Michael Sheen (Mail Weekend, June 20, 2020)

There have been no lockdown haircuts for Michael Sheen. His hair is big. A mass of charcoal cherubic curls, paired with a bushy beard – not the kind you used to see people in Apple Stores sporting. It’s entirely unmanicured. He says he never changes his hair until he begins a part and then they instruct changes. This was his hair in the lockdown comedy drama Staged, in which he stars with his friend David Tennant, an exquisitely observed drama about insecure male actors rehearsing a play – Six Characters in Search of an Author, to be staged when lockdown is over. Sheen has pretty much been the star of lockdown anyway, his dazzling Chris Tarrant from the acclaimed and wonderful Quiz was the high point of the start of lockdown when we were all at our lowest. For a mercurial, sensitive Welshman, he is curiously upbeat. His new baby, Lyra, with his partner Anna Lundberg, a Swedish actress (around 25 years his junior) is complaining loudly in the background. I ask if she’s disturbed, he says she’s excited – how ‘glass full’ is that?

Sheen and I last met a few years ago in a restaurant in LA, his parents joined us – they were lovely. He was living there because he was working full-time on epic series like Masters of Sex and because his first family, daughter Lily with actress Kate Beckinsale lived there.

Theirs was a deep love affair but didn’t stand the tests of time, fame, or whatever it is that makes people who love each other not want to be with each other. He has had many long encounters with beautiful famous actresses such as Rachel McAdams and Sarah Silverman, but with Anna, he seems properly settled and unphased by lockdown: “it was always my plan to take time off and spend time over here with family, my parents are only 20 minutes away and the new series of Prodigal Son will be in New York but nobody’s sure when”. Does he fill with nostalgia when he sees Netflix + palm trees + Californian blue sky: “we don’t get to watch much TV at the moment, we’re busy with the baby, so we listen jealously when we hear other people talk about a boxset or anything else they’ve binged watched. I do miss it a bit, although the weather at the moment is Los Angeles-like in Wales and we spend a lot of time in the garden. I feel really fortunate that lockdown was in this period of time because I wasn’t going to be working anyway. I was just filming Prodigal Son in New York, we came back to Wales, my plan was to have a break – the plan was not to do any work so I didn’t have to pull out of anything and nothing was cancelled, and because of the baby it’s not massively different to how it would have been anyway. We would have been seeing my mum and dad more – which we haven’t done, but in the context of a really strange time for everyone, I am grateful for the small mercies, and it became weirdly busy”. He also appeared in a production of Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood with key workers, doctors and teachers, where each one of them recited a few words about a sleeping Welsh fishing village (it appears online): “a lot of things came in and a lot of things that people ask me to do I can’t do because I’m working, but they knew I wasn’t working or going anywhere so it was harder to say no, and besides I want to help where I can”. ‘Help’ is in his nature, he’s run several charity football matches: ‘Football Stars Against Actors’ for Unicef. Last year, when he staged ‘The Homeless World Cup’ in Cardiff, some funding dropped out and he had to pay for everything himself. He ‘put it all on the line’ for the Homeless World Cup. He said at the time “we got into a bit of a state so I essentially put everything I had into this, you either commit to this stuff of you don’t. I have the opportunity to earn money, at this point I can work as much as I want. I figured, if I’m not prepared to give it all away, what am I doing?” When he was a pre-teen he was offered a place to train with the Arsenal junior team, his parents decided against it, it was one of those moments where his life could have taken a different fork. And even though he is passionate about soccer, he would have never have been an actor if he had been a footballer, and even at twelve he understood when his father explained how few people really make it big in the Premier League and how short their careers are anyway. His mother, Irene Sheen, was a secretary but was super poetic, and he feels a huge kinship to her. His father, Meryick, was a manager but also a full-time Jack Nicholson impersonator. He’d show up at premieres that Jack couldn’t make it to, and try not to speak in a welsh accent.

When Staged came up (for BBC One): “it was a chance to work with David that I thought would be quite fun. I loved working with David on Good Omens and we became good friends. We knew each other socially, although we hadn’t acted together again. In the period of Good Omens, which was a long time, it was just me and him together for a long period. And then even longer promoting it, going around the world. We both had babies at around the same time. David and Georgia had their little baby Birdy, although he’s got about a hundred other children, and we had Lyra, so we had been sharing baby stories.

