely childish impulse. But then, I’m an actor, and of necessity we have to remain in touch with the ability to play and make believe. It goes with the territory.

My life has been made superficially and actually simple by always knowing what I wanted to do for a living, and then by being allowed to do it, and by earning enough not have to do other things as well. I got what I wanted very quickly and never went back to the drawing board. It really is only about two months ago that I realised that there was another option available in life, that one doesn’t necessarily have to think that one’s life begins as one arrives at work. For many, life begins when they leave work. It occurred to me: ‘Oh I should maybe think about that for a while.’

I bet a lot of actors really haven’t got a clue [what age they are]. I’m not trying to diss my profession. It would be rude and disrespectful to generalise about why other people are actors. I know I am because not only do I have no talent for anything else, but also because I find it delightful to get a little rest from the noise going on in my own head. I can tune out the voices in my own head and tune into the voices in someone else’s head. I like that.

It’s not just that in order to be able to play successfully we have to be in touch with the childlike within us, it’s also the appalling passivity of being an actor, which perpetually renders you a child. Some of us get on all right with that, but a lot of people get to a certain point in their life and think, I’ve had enough of this. I can no longer sit around waiting for someone to hire me so that I can continue my conversation with my chosen art form. Tracy Emin, in her interview with Mark Lawson, said she can work until she’s in her 80s, because she’s a visual artist. She can go to her studio in the morning and do what she does. It’s really just acting that you have to be invited to the party.

Also, and maybe many would disagree, acting is essentially interpretive. It’s not that it isn’t creative, but it’s not creative the same way as it is for a writer or an artist, with their blank sheet of paper, having to start from nothing. We never do.

Thinking back, I thought I was bad casting for a child. I didn’t look like a child. I was this height, 5’8”, really early. I’m taller than my family: I looked like a Viking cuckoo. I looked too old to be a child, and looked careworn, as well. I look less careworn now than I did then. I’ve always been quite widely read and had a big vocabulary, but I was unbelievably naive. I found adolescence – well, who loves it? I found it difficult in that I continued to look like an elderly little girl rather than an adolescent. I think my mother found my adolescence very anxious-making, too. It took me a long time to separate myself from her in a productive way. It didn’t happen until just before she died. I think that’s because we were beginning to be able to see each other as the people we were, rather than in our allotted roles, or perhaps it was because she was so ill and tired.

I find it cheering to think that everyone else is also only acting grown up; they’re just pretending, too. Do you think anyone reaches that perfect marriage between who they are and where they ever wanted to be?

I do remember thinking that 37 was a great age for an International Person of Mystery, which is what I’ve always quite fancied being. It’s a great job description isn’t it?

I’ve been making jokes about being too old for things since I was about 24. They used to be quite funny because I was 24. I make the same jokes now and everyone just nods, because actually I am too old. Certainly I feel more comfortable as I get older. I think that magic moment will occur. I’ve always imagined that maturity is like the fairy godmother, the wise old lady. That’s what I aspire to. You see, I also knew I was crap casting for a princess. I’m headed straight for the forest and my gingerbread house, or my hovel.

I’m glad that I live now and don’t have to wear the little fat coat that Billy Connolly talks about donning when you get to pensionable age. I’m glad that we can go on dressing how we like, these days. I’m glad that I live now. But I reserve the right to complain about the expectation that women have to be juicy, vibrant, smooth of skin, shuddering with multiple orgasms as we actually fall into our graves. Leave me alone! Nevertheless this is a good time to be a woman, and a good time to be a woman on your own. I’m almost always on my own.

My parents adored each other – absolutely adored each other — and also felt trapped by each other. I think my father felt that a wife and children was not what he envisaged for himself, and my mother probably felt that the husband and children she ended up with were not those she would have chosen. I’ve always wanted to have the option of walking out the door, and the way to do that is not to get in the room in the first place. It must be very difficult to live happily with someone else if you’re not yet living happily with yourself — and I’m still getting there.

Would I feel differently if I’d had children? I think people are forced to realise that they can’t afford to be their own priority anymore, and that renders them automatically more grown up.

I didn’t even buy a place until I was in my 30s, and I’m not that interested in it. I’m more at home in dressing rooms than in my own flat. That’s something I’ve only recently begun to address. It’s only now that my flat is something that I’ve begun to recognise as home. When I was young, my mum was one of seven, so we had lots of cousins who’d come up in the holidays. It felt like we had a house full of cousins for a very long time. My dad asked what was wrong with me one day, and I said I was homesick. He said, ‘You’re at home.’ I said, ‘Yes, and I’m sick of it!’ I meant it. I still kind of like the fact that I can just go away and have another imaginary home.

