“I don’t define me, I just shove a lot of adjectives in, and every adjective is true and of equal weight. So I would say I’m a fat, old, Jewish lesbian, social climbing, pseudo intellectual.”
It was 9am in London when I spoke to Miriam Margolyes, an icon of film and stage with an illustrious career that has spanned decades. With London, like many other cities around the world, currently in lockdown, the interview started with Miriam speaking candidly about how COVID-19 has impacted on her.
“It’s not a walk in the park, there are good days and bad days, I’m an extrovert and I miss hugging and talking to people and going out to eat with friends.
“I love, on the other hand the fact that there are many fewer planes in the sky.” Miriam chuckles. “Because I’m on a flight path and they go over my house, when they are not there, I love it.
“But if you can sit in the sun and read a book and talk to your friends on the phone, it’s not the end of the world.”
Because Miriam has worked within the performing arts for so many years, I was keen to ask how she thought the impacts of COVID-19 would play out for us.
“Theatre and art have always responded to what happens in the world, that’s what we do, we observe and act on our observations.
“I think our industry is the one that is honestly the worst hit, and will take the longest time to recover, people will be afraid to go to the theatre or the cinema, and I don’t think they will allow them to re-open for a very long tim e- I’m quite pessimistic about that.
“I know people are streaming stuff that you can watch, but there is nothing like theatre, that joyous interaction of a live audience with a stage, its magical.”
“I asked my producers to take me to the Australia that I didn’t know, and that’s exactly what I got.
“It was very challenging and exhausting from a physical point of view but it was also very revealing and fascinating, I learnt a lot of things about Australia that I didn’t know already.
“I came in with certainly a preconception that things are not right in Australia, about First Nations People, and I still believe that. The amount of control, the lack of freedom and the lack of respect is there.
“It’s the subject that most Australians do not want to face, and they will certainly criticise me for tackling something that Australians might feel is none of my business. But I have to tell it like I see it, I saw control and unfriendliness from whites to blacks, and I don’t like it.”
“I will never forget looking at the stars at Seven Emus Station in the Northern Territory, it was not easy that night, but when we came out and made a fire and looked up at the stars, I could see the milky way and all the stars and the heavens.
“I’d never seen that before, I’ve always been in a city, where you never see the sky without the glow of electricity.
“Australia does give you a sense of its immensity and the age of it.”
Along the way, Miriam discovered that Alice Springs is the lesbian capital of the world, before traveling to Darwin where, by chance she met a group of Sister-Girls from the Tiwi Islands
“It was the most extraordinary experience for me, I was trundling along on my scooter, and blow me, there was this little group of people and I didn’t know if they’re Arthur or Martha because it’s not on my mind, I’m a gay women and that’s just a fact, but it isn’t one of the most interesting things about me, far from.
“I enjoyed meeting them, I had a good laugh, I think Krystal and the girls are just delicious.
“One of the things I take quite seriously is that people allow me into their lives to film, and it’s a huge piece of trust and I can’t just waltz in and waltz out, so I’m in contact with many of the people I met, and I hope that I will see many of them again.”
The series is a breathtaking, honest and an at times unflinching look at Australian society and makes for great iso-viewing, however Miriam’s outspoken nature has again drawn criticism from some. She concludes the interview by addressing her haters.
“I’d just like to make mention of how I’m dealing with some of the horrible remarks I have gotten because of the documentary. Because I’ve received a few pearlers I have.
“I think that the appropriate way to deal with them is to read them, absorb them and ignore them.
“It’s just extraordinary to me that people feel the need to write to tell you they think that you’re a piece of shit
“Why can’t they just have their opinions? I don’t see the world like they do, and there it is.”