Monkey. Magic? Marvellous-¦ Miriam!

Monkey. Magic? Marvellous-¦ Miriam!

You’re almost certainly familiar with numerous performances by legendary British actress Miriam Margoyles, even if you’re not aware of it.

As well as being in a string of recent Hollywood hits such as Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, James and the Giant Peach (opposite Joanna Lumley as a wicked stepsister) and End of Days (in which she beats up Arnold Schwarzenegger!), the actress is also renowned for her amazingly rich voice, which has led to much voice work.

Miriam is currently in Australia doing a nation-wide tour of her one-woman show Dickens’ Women.

Well, what appeals to me most about Dickens’ women is that I can act them, jokes the BAFTA-award winning actress. It wouldn’t be so easy for me to do the men-¦although I do in fact do two men, as well as 22 women, in my show. Dickens had a very bruised relationship with women. He wasn’t a very happy man, really, and what I’m trying to do in this play -“ or animated lecture, it’s not really a play, I really don’t know what to call it! -“ is to tie up the women that he wrote about with the women in his life, those parallels.

Miriam cites Dickens’ later work Little Dorrit as a personal favourite, as she finds the tension in the relationship between the male and female characters interesting in regard to the author’s own life experiences (he was going through a nasty divorce from his wife at the time), but enjoys the women featured in all the great writer’s works.

I’ve been a fan of Charles Dickens’ work since I was a child. I just love him; and I hate him too, because he was not a nice man in many ways, but he was a marvellous writer, storyteller and a great observer, writer and examiner of people- a great storyteller with wonderful, exceptional prose, she said.

As well as Dickens, Miriam has performed numerous Shakespearean works on both stage and screen, and there are several other great British writers she would like to get around to performing one day.

I’d love to do more Oscar Wilde and some Restoration comedy; I did The Way of The World some years ago in Sydney, and I’d love to do some Sheridan. Basically I want to spend the rest of my acting life in corsets, really.

Renowned for her amazing vocal range and distinctive voice, Miriam is a much sought after voice over artist having voiced numerous productions including Mulan, Happy Feet and Flushed Away.

Some voices are easier than others; some just come to you and others you have to work on with the assistance of a dialogue coach. I was very lucky to have one on-set during The Age of Innocence (for which she one a Best Supporting Actress BAFTA in 1993) to help me get the right sound for a sophisticated New Yorker of the 1890s, and others come easily to me as they’re either part of my background or I hear them and reproduce them; we have lots of regional accents in Britain which are fun to explore.

Those who recall coming home from school in the late 70s and plonking down in front of the mad, dubbed antics of Monkey! Will be delighted to learn it was just as much fun behind the camera as in front of it.

Oh yes, that was a lot of fun! It was a very long time ago, almost 20 years now, and it’s become this enormous cult hit, it’s very sweet! I feel very glad that all those hours spent yelling in a darkened studio have brought pleasure to so many people.

As well as her extensive stage and screen credits in the UK, Miriam has, particularly in the last decade or so, been very active in major Hollywood movies. She is probably most widely known amongst an entire generation of children for playing the (literally) down-to-earth magical horticulturalist Professor Sprout in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

As well as playing the kindly Professor Sprout, Miriam has essayed the part of a much darker sorceress in the hit musical adaptation of Wicked, the story of the Wicked Witch of the West, in which she plays Madam Morrible, a nasty, haughty headmistress at a school for Witches in Emerald City.

It does seem a bit worrying that I’m playing witches all the time. I’m going back to play Morrible again, on Broadway in New York actually, after I finish Dickens’ Women here; it’ll be my first Broadway experience, so I’m looking forward to that very much, although I confess I’m a little bit nervous. Being in a hit musical on Broadway I’m sure will be a lot of fun, although I have no singing talents at all -“ I just have a talent at pretending to be able to put a song over, so that’s what I do! I’m sure I’ll be nervous -“ I like to terrify myself, I think if I’m frightened by a role it’s a good sign, because it means I won’t get smug. I mean I’ve been in this business a long time -“ I started in my early twenties and I’m sixty-six now, so it’s great to try new things.

As an openly lesbian actress, Miriam was pleasantly surprised to be accepted with open arms by Hollywood. I don’t think it’s had any effect whatsoever and I don’t think it should. I think it would be much more difficult to be an out actor in Hollywood in general, because that place is all about externals, and those kind of things become important. I think I’ve got the kind of personality that people either take to or don’t -“ either they accept me or not -“ though you never know if they don’t, really, and so I just go about my merry way.

As well as her house in England, Miriam also maintains a property just outside of Sydney. She has a special feeling in her heart for Australia, and indeed, intends to retire here when she finally runs out of things to act in.

I think I feel young in Australia. It’s so fresh here, and skeptical, and I like those qualities. I’m really looking forward to coming to Perth, because it’ll be my first visit -“ I have relatives there whom I haven’t seen in about 40 years.

I leave Miriam with the possibility of starring in another British institution alongside Harry Potter, the excellent, long-running Science Fiction program Doctor Who:

I’d love to be in Doctor Who, but I haven’t yet been asked, by some appalling oversight. Hopefully your article will stimulate interest with the right people.

Miriam Margoyles performs in Dickens’ Women at Sydney Theatre, Walsh Bay, October 16-21. Tickets: 9250 1999. It then moves to Glenn Street Theattre October 27-November 4. Tickets: 9975 1455.

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