On the show, they look like impenetrable close friends, but they are good actors so it’s hard to know, even though Sheen insists he’s playing a version of himself. He left it a couple of decades between children so “we’ve been sharing a lot of different experiences, aside from enjoying each other’s company. People talk about our chemistry as characters and it’s true, we do have chemistry and it’s very interesting to explore that. We are playing ourselves but they’re still characters really. David is straightforward when it comes to working, there’s no ego, no mess-around, he turns up, he’s brilliant. He makes it so easy”. And that’s exactly how Sheen is, no ego, no fuss, just brilliant work. And then he deflects from the compliment: “I think David makes me a better person and a better actor”. He doesn’t even mind, although I mind for him, that his Chris Tarrant was reviewed by some critics as an ‘impersonation’, he’s not an impersonator, he’s a wonderfully nuanced actor who is capable of taking the essence of the person, real or fictional, and showing what matters about them most: “it doesn’t matter if people discredit you, the show was so well received. No one ever imagined, when it came out, we’d be in this lockdown situation. It worked in our favour because people were looking forward to things to watch and this is what brought people together”. That, and Normal People: “like I said, we don’t have much time to watch things, but we are slowly making our way through that, and it’s beautiful”. Sheen famously played Blair three times in The QueenThe Deal and The Special Relationship. He was very good at that, after that he went on to play David Frost in Frost/Nixon on stage and screen versions. And football boss Brian Clough in The Damned United, but playing Blair three times made a close association in the public eye, and one horrific experience for me, after I had interviewed him the first time. This voice came on the phone saying it was Tony, and I thought it was Michael pretending to be Tony, but it was actually Tony. So that only led to an association of personal embarrassment. One reviewer referred to Michael Sheen as Martin Sheen, the veteran actor, so Michael’s reaction was to change his Twitter handle for some time. The name Michael was never meant to be his in the first place, his parents called him Christopher, but when he was in hospital, a nurse put the wrong baby tag on him: “due to some complications, I was separated from my mother for a few days and when my mum and dad came to pick me up and take me home, they said ‘we’ve come to pick up baby Christopher’ and they said ‘we don’t have a baby Christopher, we have a baby Michael’, so they named me Michael Christopher. I also did one of those family tree programs where they said that my ancestors had come over from Ireland and one of them had 20 children but only five of them had survived – all the boys called Michael had died, so I avoided the curse of Michael Sheen because my parents had named me Michael. So, by accident I snuck around the family curse”. At the moment, though, he seems more blessed than cursed, even making lockdown work for him. I wonder, could one really rehearse a play in lockdown so they could be performed? “you could up to a certain point, you could work on it. The first weeks of rehearsing anything is talking through stuff.”

Does he miss the theatre? “I do. I miss doing a play on stage in front of an audience. But when I wake up, doing a play, it’s the first thing that hits me – I’ve got to do a play tonight. It feels depressive and I feel anxious before the performance, even though it’s a couple of hours a day, it takes over your life and it’s hard to focus on anything else. It’s much more consuming than working on film and TV, although paradoxically you only spend a few hours doing it, it takes up more bandwidth. I love the feeling of acting on stage in front of an audience”. And the camaraderie of working with fellow actors? “yes, but you get that working on a film or TV show, especially if they’re long-running ones. When you’re in the theatre, you don’t spend much time with other actors until you’re actually on stage. When you’re filming you’re all sitting around between takes, so there’s much more a sense of the group during filming”. So working in an actual theatre with a new baby was never an easy equation: “yeah, it could be a lot worse. It’s not been as disruptive for us personally, but we’re very aware of how it affects people”. She’s quiet now, less disturbed and excited. On the whole is she a good baby? “she’s a baby, I don’t really divide them into good babies and bad babies, the whole experience is just wonderful. It’s all the fun of sleepless nights and nappies being changed. It’s wonderful to go through it again”. Is it surprisingly different from your first baby-daddy experience? “I don’t think so, when my first daughter was born, it was an extraordinary experience, life-changing. It does feel like one of the most profound experiences you can have. It changes everything. So I can’t say I was surprised but on another level you don’t know what to expect. What has changed since last time is car seats. These days they actually fit. I remember last time wrangling around with the seat belt, now you just have something that fits permanently in the car, it’s easy. Prams and stuff, easy. Technology has changed for the better, but the basics of sleepless nights and poo-y nappies are just as bad and difficult to deal with. But it’s amazing, the best experience ever.

