sYou know right away that you’ll connect with a lady Eileen Atkins. “Oh my God, when we’re sitting down, we’ve got the tallest man in the world by our side,” she said, whispering onstage. She’s winning while our neighbor is making wine. “He wants us to know he went to the right school and always led the servants. I really try not to automatically counter those voices,” she says louder. “But it’s very difficult, isn’t it?”
Atkins, 87 – at one point got on her knees without a fuss to get her bag out from under the seat – seldom eats in London these days, but she comes here because she follows Jesus. This is Jesus Adorno, director of Le Caprice at Mayfair for 39 years, who now oversees this restaurant: Charles at the Brown Hotel. Then, Jesus works in mysterious ways and transports us to a quieter place. “I encouraged a friend to come here,” Atkins says, as we were going here, “and the food was great,” but Eileen, how you can sit down and eat with that wallpaper I will never know. “
We study the decoration of the Birds of Paradise and then the menu. “My GP decided I should have a liver more often, so I’m going to get it.”
She is happy to be out because it has been a sad week for her. The day before at the Old Vic Theatre finally canceled 4000 milesThe Atkins play was scheduled to star opposite Timothée Chalamet. They were due to open two weeks after the first closing; Since then, Chalamet’s star has skyrocketed and doesn’t find time to do so.
“I can’t believe another play would come with a part like this for a 91-year-old woman,” Atkins says. “They couldn’t find a replacement for Timmy. So that is it.”
Sparkling with the arrival of asparagus – “Oh, how beautiful!” – Then she returns to her subject. The pain was that she had finally learned her lines, the hardest for her these days. For the first six months of the pandemic, she had an actor read her corresponding segment every week, to keep up, but with more delays, she gave up.
She says the only saving grace was that it gave her a chance to write the memoir she had always thought of. The book takes her formative years, growing up in a council house in Tottenham, and how her mother since the age of six has put her on stage as “Baby Elaine” as a tap dancer in working men’s clubs. It ends with the collapse of her first marriage (to Julian Glover) and the transfer of her first major success, Sister George’s murder, to Broadway ; Star years followed. (“If I publish the second volume, I’ll be dead or ready to leave,” she says.)
She opens her book with a scene that characterizes her life. She films herself, aged 19, looking through the window at a young wife holding her children at the table, realizing that her home will always be among her fellow actors.
“You still send tingles in my fingers because I made that choice,” she says now. “Of course, the slight sadness was and still is that I miss the family, which is very clear now that everyone has grandchildren. But I am sure I chose correctly.”
There is an unforgettable scene in the book in which she and Glover decide to adopt a child. A woman with a child happens to knock on the door, and Atkins has two thoughts: one, that the child was brought in for her; The second she could not accept in any way. “If I ever thought the world was telling me something, that’s it.”
Was part of that feeling a reaction against her family? “Yes. It wasn’t a happy family so why would I want to recreate it? I talk to my brother now more than ever. He’ll say, ‘Well, you’re complaining about tap dancing, but you’ve always looked so cheerful.'” The truth is, I had no choice. else “.
Did you leave it behind? “That’s a very strong word. But it makes me alert to child performers. I get too hot under the collar when they come on.” british talent. “
It doesn’t strike me as someone who desperately needs treatment. “My friends may disagree,” she says. “I went for one therapy session when my second husband died in 2016. I was very unhappy, and I talked this guy through it all. And at the end, he said, ‘Well, yeah, life sucks, isn’t it?’ I thought, ‘Well, I’m I’m not paying you to tell me that.”
She has been able to work through issues on stage. “There’s usually something buried in there,” she says. “And once you take it out of yourself and turn it on, you are free of it.”
Not sure how much vent there is Doc Martin, the long-running ITV series in which Atkins plays Martin Clones’ sharp aunt. She is scheduled to be in Cornwall the day after the meeting for four months to film a new series. Part of it fears her. The part who prefers to be at home by the river in West London with her two cats.
“When I think about work, it’s theater that really makes me happy,” she says. The thing that loves me Doc Martin is that it’s like being part of a reference company, all together. They gave me this bungalow where you can see the whole port of Isaac… Half of the city hates us of course. “
If Atkins imagined old age, it was a long gossip phone call. She is upset about the number of text messages only from her friends. She does not work the Internet. “One or two people told me I shouldn’t go on with it, because I’m already angry enough,” she says. “A young woman whom I know a little bit calls me from time to time; apparently on the internet the lady calls me and repeats what I say, word for word.”
I wonder if for all the years she has been tired of her family’s theatrical alternative. She says, “Never.” “The best time we got together was Cranford. We could barely get the first reading because we were all laughing so much. Judy [Dench] Used to bring cupcakes every morning. I would refuse, saying, “I don’t have a sweet tooth.” And one day I heard her say, “Don’t give one to Elaine, she doesn’t have a sweet tooth.” It seemed a little cross and my existence never intersect. I said to myself, “Eileen, will it only hurt you one day when you kiss one of my Judy Cakes?” So the next time they came I took a piece. It was wonderful! Now every year on my birthday I have the same cake. Judy has a knack for bringing people together.”
Even though they were all exactly the same age, Maggie Smith, Dench, and Atkins, she says they weren’t jealous of each other. “Anyway, at first I was just walking around looking for little parts, and my presence was Juliet in Stratford. It was more competitive with Maggie because we both showed up to be an assistant stage manager at Oxford Playhouse at the same time. But then, all of a sudden, she was filmed on It’s Desdemona versus Othello Laurence Olivier. I thought, “Maggie?” But then I went to see her and she blew up.”
She had now finished her lunch, and concluded her “old lady habit” with a cup of hot water.
I read something that guardian Critic Michael Billington I wrote about it once. “Vanessa Redgrave seems to have access to another world. Judi Dench can produce laughter and tears in an instant. But the greatness of Elaine Atkins lies in her extraordinary emotional orientation and ability to make her eyes a window into her soul.”
“I’m going to cry now,” she said unexpectedly, doing it a little. “It makes me feel like I’ve accomplished what I intended to do when I was 12 and decided I wanted to be an actress.”
I apologize for blowing it up as it dries out her eyes. “I’m a little emotional because of yesterday and the play,” she says. “I have a feeling I might be done now. That might be it.”
Oh, something else will come up, I suggest. “Maybe,” she says, brighter. “I mean Ian [McKellen] He plays Hamlet at 83. You wouldn’t let me do that. But I think that means there is hope for all of us.”
will you do? Act One of a Life on Stage directed by Elaine Atkins released in paperback (Virago, £9.99). To support The Guardian and The Observer, order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply