Career versus childcare: Joely: The biggest role of her life

She comes from a dynasty of celebrated actors and filmmakers but took her time to make her name. Now Joely Richardson has decided to shun the limelight and nurse her sick daughter back to health. By Jonathan Brown
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The Independent US

One can only imagine the pressures on the young Joely Richardson. Born into the fourth generation of arguably the world's most celebrated acting dynasty, it looked for some time as if the youngest daughter of Vanessa Redgrave and Tony Richardson might somehow fail to live up to expectations to make it in the family trade.

By her own admission it was not until the "ripe old age of 35" that she finally cracked it.

In 2000, she stepped out into the international spotlight on the arm of TV presenter Jamie Theakston, clad in Julien Macdonald's now infamous backless gold dress. Until then, famous lineage aside, Ms Richardson could boast at best only a "choppy" career trajectory. There was a competent performance in Peter Greenaway's Drowning By Numbers, an appearance alongside Glenn Close in Disney's 101 Dalmations, and a smattering of TV roles from Poirot to Lady Chatterley's Lover.

But she enjoyed nothing like the acclaim heaped on her illustrious grandfather, parents or sister Natasha. In her private life, too, there were problems when her marriage to Four Weddings and a Funeral producer Tim Bevan hit the rocks.

But her casting in the cult US TV hit Nip/Tuck as Julia McNamara, the errant wife of Miami plastic surgeon Sean McNamara, played by Dylan Walsh, changed all that.

She won a Golden Globe nomination and was transformed into one of Hollywood's hottest stars with three new film projects currently in production.

The fourth series of the macabre lipo-suction saga began airing on cable channel FX in September and is due to run for 13 episodes.

Yesterday, however, afficionados of the show were stunned to learn Ms Richardson was to stand down in order to spend more time looking after her sick daughter.

In an interview with the US magazine TV Guide, she revealed that 15-year-old Daisy, the product of her marriage to Mr Bevan, has been suffering from a rare circulatory disease since early childhood. It has weakened the walls and the valves of her veins and is now hampering the flow of blood around her body.

Diagnosed at the age of one, the girl has been in and out of hospital for several years and is now to undergo a further series of operations on her legs.

Facing up to her daughter's illness has marked a watershed in the actress's life, she revealed, forcing the 41-year-old to re-evaluate her priorities. Required to choose between her career and her daughter, she revealed there could be little contest.

"Surgeons and hospitals have been a big part of our lives," she said. "We were always told that she would have to have more surgery when she got older. The time has come. What the future holds, nobody can say. It's all up in the air. And I don't know if I will ever be here again.

"I love my work. But I had to be in two places at once and I thought, 'If it were all over tomorrow, what would I regret?' It would be not being there for her. It had to be done but it was scary," she said.

Yesterday Ms Richardson's spokeswoman was at pains to point out that her absence from Nip/Tuck had been agreed with the producers before the latest series went to air.

"Her daughter's surgery has been arranged for some time and this is not some life-threatening illness," she said. "We have not made any decisions just yet about whether Joely will return to the show next year."

However, in the interview Ms Richardson admitted she feared incurring the wrath of the producers. She said: "You think, 'Oh my God, are they going to sue me?'"

The actress's off-screen predicament has unhappy echoes of the current plot in Nip/Tuck in which her character Julia's baby suffers a rare genetic disorder, ectorodactylism, in which the bones of the hands and feet are fused.

But series creator Ryan Murphy was nothing if not supportive and said he hoped his star would return soon.

"It was sad but Joely came before her character," he said.

"The dynamic of the show changed with the difficulty of what she was going through, plus what she is going through on the show this season playing the mother of a deformed baby. That said, Joely's the best she's ever been. I don't want to do the show without her," he added.

Filming for Nip/Tuck has taken its toll on the star.

She has been alternating between spending six months at her home in west London and the remaining six on the set of the show in Los Angeles. Although Daisy joins her for long periods in America, Ms Richardson says she misses her daughter badly when she is at school in the UK.

Filming is gruelling, with the cast required to work 18-hour days. The star has not remarried although she has been linked with co-star John Hensley who plays her teenage son in the show, despite being only 12 years younger.

However, she says she spends most of her spare time in the US watching television.

For Redgrave/Richardson fans the show has had the added benefit of bringing mother and daughter together on screen. Ms Redgrave appeared in two series, including one memorable scene where she smokes cannabis alongside her daughter, something the younger actress, who has never taken drugs, said her mother found considerably easier to recreate than she did.

Ms Richardson's decision to sacrifice work for family throws into stark relief public comments she has made regarding her own childhood, especially her turbulent relationship with her mother.

She has admitted to uncomfortable feelings growing up in the shadow of a woman who was lionised on the one hand as the finest classical actress of her generation, and lampooned on the other for her support for the Trotskyite Workers' Revolutionary Party, an organisation she fronted alongside her brother Corin.

Eschewing the trappings of a celebrity childhood, the family grew up in a self-consciously average home in Hammersmith, west London. "There wasn't a silver spoon, the work ethic did rub off, " she says. "It was 'Do that well and you'll be rewarded in the proper way'."

She says she admires her mother's determination to stick to her left-wing principles. "She is not a phoney on any level. No double life at all and to me that's a beautiful thing," she said.

A middling student, Ms Richardson quit the academically rigorous St Paul's Girls' School to pursue a tennis scholarship in Santa Barbara, close to her father's home in Los Angeles. She admits that it was from her father, the pioneering director of Look Back in Anger, The Entertainer and Saturday Night Sunday Morning, that she sought approval. And after school in California she returned to fulfil her destiny by enrolling at Rada.

Ms Richardson now insists she turned her parent's exotic lives to her advantage. She says - paradoxically - that it was "not being present and involved in my parents' lives" that gave the determination to pursue a career in acting. She admits there were troubled times during her teens and her 20s but says it is all in the past and today her mother is the ideal grandmother.

"Do I now, as an adult, resent my mother not being there? No. There comes a point where you have to let it go and say that's the way it is. Also when you have kids, it's like, 'Oh, I see, it wasn't as easy as I thought.'"

Perhaps it is memories such as those which have informed her relationship with her own daughter. She remains close to Daisy's father and even holidays with him and his new partner and their two children, scotching astonishment that she is somehow putting on appearances.

"All the children get on well; they are brother and sister after all," she says.

The actress admits the divorce was "shite" but leaps to Mr Bevan's defence against claims that he left her for a younger woman. The marriage broke up because both simply stopped working at it, she says. "I love him dearly, and he's a fantastic father," she adds.

At the moment, the fifth generation of the Redgrave/Richardson dynasty is under no pressure to go into acting, she insists. Her Liberal Democrat voting mother is also reluctant to force any politics on her. At the moment, she says, her priority is getting her back to full health.