Staged focuses on insecurities and quirks that come up with lockdown: “obviously it tests relationships because there are very few people that would spend this much time together constantly. I’m sure some thrive and some are shown crack. I think it’s important to be able to speak to one another and express yourself and what’s going on. So even not in lockdown conditions, relationships can be better if people share what’s going on. A massive generalisation is that men are not as good as expressing their feelings as women”. Paradoxically though, Sheen is good at expressing emotions. Possibly because he has a direct channel for those emotions in acting, but also because he’s fearless about emotions which is a rarity and makes him rare as an actor. “I’ve been lucky in another sense because my parents are only 20 minutes away. My sister and I take it in turns to do the weekly shop for them. I see them then, they stand in the doorway and I stand two metres away and drop off the food. But I know it’s difficult, particularly for my mum (who likes to hug everyone) and she had to have her birthday on lockdown. And even with the baby, although technology allows us to have contact, with FaceTimeZoom and Skype, the baby’s changing all the time and my mum and dad are really aware of that, and it’s frustrating that they can’t see her much even though we’re only down the road.

They were never comfortable using technology but a lot of people have had to get comfortable with that and step up. Although, saying that, there have been a lot of facetime calls where I’m faced looking at a wall. But the family have done a group-chat over Zoom, so they’ve done really well to do that, and I’m grateful that we’ve been able to stay in contact”. It seems like Sheen didn’t do some of the lockdown things that were everyone else’s insecurities: the lockdown haircut, the lockdown texting the ex, or have the lockdown anxiety that they were going to kill their partner if they heard them blink one more time. “I have seen a lot of dodgy haircuts going on. Friends of mine have said ‘I’ve let my kids cut my hair’ which is obviously taking your life in your hands, so I’ve avoided that”. He also seems to have avoided neurosis, over-self-examination and fears for the future. There will be another season of Prodigal Son, he doesn’t know when. And another season of There’s Something About Movies, for Sky TV, he doesn’t know when. Perhaps it’s the baby, perhaps it’s being home and close with his parents, he’s become extremely patient.

Rupert Grint – Mail Weekend (Jan 2020)

Rupert Grint and Chrissy Iley
Rupert Grint and Chrissy Iley

I first met Rupert Grint over 5 years ago – the Harry Potter films were already over but a whole generation still felt they owned him. He was their friend, their brother, their personal wizard. As we sat having coffee in a tucked away street a dozen people in the course of an hour called out “Ron! Ron! Ron!” and asked for selfies. He didn’t seem irritated by this level of invasive fame, he just obliged. Today, it’s been nearly a decade since Harry Potter ended and he’s managed some personal wizardry – people still stop him every day, he is still one of the most famous people in the world and still responsible for revitalising Ginger. Curiously, he has managed to keep such a lot of his life private, for instance, he has been together with actress Georgia Groome (from Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging) since 2011, but nobody knew they were a couple until about a year ago.

He is next on screen on Apple TV in which is possibly his first fully fledged grown-up role. The show is addictive, creepy, twisty, turny; I was going to watch 1 episode but binged 5, I couldn’t believe it was so good. Shyamalan says that Rupert was pivotal. He’s not the lead role, he’s the main character’s brother, but he steals the screen in such a way that he makes it his own. In the show, as Julian, he wears his snazzy suit, one of them a blue tartan tweedy affair which is both ridiculous and charming – a bit like him. His sister is Lauren Ambrose, flame-haired actress from Six Feet Under. They actually look as if they could be related: “ever since I saw her in Six Feet Under, I always wanted to play her relation” – see, he manifested it.

