Angela Lansbury on Her Career, Irish Tea, and 'One of the Best Parts' She's Ever Played
Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit, set to open in previews on 1 March at the Gielgud Theatre, features Angela Lansbury reprising her role after the play's New York staging in 2009. Lansbury plays a medium hired by a skeptical novelist who actually manages to call up the spirit of his first wife during a seance that wasn't meant to succeed - a role for which she won her fifth Tony Award. Lansbury talked to the Irish Times about her upcoming performance on the West End, her career thus far, and her favorite kind of tea.
Lansbury, now 88, first played the clairvoyant on Broadway in 2009 and was brought in to reprise her role for the West End production, along with director Michael Blakemore. She calls Madame Arcati "one of the best parts that I have ever had" and said she's happy to revisit the character. "I love getting out on stage every night to do it," she said. "If you are that happy in a role you want to repeat it, and what better place to repeat it than London: the place of its origins and my origins?"
Lansbury told the Irish Times that she's very aware of the following she has from her wildly popular role on the television show Murder, She Wrote. "A great proportion of the youngsters who came to see the play in New York, who came from Europe, who came from all over the world, came to see me because they had seen me in Murder, She Wrote," she noted. "They knew me as Jessica Fletcher."
Murder, She Wrote, however, is only a small part of Lansbury's steep and remarkable career. One of her first on-screen successes,1944's Gaslight, was followed closely by National Velvet and The Picture of Dorian Gray.
"They were followed, unfortunately, by an absolute string of the most awful films that one could ever imagine," Lansbury said. "I was an unknown quantity for MGM, so they cast me in anything and everything. I really wasted about eight years."
Lansbury kept one foot onstage and one in the film world for some time, but once The Manchurian Candidate had been released (for which she received an Academy Award nomination), she made the switch to theatre. "Once I got my feet back into the door of a legitimate theatre," she said, "I realised that the theatre was where I was most comfortable. And, from there on, I drifted back to it constantly."
Lansbury's shift to Broadway resulted in the seminal hit Mame, after which she remained on the New York stage for eight wildly successful years. She's won five Tony Awards and three Drama Desk Awards, as well as being nominated for several more of each.
"Of course, it feels like coming home," she said of returning to the English stage. Lansbury also maintains a residence in Cork, Ireland, which she says has been her safe haven throughout her career and her childrens' upbringing. "I run a real English household, I tell you. I love everything English," she told the Irish Times. "I still have the cans of sardines, I really do. I am a bit Irish, too because of my Mum."
In fact, it's Lansbury's mother who's had a large hand in making her feel at home in the Gielgud Theatre. Charlotte Lillian McIldowie, of Belfast, made her debut on the same stage in 1918 - when it was known not at the Gielgud, but as the Globe.
Born in October 1925 in London, Angela Lansbury has enjoyed a lucrative 7-decade career in film, television and theatre. Some of her most well known on-screen projects include Murder, She Wrote, which enjoyed almost 300 episodes on the air, as well as The Manchurian Candidate, The Pirates of Penzance, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and other films. She's been seen onstage in Mame, Gypsy, Anyone Can Whistle, The King and I, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Gore Vidal's The Best Man, Deuce, and A Little Night Music, among others. Even while enjoying international stardom, her retreat is her home in Cork, Ireland, where she says she is largely left alone.
"People always say, was I a very ambitious actress?" she recalls. "And I wasn't. I did what was handed to me. And things were handed to me right, left and centre, which was extraordinary."