Diana Rigg is one of the few actresses who have managed to override the double standard in show business which labels men who break the accepted codes of behaviour as hell-raisers and women as No Better Than They Should Be. She has remained in some way above criticism where others have been dunned, by being both restrained and dignified. Indeed some would say that there is both in her acting and in her manner a slightly forbidding, head-girl quality.
Her Emma Peel in "The Avengers" threatened to imbue black-leather apparel with Weybridge-like respectability; her naked scene in "Abelard and Heloise," originally headlines as "Diana Rigg's Four Minutes of Love with Keith Michell" lost impetus when she explained coolly and rationally, it's importance to the text. (One myopic critic says that since it was played at about two candle-power anyway, he only knew it was taking place because there was a pause in the chocolate bar rustling.) And even in the days when stars were supposed to live with their husbands rather than other people's, she would in reasonable tones explain the philosophy which led her to live with a married man whom she had no ultimate wish to marry.
At 33, Miss Rigg is a serious woman who has little time for pleasantries or flippancy when there is work to be done. She had arrived in a restaurant from the National Theatre, where she is rehearsing Tom Stoppard's play "Jumpers," sat down, lit a cigar, and having rejected the menu, snapped out an order to the head waiter for just an "omlette aux fines herbes - baveuse."
She was, of course, one of the first Shakespearean players who became a television star and returned to the theatre as a box office draw. She hopes she may now seduce a portion of the public who, having liked her on television, will perhaps for the first time buy a couple of tickets to see her on the stage. She regards her film career as something of a damp squib; something she has never been able to believe in, although I'd have thought there was something finite about having been paid £50,000 for your first film by playing Mrs James Bond.
"I doubt," she says, "that I will ever be any good in films. I gestate very slowly and need about six weeks' rehearsal on whatever I'm at. I do not have that instant emotional switch-on and as a fairly private individual I find it disruptive and depressing to work with technicians at close quarters who are scratching themselves and looking at their watches in anticipation of the next coffee break." Nevertheless, George C. Scott persuaded her to make a film with him called "Hospital" which has been released in the United States but not yet here.
She is often dubbed as one of those Thinking Man's Actresses, in the good company of G. Jackson, J. Suzman, I. Worth, and V. Redgrave. This does now, of course, displease her, except that she sees in it the implication that most actresses are stupid, which she regards as an old-fashioned generalisation. None the less she is hard put to it to offer many more names to the above list and muses that actresses were fortunate in having the opportunity to read a great deal and to discuss with intellects often far superior to their own. You either took that opportunity or you didn't.
She is bored by femininity, and bored by sameness of herself. She prefers the company of men, since straight talking women whom she admires she does not often meet. She might, in fact, be described as romantic. She has elected to love but not to marry: to make love the ideal but not marriage the justification of it, rejecting the questionable economic or emotional security of a more formal arrangement.
Her own arrangement has been to live with the director Philip Saville for the last eight years. Four years ago she had told me that the thing people hate to be confronted with was the fact that two people can stop loving each other. She herself was not afraid of this because "The minute you become afraid of this, you start accessorising you life with the sort of 'symbols of the love forever syndrome' which spells insecurity." If you could, it was much better to realise what changeable creatures we are, and that was why she had chosen to make a daily commitment to a man which involved no vows about eternity which she could not believe in. She refused to make any promise she just might not be able to keep. Actually, she got marriage out of her system by the early age of 17, when what she described as her conditioning was bearing very heavily down upon her and she became engaged.
Now she would not entertain marriage because her priorities were different from what she had believed, at the height of teenage passion, that a ceremony would unquestionably follow. Her father made her choose between being a student and getting married, since he said it was impossible to do both, and gave her, she says quite by accident, "a guiltless approach to relationships outside marriage." Her parents were slightly baffled when she told them she was living with a married man but they chose to understand her rather than lose her. Her father "improvised a lot," she recalls, which is all she would ask the generation before herself to do.
For years she had seriously thought out the matter of having children. She is quite sure she wants them. But she is equally sure the time to conceive is not now. With considerable care she feels her way toward what she wants to say. "For a long time I believed that I and every woman should have babies; that they would come as the natural result of marriage or a relationship. I don't believe that any more. I believe it comes from allowing yourself to become pregnant."
She believes absolutely in the mind controlling a woman's biology, so that her body has no choice but to conceive. "And that is the moment I am waiting for. When my mind dictates it. People talk about the population explosion in England...if you didn't have a number of very ignorant women who believed in a child or impregnantion being the inexorable result of fucking...if they thought they had a choice - up there (she jabs angrily at her head with her forefinger) - I am certain that there would be a bodily rejection, like there is of 'flu. I'm certain of that."
When the moment comes she will, she thinks, "just go towards it. And give myself totally to it. I have this ideal of not working and growing big-bellied in the sun..." She says this with a great warmth but checks herself and cracks back with the words "but I'm probably talking absolute bullshit. I've never done it so it may be idealistic nonsense." But one knows she knows it isn't.
How does she regard her role? Well it certainly isn't that of a mistress, a word she regards quite out dated. She is uxorious to a degree and the sort of living together she is talking about "is living together with someone which has dirty clothing involved."
But what about later on, when she is 40, 45 and 50? Would she consider marriage even then? After all, never is as strong a word as forever.
For the first time she gives that famous mane-tossing mannerism, draws heavily on her cigar, and coolly blowing out the smoke, announces: "When I am 50 and worried about the future I might. For entirely the wrong reasons and not to the man with whom I live now because I can't imagine that sort of compromise with him. Better a total stranger. Or I shall become a courageous and possibly very dirty old woman."