A couple of years ago somebody said, why don’t you put some stuff in storage and see if you miss it? I thought, why don’t I move into the storage unit, and leave the cat in the flat? She thinks it’s hers anyway. Move down there with a kettle and see if I could survive. I am always going to have too much stuff, always going to have a problem with accumulating books. I’m not going to turn into a minimalist in this lifetime.

I have always assumed that maturity is the opposite of what I’m doing. I have come to realise that maturity is not going to happen without my lifting a finger. It’s not going to just suddenly land in front of me, whatever it might be. Then again, the old people that I like are not necessarily quiet, they’re quite riotous. I like chatty people. I think it’s all right even for me to be so chatty. I have always felt that those women that men think are mysterious are merely dull.

The one sign of maturity I have is that I’ve always known that I’ll never be cool and there is no point in trying. I knew I’d never be a cool girl at school. I didn’t look like them. It’s not who I am. The key is withholding. A lot of cool is to do with withholding, and I don’t really enjoy the company of withholders. A friend of mine, a writer, wrote a novel that is much warmer than he expected it to be. We discussed then how that was an effect of ageing and maturity, the fact that he would let his characters be happy for a bit, or you can let something which is lovely, maybe even sentimental, come into their lives, and not feel that you want to take that out because it doesn’t go with your persona as a writer. I think he was quite pleased he was getting warmer as he got older. I am getting warmer as well.

At last I have stopped caring what people I actively dislike think about me. And a few years ago I realised that I really don’t care if my friends don’t come and see me in things. I don’t mind. I’m just grateful that my friends like me for who they perceive me to be, rather than because I’m occasionally proficient at my job. I used to think that was my get out of jail card — that if I wasn’t any good at my job, I didn’t have anything going for me. Now, though I’m not very good at putting my finger on what it may be, the fact that I haven’t lost friends suggests that they see something[in me], and I value their opinion.

I’m not planning any surgery to stave off ageing. At the moment I feel that any money I have is better spent on other things. It’s never really mattered that much what I look like. It’s never been enough for me to stand there in something short made of lycra, I have to have something interesting to say. That’s always been the case and it’s not going to change now. I don’t see how you can make your living as an actress when your face isn’t capable of registering movement and emotion. A friend of mine, who’s a filmmaker and works a lot in the states, said, the trouble is once one person does it, everyone feels that they have to, or they look ridiculous because they haven’t. That’s not yet the case here. If I had unlimited cash and resources, I’d probably be phoning up friends and saying, ‘Do you think I’d look better with three legs and a tail?’ — as a pathetic attempt to turn myself into an international person of mystery. It’s not going to happen. But that’s all right. I could be a local person of interest.

I’m aware that the pressure is there and there might come a point when I think about doing something. That’s a pressure that I suppose our mums and our grandmothers didn’t have. I’d rather wait until I can do it over the phone. Any minute now we’ll be able to phone somebody on Harley Street, and a lovely face will arrive.

It seems as if you can look old or you can look weird, like there’s nothing else. I think maybe when people do the first thing, and then they try to repeat that feeling or look, and you can’t. They’re all moving towards the same face.

I feel grateful that I was never cast for beauty, because that’s a whole different can of worms. That makes ageing problematic, even in terms of admitting what your age actually is. I have beautiful actress friends who have never, ever, said what their age is. I understand why. I have always been shoving my age down people’s throats think I should be telling people that I’m 75 on my next birthday so they’ll think I look great.

I’ve enjoyed all my birthdays that end in a zero. I’m always glad to be at the beginning of a decade of new possibilities. And by the time you get to 50 you’re just grateful that you’re still here and some of your friends are still here and you have a bit more time together.

I love working with young people, who are absolutely lovely, particularly in a profession that can make people very embittered. It’s delightful to be in a rehearsal with people who haven’t had the shit kicked out of them and who have nothing but energy and enthusiasm. Maybe I’m better able to enjoy other people’s youth because at the time I felt like a very immature old person in a young skin. Maybe I didn’t enjoy my own youth enough. But it’s who I was. I can see the beauty in it now.

Still, I’m having more fun as I get older; I’m liking it more.

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