Krige Career Takes a Conspicuous Turn

Times Arts Editor

Some first film appearances are more memorable than others. In 1981, a then-unknown actress named Alice Krige played a beguiling young musical comedy star who won the heart of Ben Cross in “Chariots of Fire.” She was central to the youthful verve and optimism of that remarkable movie, a career-launching portrayal.

In what may be her most conspicuous and testing role since “Chariots of Fire,” Krige plays a widow with two young children who marries Jeff Bridges in “See You in the Morning,” Alan Pakula’s study of family ties--tangled, untangled, retied--which opens here April 21.

Krige is a 34-year-old South African who attended Rhodes University, intending to become a psychologist. One term she took an elective course in acting and soon decided to rethink the whole matter of career.


Her supportive family sent her off to the Central School of Drama in London, whose alumni include Vanessa Redgrave and Ian Holm, her co-star in “Chariots of Fire” and the spy going back into the cold in the present PBS series “Game, Set, Match.”

After graduating in 1979, she played Lucie Manett in a BBC production of “A Tale of Two Cities.” One of her colleagues from Central had gone on to help with the casting on “Chariots” and recommended Krige to producer David Puttnam and director Hugh Hudson. The value of an education was never clearer.

Her success in the film led to her first miniseries, “Ellis Island,” in which she played an Irish lass, co-starring with Faye Dunaway and Richard Burton (with whom, to her regret, she had no scenes).

She made her first American film, “Ghost Story,” which was also released in 1981 and in which she appeared with Melvyn Douglas, John Houseman, Fred Astaire, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Patricia Neal.

The company (enchanting, she says) spent a month at the Gideon Putnam hotel in Saratoga, N.Y., in zero-degree weather but waiting much of the time for some necessary but nonexistent snow.

Reversing the usual pattern, Krige temporarily abandoned the promising movie-TV career to join the Royal Shakespeare Company where she won a best newcomer award from the London critics for her role in the RSC revival of Shaw’s “Arms and the Man.”

“I learned more at the RSC, trying to reach audiences of 1,500, than I ever had before,” Krige said. “I realized how little I knew or understood about acting--realized I was only at the beginning of a process of learning that never stops.”

She hadn’t intended to become an actress, although she had trained as a ballet dancer before she went to the university. Even when the idea of acting became more absorbing, she says, “I didn’t think I could do it. I still haven’t made up my mind about that.”

But she has continued to find important roles. In “Barfly” she was an up-market literary editor who falls under the spell of Mickey Rourke as the down-market poet. She was Bathsheba to Richard Gere’s King David in the film of the same name, and Vanessa Redgrave’s fiancee before the sex-change operation in “Second Serve” on television. She did “Wallenberg” opposite Richard Chamberlain for television and recently played Mary Shelley in the film, “Haunted Summer.”

“See You in the Morning” was a unique experience because of the extended rehearsal time that Pakula, who wrote and directed, spent with his cast.

“We lived and rehearsed in the house (where much of the shooting was later done) for 3 1/2 weeks. I cooked in the kitchen. We slept on the set. We made it ours.”

Pakula and the cast, which also included Farrah Fawcett, David Dukes and Frances Sternhagen among its principals, analyzed scenes, characters and relationships at vast length.

“Alan said that when he worked with other people’s scripts he felt a great responsibility to the words. But he said that this time we didn’t have to worry about the writer, we could toss the script out the window.”

The danger in such preparation is over-preparation and a loss of spontaneity. “But,” Krige says, “when you have that ease with your character you can take it a step further.” Occasionally Pakula and Bridges would have a whispered conference and come up with an unexpected line, likely to draw an unexpected reaction.

“So we had, I think, a wonderful combination of rehearsal and spontaneity,” she says. It is not always so. Doing television work, “Your head is on the block all the time, and those retakes you’d like to do you can’t do.”

One of the frustrations of the actor’s life, she has found, is that you can’t really be sure how well you’ve done. “I’ve come off stage thinking, ‘Well, you really blew it tonight,’ and been told it was magical.

“We should be walking the knife edge all the time, trying to take the audience totally by surprise.”

She continues to think of herself as a working actress rather than as a star, although the roles increase. She would not like stardom to come between her and the audience, by coming between her and the free choice of work. The positive side is that more scripts come along. “But there’s not such a lot of wonderful material out there, if you want to be challenged, and acting should never stop being a challenge.”

Pakula’s film is a love poem to love, marriage and family. Just after production was completed, Krige herself married actor-director Paul Schoolman. It was, in a sense, her early review of the picture.