What's a nice Shakespearean actress, women's-libber, anti-interview, independent, classy lady like Diana Rigg doing in Hollywood? Well, for openers, she's showing an altogether new side of her personality.
Diana's starring in NBC-TV's Diana, in which she plays a sophisticated, divorced, English woman who comes to America to work as a fashion decorator for a big department store - and gets into a whole mess of happenings while sharing her brother's apartment with a multitude of his "friends." Seems her brother, (who's on a safari) not only gave her the key to his flat, but also gave a few dozen sets to a passel of his pals. It makes for fun and frolicking from bedroom to bath. Okay so far. Nothing too far out of the ordinary for an actress.
And NBC has put the pressure (calmly but firmly) on their new star to give interviews. Again, nothing extraordinary. Unless, of course, you consider the way Diana Rigg sometimes gives interviews:
She asked one photographer for whom she was posing, if he "preferred breasts or bottoms?" The lenser, shooting in color, turned a few shades himself.
"NBC insists that I wear a bra on the show - but that's on the show," she told him with a stiff smile, hands on hips, jaw jutted out to there. "I'm not wearing one now, and my sweater is a bit thin. I'm also wearing a mini skirt, and you see, I only have to bend at a shot angle and you'll get a good view of my bottom. That's more than they will see on the show. Are you ready?
The photographer settles for something in between.
So it's no wonder I had my own trepidations about interviewing Diana. I wound my way to the house high in the Beverly Hills that she and her brand new husband, Israeli artist, Menachem Gueffen, have rented, remembering a recent warning that "Diana hates interviews that probe into her personal life. Don't ask embarrassing questions." I clutch my mini-pad, hoping she'd think I was only going to take mini-notes. As if to add to my fears, a huge dog was right in front of the door. But as I rang the bell, he licked my foot and sat back until Diana herself emerged.
"This dog has adopted us," she explained as she gently pushed him out the door before she closed it. "I don't know where he came from, but I hope his owners will find him soon, or he'll find them. He's been here for over a week and we're growing more and more attached to this beautiful devil. We've checked the ads and advertised. It's very sad," she said, as she gave him a few more pats on the head, and a bone to chew.
Well, if she's kind to animals, maybe she's really kind to interviewers. She led us into a large living room, filled with furniture left by the owner, British director Guy Green. Overstuffed sofas, huge comfortable leather chairs, long heavy tables around which are lots of plump pillows to sit on. Only the white walls are totally theirs, covered end to end with the paintings by Menachem, all of them massive and vivid; the artist obviously has a passion for women in large hats and lots of flowers. There are some graphics, some abstracts, but it's the human form and body that dominates. It could almost have been a "showing".
The room overlooks a swimming pool, surrounded by trees, bushes, statuary, and the usual pool accoutrements. It's also completely private - ideal for skinny-dipping, one of the Gueffens' favorite pasttimes.
Diana is dressed in wine-colored slacks, beige sweater and lots of chains. She moves with agility, almost floating over to Menachem while he mixes a cocktail, and after being introduced, leaves. He seems quiet, unassuming, and not the type of man one would expect Diana to end her bachelor girl status for after all those years.
I thought I would get things straight off the bat. "Is it true you really dislike interviews?" I asked Ms. Rigg.
"Yes," she said, sitting crosslegged on one of the huge leather pillows, sipping her drink, lighting a long cigarette. "The only time I really don't mind them is when I have a product to plug. I think then some form of interview is necessary and important. It helps sell the product - in my case, my work, and currently, of course, my new series for American television. But I have always resented anyone prying into my personal affairs. I feel that is my business and shouldn't concern anyone else."
Her "personal affairs" which may or may not have concerned anyone at all, centered around an eight year relationship with Philip Saville, the English actor-director. That's a long time live-in romance, even by today's standards, and it does seem unusual that it ended so bitterly. And unusual, too, that Diana, only a short while after the breaskup, jumped so whole heartedly into marriage.
"The 'other', naturally, is definitely over. Definitely over," is all she would say. "And now I am married. Ten years ago I was a lot different than I am now. What I did then and during that time is what I wanted to do, and I have no regrets. Now I am taking a stab at marriage. I have never tried it before, so I thought I would. It's as simple as that."
But her marriage, it seems, is not exactly "as simple as that". The romance, even Diana admits, was constantly laced with stormy battles. In fact, one time, when she accompanied Menachem to Israel where he was having a showing, one of their battles ended up with his packing all her clothes into a suitcase and throwing it out their penthouse window, and Diana - almost - along with it.
