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Are you picking that up? So don't move, so stop moving. Hello, I'm Louis Thru and welcome to my podcast series for BBC Radio four. Grounded with Louis through. Like you, I'm in lockdown, or at least I think I am. It's all a little unclear. And for the last few weeks I've been recording conversations with people I've always been keen to talk to who also may or may not be on lockdown.
Yes, wait a sec. Go to voice record record.
We're having to rely on our guests to record their half of the conversation. It's doing its wabble, so that should be working.
And we're using video conferencing software so we can also see each other. This is all quite new to me, believe me. Me too.
You're coming in loud and clear. My guest today is a BAFTA winning actor and outspoken activist and most recently a fellow documentary maker, Miriam Margulies.
So we're flying blind, Louis. Never very much. We're in the fog at high altitude. We recorded this right at the beginning of the lockdown, a conversation of no holds barred anecdotes, including some no holds barred language that may or may not be appropriate for your children depending on your parenting choices.
There are mountains all around us, but we're trusting to blind luck and we're experienced pilots.
So there's nothing.
You may be an experienced pilot. I'm just paddling along in your wake, but, well, we're married. You've switched the metaphor. Thank you for doing be relied on to do that.
First of all, how are you coping? How is your morale? I'm coping very badly. My morale is at almost rock bottom. I get my pleasures from contact with people. That is what I enjoy. And when I'm cut off from people, as I have to be at the moment, I don't do very well. I read I watch television a lot, I think a bit. But I wouldn't say that I'm having a very good time.
Well, I'm very sorry to hear that. And I think probably you speak for a vast portion of the population globally, many of them on the older side and vulnerable who are feeling very lonely.
And then there's another portion who, like me, feel sort of outmanned by their children, by their commitments, and are struggling to find a spare moment. There's these two ends of the spectrum, the underbody and the over. Busy.
Yes, it is unprecedented for all of us, of course. And I'm disappointed in myself to be so wimpy about things. I would love to be a get up and go. I can handle anything, but actually I can't. I need my cleaning lady. I need my secretary. I do see from a distance my gardener who comes to make the garden nice at the front in the back. And that contact is very important to me. But I'm disappointed in myself.
I thought I had I was more substantial, but I'm not. I have to admit that I'm an insubstantial thing.
I think we're all struggling in different ways. Most of the time I feel I'm doing OK and then I have little moments of feeling.
But you're living in a family. You're with people. I'm not. I am totally alone and I'm nearly seventy nine. And I'm not good at housework. I don't cook. I talk and I read and that's about all I can do. My driver, whom I correspond with on Facebook and so on. He's made a birdbath. Well, I mean, I couldn't do that. My partner in Holland, she's making bread. She's cooking. Well, I can't do that.
I'm not a cook, I can microwave beautifully, but I can't cook. And I'm frightened, I'm frightened of dying, less frightened than I used to be, but I'm frightened of dying with this illness because it's really unpleasant. It's scary. I'm scared. So I'm really not having a very good time.
I'm very sorry to hear that. Well, one thing I should quickly say, though, is you're not with your your other half.
What term do you prefer, partner? I've heard you use I think partner is easier.
We we've talked about it a lot, my partner and I. She doesn't particularly want to be named. But one of the things we don't like his wife. We are not married, we are civilly partnered. But I would never call her my civil partner. That's just to camp for words and cope with that.
And am I right in thinking you don't typically live together? Most of the time you are at a distance. Physically, we do not live together.
She is an academic writing a book on Southeast Asia, so she lives in Holland, where the archives are in a beautiful house which he bought many years ago overlooking the Prince of fact. So her front room looks over the canal and it's beautiful. It's a wonderful 17th century house and she visits me for conjugal visits as often as possible. And I do the same. But I'm a busy woman too, and I don't get a chance to go over as much as I'd like.
And I was trying to remember the last time I saw her, and it was actually when we went to Dublin for a little holiday, I was going to appear on a talk show called The Late Late Show, which I love. I love going to Ireland. So she came to Ireland and we had a few days in Ireland. And as it happened, a very prominent journalist, Marianne Vinnicombe, died when I was there and they wanted to devote the program to her.
So they paid for me to come to Dublin, but I didn't have to sing for my supper. We had a lovely few days and then she went off to Amsterdam and I went back to London and that was in, I think, January or February, and I haven't seen it since. I'm sorry. I know I tend to go on and on. You have to stop me because I love talking so much.
Well, that's good, because we have plenty of time. And actually it's all part of the idea, which is that we have free flowing conversation. But let me refocus us for a second. So one of the things I enjoy about you, which may be your stock in trade in a way, is a degree of outrageousness and a willingness to say the unsayable when there's something that perhaps others might shy away from noticing. When you're making a documentary or just perhaps generally in life, you seem willing to go there.
Would you agree that that's a trait that you have?
