John Hannam interviews Rita Tushingham
One day in the summer of 1990 I left the family on the beach at Woodside Bay to pop home for a telephone interview with movie star Rita Tushingham.
This was against my principles, as all my interviews are undertaken in-person, but I was promised a meeting with her when she came to the Island for an appearance on August Bank Holiday Monday. Unfortunately, that never happened, as she had to fly back to her Canadian home a couple of days before.
Long before you became a famous actor you were lucky to survive a serious accident. What happened?
When I was seven, I was run over by a car. It seemed to come from nowhere, I think it was from behind a bus, and ran right over me. Cars were very heavy in
those days. I have never forgotten that accident and it will live with me forever. I have been cautious ever since about crossing the road.
When you began acting your were earning £1 a week as a student assistant stage manager at the Liverpool Playhouse. Then you read a story in the Daily Express and it was to change your life forever. How did it happen?
The newspaper story said Tony Richardson and John Osborne were going to make a film of A Taste Of Honey and they wanted an unknown actress to play the part of Jo. At that time I was actually reading the book of a play, called The World Of Paul Slickey, by John Osborne, and his agent’s address was in the back. Some actors at the Liverpool theatre helped me write the letter and I ended up going to Chelsea to do an audition and improvisation for Peter Gill. From that I was given a film test.
Did your overnight success take you by surprise?
It certainly did. I had not even thought about films. I’d just wanted to act from a very early age. When it came out it was very well received and everything just seemed to fall into place.
It was heralded as a classic of the period and is still talked about. It’s one of several of your hit movies recently released in a Woodfall Films Box Set. How did you cope with fame?
I think it would be more difficult to cope with these days. Now, people take pictures of you and post them online. I did a lot of interviews for newspapers and television. Now, they are bombarded with it all the time. We were allowed a certain freedom that I don’t think today’s young stars have. We could go to clubs to relax and it was safe to have a dance and enjoy yourself. There were no people observing us or wanting photographs.
When you appeared alongside Oliver Reed in The Trap you played a mute. How difficult was that?
It was rather difficult role. Both physically and emotionally you were more contained. To try and get over what your character was feeling made each day very exhausting. I never realised how much I had put into it. I didn’t have a line to say but was completely in the emotion, without being verbally expressive.
How did you get on with Oliver Reed?
I really got on fine with him. He was really like a young boy in a sweet shop – and so talented. He was crazy but we worked so well together. You never knew what was going to happen with Oliver but it was very interesting. When he was working he was very professional. I don’t think there has ever been anyone else like him. These days too much would have got out on social media.
Your eyes have also been such a fortune for you. The Girl With The Green Eyes was another milestone in your career. Good memories?
I loved working with Peter Finch. He was such a wonderful actor and you kind of felt he was so underrated. He was such a generous actor and would embrace the whole scene. I always felt very comfortable and secure working with him. My good friend, Lynn Redgrave, was also so good in that movie.
You have had a remarkable career that’s included so many hit movies. You played Celia Higgins in the TV series Bread, appeared in a Smiths video, had a part in the Telstar movie and, more recently, did episodes of Vera and Still Open All Hours. You have no plans to retire have you?
No. I still enjoy it so much. I think I am rather fortunate to be still acting at my age. It’s been such a great life.
Away from the stage, Rita has worked so hard to raise money for both cancer and animal charities, which has been much appreciated.
To listen to the full Rita Tushingham interview go to www.johnhannam.com