Purdey: woman holds her own in series

Joanna Lumley: A Woman to Watch. She's prettier than she thinks. “My skin isn't very beautiful and I always tend to distance myself from the cameras. I hate close-ups. It may sound overdriven, but I can't help it. Complex? Probably. Did you know that Vivian Leigh also had such a deviation? Vivian Leigh thought her hands were too big. Whenever her pictures were taken, she always hid her hands. Imagine for a moment: Vivian Leigh, that beautiful person, half of the world looks open-mouthed to. Vivian Leigh, who doesn't know what to do with her hands. Hide, hide, otherwise people will see...”

Do you have any more deviations?

Joanna (surprised): “Certainly. Sure… I'm jealous. Insanely jealous. It starts here (she points to her head) and it becomes a lump, a hard marble. It hurts. I imagine all kinds of things, while he is probably just bored to death in London or is now reading a book.”

(He is a British actor of unknown greatness, her boyfriend. Lumley is 31 years old. She is unmarried. She has a son called James. The British actor of unknown greatness is not James's father.)

Jealous people eat themselves up.

Joanna: “Yes, yes. Terrible. It then burns inside. Sometimes when I get tired, I ask Gareth Hunt (Gambit in the "Avengers") to quote me from Shakespeare's "Othello". Those beautiful phrases from Iago to Othello's jealousy. Do you know them?”

(I don't know, but I nod vaguely and think I'll look it up at home.)

Joanna: Let's talk about something else.

The Avengers

Joanna: What about it?

Fun work?

Joanna: No. But work, though. There is hardly any acting. In such a series of thirteen episodes, there may be five, six highlights, where acting, the talent of acting, has had an influence. For the rest, The Avengers consists of a brilliant formula: a good script, sharp dialogues, cool editing. As an actor you have your sentences to say. You study them. Sentence by sentence, scene after scene. Then you can forget it again. We'll finish that work. We practice dry, then do a few camera rehearsals and then, when everyone on the technical staff is satisfied, it is recorded. It is a perfect formula, to which you do not have to add anything. The role of Steed is fixed and that of Purdey and Gambit now too. We have now made about twenty deliveries together. You can no longer change Purdey. At least not essentially. We would like to have more intelligent humor in it. That may sound a bit blasé, but we believe that The Avengers' strength has always been this kind of humor. An example: I come in and shout “I've got it”. Of course Hunt says, "Rhythm?" and not "What?" - do you understand?

(Happy smile.)

Joanna: No, we should have those kinds of sentences, but here in Canada, where we work with a Canadian crew from director to dolly pusher, it is difficult. In the first place, they cling to the script forcibly. Secondly, they have a different sense of humor here than we Europeans have. Acting on stage is fairer: you can correct all mistakes on film. That's why I find the work easy. Moreover: Purdey did not exist. I was asked once I was chosen for the role what Purdey should be like.

Purdey has been the name of a famous British gunsmith.

Joanna: Yes, but Purdey comes from Perdita, from Latin. The devastated faithful, the fallen one, it actually means. Purdey is believed to be the daughter of a brigade-general of the British Army, born in India. She is a well-known ballerina, an expert with firearms, and an expert in unarmed combat. I made Purdey. That was easy. I didn't have to live in a role. I made that part. Easy.

You have one child, but you are not married. Is that not so bad?

Joanna: People think I'm hard because I want to raise the child on my own. There are also those who say that the child, every child, needs a father. I agree, given that the parents get along well. If not, then I believe I should try it on my own.

Isn't being alone a bad thing?

Joanna: You mean being unmarried mother? No, not for me. Not yet, I might say. I will get married once. It is not necessary. Incidentally, something remarkable is going on in England. Many of my friends and acquaintances do not get married because the number of men who do not want to get married is growing. Men say they don't want to take responsibility for a family. Perhaps this is also a result of emancipation. Who knows.

Being famous or known, what does that mean to you?

Joanna: I'm vain enough to say I think it's a kick they know my face in 70 countries. But I find it frustrating to have to experience that people don't know me, but Purdey. I was last in the Netherlands with Mies, that's her name, right? Yes. I had to fight a karate man. I say: I can't, it's all stunt work I do. But they said: You have to, because we already have that man ready and we can hardly change the script. They really thought there at Mies that we really do karate or something like that at The Avengers… I also had to hand out signatures on photos of myself. So I write. One of the advisers shouts: You have to sign with Purdey, not Lumley, because we don't know her. I refused, that was going too far.

Well, fame ... I've been playing on Coronation Street for a while. While I was there, a group of Australians came to visit. Those people had traveled all over the world for months. Holiday adventures. Had been to the most fantastic countries you could imagine. The trip of a lifetime. But you know what the highlight was for them: meeting Elsie Tanner of Coronation Street in person in Manchester… What a mess, isn't it?

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