Sorry, I'm just wanting to check that we're still record. Yes, it's all right to let people know that I'm I'm I aware that I'm shock sometimes. Yes, I am. I enjoy that moment of danger. I suppose it's quite thrilling and can become addictive, but I think it's not nice to shock people who can't take it. You've got to know who you're talking to. I don't think I'm rude. You see, some people do, but I think it's OK.
I think it's OK to be suddenly shocking. And I do depend on sex a lot for my fun. I don't have a lot of sex anymore, and I remember it affectionately.
Do you mean that you enjoy bringing up the topic of sex as a way of making conversation, giving it a jolt, making a bit more real?
Yes, I think so, because whenever you talk to people, I'm sure you find this to you want to go to a shared place and sex is almost universal. Nearly everybody, unless a terribly unfortunate have had it, are having it or hope to have it. It's a very universal topic.
I agree with that. And I think it's something that I've depended on when I've made documentaries or spoken to people is a sense of trying to figure out their sexuality. And it was I think Anatole France said I think he put it this way of all perversions, Chastity, it's perhaps the strangest, which is something I sometimes chew on. So has sex been important to you through your life, would you say?
Yes, sex has been important through my life. I know that I loved it. I remember feeling orgasm when I was three, which is early for such emotions and reactions. I had a crush on my preparatory school mistress. I remember walking by her house in Banbury Road. I was born and brought up in Oxford and as I approached her house I felt this overpowering heat in my loins and it was deeply pleasant and rather exhausting. I would say it's remained like that.
It since I'm going to risk being over intimate now and ask, was there some self stimulation going on? Or it actually was a more or less spontaneous event?
No, there was no friction, no friction. It was simply mental, the power of longing and desire.
But I was honestly three and I didn't you know, I didn't know my arse from my elbow then. Oh, my goodness.
What was it about her that evoked this response in you?
I don't think you ever know why you feel such passion for people. It was inexplicable. And I was walking with my mother, whom I adored. And, you know, my relationship with women continued right through school, I didn't know that I was actually going to become a fully fledged lesbian. I didn't realize that. I thought I was just like everybody else. But that happened much later.
Were you ever attracted to boys? Oh, yes. If I am very precise, I would say that I was very attracted to the idea of boys, but not perhaps the actuality of boys. I did, I think, fall in love twice in my life with males. One was a beautiful young man. He was a student that I was in my late teens, probably 17 or something, and he was married and very honorable. But I do remember feeling growing about him.
And then much, much, much later, much later, I kind of fell for Japanese journalism professor when I was in. Wait a minute. Was it I think it was China. I think he was Chinese and I really fancied him.
Why are you smiling? I'm giving you giving you these pearls of my interior life.
Well, I don't it was something about when you said, was he Japanese or Chinese? I don't know why, but that tickled me. I think we're not supposed to say that in this day and age, we're supposed to be sufficiently cosmopolitan, that we don't struggle to differentiate between Japanese people and Chinese people, especially if we were very intimate with them and I was never intimate with him.
I told him that he was probably the only man that I'd ever really fancied. And I think he was in equal measure that appalled and surprised and probably flattered. But nothing came of it. Nothing at all. I was one semi raped in Israel on a mountain, but that was really horrid. I didn't like that at all. And it was just, you know, a nasty Israeli pouncing on on a young tourist. And I hit him and got away.
You say Semih raped. Is that because you managed to fend him off?
Yes, I managed to fend him off. I don't think a penis has ever been inside me. Will that do that?
Will more than do. I'm aware we've gone to quite a deep place quite early on. Are you OK with that? Is that fine? A bit of checking in with you now.
I'm fine. If it's something I don't want to say, I will not say it. But I think that one of the things that if there's anything I'm well known for, it is being very open about things that some people would rather I weren't so open about. I feel comfortable doing it. And I'm very genuinely flattered to be included in your podcast because I respect you as a broadcaster, as a journalist, and I'm very jealous of you. Really.
Well, that's very kind. I feel as though that's a great compliment. And by the way, on the subject of penises being inside you, I have never had a penis inside me. But I think like many, if not most straight men, I have not always been immune to a certain physical attraction to men. The idea of sexuality being on a spectrum makes sense to me. And as a young teenager, 14, 15 year old, I remember once or twice getting crushes on older boys and feeling a bit confused by it.
And then the way I processed it was that I was a fan of David Bowie and thought, well, David Bowie said that he's gay or bisexual, so I guess it's OK. But I wonder for you, going through the feeling of thoughts of experiencing same sex attraction, was that in any way upsetting or traumatic, knowing that you might be at variance with broader social norms at that time?
I didn't really know anything about it. It didn't worry.
You know, it didn't have a name because everybody at school was being cracked on someone. That's what we used to call it, being cracked on. What did that mean? Having a crush? That was our Oxford High School lingo. Was it all girls? Oh, yes, it was. You were all cracking on each other?
Well, it wasn't a universal activity, but it was widely popular.
So in a way, you want variants with social norms at all. You were just the same as everyone else.
