Catching Up With Angela Lansbury


By Courtney Nichols

The beloved actress chats with us about the highlights of her long, illustrious career, participating in the TCM Classic Film Festival, and the one role she wishes she had gotten the chance to play.

How does one introduce an icon like Angela Lansbury? Do you recount her career chronologically, beginning with her breakthrough role in 1944's Gaslight, which landed her an Academy Award nomination, and continue to the present day with her upcoming June release of Mr. Popper's Penguins with Jim Carrey? Do you discuss her craft in three distinct categories: the big screen, the small screen, and the stage? If that's the case, you would certainly have to spend some time detailing her lifelong friendship with Stephen Sondheim, who first cast the British actress in Anyone Can Whistle, then secured her a Tony with his Sweeney Todd and ultimately helped her grab another nomination for the 2009 revival of A Little Night Music. Or you could simply introduce Angela Lansbury by talking about her beloved voice.

Regardless of how you choose to do it, it's clear that the 85-year-old actress continues to thrill audiences and shows no signs of retiring from her passion. A guest speaker at this year's TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood, California, she sat down with Out before her pre-Gaslight Q&A at Grauman's Chinese Theater in Los Angeles. Lansbury discussed her love of live theater, her thankfulness for being able to continue acting, and the highlights of her long, illustrious career.

Out: What is a typical day for Angela Lansbury?
Angela Lansbury: It depends on what I am doing. When I am working in the theater, I do not practice all day. I just do the show at night. As an actress, you only act when you have a script to learn and a character to portray.

Where does your heart live: onstage or onscreen?
At the moment, it's very much onstage, which it has been for the past six years. I have been working almost continuously on Broadway playing wonderfully diverse roles, which has been exciting and wonderful. It has given my career a whole new boost.

Do you go continually grow with each role you undertake?
At my age I wouldn't say you grow. When you say you grow, you do in the sense of growing over a length of time. Actors and I find new little bits of pieces every performance. There is some little bit that I bring to it that is new, but not so much as to upset the other members of the cast! Once a performance is set, you rely on each other to play it the way you did the last performance. I could upset an actor terribly if I suddenly did a cartwheel in a scene where I normally didn't. You see what I mean?

Definitely. Is there a role you have always wanted to play but have yet to?
Not really. No. I can't say that. I could say that I would love to play Lady M. Do you know who that is? We never discuss her real name. That is a role that would have entranced me at one stage in my career. Really, I have gotten to play some unique and unusual roles. I am comfortable with what I have done so far. I am always looking for a new challenge and a new possibility of bringing a new quality I haven't to some role. I am at an age that I am very happy to work. That is the important thing -- to keep working.

I want to talk a bit about your involvement in the TCM Classic Film Festival. Do you believe the festival is for an older generation to reminisce or for a younger generation to be educated?
I think it's for a younger generation to discover what we were doing in the early days of movies. I certainly started in 1943 and that is way back, but it was during a period when great classic movies were made. I think that young people are discovering how interesting those movies were and how fascinating stars of that period were. A lot of youngsters today are getting transfixed on it. I think it is terrific thing that we are having the Turner Classic Film Festival. It is alerting people that some of us are still around and working -- not everybody -- but nonetheless, these movies are great entertainment.