What really irks Diana Rigg is someone saying, "Why, you're intelligent!"
The British star feels the remark typifies all too common opinion about theater folk in general.
"The establishment still thinks of us as low-lifes," she says. "I find it a great aggravation."
"If you are an actress you're expected to be (pause for precision)...different. They always imagine you are stupid, vain. Well, we are intelligent. The nature of our work demands it."
Miss Rigg has been aptly displaying her own brainy blend of teamwork, discipline and emotive agility in Broadway's current success, "The Misanthrope," a role that earned her a Tony nomination.
The Moliere comedy is only the 37-year-old's second local stage appearance, but her renown is nationwide thanks to copious television exercises. There was "The Avengers" series, in which she was retribution with a sexy judo chop; then she was a swinging fashion designer in short-lived "Diana" stint; most recently, a serenely cloistered nun in "In This House of Brede." In one of many movies she was James Bond's wife.
English stage portrayals have ranged from far-out freakiness in "Jumpers" to Eliza Doolittle, Lady Macbeth and, coming up this summer, Phaedra, a most troubled queen. In "The Misanthrope" she is a flirty belle who has enraptured a stiff-necked idealist.
"They've all been very deliberate choices," says lissome Diana who avoids typecasting as vehemently as she deplores public myopia about the profession's merit.
"I don't think any one role has been nearest my own personality," she says. "You use a portion of yourself that stresses a particular part, and it's a different portion every time."
Miss Rigg carefully tries to avoid letting too much of herself show through during an interview. She only reads what critics say about her work "long after it matters" and professes "never" to look at stories about herself.
The basic Rigg background was hardly conducive to ultimate emergence as one of the theater's most versatile talents.
She was born in Yorkshire, carried off in infancy with her parents and brother to India where her father was involved in railroad construction. On her 7th birthday out there she was taken to a movie, but didn't see another movie until five years later back home. Most of the interim was spent in a rather frosty English Quaker boarding school.
"I came to theater through poetry and reading," she says, but can't pinpoint just when or how the smell of greasepaint became an irresistible lure.
"To say in Yorkshire at the age of 15 that one wanted to be an actress stamped one as a scarlet woman, anatomatically," Miss Rigg asserts. Despite obstacles, however, she trained for two years at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and made her professional bow at 19. A few years later she joined the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-upon-Avon.
She is now with the National Company of Great Britain where "the standards are very high but you don't earn very much. So I intersperse that with a few more lucrative jobs like TV and films. You have to consider things economically."
She plans ahead on a short term basis - "I don't think that in 15 years I'd like to be here in this status or that or whatever. My ambition centers on what I'm going to do next. I'm already studying Phaedra." Miss Rigg lists reading as a favorite avocation, with three books or so under simultaneous perusal. Antiques are another fascination, also travel.
"I need to be alone a lot," she says. Introspection ranks high. Her marriage to Menachem Gueffen, an Israeli artist, ended in separation after tumultuous months.
"You have to be realistic about yourself. That way you avoid frustration, by just being honest."