Yes, I was the same as everybody else. I was naughty at school and difficult for teachers to handle. But I was cheery and popular, I think. So I passed my sexual life quite easily. It just swam along. And of course I masturbated. I mean, when I got to be, I don't know, maybe 11, 12, because I started my periods. I hope it's not all going to be gynaecological this conversation.
But anyway, I started my periods when I was 11, which was considered young. I was way the youngest, and I wondered if it was because Jewish people are just further on.
That would be news to me, would need a doctor to confirm that. It would be surprising if true. But do you think that I'm sorry to sort of zero in on this, but there was a moment when you realized that you were a lesbian. Was that at Cambridge?
Yes, I think I had an absolute passion for our moral tutor who was in charge of Old Hall, which was the hall at Munim that I was resident in. And she was a magnificent, honorable, lovely person. I miss her. She died many years ago now. And I'm terribly sad that I can't talk to her.
But I think I think that's when I thought that maybe the strength of my emotion was odd.
I do want to ask and I'm sorry if I seem fixated on your sexuality, I don't in any way want to make you feel like you're some exotic species.
That's definitely I have friends, lesbians, which in itself, just by saying that I know I'm speaking a cliche, but, you know, I'm also aware that Stonewall was nineteen sixty nine and homosexuality hadn't been decriminalised through the 60s. And I know for many people, maybe mainly men, the idea of having homosexual attraction would have been quite dramatic. But what I'm hearing from you and correct me if I'm wrong, is that being gay, being homosexual didn't cause you much in the way of disquiet.
You didn't feel particularly stressed out about it in the sixties?
No, I had no problems with being a lesbian at all. And I have never had any problems. I'm a very successful lesbian. I'm not beautiful and probably not very attractive. But early in my life, I found the woman of my dreams of my heart, who is the woman of my life. I haven't always been faithful, but I am now. And I'm just grateful that I got to that rock, which has eradiated my happiness for the rest of my life.
How old were you when you when you met your partner? I was twenty seven, I think. Well, I met her in nineteen sixty eight and I was born in nineteen forty one. Can you do the maths. You were born May 18th.
I was fourteen forty one. I was born May 20th.
I'm going to say roughly twenty seven and I had had a lot of masturbation, some cunnilingus, no penetration. And then came my partner and everything was plain sailing. Very nice.
I could do a whole separate show on what sex is like for lesbians.
Just for Miriam Martin. Yes.
Lesbians apparently have better sex than straight women. Oh, without question. You think that's true? Why would that be the case?
Because we sleep with our sex and we know what to do with our hands and our bodies. And men have only got a prick to deal with poor souls. I can't imagine what it must be like.
I mean, what happens to the balls if you're inside a woman? Where do the balls go?
Do you want an answer to that? Not really. Someone once told me of Bill Clinton, this was passed on to me at second hand, that he made love like a woman. Cause he must be very good. I took that to mean that there was a lot of oral sex and he wasn't obsessed with his dick, that he was tender and sensitive.
Well, good on him. I've always liked him. Unfortunately, we never got together.
So you maybe with him you'd find an exception that proves the rule. You're going to think I'm fixated on sex. And they'll they'll definitely if it goes over the line, you'll let me know and that we can always nip it.
You know what, Louis? I'm fascinated to know what my line is. If I have a line that you can cross, that I would feel that that would be impertinent or something. I don't know that I've got a no go area and I probably should have. But anyway, do press on regardless.
It served you well in your career. I think I've seen a couple of times you talk about wanking men off in parks. Maybe it only happened once and it just got different tellings.
Yes, it only happened once as far as I remember. And I usually reserve those kind of experiences for the Graham Norton Show. Is that what you spoke about it?
That's where I spoke about in my notes. And I thought this is very odd.
How did it happen that you were linking a man up in a park?
Well, I wasn't planning on it. Obviously, it was an unforeseen event, but I was going home late after an appearance in the Edinburgh Festival and I heard a rustling and I was trying to locate the source of this rustling. I looked up and then I saw this young man in a soldier's uniform wanking in a tree. And I was flummoxed for a minute. And then I thought, oh, my God, he's going to get into trouble. He was in a tree, actually.
Up a tree. Up a tree. What kind of tree was it? Oh, I don't remember the tree. I said, get down here, get down here. So he came down and I said, what's the matter with you? You can't do that. And I said, Well, now look, I will help you out with this one, but you need to go home after that and just, you know, remember, you're a soldier because you'll get into trouble.
And so I just went off manually and off he went. How old were you? I must have been late 20s, early 30s, an American soldier or a British soldier?
He was in the to the Edinburgh to the two. I can hardly say it to two.
That's how do you know he was in the tattoo? He told me. And the risk of stating the obvious.
Why do you suppose he was up the tree? You know, I never asked him that, I suppose it's because you can wank off without anyone seeing you.
You did see him? Well, I heard I heard the rustle and that's what drew my eye upwards.
We should do a mic check. Shouldn't we give you a little needle moving?
I'm sure it will be. Wait a minute, please. Yes. Needle is moving beautifully. That's brilliant. How are you feeling? How are you feeling?