Today  when we meet in his room in a smart London hotel he is wearing a thick black jacket and black roll-neck and a necklace with a few charms, one of which is a heart that says ‘happy birthday, Anne, 1967’: “I have no idea who she is but I like to think about who she might be. I got it at a vintage market in Philadelphia. I’m a bit of a collector”. Indeed, he’s got a rare elephant bird egg, a skeleton of an ostrich which stands in his dining room, and several ancient bones. Is Antiques Roadshow his guilty pleasure? “Not so guilty – not guilty at all, I love it. I love hearing the stories of the relationships people have with these objects. And I’m into… stuff. Fiona Bruce presents it and she’s really good, I don’t know if I could do it better but I’ve not got a bad knowledge and I can identify bits of ceramic so I wouldn’t mind being a presenter.”

He’s 31, as ginger as ever, and with naughty twinkling eyes. He doesn’t feel 31 (or particularly look it), but because of Potter, he has a weird relationship with age. Potter overtook his childhood so he has a strange relationship with age. When it ended, did he have an identity crisis? “Yes, I suppose so. And I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do anything like it again, or act again. I was quite keen on having my freedom back, I had my tonsils removed straight away”. Does he mean so he couldn’t talk and it was a celebration to have his voice removed? He replied “kind of, but I had massive tonsils, and I had to get them out. I felt like a man – it was good. You can’t speak for a few days and you shouldn’t eat ice cream, you should eat scratchy things.” Why? I thought the whole point of having your tonsils removed was so you could eat ice cream for a few days? “That’s completely wrong, you’ve got to encourage chewing and swallowing textured food. But I did have ice cream as well.” Ice cream has always been important to Rupert – he once wanted to be an ice cream man: “because I always loved the van, it was my first car and I learned to drive in it. It has pictures of 99s on it. Whenever I rode it out it was chaos with people wanting ice cream, but it was a great choice of transport. I still think it would be a nice job, but the ice cream men are very territorial – there’s a whole mafia, you get into trouble if you go onto someone else’s patch.” What’s your favourite ice cream? “I like ‘em all, my favourite’s a 99 and a Raspberry Ripple”. He makes me laugh a lot, his is cute and endearing but he’s also old-soul smart. In Servant his sister suffers the loss of her baby and replaces it with a Baby Reborn doll as part of grief therapy. The doll is made of silicone, hand-crafted, weighted and very realistic. Although his character Julian is brash, he’s the man you’d want in a crisis: “he’s always two steps ahead, and he’s always popping in for tequila. It felt very natural playing Lauren’s brother – I used to imagine we would be relatives in something.” Reborn dolls are real therapy dolls and used when women really want to conceive and they can’t or when they’ve suffered a cot-death. Rupert tells me “I have a Reborn doll, but it’s like a vampire. I’m not sure it’s quite the same thing, but the dolls are really realistic and when you hold them you can’t stop bouncing them.” Perhaps being Julian will finally make people realise he’s Rupert, not Ron, or even Ed Sheeran – who he’s always being mistaken for, including once by Leo Sayer at a car rally who kept asking him about his latest album: “I just played along, it was easier. Being Ron, though, it’s strange. It’s never quite died down. And now a whole new generation is finding Harry Potter. They have this kind of ownership of me – they see me and they think they know me. And, of course, Harry Potter still lives on because there’s a theatre play, and a ride at Universal Studios which I went on at the opening and it got stuck. It’s amazing what they’ve built: a Hogwarts castle, a train and King’s Cross, it takes you straight back. I am very proud to have been part of it, but it could be a bit claustrophobic, especially when we had finished the last one, nearly 10 years ago now. There wasn’t any real period of adjustment. Suddenly everything was over and it was overwhelming. It was the right time to finish – there are no more books anyway.”

Is he aware of the rumour that was circulated that there was going to be an original cast reforming on another Harry Potter? “I don’t think that would happen but I’d never say never.”

