"It sounds so whimsical, doesn't it? But I had a reunion a few days ago with some friends from drama school, and they said: you were so poor, you used to go home for the weekend and come back with a bit of the Sunday joint in a paper bag that lasted you through the entire week, getting more and more horrible-looking. I was quite reassured that it was all really true," she says, semi- incredulous at her own myth.
It was a hard myth to shed, though Christie's subsequent filmography has been sound and varied: Dr Zhivago, Far from the Madding Crowd, The Go-Between, Shampoo, Don't Look Now and McCabe and Mrs Miller, these last two being her own favourites. Returning to Britain at the end of the Seventies after a long sojourn in Hollywood, she has since made a few films of serious intent (but then comedy was never her forte): Memoirs of a Survivor, Return of the Soldier, Heat and Dust and The Gold Diggers.
These days the face of 1965 keeps a low profile. We meet in a large house in Notting Hill, with bikes and pushchairs in the hall, various children of unidentified provenance in the living room (she is childless) and much background kitchen clatter. It combines familiarity with something strictly impersonal (Christie does not live here); not unlike her personal manner, in fact.
She has lately been addressing herself to the task of ageing with grace. "Suddenly you start to get these roles as the mother of the ingenue you'd have been playing five years ago - it happens in a very swift moment. On the whole, men don't write potent roles for women over a certain age. But I'm getting a lot of interesting offers now - smaller films, not huge commercial stuff . . . perhaps because they're directed by women."
Miss Mary, her new film, is small-ish, and by a woman, the Argentine director Maria Luise Bernberg. It is set in 1930, when a military putsch was about to usher in years of turmoil. As a English governess in service with a degenerate Argentine family, Christie does not sheer away from showing her age. "I wanted her to look plain, lacking that light, you know, that people have who are aware of their own sexuality. From that came all sorts of other things: her carriage, the way she wore her hair. It was difficult, though, to feel what it was like to have repressed all your possibilities of joy."
Christie had earlier turned down the role of a reporter in Central America in Under Fire. "Yes," she says firmly, "that was a mistake. I felt it didn't do justice to female war correspondents. In retrospect, I realise you have to compromise endlessly. You take what you can get."
It is a quandary that stars with clout, especially in America, have resolved by developing their own projects. But Christie has no aptitude for that. "I'd love to direct or produce, but you need this sort of business sense. I can't organise anything. I tried writing a film script once, too, and it ground to a ghastly halt."
Christie has sometimes been unkindly taxed with espousing modish causes, but her beliefs are held on a profound emotional level. "I don't think I get on to bandwagons - I find it hard enough to get involved with anything. But there are laboratories stretching from here to God knows where, full of animals with things in their heads . . . I watched another film about it last week and it made me scream in my chair." With that, Christie rounds up a bagload of plastic and aluminium containers: she is pledged to cook a (vegetarian) supper on the other side of town. Some of that mythical life style seems to have endured after all.
From the Arts page of `The Independent', Wednesday 16 September 1987Reuse content