My energy is all right. I'm just feeling a little bit concerned that we haven't moved above the waist.
Let's move above the waist. Should we elevate the conversation a little bit?
I mean, is this a conversation that I'm supposed to be interviewing you or your speech?
I'm supposed to be interviewing, OK, if that hasn't become clear by now that I may be doing it a bit wrong, I think it's about time I asserted my authority. After all, you're listening to Grounded with Louis through and not Miriam Margolese, although she is my guest.
Anyway, we probably should elevate the conversation above the waist, not least because I was keen to learn more about how her career flourished after she left university. What happened when she moved to London?
When I left Cambridge in sixty three, I didn't know what to do. I didn't know whether I was going to be an actress or not. And I sold encyclopedias for a few months and I did market research going from door to door, asking questions. And then I got an audition with BBC Radio and that really started me as an actress.
You done some acting at Cambridge, is that right? You were part of the famous footlights.
It was horrible. I hated it. And they didn't like they didn't like me. They thought I was the pushy Jew. And I also got a lot of the laughs that they felt that I shouldn't have got because I was funny. And so I was sent to Coventry, which meant that they didn't talk to me off stage. So I would do my bits and then I would come off stage to be met with silence and cold stares. And it hurt a lot.
But I got over it. It was an ungenerous, deeply competitive group of people who were not used to having women amongst them because it was before you could belong to the footlights. So I was never a member of the footlights. You were on sufferance, invited to join the evenings, and my dislike of that whole world has never left me. I mean, it's a bit pathetic because honestly, it's 50, 60 years ago. I should have got over it.
I should've, but I haven't.
When you say you had a dislike of that whole world, which continues to this day, which world do you mean?
I think I mean the world of comedy, which at that time was largely male and it was competitive, just horribly competitive. And I don't really like that much. I like people to be sort of gentle with each other.
So you'd arrived in London. How did you get your break? How did you move into acting and how easily did success come?
I'm not sure success has come even now, but I think it all began because I loved radio. I listen to radio as a kid always. And when I was at Cambridge, a BBC radio producer called John Bridges came and watched the footlights and he gave me his card and he said, When you leave Cambridge, contact me because I think you're very talented and I'll try and help you with an audition. And so when I left Cambridge, after two years had gone by and I'd sold encyclopedias and done very little else, I thought, I'll contact that chap John Bridges, which I did.
And he was incredibly kind. And he arranged an audition for me with the BBC Drama Repertory Company.
And I got through the audition and they offered me a part. And then a few months later, they offered me an engagement for a year with the BBC Radio Drama Repertory Company, which was about 40 people. There was a lot more radio drama than and there is now. And I worked with wonderful people, you know, John Osborne and Jill Bennett, I remember, and Wilfred Pickles, Donald Wolfert, Patricia Routledge and Paul Schofield. I mean, they were wonderful people.
Donald Wolfert, famous Shakespearean actor. Paul Schofield, obviously gifted, brilliant actor. Who was the other one. You mentioned that I hadn't heard of Wilfred Pickles. Wilfred Pickles. I'm not sure who that is.
Well, he was a radio star and he had a show called Have a Go with Mabel at the table and Harry Hudson at the piano. He used to interview just ordinary people going around England, but he was a very good actor as well. And I loved. And I still love it and I still do quite a lot of radio. It's it's a source of huge pleasure to me. Was there a moment when you feel your career took off or has your career, as you see it, been a slow crescendo in terms of exposure and work, maybe a crescendo?
Netflix had an extremely, extremely slow crescendo. I think possibly when I did the girls of Slender Means, which was sometime in the 70s, and Clive James, God rest his soul, gave me a wonderful review. That was a good moment. And then I did my own show much later in the 80s with Sonia Fraser called Dickens Women. It was very successful and I think it's still some of the best work I've ever done. I did 23 characters from Dickens and I told the story of his life using the characters because they were based on real people in his life.
Was that your idea to do the dickens?
That was my idea because I'd studied Dickens Newnam and I've always found him to be the most exciting and in my life.
What is it about Dickens of all literary figures that speaks to you so much?
I think he's remarkable for the excellence of his prose, the extraordinary variety of his characters, because he created over two thousand and the passion with which he lived his life so that in the living of the life is the magic of the man. And he was able to transmute that into the novels that we read. And he was not a university bloke. He came up the hard way.
Didn't the family spent time in debtor's jail because his father was driftless, which gave Dickens so, they say, a lifelong preoccupation bordering on obsession with making money or being financially secure. Let's put it that way.
Yes, he loved his father, but he found his mother, I think in some ways wanting. And that emotional deprivation from the maternal side enormously influenced his creative powers. And the women that he wrote about it exemplify that feeling of slight bitterness, I think. And discovering him, I discovered when I was 11 reading Oliver Twist, I've been enthralled and enslaved by him ever since. I'm doing that show, I think showed people that I was perhaps not as trivial an actress as I had hitherto seemed.
