THE interview scene running through Margot is a clever dramatic device.
Former Shameless star Anne-Marie Duff is dazzling as magical Margot Fonteyn.
And she was suitably poised when I met up with her for today’s interview here.
Anne-Marie made a number of interesting points which I couldn’t squeeze into the feature.
So allow me to place them here for those who want to read more.
First things first.
Margot is on BBC4 at 9pm tonight and then screened again on the same channel at various times later this week.
I first saw the 90-minute drama at the Curzon Mayfair cast and crew screening in London back in early October – and enjoyed it a great deal.
Even though I’m not a ballet fan and previously knew just the basic outline of Dame Margot’s career and relationship with Rudolf Nureyev.
Three days later I took part in a small round table interview with Anne-Marie.
Asking her about that interview device in Margot:
“This isn’t easy for us,” she confessed.
“I was asked in another interview, ‘What’s the most difficult part about playing somebody who is a national icon?’
“It’s this. Because this is the bit where you go, ‘Oh, if I say that, then someone will read it and be offended. If I don’t say that, then…’
“So funnily enough, that’s the tricky bit. Which is pretending in itself,” she laughed.
“It’s kind of bonkers but it’s the times in which we live, I guess. I couldn’t believe how beautifully shot it was. If you consider the time we had to make it, it looks amazing.”
I asked her about filming the Royal Ballet performance scenes.
“We couldn’t use the real theatre because it had changed so much. Not to mention the logistics of it and the price of it.
“We filmed up at Alexandra Palace. They have a beautiful old theatre there which is just empty and derelict, which is stunningly beautiful. And so we filmed on the stage there.”
Anne-Marie said she was amazed to find out about Margot’s “incredible” private life, including her marriage to South American politician husband Tito, who was later shot and paralysed.
“I love the idea of this seemingly perfect individual having this manic, chaotic existence at home that was driven by desires that had nothing to do with the stage.
“This husband who was so dubious but also political and manly, the antithesis of all those boys in tights. No wonder she adored him.
“And this crazy world, this revolutionary South American world. She did have some South American roots so I suppose she felt she was fulfilling something within her genes.
“It’s a great yarn. In fact, you could have done five hours on Margot Fonteyn. You could have started as a child, going off to the Far East. And then the whole birth of the Royal Ballet, and then even after we finish it gets even more interesting. Her life is incredible.”
I asked about a scene where Margot talks about pretending – “It’s the only thing in my life which is real” – and how she sacrificed everything for dance, and later for her husband.
“The level of sacrifice in the world of dance is incredibly intense, anyway. That work ethic, if nothing else – get up, go to class, rehearsal, performance, get up, go to class. That’s your life and it’s like that for a finite time, usually. So there has to be a bit of you, I think, that really gets off on the sacrifice.
“It strikes me, and I don’t want to be too judgemental because she’s loved, she was a lovely individual…but I think she was certainly the leading lady of her own life, whether that be within the company, in the revolution or that suddenly she’s playing opposite this beautiful Russian boy in this caper, where they get arrested in drugs raids, or she’s arrested for an attempted coup.
“Masochistic is perhaps too strong a word, but there’s an element of that, which loves that sort of suffering, because it defined her, I suppose.
“As an actor, I think you can understand the safety of the pretence, you can understand when things in the real world perhaps aren’t so easy. There is a security blanket of being within the proscenium. That world is defined. There’s an Act One and there’s an Act Five and you know how that all will go.
“I think sometimes that’s why certain types of people are drawn towards creative worlds. More fragile people can be drawn because the chronology of it all makes life a bit easier. So I do sort of understand that. But then how do you live outside that? And I think she found living outside of it difficult and so needed drama to understand, to feel safe, weirdly.”
Margot’s Panamanian husband – Roberto “Tito” Arias?
“You could make an amazing film about him, about Roberto. Just his connections alone. He was so well connected. He was one of those brilliant fantastist conmen who were always telling you that the millions are about to come in, and they never did. But for some reason they’d maintain that level. It’s amazing, isn’t it?”
Margot can’t have been short of admirers?
“I think they were predominently dancers she had affairs with or actors. It was a very different kind of man. And to be pursued is very seductive, isn’t it? With any tenacity, is incredibly seductive but also his unavailability…
“He was emotionally unavailable. We’re a terrible species, aren’t we, in that way? There’s nothing we like more than somebody saying, ‘Well, maybe…’ You’re suddenly interested.
“Certainly I’ve been guilty in my life of feeling like that. I’m sure that you have too. The hook’s in, isn’t it? And I think that was the case too.
“And he didn’t worship Dame Margot Fonteyn. It was like he went, ‘I want that woman…’ And he probably did see her as a thing, an animate object, really. But I don’t think that was how she felt.”
Her make-up and hair for the production?
“I had very, very black hair for a while. There’s no way you can cheat that. That’s quite good fun anyway, a big transformation. I like it. It was dyed. And the costume designer was amazing. She found all this incredible vintage Dior and Chanel. She found everything. She had lots of favourites she called in to get those amazing costumes. It was so much a part of her.”
Anne-Marie added: “I’m lucky in what I do, I dress up all the time. I always think – on a wedding day, when a woman puts on her wedding dress, it is the most astonishing thing for herself and for her family.
“On her wedding day when an actress puts on her wedding dress, it’s brilliant, but you’ve worn so many diifferent, amazing costumes and dresses, you’re family have seen you in them – I think it’s just different. It’s just another thing.”
Everyone smoked in that era, including the dancers?
“Apparently quite often backstage you’d have all the corps de ballet and they’d leave their cigarettes on the shelf in the wings, go on, come off, pick up their fags and start again.
“We couldn’t do that at Ally Pally. We wanted to do lots of details but it was a listed building that’s falling down. But that is hilarious. When you go to the ballet and they look like these birds of paradise, then off they come and say. ‘Effing hell.’ It’s just really funny how these two worlds co-exist.”
Working for BBC4?
“It’s just quality of script and quality of role, really. It’s a simple as that. If you can afford to, you do the work that you want to. It’s tricky, isn’t it? Mostly the quieter projects tend to be the most interesting ones.”
At 39, does she worry about roles drying up?
“You just live in hope. Things have changed an awful lot since I started acting. Even in terms of American film for example. They have changed an awful lot. Jennifer Aniston is still a pin-up and she’s in her forties. So who knows?
“When you work in the theatre a lot, you’re in your own environment because quite often you need to be a bit beyond the years of the character you’re playing for it to have a certain weight. You feel safer. I’ll just think, ‘Please God things will keep changing.’
“The audience is there, we know. Look at the ridiculous financial success of something daft like Mamma Mia. There’s a huge audience of women who have money to spend. So we’ll see. I can only just hope that the progression will be positive. Let’s hope so, because we have so many great actresses. This country is full of great actresses, we’re really lucky. Fingers crossed.”
Does she ever see herself moving to America?
“I don’t think so. I love New York. But isn’t that pretty much because New York is America’s Europe? And I’m such a Londoner. I do love London, I really do. I just think this is so brilliant here, why would I? And you don’t have to move anywhere specific, really, do you? It’s great for doing theatre living in London because you can just get home quickly.”