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09 February 2007: Toronto Star

Diana Rigg Still Looking for a Plum Role

An idea suddenly seizes Diana Rigg, one of the co-stars of The Painted Veil. "Suppose the well-written, well-constructed movie is coming back in fashion?"

And she should know. Rigg and the rest of the cast of the adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham's novel have been drawing sturdy notices for material some reviewers deemed old-fashioned.

"Maugham could write parts for women," she says. "Simple as that. Ours is a love story set in an exotic location giving the female star, Naomi Watts, a wonderful part as a young, wayward wife. It all works according to the psychology of the piece, and Edward Norton is equally convincing as the very naive scientist who marries her, then takes her away to an outpost in China.

Rigg jests, "I'm also in a few short but very dramatic scenes I loved doing. I flew around the world to get them done."

Rigg says she got a hurried telephone call from Beijing from director John Curran to play the movie's Mother Superior, who is stuck in a nunnery deep in the heart of China.

"I rather suspect they had somebody else (for the part) who backed off. I'd recently been back to India so I didn't have to have any needles, but it was quite rushed getting visas." After a non- stop flight she found herself in Beijing, where the movie was filmed.

"I think I understood the character, who has a speech people seem to remember about being constantly let down by God since she was 17," Rigg says. "That helps us understand her quiet dedication even when mobs roam the streets."

Some industry insiders feel with a bit more of a push she could have received a supporting Oscar nomination.

Rigg agrees North American audiences only get to see half her career. In recent years she has shone on the British stage in such West End successes as Medea, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Suddenly, Last Summer, and Honour.

When Medea made it to Broadway, she earned a Tony Award.

Canadians tend to think of Rigg as the long-running host of PBS's Mystery! It's a role she gratefully inherited from her "papa," Vincent Price - they'd played father and daughter in the 1973 horror movie Theatre of Blood.

Hollywood has called, if infrequently. She giggles at the mention that U.S. TV Guide readers once selected her character in The Avengers, Emma Peel, as the sexiest leading lady ever.

"It was the black-and-white photography that people still adore. They'd spend hours lighting the close-ups. In colour it just didn't have the same sheen. I only wish I were getting more than the pittance given me (for reruns) - it was so long ago, you know."

She's also the only Bond girl who married the boss, although in this case it was Aussie import George Lazenby, who made but one appearance as James Bond in On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

Rigg was conspicuously missing from the photo spread in Vanity Fair a few years back that reunited the Bond girls. Why? "I'm still working," she told me around that time.

Her oddest assignment must have been a brief stint in an English offshoot of Mary Tyler Moore titled Diana (1973-74).

The NBC sitcom cast her as an English divorcee who had just moved to New York.

Rigg recently acknowledged to one reporter she doesn't have a great film to her credit. The closest is Hospital (1971), which she recently watched again and thought she could have done better.

She says, "At my age (69) I'm searching for nice, little parts. Like this one, it had a few big scenes for me and introduced me to a new generation of movie stars. A mother superior? Fine and dandy. I understood her. More like that would be very nice. Just don't call me a veteran, it's rather scary."

In 2005, all the then British Dames (Rigg has been one since 1994) got together at a concert to help tsunami victims. Dames Joan Plowright, Eileen Atkins, Judi Dench and Helen Mirren whooped it up for an adoring audience (Dame Maggie Smith was otherwise engaged).

Rigg is far more interested in debating which dame, Dench or Mirren, will take home this year's Best Actress trophy at the Oscars. Told that old chum Peter O'Toole (Venus) is leading the male pack, she wonders who the other nominees are.

Recent newspaper reports have Rigg retiring to a French village. "Rubbish!" she retorts. She was phoning from London, where she keeps a flat. She does have a home in southern France, but it's for summers.

She will probably open in another play this fall, she reports, unless that elusive great movie part appears.

Perhaps she'll finally make it to Canada.


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