The seriousness of that show and, you know, just it was bloody good. People took notice of me. And then I was cast in a film, Little Dorrit, which won an award at the critics circle in L.A. And then I decided to go to America. I thought, well, if they give me a prize for best supporting actress, I shall do my best over there. And that's what I did.
And it was a big success, wasn't it? It was. I was very lucky. And I stayed in America for 16 years working in movies and television and had a really very good time.
So you were there from what would it be, the late 80s to the 2000s? Yes.
And it was probably, in many respects, a nice time to be there.
Oh, it was wonderful because I was earning a lot of money and I was being successful in America. In L.A., anyway, you have to be successful.
They're terrified of failure.
It's like a contagion, isn't it? Yes. It's like something you can catch from someone. God forbid you're caught talking to someone at a party who needs something from you.
And also they're frightened to stand next to you in case they catch fat. That was another problem.
I didn't know that I was in there. I suppose there's a sort of obsession with the body. Beautiful. But don't you get a pass on that? First of all, you are and were successful and you would have been known for someone in a way that was part of your professional identity, was looking a certain way. Can we say that?
I think that's true, yes. And also, I seemed very confident and secure and people don't mess about with me.
On the whole, what was it that made you make the leap and commit to living in America?
Well, I thought America was success. I thought if you did well in America, then you were successful. And I wanted to be successful. I was greedy and I was ambitious. I was pretty savvy. I hired a publicist and the publicist got me onto the Johnny Carson show and I was very funny and endearing. Then I came on it again, and through that I got a wonderful agent called Susan Smith. She died six years ago and I miss her every day.
Just a wonderful. Savvy, smart, tough Jewish lady, and she took me on and through her, I met Norman Lear.
He's a legend, isn't he, of American TV? Yes, he was God. Is he still alive?
Is amazingly still alive. These must be all in the family. A hundred. Was it the American version of Afghan it. Yes. Till death do you part.
Sanford and son and him like you would have been a golden ticket. Did he make a show for you?
He did make a show which wasn't a success. It was called Frannie's Turn. It was written by a very determined young musician called Chuck Lorre. And Chuck Lorre is now the biggest producer in television in America.
I don't think I've met him, but I know who you mean because he created a bunch of very successful America.
He's hugely successful. It's very funny because his accountant is my accountant. I don't know exactly what he's earning. I just know it's a great deal more than that.
If you have a hit sitcom and it goes into syndication in America, basically you are set.
That's true. Well, mine didn't go into syndication. It wasn't a hit. How many did you make of your show? They made 13 and they put out six. What was the premise? I was a Puerto Rican woman, a seamstress, working class, married to a very unreconstructed man. My job was to try and show him the error of his ways. It was great fun.
I loved it. Did you have to do a Puerto Rican accent? Yes. Can you do that? I can do it then, but I could do it then.
I wonder you'd struggle to get that away now? I think we are more sensitive to that sort of casting.
Yes. And I think you're quite right. Was it funny? Why do you think it wasn't more of a success?
It was funny and it got better, but it wasn't funny enough and it just didn't go there.
Pretty ruthless. Only those sort of a couple up. And if it doesn't rate, they yank them. Yes. I remember the head of CBS who since been had up for inappropriate behavior, Les Moonves.
Yeah. He didn't like it.
What was your I don't know, this maybe only interesting to you and me, but as someone who's lived in L.A. over the years quite a bit, I'm curious for your take on the city is such an odd place and there's a lot to enjoy about it in other respects. I find it quite confusing. Are you a fan of the city? What do you make of it?
I'm not a fan now, but I think I was loving it when I was there. The problem is that people are so frightened of failure that it restricts their lives and it makes them sometimes cruel and vicious. I love the Jewishness of it. I love the fact that I could get chicken soup at any hour of the day and night. I love the top level.
I loved Gelson's, where I used to shop at the supermarket, the most expensive supermarket in the world. Probably it may be, but I just loved it.
It's a place where if you have money, it's the most gorgeous place in the world to be. And if you don't have money, it's one of the toughest places to be. It's a very cruel city in a way.
They've been self isolating, you know, for 30 or 40 years. Every everyone's in their car or in their beautiful house, and they can go on their lot where they work and not really mix with the hoi polloi.
Everybody lives in their own little bubble. You're quite right. And oh, boy, what am I going to do now? Why don't you answer it and then say hello?
What are these messages? I don't understand it quite. It's a number that leaves a message. I've never understood that I love the modern world. I love the fact that the zuman and sky and all those things. But sometimes I'm defeated by it completely.
Join the club, don't you think, for everything that gets better, even if it gets 95 percent better, it also gets five percent worse. The Internet's wonderful, but sometimes it goes down and you can't actually speak to anyone.
Yeah, or your car's going to be amazing. But if it breaks down, no one will be able to fix it except a Volkswagen engineer in Dusseldorf where being infantilized.
All of us infantilized. Yes, Tantalise.
