Dame Eileen Atkins interview: The outspoken actress on why women want to be subjugated and old people shouldn't talk about sex

Dame Eileen Atkins' extensive acting credits include the TV series 'Cranford', for which she won a Bafta and an Emmy, and, on stage, 'Honour', for which she won an Olivier

Adam Jacques@adamjacques88
Monday 18 January 2016 17:02

Learning lines is always agony Anyone who tells you anything different is lying. Sit down tonight and learn 14 lines – a sonnet – and see how long it takes. I once dried when playing with Maggie Smith in A Delicate Balance in the West End. When the curtain went up, I had a three-page speech, but the whole thing had flown totally out of my head. I asked for a prompt, which didn't work, so I turned to the audience and said, "I'm terribly sorry, we are going to have to start again." And I asked [the production crew] to take down the curtain. It was terrifying.

I don't think there are any taboos left on stage During the first-night performance of The Killing of Sister George, about two gay women, at the Bristol Old Vic in 1965, we heard the banging of seats, and a third of the audience left after only 30 minutes! But the changes since then have been incredible: now there's [simulated] buggery on stage and I was even sent a script where the women in it had to go to the lavatory on stage. I turned it down.

Nobody talks to each other on movie sets any more Almost everyone just looks at their phones between takes; I find it quite offensive. I used to love filming, because the social life of a film was fun: you didn't get payback from the audience but at least you had a bit of a laugh between scenes.

I find it sad when people feel that fulfilment is seeing 'Star Wars' 999 times For me, fulfilment comes from creating something; many people do that by having children, while I've been lucky enough to be fulfilled creatively by my work. I went to a wonderful grammar school in Edmonton, the Latymer School, and they drummed into us that everyone had something in them which they could develop that was theirs and would be fulfilling. People go to the bad when they don't feel anything fulfilling.

'The Taming of the Shrew' is an awkward play for gender relations But there are still a lot of women who would marry a man such as Petruchio, and get treated as Katherina does – and enjoy being told to go into the kitchen and shut up! I just don't think you can block out the idea that some women desire subjugation. I'm getting into dangerous waters here, but the fact that Isis can attract women to go to a life in which they know they will be totally subjugated, I'm afraid shows that there is something in the female psyche which desires that.

After 65, people shouldn't talk about having sex I've been one of the worst offenders in my time, I think, talking gaily about sex: it is quite fun talking about affairs one's had. But now when anybody my age [81] starts talking about sex, I just think, oh, I don't want to think about that, please don't talk about it! I can't imagine why anyone would want to have that image of an old man and an old woman in the mind.

Cornwall is another country I love it down there and the village of Port Isaac is heavenly. Whenever I cross the Tamar, I feel elated. Once, when I thought I was alone on a train and going there [to film Doc Martin, in which she plays the title character's aunt], I shouted at the top of my voice, "I love Cornwall! I'm here and I love you!" And someone came into my carriage and asked, "Are you all right?"

Dame Eileen Atkins' extensive acting credits include the TV series 'Cranford', for which she won a Bafta and an Emmy, and, on stage, 'Honour', for which she won an Olivier. She is performing her one-woman show 'Ellen Terry with Eileen Atkins', weaving together the performances and lectures of the renowned Victorian actress, in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London SE1, until 13 February

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