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Natasha Richardson: Truly a luminious actress

March 19, 2009 16:51 IST

You are not allowed to interview Broadway stars once the performances have begun. It is simple logic: the artistes save their voices and energy for the live performances. And acting in a Broadway or West End (in London) is no joke. Critics and audiences are very demanding.

And yet Natasha Richardson, a member of a British acting dynasty and a brilliant actress in her own right, took off some minutes between her two performances on a Wednesday to mourn producer Ismail Merchant's death in 2005. She had to convince her stage manager that she needed to offer her thoughts -- may be just once.

The actress, 45, who received mostly excellent reviews for her work in theatre and films, is being mourned today following her death resulting from a skiing aciddent on March 18.

She did not have access to a computer during her stage apperance in 2005 but she said she would fax her thoughts on Ismail Merchant to She kept her word as she spoke of Merchant's dedication and the pleasure she had being in the 2005 film The White Countess along with her Oscar winning mother Vanessa Redgrave and Vanessa's sister Lynn Redgrave. She 
also talked about the accident Merchant had in China while the film was being shot there. And yet the filmmaker forged on with his responsibilities, she added.

Her mother had acted in several films produced by Merchant, most notably Howards End for which she received an Oscar nomination.

Richardson has been married to Liam Neeson for over 15 years and has two children by him. He is enjoying the best hit of his career as a leading man in Taken, which has grossed over $200 million worldwide and still going strong.

Her father was the Oscar-winning director and producer Tony Richardson. Her maternal grandparents were the actors Michael Redgrave and Rachel Kempson. And her uncle Collin Redgrave is a stage and movie actor who, like Vanessa Redgrave, is also a political activist. Younger sister Joely is also an actress.

Apart from winning Tony Award for a 1998 revival of the musical Cabaret, in which Richardson played the bohemian showgirl Sally Bowles living in a Germany where the Nazis are on their rise, she also acted in over a dozen films including the remake of The Parent Trap, Comfort Of The Strangers and Patty Hearst.

At a press meet for Asylum, a grime psychological tragedy centering on a dangerous secret affair, she looked at me as the round table interview was ending and asked me if I was 'the gentleman who had request my comments on Mr Merchant.' Merchant had died a few months before Asylum opened.

She chatted a while and said she had wondered if she could go to India working in a Merchant film. Her mother had been there several times. But after Merchant's death, she wondered, if she would get an opportunity. She did not.

Many actors and directors do the press meets because their contract with the film's producers requires it. Some of them answer the questions from the reporters with a bored look throughout the 30-minute round-table. Richardson belonged to the other group: who spoke vividly about their work in the film and why it should be seen.

She was never a movie star but in the eyes of the Broadway audiences, who each pay something like $75 to see a hit play, she was a luminous actress.

Tributes to her are coming from all directions. I like the following tribute in the San Francisco Chronicle. Film scholar David Kipen said: As an heir to the Redgrave theatrical and film dynasty, she was the British Drew Barrymore -- if Barrymore had better taste in roles and men. Richardson radiated intelligence in everything she did.'

He added: 'She won raves for Shakespeare, Chekhov, O'Neill, Williams and Ibsen, and she could sing besides. If the movies never knew quite what to do with her, that strikes me more as the medium's fault than hers.'

Arthur J Pais