That's the word we are we're being lured with this false sense of security into a world of enforced dependence. Just to go to the shops, you rely on an app of some kind or satnav. And then when it breaks down, you know, you've forgotten how to do anything. You can't tie your shoelaces. You know, it's like, how do I make coffee? Normally I just push a button. But maybe that's one of the good things about for all its awfulness, the virus that maybe we're learning.
I mean, people are cooking more, the gardening more. They're acquiring skills.
I am not acquiring skills and probably decreasing in skills. You know, all the ironing is piling up. I am not going to do ironing. It's just a rule I have. I don't do housework so much now. I will unpack that. What does it mean to you to do housework? I do do housework and I don't say that I enjoy it, but I sort of feel that it's my duty somehow.
I don't see it as my duty at all and I don't want to do it. And I have a cleaning lady, but she's not coming at the moment. I mean, I'm paying her, of course, but she's not coming. And I'm not going to do I think I'll just have to put my knickers on online because you feel that it's not something you want to do.
You don't particularly enjoy it. I don't enjoy it. And I'm not going to do it. It's no good asking me.
Got to quite a real place. All of a sudden you seem to hear me telling you to do it, which is not what I'm doing. I'm not telling you to do any ironing, Miriam.
I'm asking you very politely, what do you suppose it is in you that so resents the idea of being asked or having to do ironing?
I'm lazy to the depths of my being. I'm an old lady now and I have to conserve my energy and I am not going to waste my energy on ironing. I've never known how to do it. I know some people are very good at hiding and find it quite pleasant therapeutic. So they say, yes, well, I'm not going to do it. I'm just piling it up and waiting till Marina can come back.
Makes you quite angry, you know, fear of being told to do ironing. Yes. I think perhaps it's as one gets older, you get tired of pretending that you are other than you are. You just say, I don't really need to give a reason. It's who I am now.
One of the few benefits of age is that you can be yourself good about doing the dishes or loading and unloading the dishwasher.
Well, that's another area of difficulty. Do you do that? I did it last week for the first time because things had got out of hand for the first time.
In. In how long? About three weeks. I thought you were going to say forty years.
No, I'm not Quentin Crisp.
We were talking about L.A. Your sitcom didn't go, but you were working regularly.
Yes. On the whole, I was I did quite a lot of movies. I suppose the movie I'm proudest of was The Age of Innocence with Martin Scorsese. I won my BAFTA best supporting for that, so that was another very big moment in my career. It was wonderful meeting Mr Sarkozy. Is he going to his house in Manhattan and just sitting down and talking to him? And I was completely thrilled to get the part. That was a great moment.
Was he a good collaborator, nice person to work with?
Oh, I thought he was wonderful. Yes, he's very, very intense, totally focused on on the moment. And when he gave you notes, he would whisper them in your ear, away from the others. Very discreet in that way. But he put all his energy, all his focus into the message of the moment that he was giving you. He was intensely concentrated and people were quite frightened of him.
They would say Mr. Scorsese is just crossing the set right now, will be on set in three minutes. And we were all kind of quivering about it. But personally, I found him absolutely delightful. He couldn't have been more charming and delightful.
Have you worked with bad directors?
I probably have, but I'm not sure I can remember who they are. We sort of forget about them. I'm just wondering whether there's a there's something in the art of working with someone.
You can tell that they are at a different level in a higher level. Someone like Scorsese, who is such a venerated and admired director, whether it's palpable while you're on set that he's bringing this.
Yes, I I think it is possible to tell that you're being elevated. You yourself are reaching higher because of the person who's talking to you. Charlie dance was like that when we did Ladies in Lavender, which was an extraordinary experience because I was working with Dame Judi and Dame Maggie Jones, the actor.
Of course, some younger listeners may need help with the references, which is forgive me for interject.
He's still alive and well, is he, Charles Dance? I don't think he is. I never help the younger listeners to me. You do that.
They may have tuned out by now. We probably lost them with Donald Wolfert.
No, he's magical. He's a magical man. And I think he got performances out of the dames better than they've ever given before. I think he's just an astonishing director. You know, when you get somebody like that, you just pull your socks up and you really want to be better. Now, I didn't have that experience with Warren Beatty. I did reds with him. I didn't know you were in Reds, really.
Very few people didn't know I was in Reds because it was a very small part. I was one of the contract featured extras was how they would describe my role. And it was the secretary of the Communist Party. And Warren Beatty was an absolute pain. When I went for the audition, my agent said that he's very busy. So you'll have to go in the lunch hour to his trailer because he was filming at Twickenham at Margaret Studios. So I knocked on the door come in and I opened the door and he was sitting at his desk and he looked me up and down, just up and down quite coolly.
And then he said, Do you fuck? And I said, yes, but not you.
And he said, Oh, why is that? And I said, I'm a lesbian and I fuck girls. And he said, Oh, can I watch? And I said, Now pull yourself together and let's get on with the interview. So he invited me into the trailer and I sat down and he interviewed me and I got the job. It wasn't a great job, but I got it. I've always regretted that I said I fucked girls because I don't fuck girls.
I'm not the one that fucks girls. But anyway, what would have been an accurate way of putting it?
