Interview: Amanda Donohoe: A law unto herself

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Notoriety has attached itself to Amanda Donohoe. Now, after a successful and controversial American career which included the first lesbian kiss on US television, she has returned to Britain and to the stage (in Snoo Wilson's HRH) in search of creative fulfilment

Amanda Donohoe does not have many journalists on her Christmas-card list. Over the years, you see, she has fought a running battle to be taken seriously by the esteemed members of Her Majesty's Fourth Estate. At first, Fleet Street's finest labelled her as a woman who had to be persuaded to keep her clothes on in such films as Castaway, The Rainbow, and Diamond Skulls.

"It was so pointless," she moans about her early reputation. "When you're starting out, the press just view you as tits and ass. These things stick. They dig a grave for you, and you have to dig your way out of it."

The interment went even deeper in the actress's eyes when, as CJ Lamb in LA Law, she became the first woman to plant a gay kiss on US primetime television. "Now I'm tagged as a lesbian," she laughs, hollowly. "I don't take my clothes off anymore, but now I kiss women. You can't win. Now I'm going to go and do serious work to shut them up."

Her latest attempt to silence the mockers in the press is a starring role as Wallis Simpson opposite Corin Redgrave's Duke of Windsor in HRH. A new play written by Snoo Wilson and directed by Simon Callow, it centres on the links with the Nazis the Duke cultivated when he became Governor of the Bahamas during the War. Donohoe's efforts seem to be paying off - one newspaper has already described her performance as "marvellous".

When we meet over lunch in Bath during the preview run, she has an infectious enthusiasm for the play. In life, as on screen, she gives off more sparks than a steel foundry. She forsook the mega-bucks of Hollywood for the mini-pennies of the British stage because "I love doing two-handers. Being a show-off, I want to be on stage all the time. I've done my time sitting in the dressing-room listening to other people on stage. Also, I wanted to be in an arena of quality and talent. I wasn't getting that in LA. I found myself making money, but not being creatively fulfilled - the two rarely go together."

The play seems likely to provoke debate at this time when the public and press alike are still ultra-sensitive about anything pertaining to the Royal Family. "Some people came along to the previews imagining it would be a jolly play about Edward and Wallis," Donohoe says. "Then they thought, 'I don't want to hear this, it's disgusting'. If it can create a stir like that, fantastic. It could cause a positive storm."

Donohoe has certainly whipped up a few of those in her time. Ever since the age of 15 when she started going out with pop star Adam Ant, she has been a magnet for controversy. "I know that the producer of HRH made several phone calls to find out what my rep was before he hired me," Donohoe discloses. "He was astonished to find nothing negative. That reputation is down to stupid press coverage over the years. As a young woman, when I started making statements, I was slapped down or made to feel stupid, like Lady Di.

"As I've got older, I've proved myself. I don't have to be strident anymore, I do get off the soapbox now," she says, before adding with a smile: "But I'm sure I was a lively creature back then."

Her liveliness has translated well across the Atlantic, where she has secured leading roles opposite Jim Carrey (Liar, Liar) and Kelsey Grammer (Frasier and the forthcoming Broken English). But she remains best known for her role as the funky gay attorney in LA Law, a performance that earned her a Golden Globe Award and a reported $15,000 a week. "I was one of the first people on primetime television to play a non-heterosexual person," she claims. "It was a historic thing and I'm very, very proud of it. Believe me, there weren't a lot of people brave enough to do it. Colleagues were very tentative; they said, 'Are you sure you should be doing it?'"

They were proved partially right, because the role was on the wrong end of some fire and brimstone. "I was naive about the American Bible-bashing element," she concedes. "But I'm sure they were in the minority. The majority were hugely positive. They were so grateful to see the truth, as opposed to the demonisation of gays." But Donohoe left the series when, in classic conservative fashion, the network started toying with the idea of giving CJ Lamb a boyfriend.

She doesn't, however, regret it for a moment. "I know that to stay and just take the money would have been creative suicide. If all you're doing is making money, you have a luxurious but empty life. A bit like Wallis. You have to go around with a bodyguard the whole time. You can't even go to the supermarket to pick up cereal. Madonna said to me she missed that.

"People say to me 'You're a big Hollywood star', and I find it so funny," she carries on. "I still feel as though I'm the girl from Golders Green. I lead such a boring, normal life. I still go shopping in Sainsbury's. If the ability to do that was taken away from me, I'd go barmy. You lose your freedom. Be careful what you wish for."

What Donohoe wishes for more than anything else as she reaches the age of 35 is to be known for her acting rather than her headlines. "I've always thought of myself as a character actor," she declares. "As a young woman, that was very hard to prove."

You've got to admire Donohoe's independence of mind. She is difficult but dedicated.

"I can go on doing fluffy roles, but that's not going to provide longevity in this business," she argues. "If you build a career on being a beautiful young woman, that's going to be a short career. I have to establish I can act. I don't want to have to visit the plastic surgeon every two years."

'HRH' is at the Playhouse Theatre, Northumberland Ave, London WC2 (0171- 839 4401).

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