LEGENDARY British-Australian actor Miriam Margolyes came out in 1966.
“It was the year England won the World Cup,” she recalled.
While Leicester, a small city in the middle of England, isn’t generally known as a thriving gay metropolis, Margolyes said there was a scene there even back then when she was working in a local theatre company.
“I really fell in love with this woman and we had a sort of affair, then she fell in love with another actress and I went crackers, and beat her up and trashed her room, and wrote ‘you lesbian cunt’ on the mirror, and I was asked to leave,” she recalled.
“It had quite an impact, because people weren’t used to that sort of thing. It was really disgraceful of me, but that’s what I was like.
“It was a fractured time, but eventually my partner and I became a solid item, and we’ve been together for 47 years.”
Margolyes became an Australian citizen in 2013, after spending years here on and off — her partner is an Australian woman. Despite calling Australia home, the actor is perhaps most associated with some very English performances: she’s been in the Harry Potter films, Blackadder, and a few years ago her one-woman show and worldwide tour about the women of Charles Dickens’ novels met international acclaim.
Although she’s very open about her sexuality (famously calling herself a “dyke” at her citizenship ceremony in front of former Prime Minister Julia Gillard) Margolyes has mixed feelings about whether everyone should come out without hesitation. Over the years she has expressed regret at coming out to her mother when she did — the two were very close, and Margolyes has worried the shock of her coming out contributed to a stroke her mother had not long afterwards.
“I wasn’t open to my parents, because I knew that it would distress them. And indeed it did distress them, very much. But in the wider world I was very open, and I’m not sure that that is a good thing for actors,” Margolyes said.
“I don’t agree with my friend Ian McKellen about this, because he feels that everybody should come out as far as possible, and I think it can be detrimental to a young person’s career.
“I’ve no idea whether it was detrimental to mine or not. When I was in America, where I worked for 15 years, everybody ‘knew’, so to speak, that I was gay, but I never said it publicly — deliberately, because I thought it might affect my work.”
However, Margolyes said she now has nothing left to lose.
“I think that established actors should probably come out, in order to show that it’s perfectly possible to act a straight person and be a gay person,” she said.
“On the whole, things have gotten much more relaxed, and so they should. I’m actually rather bored by talking about being gay, because there are so many things in my life that focus my attention more.
“I’m not focused on being gay, I just happen to love a woman with all my heart. That’s the gay bit of me. The rest of me is all different things: Jewish, fat, old, educated…”
**This article was first published in the May edition of the Star Observer, which is available to read in digital flip-book format. To obtain a physical copy, click here to find out where you can grab one in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and select regional/coastal areas.