Well, I didn't need to specify. I could have just said I'm a lesbian period.
But I think you were giving as good as you got by dropping your F bomb. You were saying something deeper to do with not being a shrinking violet.
Yes, I was just putting him on notice that I wasn't having any of that sort of recently when I did being Julia in Hungary with his wonderful wife, Annette Bening, who is just durable. And he was there. They took me out for a meal. I said, oh, I'm very pleased you remember me.
And he said, Oh, I remember you. You're a powerhouse. And I like that. I thought that was a real compliment.
Other than that, though, afterwards you got along with him, OK? I mean, that doesn't mean to him, really. No, he irritated me terribly because he wanted us to just do things just kind of on the spur of the moment he would call out Miriam and I would. Turn around and he would photograph that for the film, and I say to him, one just told me to turn round and I will, but then make it into a kind of extempore thing.
I'm an actress. I can pretend to turn around. And so I don't have time for that. I need to do it. And so I got very fed up with him one day and I moved at him. I took down my knickers and I just made my ass at your bare bottom, you bad bum.
And how did he react to that? He probably quite liked it.
I think he was surprised, but not not I'm delighted nowadays that would be inappropriate.
You know, this sort of metoo moment that we've lived through, do you see that as a helpful therapeutic correction? And when you look back, are you surprised by what was tolerated?
I think it is a wonderful thing that we got through that and that people can't get away with that sort of behavior. Look, the problem is that men are led by their dicks.
They just are I don't care who it is that every single man is alive. They are really basically only interested in having it off. That's what they want. Doesn't matter who it is, married, not married, anybody. That's what I believe. And I believe that we have to stamp on that and not let it happen, force men to behave themselves.
And you are basing your observation on being in the world, being alive and having eyes.
Yes. And why should it be stomped on?
Because it doesn't take into account the feelings of the other person. And I think in this world, you've got to think about other people. No man is an island.
That's what this virus tells us. No man is an island. We are all part of each other's worlds and we've got to realize that and take stock of it. Men have had it absolutely all the way, all the way until me two. And then there was a sudden screeching halt and they thought, oh, shit, things are changing. We better pull up our socks and zip up our trousers. Shall we talk? I know I've used a lot of your time.
How is your energy? Oh, what do you want? I want to go around the block or we haven't touched politics.
As we all know, at the last election, the issue of anti-Semitism and the allegation of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party became a big subject.
I remember seeing your video quite close to the election date saying that you supported Corbyn and didn't view him as anti-Semitic, something along those lines.
And nevertheless, I think many Jewish people, certainly Jewish friends, expressed to me that they really didn't like Corbyn and he made them very nervous. You must have had friends who had the same feeling about him and about the Labour Party that they were really troubled by the idea of him in office.
Oh, yes, I know that Corbyn is not an anti-Semite. I think he was a dreadful leader. I think he handled it very badly. And I thought that he should have resigned immediately and got out of the party and left it clear for people to pick up the bits and get on with it. I still vote Labour and I voted Labour. And I think that England is an anti-Semitic country, but the real bedrock of anti-Semitism is in the Tory Party and in the shires.
I'm very surprised that off with England at the moment, I think it's become a nasty little country.
You mentioned that you think England is anti-Semitic or the risk of sounding naive. How do you come to that conclusion?
From a very early age? I was aware of being Jewish. I was aware that this was not a popular thing at school. They said you killed Christ.
And I remember my parents had to go and see the headmistress about that. I haven't faced a lot of anti-Semitism personally, and I take great pride in saying I'm Jewish, forcing people to accept the fact, forcing people to deal with it. But I think that every English person is brought up with the idea that Jews are not to be trusted, very clever, greedy and vulgar. And an awful lot of Jews may be, but then so may a lot of other people.
I think it is a prejudice which is deep in the English consciousness. And I find it troubling and disgusting. And I think it is different in France. I don't think French people think that, for example. And I think that the actions of Israel in their treatment of the Palestinians inflames people's anti-Semitism and gives it a reason so that they can pretend that they're anti and design and designers, but really it's being anti Jewish and they do conflate the two.
You've described yourself as an anti Zionist, is that correct? Yes. And there are those who would say, well, to be anti Zionist is itself anti-Semitic, because you are correct me if I'm wrong, denying the right of a Jewish state to exist.
I don't mind a Jewish state existing, but I don't want it to exist when it belongs to some other people. And it was taken from them. I had, by the way, a very unpleasant event. I attended a Zoome Passover. I attended to actually both cousins and at one of the Passover as a guest said, I'm so sorry, but I see that Miriam Margolyes has joined us and I will therefore leave as I abhor her anti-Israel views, which she regularly adds publicly and would not wish to share this beautiful Seder with her todora rabbi for a wonderful evening.
That was rather upsetting. I didn't like that. Had you ever had anything like that before? I been in a play in North London and there'd been a demonstration against me calling me a fascist because of my position on in Israel.