“I’ve got a whole new perspective on those years now. We were in this protected bubble but we didn’t really see it. We didn’t really feel that famous. I didn’t hate it but it had its own challenges. I did struggle, I think, because I had naturally merged into the character of Ron. I felt a very strong affiliation with him.” Does he feel that he merged into his character more than Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) or Emma Watson (Hermione Granger)? He thinks long and hard: “I don’t know.” Maybe it’s because he’s the better actor. “I’ll take that… but I still feel him. I feel protective over him. When I went to see the play (Harry Potter and The Cursed Child) and someone else was playing me I didn’t feel right. But on another level it was really fun – great to see him reimagined.” Is he still in touch with Emma and Daniel, who were his closest companions for a decade? “It’s been a while since I’ve seen either of them… I see Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy). I see them as family but more like distant cousins – it’s great to reunite when we do, but we’re not with each other all the time. It was an intense period.”

Coming out of a role that he played for so long, it must have been difficult to choose projects or characters that were different enough. “It’s never been a conscious thing to remove myself from that world, but I wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to be a wizard again. I enjoy stuff that’s grounded in reality.” Although, Servant is grounded in the creepiest reality. And his Reborn doll doesn’t seem very realistic because “it’s a vampire doll with little fangs. You still want to look after it and handle it carefully. Reborn dolls are a real form of therapy, although I can’t say that I would recommend it.” Why did he acquire his? Was it therapeutic? “No, because people know I collect weird things”. The presence of the babies on set made him actually quite broody: “as well as the dolls, on set we had triplets. They were always around. I love kids, I really do want children one day. Servant taps into this primal fear we have about protecting our young, and that’s how the show twists that part of the brain.” At the moment, though, he is happy to be a Cat Dad to a pinky-white sphynx cat called Milk, “it’s a myth they are hairless, they do have hair, but it feels like suede. And he loves skin-on-skin contact. He’s white but he’s got a pink hue and a bit of red fur on his nose.” He did a campaign for Milk a few years ago, so he obviously feels very close to him and that they have a likeness. He shows me his picture – he looks like a new-born foetus (if that’s possible). Milk doesn’t like to wear outfits but has a special heated bed that he likes, “he’s got beautiful blue eyes as well – owners do look like their pets, don’t they?”

As well as having a confused relationship with his age, he has an even more confused relationship with money. He made several million, some reports say £28 million  from the Harry Potter franchise but has no idea how much money he has: “it rings a bell, yes, I couldn’t actually tell you. Money is something that happens in the background. Milk has got very expensive tastes but I haven’t had an issue with money from such a young age, it makes it weird. I think I’m thrifty, I like a bargain – but maybe that’s just because I’m getting older. What age do I feel? I couldn’t put a number on it. Younger than 30 and also forever.” Is it true that Julian is your first grown-up character? “I think you always put a bit of yourself in the character, but Julian is removed from everything that I am. He is hugely confident and not hugely likeable.” I find the lack of confidence alarming. He’s shy and blushes easily but he has every reason to be confident – he is very funny and smart, and has something special as an actor. He has managed to be grounded and private, even as one of the most famous faces on earth. “I think I have a very normal existence, it’s a malleable level of fame and I enjoy it. The Harry Potter films had a profound effect and deep meaning to people, especially of my generation – they get tattoos of it. It’s a real marker of their nostalgia, I’ve learned to embrace it.” Some drinks and some chips arrive, but he’s far too polite to eat them, or maybe he’s just not hungry. His brother now rally drives and his father used to: “my dad used to sell Formula One memorabilia on QVC. I’ve always liked cars, but I haven’t got the ‘car gene’ as intensely. As well as the ice cream van, I’ve got an electric car. We all go through different phases, and this year, I started beekeeping.” He keeps the bees in his garden in North London: “I let the bees have the honey, they’re just amazing things to watch – inspiring and so busy. They’ve all got jobs, there’s an undertaker bee who carries out the dead bees, and the Queen is massive and has a green dot which they paint her with. You’re born a Queen, it’s a fascinating society – the hierarchy of the hive. I’ve got a lot of bee paraphernalia, a bee suit and smokers.

Does he mean he wears a black and yellow stripe suit to tend them?

“No!! a protective bee suit!

“When you open the hive you have to smoke them because it relaxes them, otherwise they can get quite aggressive. It’s a primal thing, they think it’s a forest fire so they stay in the hive. I’ve never been stung. Bees really don’t care about you, they’ve got so much to do: filling the hive with pollen. This year there were mites that hurt the hive, so we’re building them back up and next year we will be able to take some honey.”