She had to giggle. "That's all true. Thank God it was a time - very early morning - when there was no one down below. Menachem is a very strong and dominating man - he means business. Perhaps this is what I need in a man. I have been very independent all my life, and did pretty much as I pleased, but now what I need is a marriage and all the living and life that goes with it.
"After my break-up (with Saville) I was footloose, and I liked that. Menachem and I met at a party in London, and there was an immediate mutual attraction. But at the time I wasn't about to become involved with anyone on a serious basis. But the more we dated, the more involved I got. Five months later, I guess, I was ready to give into his - shall we say, maybe, chauvenistic - demand that I 'marry him or else'. So I married him." She laughed.
"With two such strong personalities in one family, how do you intend to ever get anything settled - especially about religion?" I asked.
"We are two strong personalities" Diana agreed, "and I don't expect everything to be perfect at all times. Right now everything is marvelous, and Menachem has taught me a lot. I do intend to study the Jewish religion, but that does not mean that I will totally convert. I do want more understanding of it, and so I will take courses in the orthodox faith. And we want our children to be brought up in their father's faith.
"My getting married has pleased my mother to no end," she laughed on. "She could hardly wait to get all the legal procedures necessary when I told her I was getting married. She acts as my secretary, and is with us here now, but she would like nothing better than to be a grandmother."
Diana first blew American minds on television as Mrs. Emma Peel in The Avengers. The part was natural for her. Although she was born in England and raised in India, she showed an early spark of independence that people don't usually associate with proper British young ladies. She became interested in acting while still attending the fashionable Fulneck Girls' School, and later studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art - specializing mostly in classical art and "elegant movements."
But when she first auditioned for small parts, her height - 5'9" - was always a drawback. The leading men were always too short. So Diana split - to fashion modeling, which at least, was somewhat lucrative. She never gave up the idea of an acting career though, and was constantly on the lookout for parts opposite tall leading men. Finally her talent grew taller than her body and she was signed to a five-year contract with the Royal Shakespeare Company - which led to such classics as Ondine, Becket, The Devils, and A Midsummer Night's Dream, and subsequently to Abelard and Heloise, which was received with critical acclaim.
When I mentioned that the main complaint the critics had about the play was that Diana and Keith Michell (Abelard) was were nide, and that it seemed to have been done for shock value, she said, "I would go nude again if I thought it were right. Abelard and Heloise must have been some kind of joke to some sill audiences as well as to some silly critics. Did they expect me to have three breasts, and Keith three thighs, or whatever? We are experienced actors, and our nude scene was part of the story.
"I am not ashamed of my body, and if showing it to an audience is important to the meaning of the play, then why not? What's more important than your body is your mind, and whether you are doing your job - whatever it is - well." Her body, though, is very important at the moment for her new series. Diana is wearing fashionable and expensive clothes in her role of fashion coordinator, clothes that make her sexy.
The British accent sags a bit as Diana lights another cigarette. "Clothes have never been my 'bag', actually. I've never been one to long for fashionable, expensive or 'in' clothes. Mostly I am very content comfortable slacks, sweaters, shirts, like what I'm wearing. But I do want to look well on the show. That's part of it, although I feel confined to having to wear a bra all the time. What I'd really like to do is an American western, where I can wear tight jeans, open shirt - real cowgirl garb. I did Shakespeare for years and I love it, and I want to go on doing classical parts. But for years it has been my desire to do a western, possibly a series.
"First I have to see what will happen with my current fling. If the series is not renewed, it really won't bother me too much, although I'll be disappointed. I'll go back to London and the National Theatre, and travel with Menachem with his showings. He has bookings in Israel, France, Italy, and England. We're hoping for one here as well."
Menachem seemed to magically reappeared when his name was mentioned, to ask if we'd like a second drink. He gave Diana a pat on the head, and a lingering smile which she returned, a smile that seemed to say "we want to be alone." He lit her long cigarette and disappeared again.
Does Menachem ever visit her on the set?
"No," she said as he left. "He has his work, I have mine. Makeing a TV series for the first time is not easy. You're forever going over a script, getting dressed, being made up, filming with three cameras and a live audience. Comedy is very difficult, and there are so many technical things to learn. I am learning new things all the time, and once I get down to where things come easy and I start putting some of my own qualities into the show, Menachem may come around then."
Until she feels secure in her role, the new Mrs. Gueffen is making sure she has no distractions. Not even her husband. At least not on the set. At home, I got the impression, Menachem is the master, and Diana his willing subject. But I also had the satisfied feeling that if anyone - including the "master" - ever got too tought, Diana is more than capable - in her best Emma Peel manner - of coming out and giving them a good karate chop. A girl with spirit, that one!