And I'm very aware when I go to North London, I live in the south London, when I go across the river, across the Great Divide, and I journey up through the Stock Hill and Muswell Hill and so forth, I am conscious of the hardening stares of dislike, the pointing fingers and so on. It's not nice. I hate it because I don't want to be at war with my own people, but I just can't cope with the beastly things they're doing in Israel.
And I want the people, the Jewish people, especially here, to see what's happening. Why don't they go there and see what the Palestinians have to cope with how they live?
Have you been over there to see the occupied territories? Oh, yes, many times.
And I saw terrible things there that had been done to the Palestinians by the settlers. Principally, we should share that land with the Palestinians. They were there at the same time as we were there. Many of them were there first. And we are blaming them for the shocking deeds of the Nazis.
And for those who would say, well, we are a millennia old religious community and the original the sort of founding faith that in a way birthed Christianity and Islam. And so is it so much to ask that we be allowed to have that territory and protect it against these other nations that may not wish us the best?
That's all very well. Just one small thing. People lived there before them who owned those houses until those fields and to whom that land belonged. And you can't just turf them out, the country has to be shared and it will not be a Jewish state anymore, but it will be a state where people can live together in peace. And I think that that is infinitely preferable. But that's you know, it can make people behave badly if people get very exercised about this.
Doesn't it speak to this idea, which you mentioned, anti-Semitism in England or in the UK, and there's a sense of almost existential insecurity that some Jewish people feel. You know, the idea that a population can turn on them, that's borne out in some ways by history, you know, across Europe. And that's expressed as a sort of feeling the Jewish people need a space where they can count on one another to protect one another and no longer be victims.
I think that is probably how a lot of people think. You see, in some senses, Hitler did win because he changed us all. All us Jews have been changed forever. My life has been totally scarred by the Holocaust. I did not suffer personally, and nor did my parents, nor did any close relatives of ours. Nonetheless, the fact of the Holocaust has been a shadow, a terrible shadow across my entire life. And I think nearly all Jews would say that every time I go in a train, every time I have a shower, which is every day, I think about those people and I am torn with horror and rage and pity for them.
And that makes me the more determined that I will never visit such horrors on another human being.
Do you think there's anything in the idea that Israel is held to a higher standard? This is something you hear, you know, that China or Syria are spoken about less than Israel.
Yes, I do think that that is so. I think we're an easier target.
Sometimes my printer has a life of its own and suddenly does something.
Is it excreting something? It is not.
If it were, I would hold myself responsible. But it is just recalibrating, I think, which is something that maybe we should all do from time to time.
It would be nice if we could upgrade our software. Yes. Update. I need one of those the with a message saying nearly done. Is she getting fed up? She said, are you finished with two question marks and no kiss? So that's the giveaway. Also see if that and send her a kiss for me and see if that frightens it.
Um, I think that it is true that Israel comes in for more flak than possibly countries like Iraq, Syria, the Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia, China, China, you know, because there are places and regimes which deserve opprobrium to the same extent that Israel does and don't get it. And that's because there is something secretly pleasing about oppressing Jews and showing Jews to be awful and people take pleasure in it.
I could talk more about that, but I don't want to weary your wife and my wife.
We started a bit. Well, I started a bit trivial. My mind was in the gutter, which is a place it was.
I was disappointed in you for that. I get say that I am an old lady. I am, you know, a year and a half of eighteen. And I don't want to be thinking about my country all the time. I want to think higher thoughts. And you dragged me down.
I did. I plead guilty and I apologize.
But at the same time, he was of a piece with a thesis that I was setting out to do with the gift you have for a sort of incisive and salutary outrageousness.
But that being the case, let's leave that behind us. It seems like a long time ago now. With that, let's invite Paul and Catherine back into the conversation. Yes. I mean, they're still there. They are still there.
Have we covered the subjects that you will be able to make a programme with? That's the thing.
We covered everything on my list. Well, except the criminal cartel. It was working out of your house.
And that's another story there. You've been listening to Grounded with Louis through. My guest today has been actor and outspoken activist Miriam Margolyes. Remember, there are more conversations in the series Just Search for Grounded with Louis through on BBC Sounds and subscribe. This has been a mind houseplant. Action for BBC Radio four put together remotely by Paul Kobrick and Catherine Mannan. I find quantum mechanics confusing. Hello, I'm Brian Cox. And I'm Robert Gates, and the Infinite Monkey Cage is back for a new series.
And we are dealing with so many fantastic ideas. And even better, no one that we've asked has got an alibi for getting out of doing the show. So in this series, we have got one of the first episode alone. We took about the end of the universe with Brian Greene, Katie Mack, Eric Idle and Steve Martin. Yes, you heard that Steve Martin and Eric Idle are joining us anyway. Enjoy the new series. We're having a fantastic time making it, Brian, particularly enjoying it because he's hundreds of miles away from me and they're just using technology to create some sense of proximity.
That's the great thing about it all.
That's the cage on BBC sounds now, but not now. I mean, there's no unique definition of now from physics. Simultaneous is relative. Some BBC sounds.
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