Next up, he will go back to Philadelphia for another series of Servant, where he will collect more antiquities and books: “I’ve mainly got David Attenborough books, he’s got an elephant bird egg as well, and I’m sure he likes bees. I would love to meet him, I think we would have a lot to talk about.” I wonder where Attenborough would stand on the Reborn doll.

Servant is on Apple TV new episodes every Friday.

Barbra Streisand (Weekend, November 24, 2018)

 

BarbraStreisand-Weekend-24Nov2018

Barbra Streisand at 76 has come up with an album of songs that she wrote as a protest against President Trump and his regime. It’s her first album of original songs for over a decade. The songs could be love songs although the album Walls is a mixture of love and anger.

She’s wearing slinky black flares, black suede boots, a black fluffy jumper and a vintage lace collar. Around her neck is a beautiful miniature of her now departed dog Sammy, a Coton du Tolear. The white curly fluffy dog went with her to every interview, every concert and recording session.

Streisand mourned her passing “as if it was a child.” Sammy had an “oddball personality,” so it could have been her actually genetic child. She identified with her intensely. So much so that two of her new dogs Miss Scarlet and Miss Violet are clones of Sammy and a third, Fanny is a distant cousin.

We meet in a studio just across the road from her house in Malibu – the one with the rose gardens and her collection of dolls houses. The dogs didn’t join us. “Because there are three of them and they would take over. The two dogs are made from Sammy. They’re her DNA. They are clones. This is the technique – how they make clones which is used in cancer research. The pet fund wrote me a letter that said thank you for doing this. Cancer is very prevalent and growing in both cats and dogs because of the pet food industry, the pesticides etc… Nobody had to die to make a clone. They took a cell from the inside of Sammy’s cheek and another from the outside of her tummy right before she died. You don’t know if you’re going to get a dog. You can get none, you can get five and I got two.”

Presumably she went via the clone route because she loved Sammy so much she wanted to replicate her so are the puppies like her?

“Not in personality but they look just like her. They’re curly haired like her. The breeder told me she was a rarity because she was a runt. If these dogs are for shows they have straight hair.  Sammy was at my last show in New York – it was such a rarity to get a curly haired one so in order to have a curly haired dog I had to clone Sammy.”

It’s easy to conjure the image of Streisand with her tight curly perm in A Star Is Born. Perhaps Sammy reminded her of herself in that. Samantha is now around her neck close to her heart forever. I tell her I have my cat Mr Love’s fur in my locket.

“Uh huh. I have a lock of her hair in my other locket.” It’s a bonding moment. We have both got dead pets round our neck. “It’s unconditional love,” she says “and you know love in sickness and health, curly or straight.

Momentarily she seems vulnerable. You want to reach out to her, hug her even. You feel you know her. You’ve known her songs all your life and her voice has touched you, slipped inside of you so easily. But despite our bonding she bristles as my arm touches her by accident. It goes back to her mother. She wasn’t a hugger and was always very critical, yet somehow despite this she found self-belief and drive. She’s been a star for a lifetime yet still she doesn’t like being photographed. She changes the subject back to the record.

“You’ve heard the album,” she says, eager to talk about it. Every time I meet her I think it’s going to be the last tour, the last show, the last album yet this work feels very fresh. It has a new and different energy to it. You can tell that she’s written a lot of the songs and the ones she hasn’t she sings in a new way.  Her voice is fierce, not thin, not old. It cracks into your heart. Oddly even though it’s not about a man woman love struggle it’s passionate.

“That’s exactly right. That’s what it felt like creating it, that it had a different energy.” She has written or co-written 7 original songs which appear on the album including Walls – that keep you in as well as keep you out.  It’s a plea to unite a divided country. It’s about physical walls and emotional walls.

The single Don’t Lie to Me has the lyrics “How do you win if we all lose?” She sings it like a diva. The truest sense of the word.

She includes the Burt Bacharach classic What the World Needs Now Is Love, originally written as a Vietnam protest song but equally valid if not more so today. The album ends with Happy Days. It’s a song she’s sung often at the end of her concerts and also for the Clintons at President Clinton’s inauguration and as a celebration of democracy. This time it’s sung with an irony so piquant you can feel her tears.

