sYou know right away that you’ll get along with Mrs. Elaine Atkins. “Oh my God, we have the highest man in the world by our side,” she said in whispers onstage as we sat. “He wants us to know he went to the right school and was always ordering servants. I really try not to automatically resist these voices.” “But it’s very difficult, isn’t it?”
Atkins, 87 – at some point she’ll get on her knees without a fuss to get her bag out from under the seat – rarely eats in London these days, but she comes here because she’s a follower of Jesus. This is Jesus Adorno, Le Caprice’s manager at Mayfair for 39 years, who now runs this restaurant: Charlie at Brown’s Hotel. As if on cue, Jesus acts in a mysterious way and transports us to a quieter place. “I encouraged a friend to come here,” Atkins says as we were leaving, and she said the food was delicious. “But Eileen, how do you sit down and eat with that wallpaper I’ll never know.”
We study the decoration of the Birds of Paradise and then the menu. “My GP decided I would have a liver break once in a while, so I’ll accept that.”
She is happy to be out because it has been a sad week for her. The day before, Old Vic Theater was finally canceled 4000 milesThe Atkins play was scheduled to star alongside Timothée Chalamet. They were supposed to open fourteen days after the first closing; Since then, Chalamet’s star has skyrocketed and he doesn’t have time for that.
“I can’t believe another play would come up with a role like this for a 91-year-old woman,” Atkins says. “They couldn’t find a replacement for Timmy. That’s it.”
Glittering when asparagus arrives – “Oh, how beautiful!” – Then she returns to her subject. The pain was that she had finally learned her lines, which was even more difficult for her these days. For the first six months of the pandemic, she asked the actor to read the corresponding role each week for continuity, but with more delay she waned.
She says the only saving grace for her was that it gave her a chance to write the memoir she had always thought of. The book is about her years growing up in a council house in Tottenham and how her mother took her on stage as “Baby Eileen” from the age of six as a tap dancer in working-class clubs. It ends with the failure of her first marriage (to Julian Glover) and the transfer of her first major success. Sister George’s murder, to Broadway ; Star years followed. (“By the time volume two is released, I’ll either be dead or ready to leave,” she says.)
She opens her book with a scene that will define her life. She imagines, aged 19, looking through the window at a young woman who puts her children on the table, realizing that her home will always be among her fellow actors.
“I still get tingling in my fingers because I made that choice,” she says now. “Of course there was and still is a slight sadness that I miss for my family and that is very clear now because everyone has grandchildren. But I am sure I made the right decision.”
There is an unforgettable scene in the book where she and Glover decide to adopt a child. A woman with a child happens to knock on the door, and Atkins has two thoughts: first, that the child has been brought for her; The second, that there is no way to accept it. “If I ever thought the world would tell me something, that’s it.”
Was part of that feeling a reaction against her family? It wasn’t a happy family, so why would I want to recreate it? I’m talking to my brother now more than ever. He’ll say, ‘Well, you’re complaining about tap dancing, but you’ve always looked so happy.’ The truth is that he wasn’t I have another choice.”
Are you marked by it? “That’s a very strong word. But it makes me wary of child actors. I feel very hot under my collar when they come over british talent. “
It doesn’t strike me as someone in dire need of treatment. “My friends may have different opinions,” she says. “I went to a therapy session when my second husband passed away in 2016. I wasn’t very happy and talked this guy through everything. And at the end he said, ‘Life is bad, isn’t it?’ I was like, ‘Well, I’m not paying you to tell me that’ .”
She can work through problems on stage. “There’s usually something buried in there,” she says. “And once you take it out and turn it on, you are free of it.”
Not sure how much venting is in that Dr. Martin, the long-running ITV series in which Atkins plays the outspoken aunt of Martin Clowns. She is due to be in Cornwall the day after our four-month meeting to shoot a new series. part of her fears of him; The part who prefers to be at home with her two cats by the river in West London.
“When I think about work, it’s the theater that really makes me happy,” she says. “What attracts me? Dr. Martin is that it’s like being part of a reference company, all together. They give me this hut overlooking the whole port of Isaac… Half of the city hates us, of course.”
If Atkins imagined age, it was a long gossip phone call. She is upset about the number of text messages only from her friends. She does not use the Internet. “One or two people told me I couldn’t go on because I was already angry enough,” she says. “A young woman whom I know a little bit calls me from time to time; she seems to have called me the lady on the Internet and she literally repeats what I say.”
I wonder if she’s gotten tired of her theatrical families over the years. She says, “Never.” “The best time we met was Cranford. We could barely read the first script because we all laughed so much. Judy [Dench] Used to bring cupcakes every morning. I would refuse and say, “I don’t have a sweet tooth.” And one day I heard her say, “Don’t offer Eileen anything, she doesn’t like sweets.” She looked a little pissed, and Judy was never angry. I said to myself, “Eileen, will it hurt you just to take one of my goody cakes one day?” The next time they passed, I took a piece. It was wonderful! Now I have the same cake every year on my birthday. Judy has a knack for bringing people together.”
Even though they were all exactly the same age, Maggie Smith, Dench, and Atkins, she says they weren’t jealous of each other. Anyway, at first I was looking for little parts, and Jodi was Julia in Stratford. It was more competitive with Maggie because we both showed up as assistant stage managers at Oxford Playhouse at the same time. But then, all of a sudden, she was cast as Desdemona Along with Othello Laurence Olivier. I thought, “Maggie?” But then I came to see her and she blew up.”
She has since finished her lunch and concluded it with an “old lady habit” of a glass of hot water.
I read something that guardian Critic Michael Billington once wrote about it. “Vanessa Redgrave seems to have access to another world. Judi Dench can elicit laughter and tears in an instant. But the greatness of Elaine Atkins lies in her extraordinary emotional orientation and ability to turn her eyes into windows to her soul.”
“I’m going to cry now,” she said unexpectedly, as she did so a little. “It makes me feel like I accomplished what I set out to do when I was 12 and decided I wanted to be an actress.”
I apologize for disturbing her as she dried her eyes. “I’m a little emotional about yesterday and the play,” she says. “I feel like I can finish now. That could be it.”
Oh, something else will come up, I suggest. “Maybe,” she said even brighter. “I mean Jan [McKellen] He plays Hamlet at the age of 83. You won’t catch me doing this. But I think that means there is hope for all of us.”
Act One of a Life on Stage by Elaine Atkins Will Do It Available in paperback (Virago, £9.99). To support Guardian and Observer, order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Shipping costs may apply