Words: Alison James Pic: Ken McKay, REX
Anne Reid has a steely look in her eye. The waiter at the smart London hotel we’re frequenting has just brought us our Americanos and is now asking for a credit card.
“As if we’d do a runner,” she scoffs. She waves away my proffered plastic and produces her own. “This is on me,” she smiles. “Now... where were we? We were talking about Halifax, weren’t we?”
Indeed we were – although the romantic comedy drama, rather than the West Yorkshire town it’s named for. To recap, Last Tango in Halifax is the story of Celia and Alan (played by Anne and actor Sir Derek Jacobi), who reunite in their 70s having been teenage sweethearts.
“Playing Celia is a wonderful job,” she goes on. “We have such a great time making Last Tango. There are a lot of lines but fortunately Derek and I are still able to learn them without too much trouble. That’s not the case for many actors in their 70s. There are no tricks or shortcuts to learning lines – it’s just reading and looking and remembering. I’m not too bad at it but Derek is quite brilliant.”
‘I always say to younger people that life is a marathon, not a sprint’
Series three of Last Tango is currently pulling in close to six million viewers on Sunday evenings – the kind of ratings which make it likely that several more series are to come. But Anne (79) isn’t so sure.
“I don’t think Last Tango should go on much longer,” she says. “We may do another series and then perhaps a one-off special – but after that I think Derek and I may well call it a day. I hate it when TV series get run into the ground and go on for longer than they should. When that happens, you never remember them in their heyday. And nothing lasts forever, does it?”
Before I can reply, some chocolate biscuits appear - prompting Anne to reveal one of her secret passions! “Oh, I eat far too much chocolate,” she sighs. “I love, love, love it. That sensation of it melting in your mouth. Mmmmmm. I could easily sit down and eat two great big bars, one after the other, although I don’t think I should try! I’m not bothered about fancy chocolate – it’s just plain milk chocolate I like, preferably with nuts.”
With the success of Last Tango and also Our Zoo, the story of how Chester Zoo came about, which Anne starred in last autumn, her career is booming – and not just on TV. She has also just starred in a special West End performance of Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, to mark 40 years since the musical first opened in London. Later in the year, she’s also hoping to do a play in the West End.
“This is absolutely one of the best times for me,” she smiles. “I went on Desert Island Discs a while back and presenter Kirsty Young started off by saying my career was the wrong way around, because most actors have big hits in their 20s and 30s. I replied I thought it was very much the right way around.
“I always say to younger people that life’s a marathon, not a sprint. If you want a career in this business, you have to keep going. So many actors and actresses make it big early on in their careers, then you never hear of them again. I’ve just kind of kept going somehow. I’ve always been a supporting rather than a leading actress and that’s been an advantage in many ways.
"When you’re a big star, the powers that be are sometimes hesitant about offering you smaller but interesting roles. It also helps that I can do comedy. While there are many solemn actresses out there who are very good at crying – which I’m not by the way – most of them don’t have a funny bone and don’t make you laugh.”
There are also few actresses versatile enough to star in their own cabaret show. From February 17-21, Anne, accompanied by musician and pianist Stefan Bednarczyk, will take to the stage at The Crazy Coqs’ Cabaret and Jazz Club in Soho.
“We’re putting on an evening of songs by two wonderful American lyricists, Betty Comden and Adolph Green – they wrote the song words for those classic musicals On The Town and The Bandwagon,” she explains. “There’s a bit of chat about them between numbers and we have a few laughs.
“I’ve been doing musical and cabaret evenings for about three years now. I was very nervous to begin with and put on my first one in France where I knew I wouldn’t get any reviews and it wouldn’t matter if it wasn’t up to much. But it went down very well and so we did one here. Without seeming too immodest, I received some fantastic notices and so we’ve done some more. People seem to love it – and I certainly love doing the shows.
“I’m hoping we’re able to perform outside London at some point. I adore music – it’s my passion. My idea of heaven is selecting the songs I’m going to perform and discovering new ones.”
‘I’m a great one for cat naps – that’s how I conserve my energy. But I also like being busy’
Doesn’t she ever fancy just putting her feet up?
“Oh I do a lot of that, too,” she laughs. “I love lying on the settee, flicking through a magazine, watching the TV or listening to music. I’m a great one for cat-naps and often set the alarm to wake me after an afternoon snooze. That’s how I conserve my energy – in addition to the eight hours sleep I try to get every night. But I also like being busy and going out. I’m very sociable and love company and dressing up.”
Anne admits there are definitely two distinct sides to her personality. “I’m very happy to shut the door and be on my own when I’ve been out. I like pottering about and need time to be alone – my idea of horror would be being stuck in a room full of people for the rest of my life. I like parties but then I like coming back to my own space. I’m very content with my own company and in some ways I suppose I’m a bit of a loner. I know some people who can’t bear not to be out and chatting, but I also love sitting and thinking and day-dreaming.
“Having said that, I love my work and don’t think I’ll ever retire – not many people in this business do. If I got a call from George Clooney in Hollywood asking me to do a film, I’d be there like a shot!”
- For tickets or more information about Anne and Stefan performing at The Crazy Coqs call 0207 734 4888 or visit https://www.brasseriezedel.com/crazy-coqs
Psst… Anne shares a secret
She has a passion for driving. “I love it – especially putting my foot down and driving fast – and I’m actually much better behind the wheel than Derek. I’m very good at it. When we first started Last Tango in Halifax they put someone in the car with me when I was driving and I knew it was because I was female – there was no extra person in the back when Derek drove. Well, I put a stop to that immediately!”
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