Diana Rigg lit a cigarillo, gracefully wrapped her five foot, nine inch trouser suited body around a chair and awaited my first question. She was due on stage in less than an hour in the London production of Abelard and Heloise, and we sat in a dressing room done out in Early Hip - complete with a 'Do Not Disturb-Pot Party' sign which Diana hung over the door knob as we prepared to unveil just what's happened to the memorable Mrs. Peel since becoming an ex-Avenger.
Delighted that her American fans haven't given her the out-of-sight out-of-mind treatment, the hard to interview Miss Rigg opened up. Beneath that cool, feline exterior is a soft but direct woman who knows where she's going professionally and personally mainly because she refuses to set goals. Tossing her lovely auburn hair over her shoulder, she told me, "It's a mistake to crystallize one's ambition in any particular direction - especially as an actress."
Diana quit The Avengers because she ran out of the steam it takes to get up six days a week at six in the morning and work through to seven at night and because, "A character in a TV series is frozen. There is not much development to discover within a character to work with. That would negate the word series. People switch on to see a constancy - whether the stories are different - of personality in a character. You can't meddle with that. One is limited as an actress however enjoyable it was. In the end it becomes a limitation."
Though not really satisfied with any of her post Avengers roles, Diana is content to have achieved variety. "Variety is what I needed," she said in her best therapeutic voice."
Her latest portrayl offers the kind of variety that should keep audiences flocking to the theatrefor some time. For the first time in the prestegious West End, a dramatic actress (Diana) appears nude - along with her male co-star (Keith Michell) - in a love scene. Diana continues to be self-conscious about this "first" and not entirely pleased with the attention and mail it has brought her. "I look upon it as another aspect of the job, really," she reflected. "I don't have a particularly good body and I don't get any pleasure out of taking my knickers down and exposing it. It's a very painful thing. It's against all of my conditioning. All of it. But it was asked of me by the director, and in undertaking the role I also undertook to serve him, not myself."
Diana appears equally anxious to serve directors offstage. She has admitted to living with director Philip Saville in her antique-strewn flat that features a large bed in the middle of the living room. She refused to say if the affair is still current, but revealed without hesitation that, "Marriage is not really a consideration in my personal life. I don't want to get married."
On the other hand, Diana is enthusiastic about motherhood - or at least responded with a radiant "Yes, oh yes, I'd like to" when asked if she'd care to bear children. But then, as if some sudden, threatening image passed before her, Diana became negative: "The thing which stops me is that I hate to have the knowledge that genetically the child would inherit certain things I would rather he didn't or chance that he would."
The noteriety or immorality of ebing an unwed mother is not in the least disturbing to Diana. She is convinced that even the private life of a celebrity can remain quiet and intensely personal as her own essentially does. To discover what in her own personality she finds distressing enough to so threaten the furture of any baby of hers, I questioned Diana about her worst qualities and she confessed, "I won't attack first. In this world where attack is the best means of of defense - as we've all been told - I'm very, very slow to attack. And, ultimately, when one does attack it is 20 times more destructive than if done on the first impulse. It's crushing."
There are, however, no stories floating around anywhere of this destructive potential that frightens Diana. Cast members of Abelard and Heloise affectionately call her "Thumbelina" and no fellow actress can say Diana ever pounced upon her to gain a professional advantage. In addition to being non-aggressive, Diana claimes to be totally uncompetitive. "I don't compete because I can't," she said. "It's not my scene at all. I won't run at anything knowing that something is running at my shoulder. I fall back immediately."
Perhaps Diana harbors memories of childhood that would discourage her urge to be a mother. Here again, the record and Diana produce no explanatory skeletons. She grew up happy enough in Yorkshire, England with some time spent in Jodhpur, India where her father was in the Indian Government Service as a railroad man. With only a brother in the family, she hardly lacked attention or affection and remembers never having been pressured. Her past was such that she credits her father as having the most productive influence on her adult years and she fondly recalls him as, "a working class man who had an appetite - a curosity about life - which defied his working class condition and environment. And he passed quite a lot of it onto me. For that I'm grateful..."
Diana's relationship with her mother was not as idyllic. While her father indulged her imagination and free wheeling spirit, mother cast a more practical eye on her daughter's upbringing. Today when Diana rejects the ladies who fight for women's liberation she does so because she loathes groups and because they seldom admit that they are fighting (as she is) not male domination but the but the conditioning that has been handed down to them by their mothers. "I hope," she said passionately, "that when this generation bears children and brings them up that they give them that spectrum of freedom which I personally never had. It was expected of me to get married. That didn't come from my father. That came from my mother."
This hardly means Diana does not love her mother. She is a dutiful daughter and has refused a part when she felt her mother was too ill for her to be away. Yet Diana is hostile to the traditional role her mother played as well as other images of womanhood. She scoffs at the popular conception of maintaining her feminine elegance through diet and exercise. "I eat whatever I want to whenever I want to," she spoke vengefully. "I eat when I'm unhappy and I don't eat when I'm happy. I never exercise. I think it's one of the most boring things in the world. Chasing ball? God!"
Taken as a whole, Diana at 32 has enjoyed life on her own terms. Unlike other actresses who also prefer the unconventional, she has suffered no penalties. "I don't wish to manipulate anyone," is her reason for the latter. Though she may say, "It was luck I was given time to develop and finally emerge," those who have observed her from her student days at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art believe it was talent and individuality that made her the respected actress she is today. Though she obviously suspects some terrible weakness lying beneather her exquisitely poised personality ready to explode given the proper provocation, it has thus far been impossible for her friends to detect. That she should be unwilling to fulfill herself as a mother because of it makesthis mysterious flaw very dark indeed. Yet if you talk to Diana Rigg, as I did, you may come away feeling, as I did, that the mastiest thing she would be capable of is to offer chocolates to a lady on a diet. Which she did with classic - even genetic - meanness.