THE FORMIDABLE GLENDA JACKSON CBE ‘AS SOFT AS AN OLD MARSHMALLOW’
After her recent 1976 gory divorce, which English icon Glenda Jackson, 39, describes as “An issue of personal independence as much as emotions, as you have to accept responsibility for yourself and can’t go through life saying you would be better off if….” she sits down, lights a cigarette, breathes a long sigh of relief and begins to talk about the subject nearest her heart – little son Daniel, who dominates her mind, her actions and her life. As the Birkenhead, Cheshire star takes another draw of the cigarette with the manner of one let into heaven for the first time, she admits being a secret smoker now and it has nothing to do with the nun’s black and holy garb she is wearing on the British film set of NASTY HABITS (1977).
But seven-year-old Daniel’s budding awareness of the evil of the demon weed weighs heavily on Jackson’s mind. Then the famous, unique voice of MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS (1971), with the quality of translucent steel, softens and warms.
“Daniel knows it’s dangerous and he stands in front of me, saying accusingly, ‘Mummy, you’ll die. You’ll just die! Why don’t you stop, Mummy?’ So I do when he is around, but it’s all a hell of a strain.” Dan’s entertainment taste is also impeccable.
At this young age his favourite outing is the Imperial War Museum. But Jackson has faced and accepted philosophically that Daniel will be her one and only child. And with vigilant concern the star of many movies, TV films, TV series and the theatre declares, “I shall be 40 on my next birthday, and sadly that makes me too old to have another child, because of mongoloid births.
I could easily cope, but it strikes me as dreadfully selfish to take that risk with someone else’s life.” But what doesn’t strike the women’s libber and winner of 24 Awards including several GOLDEN GLOBES, EMMYS and two OSCARS for WOMEN IN LOVE (1969) and A TOUCH OF CLASS (1973) at all, is her reputation of being tough. “God knows why. I’m certainly unsentimental. I believe in sentiment, but not sentimentality. I’m essentially matter of fact, partly because I’m Taurean and partly because I come from a family that’s always had its feet firmly on the ground.
But I’m not tough. And when I’m with Daniel, I am as soft as an old marshmallow.” Jackson is blazingly and uncompromisingly honest, with a look-right-through you sincerity, guaranteed to make most of us feel small. “Of course, it can be hard for a man to live with a successful and independent woman.” She goes off into a clear laugh that has a touch of school girl hockey stick about it.
“If I were a fellow, I certainly wouldn’t like to take me on now. I’m very dogmatic and bossy by nature and an all or nothing person. It’s hard to know what I’ll be like now that I am single again.” Then the voice that can put fires out, becomes gentle once more.. “But the older you get the less self- centred you become. You begin to realize the world is a bigger place than your particular desires, feelings and problems and so you become more aware of other people and their needs.”
“I think I will give acting up some day. Maybe Daniel will ask me to. But even if he doesn’t, it will happen. If I were to give it up now, it would be permanent. Honestly, I don’t see myself doing this in my old age. I have spent the greatest part of my life perfecting my profession, and I believe that you should stick with that and work at your craft.” And what a craft! Being predominantly a dramatic actress, you don’t see her in too many comedies . So if you have never watched Glenda Jackson and Walter Matthau in HOPSCOTCH (1980), you have missed one of the most delightful comedies ever, co-starring Herbert Lom and Ned Beatty.
I highly recommend it, and I play it regularly on DVD. Streaming services like NETFLIX and STAN have it too. Jackson’s voice becomes nostalgic now and very quiet as she sums up her craft and a life maybe not quite complete. “But equally, the amount of energy and simply blood, sweat and tears that go into making a performance, could be harnessed to something a bit more useful.”
Is the 1.69 m tall woman who plays the Virgin Queen Elizabeth I with ferocious greatness in the TV series ELIZABETH R (1971) debating with herself already, whether to become a Member of Parliament? This she does in 1992 and for 23 years! But in 2015 the political blogger and Labor Party stalwart retires as a Member of the House of Commons. And although she describes those decades as “my most meaningful achievement,” Jackson returns to the love of her life – the theatre – in the male role of KING LEAR at London’s Old Vic in 2016 and Best Actress awards for King Lear and other performances keep coming through to 2018. And now, aged 82, Glenda Jackson will return in the powerful role of King Lear on Broadway in April 2019. How I wish I could be there!