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IMDb file: Vanessa Redgrave reflects on a film career that includes blockbusters and period pieces

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Vanessa Redgrave in “The Aspern Papers.”
(Summerstorm Entertainment)

Vanessa Redgrave has crafted an impressive career since beginning as a theater actress in the 1960s. Redgrave, 81, has starred in everything from massive blockbusters like “Mission: Impossible” to period dramas like “Howards End,” accumulating Oscars, Emmys and Golden Globes along the way. She continues to perform on the stage (she’s currently in “The Inheritance” in London) and is interested in projects that give her the opportunity to work with “intelligent” directors, a trait she considers of highest importance in her collaborators.

Redgrave’s latest film, “The Aspern Papers,” opening Jan. 11, is an adaptation of Henry James’ novella and also stars her daughter Joely Richardson (in the role Redgrave played in a 1984 London stage revival). Being part of the film offered Redgrave an opportunity to revisit the story from a new angle in a new role. “I hadn’t played the part before,” she notes. “I didn’t know the character before, and it’s quite a different thing seeing other actresses play a role than playing it yourself.”

Here Redgrave looks back on some of her most pivotal projects, including “Atonement,” “Howards End” and “Julia,” as well as some of her more fun movies, like “Letters to Juliet.”

“The Aspern Papers,” Juliana Bordereau (2018)

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“I first came across this story when my father [Michael Redgrave] wrote a play [in 1959, based on the novel]. I thought it was a terrific play, and then I convinced some West End producers to do it with me, and I got Christopher Reeve to play the American writer and another wonderful actress called Wendy Hiller. That was a big success here in London, and I always retained a love for that story. It’s even more remarkable that it’s based on true events. This is a huge, rich bed filled with compost and plants of different generations, which I’ve been involved with. Joely got me involved with this production, which was directed by Julian Landais, and I was so interested because I’d played Miss Tina in two theater productions. So I fell for it, and I’m very glad I did.”

“Call the Midwife,” Mature Jennifer Worth (2012-2018)

Vanessa Redgrave in the “Call the Midwife Holiday Special”
Vanessa Redgrave guest stars on the "Call the Midwife Holiday Special" on KOCE.
(Laurence Cendrowicz /)

“I hugely admire the producers, Pippa Harris and Rosemary Tricklebank. Their attention to detail in the social history of giving birth is terrific.”

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“Letters to Juliet,” Claire (2010)

“This studio film is really delightful. Amanda Seyfried is a darling to work with. And I had the good chance to get married [on-screen] to my true-life husband, Franco Nero.”

“Atonement,” Older Briony (2007)

“Ian McEwan is a great writer, and it’s a great novel. And, as always, the director was important. Saoirse Ronan played the younger version of my character and she’s a superb actress. Joe Wright is an extremely remarkable director and young man. It was exciting working with him. He’s very intelligent in his thoughts, about his scenes, how to direct spatially. There’s a lot more to the work of a director — at least the great ones — than most people who love film think. His choices of rhythms and movements were amazing. When I find a director who is not only extremely aware, I really connect.”

“Deep Impact,” Robin Lerner (1998)

“I auditioned for this film at Steven Spielberg’s studios. I adored Mimi Leder — a very intelligent woman and a very warm-hearted director. I also admired Téa Leoni. It is sad and strange to reflect on the fact that in the year we filmed this story, I thought of the film as belonging to the science-fiction genre of cinema. These last few years, we have seen our abuse of nature and the Earth result in terrifying tidal waves.”

“Mission: Impossible,” Max (1996)

“The reason I wanted to be part of this is very simple and can be answered in one sentence: It showed a British villain. That’s what made me really want to do it. It’s fun to play a British villain, because there’s a lot of them, but no one makes films about them. Or they weren’t at that time.”

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“Howards End,” Ruth Wilcox (1992)

‘Howard’s End’
Vanessa Redgrave in "Howard's End."
(Derrick Santini / Sony Pictures Classics)

“It’s one of the best novels in the English language that has ever been written. That was the first thing. It wasn’t the first time I worked with James Ivory — the first time was ‘The Bostonians’ — and he’s a very intelligent director. I prize intelligence. It’s very rare. Apart from the sheer expertise of knowing how to make a film — which is very important and something very few directors have — James Ivory is an outstanding director. I put him on a pedestal. I look up to him. He’s unerring in his choices, and I’ve learned a great deal from him. I feel very lucky that I’ve been in more than one of his films. Merchant Ivory were a phenomenon that I weep for, and ‘Howards End’ was, of course, a Merchant Ivory film. So you had E.M. Forster, the greatest English writer of the 20th century, and Ismail [Merchant] and James and a fantastic cast. This is a bunch of superlatives that was absolutely so real.”

“Julia,” Julia (1977)

“I treasure the days I spent with [director] Fred [Zinnemann], both before and during and after we made this film. I could write or speak for a long, long time about Fred as a director and as a man. I will tell you about his words to me and Jane Fonda the evening before we shot our scene in the cafe. The scene was not a long one and it was very, very well written by Alvin Sargent. Fred told both Jane and me to make as many cuts in our individual texts as we could. The next morning, we gave Fred our cuts, which the script supervisor made notes of. As far as I remember, Fred accepted both Jane’s and my cuts. Then we filmed the scene — very little discussion. In his final edit with Walter Murch, Fred cut the scene to something like the barest minimum. All this was — and still is — for me, a master class in filmmaking.”

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