Miriam Margolyse Bubbles On and Off ‘Innocence’ Set : Movie: As the formidable dowager Mrs. Manson Mingott, the British actress brings verve and audacity to Martin Scorsese’s film.


Miriam Margolyse blows through the trussed Victorian restraint of Martin Scorsese’s “The Age of Innocence” like a crisp English breeze. As formidable dowager Mrs. Manson Mingott, British actress Margolyse, ringleted and surrounded by her beloved Pomeranians, brings verve and audacity to the film and to the New York society it paints. Upon recovering from a stroke, for example, Mrs. Mingott, rather than retire into ladylike convalescence, organizes a party. “People were expecting a funeral,” she says with a hoot of laughter, “we must entertain them.”

“I had read the book and I saw in my mind’s eye how I wanted Mrs. Mingott to be,” says Margolyse, 52, a stage actress whose star turn as grandmother to cousins and rivals Michelle Pfeiffer and Winona Ryder is bringing her warm notice among U.S. audiences. “When I asked (Martin Scorsese), shall I be more serious, he said, ‘Absolutely not. I want her to bubble.’ ”

For the record:

12:00 AM, Oct. 13, 1993 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday October 13, 1993 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 11 Column 5 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 18 words Type of Material: Correction
Misspelled name-- An article in Tuesday’s Calendar section misspelled the name of “Age of Innocence” actress Miriam Margolyes.

No small feat in the padded contraption that transformed Margolyse into the corpulent Mrs. Mingott. “Fat as I am,” says the plump actress, “I am not fat enough for Mrs. Mingott. So they had to design this kind of bodysuit which they then buttoned me into. It was such fun putting it on that the dressers used to compete as to who would dress me because we all died laughing.” There were drawbacks, however: “It meant that I couldn’t go to the loo.”

Even before filming began, Margolyse found an unorthodox way to break the ice among cast and crew. During her makeup test, which came at the end of a very long day, she took pains to break the tired tension on the set. “They had started at 6 o’clock in the morning,” she says, “and I was the very last person. I did what I often do to show my appreciation: I made a small speech. I said I was very grateful because they’d all been so kind to stay so late, that the best thing I could do to show my appreciation ‘is to show you my breasts.’ So I did.”


The response? “It cheered them up no end. I think most crews are breast people.”

Back home in England, Margolyse prefers to focus on her stage work. A life-long fascination with Charles Dickens resulted in her one-woman show, “Woomen, Lovely Woomen,” based on female Dickens characters, which she presented in 1991 in London’s West End and the Tiffany Theatre in Los Angeles (she was nominated for an Olivier Award, the British equivalent of the Tony, for best actress for the performance). She also appeared in “Orpheus Descending” with Vanessa Redgrave for Sir Peter Hall in London in 1988. On Oct. 20 she opens, again under Hall’s direction, in “She Stoops to Conquer” at the Queens Theatre in the West End.

Margolyse first came to the attention of American moviegoers with her portrayal of the aging coquettish spinster Flora Finching in “Little Dorrit,” for which she won the Los Angeles Critics Circle Award for best supporting actress in 1988. She has had small roles in “I Love You to Death,” “Pacific Heights,” “The Butcher’s Wife” and, in an uncredited but pivotal part as the clairvoyant, in Kenneth Branagh’s “Dead Again.”

“ ‘The Age of Innocence’ is a very critical portrait of that society, obviously,” she says. “They are not approved of, but one does approve of Mrs. Mingott ultimately.”


Margolyse has a realistic perception of how she comes across on-screen. “It’s not that I have no ego. Of course I always want to look as good as possible. But as an actor, if you’re meant to look a certain way for a certain part, then you must do it. So I don’t mind if they make my hair gray, or give me several more chins. On the other hand, I have terrible nails. I’m nervous and I bite them, so they gave me false nails as Mrs. Mingott because she wouldn’t be nervous, would she?”

While Margolyse is enjoying the reception of her performance, the actress, who swims daily for fitness, admits having one small concern. “I just hope when people see the mountainous Mrs. Mingott, they don’t say, ‘But what else can she do?’ ” says Margolyse with a smile. “They may think I can’t walk.”