Then he asked ‘And what would they be famous for?’ I said, ‘Well, I’m sure the local nuns would make lace, and maybe grow pears and export them.’ And of course we had pears and lace clothes all over the set. He couldn’t have been more sweet. He picked up everything. ‘Do what?’ you Like it?’ I said, ‘I like real flowers, and I like my garden.’ We had real flowers on the set, and fresh ones every day. It was pleasant.
He made Genovia a manifestation of you and your interests.
He chose everyone’s brain. I mean, I wasn’t alone. It was also Anne Hathaway, which was adorable — and it made her career. Very, very talented. I saw that right away. She’s a natural, really.
When you work with young people actors who idolize you, should you put them at ease? Or do you ever give in to that mystique?
No, I haven’t looked into it. I like to put them at ease. My God, I am one of the luckiest ladies in the world. Think about it. I like to try to share, and I’m not just being Pollyanna-esque about it. I recognize how lucky I have been.
You have no reputation for playing characters who are cold or indifferent.
There were a few movies where I tried it like [1968’s Gertrude Lawrence biopic] Star† It was a great movie to make, but people didn’t like that I wasn’t a very sweet character, and it wasn’t that big of a hit at all. Although it has grown a bit over the years.
At that time, too, movies were changing. Low budget movies were in, and big budget movies were discredited. God how? that is changed. Everything comes full circle. But back then it was, ‘Oh, how could you spend so much on a movie? let’s do Easy Rider instead of.’ Those kinds of thoughts went around. So it probably came at the wrong time.
Is there another title in your filmography that you think deserves more attention?
A movie with Andrei Konchalovsky called Duet for one. I played a lady in a wheelchair who had MS. It was very loosely based on Jacqueline du Pré, the great cellist. It was a very difficult and very depressing movie to make, and it literally disappeared overnight on a Christmas release. But it was a very interesting experience. It was with Max Von Sydow and Alan Bates.
For the past ten years you have mainly done voice acting.
Yes, it started and grew – and it’s great. I don’t have to get my hair and makeup anymore. I just go into the studio and do my voiceovers. It’s a very different kind of filmmaking. You just throw everything against the wall and they take out what they want. So there is a lot of experimentation going on. Separate from Despicable Me and Bridgertonand, um… [laughs] I’m not going to call it Aquarius, where I play some kind of sea serpent or something. But what interesting things to get your vote on!
Of course now, minions just got out of where I play Gru’s mom. I like the Minions. I adore them.
I remember you first did the narration for bridgerton, and people were outraged that Mary Poppins and Maria from… The sound of music told this hot and heavy show. Did you find it outrageous?
[Laughs.] It’s delicious, isn’t it?
This interview has been edited to provide context and clarity.