Life With Dad

Lynn Redgrave is starring in a play she wrote about her troubled relationship with her famous father, directed by her own husband. The play deals with the emotional remoteness and larger-than-life persona of the celebrated British actor Sir Michael Redgrave.

When Redgrave decides to spill her guts in public, it's a carefully teased affair. In conversation over breakfast oatmeal, her undeniable charm is matched only by the vigilance with which she patrols the emotional flash points of her tale. Occasionally, a flame will erupt, but more often asking her a personal question leads to a generic answer. For a woman who's been trotting her life story around the country for much of the past three years, she's remarkably guarded. It's not clear whether that reticence is traditional British restraint or a trait inherited from her play's subject, Sir Michael.

Redgrave says her father's particular brand of privacy let parts of his personality seep out--but selectively. "As we all are different with different people, he was particularly different. They saw sides of him I never saw," says Redgrave. In contrast to her animation, he sometimes wore an impenetrable mask for a face. "It had no expression, and I couldn't get past it," she says.

Sir Michael sent out a serious vibe, and only rarely was spotted hanging around the house, says his second daughter. That he'd earned a knighthood for his fine portrayals of such willful and psychologically remote kings as Richard II and Lear was probably no coincidence. Add to that a fatherhood characterized by lengthy stays in America sans family, the odd bisexual affair and a knack for missing many of the keystones of Lynn's life. The dysfunctional die is cast.

By forgoing the HBO one-shot for a Broadway-and-beyond production, however, Redgrave has raised a question. How can she stand revisiting Dad night after night?

"I must put myself in a state where I have to tell the story," she says, and coolly enumerates a list of typical actor fears: "What if one night I didn't want to tell the story? What if I have a cold? What if I'm tired? What if I should hit the wings and just not be able to play it? But that's an actor's life anyway."

Sometimes the play is draining, she acknowledges. Surrendering to her genetic penchant for the generic, however, she insists that all plays are challenges.

Told that she is candid--but that she leaves out the details--Redgrave responds with a tableau of vibrant emotions in regard to Sir Michael: "I certainly have had tough periods when my father was alive and following his death. Mixed with love, mixed with awe and a passionate desire to know him is a true, deadly hatred--and that is very hard to accept in oneself.

"It's interesting that Cordelia in Lear comes in and out of the play, because that's one of the most natural connections I make to Shakespeare," she says.

Redgrave cites a line from King Lear: "Forget. Forgive."
"It's very Learlike to say that. Lear would like us to forget. And forgive. I think we should never forget."

But is that a Michael Redgrave thing to say?
"Forget, definitely; forgive, too," she says, explaining that her brother Corin, while helping his father complete an autobiography, found Sir Michael to be riddled with guilt--guilt he was never able to express--about his "benign neglect" of Lynn.

"Forgiveness, for me, has extraordinary double resonance," she says. "For all of us who have had difficult, traumatic relationships with their fathers, we are capable of dark thoughts. And we have to forgive ourselves for them."

Redgrave's play has become a group therapy event for some of her fellow sufferers. Shrinks come to watch, and they send their patients, she says. "They send me their books, too--the author of The Father Daughter Dance sent me hers; it's an interesting book."

But Redgrave will never know if she has an Electra complex or her director-husband John Clark is a father substitute; she heartily rejects therapy for herself.

"I think therapy is dangerous for an actor," she says, asserting that there is a sort of divine madness that makes actors give up workaday life to devote themselves to pretense. "Without that madness, you couldn't be an actor. If you were to sort through and get it all straightened out, the divine madness would be cured, and the gift would leave you," she says.

Then she explains the problem an entirely sane actress faces in another way.
"Now, what are you gonna do, when you're playing Medea, and you've gotta kill your children?