Lady Liberty is about “how they came from different lands, different religions, languages and culture, all seeing the American dream. The subject of immigration is complex and requires deep contemplation not knee jerk reactions. Now if you look at her face you’ll see tears falling from Lady Liberty’s eyes. Love Is Never Wrong is about love being the most powerful force in the universe. It transcends race, religion and sexual orientation – something I’ve always believed everyone has the right to love whoever they want to.  I tell her the record is raw.

“Raw,” she nods. “I’ve never thought of that word for it.” Indeed, you don’t normally associate raw with Streisand. You think smooth or perhaps silky and soaring, definitely comfortable but not this. I tell her when I first heard the album, it was the first time I felt relieved that I wasn’t on Prozac because I was able to feel the full experience.

“Oh!” she says excited now. “Will you say that in the article because that’s very funny? I bet you won’t say that right. But you’re right. Prozac dulls your senses. When my mother was on it she forgot to be angry. She had dementia as well and she forgot that she was always very angry but that pill really helped.”

Maybe it was because of the dementia she forgot to be angry? “No, it was those pills.”

I told her I had a male friend who said he liked me much better on Prozac because I wasn’t angry. I kept on with it longer than I should have. “The guy or the Prozac?” Both.

She was clearly not on Prozac when writing this album because there’s a lot of anger in it. “Oh yes there is. I believe in truth and I believe if I’m truthful in what I’m singing about that comes across as being passionately upset with what is happening to my country.”

Her expression of dissatisfaction with the current president began with a series of very smart Tweets – an eloquent  counterpart to the Trump potty mouth outbursts . Then she wrote articles for The Huffington Post (The Fake President and Our President Cruella de Vil) and then came the songs. They are cleverly written. They work on two levels. Love songs that can be interoperated as personal and protest love songs for the world.

“That’s right, that’s right,” she says excitedly. “I’m so glad you get this.” This is why you let me come back. Because I get it.

“Last time you brought me cake. This time I get nothing. But that’s good. I’m on a diet. It’s good you forgot.” I didn’t forget, I was told that she was trying to diet so I didn’t bring the cake “OK, but this President did make me anxious and hungry for pancakes. Buckwheat pancakes. I had to put butter on them and maple syrup to ease the pain. People don’t realise what food does for you. It makes you feel good. My son brought me pancakes at my last recording session from a great place. They’re made of oatmeal but obviously they have sugar in them and that’s why they taste so good. They’re very soothing to the brain.”

Pancakes are very American. It was as if she was eating the most delicious, the most American food to savour it, as if it too was in jeopardy.

“I live in a house that’s filled with Americana. American art, American furniture. I really love my country and it’s painful to see democracy being assaulted, institutions being assaulted and women being assaulted.”

We digress to the painful topic of women’s abortion rights and the possibility of women no longer being in control of their own bodies and having the long fought (in the early 70s) right to choose.

“Can you imagine…?” she says darkly and then, “There’s a war between people who want to live in the future and look forward to the future and people who want to live in the past. Imagine women who after forty-something years who have had the right to choose, now, perhaps won’t.”

President Trump was elected by a small majority but women certainly voted for him.  Why would women vote for a man who does not let them control their own bodies?  Why would women vote for misogyny?

“It’s a terribly complex thing. A lot of women vote the way their husbands vote. They don’t believe enough in their own thoughts so they trust their husbands. Maybe that woman who is so articulate, so experienced and so presidential (Hillary), so fit for the presidency, was too intimidating for some women. Perhaps she made women feel unsuccessful. Women are competitive and so forth. All of this was so devastating to me and I was heartbroken and very sad so I wanted to write about it, sing about it and deliver an album and it was perfect timing (as synagogues are being blown up and bombs delivered to any luminary who has had something bad to say about President Trump). I just did it.”

I’m not sure she realizes how brave it is to stand up and stand out and I wonder if she ever wanted to take it further – to be that woman who was articulate and presidential and could talk passionately and open people’s eyes. Surely there’s a situation vacant in the Democratic party that she may want to fill?

“No. I don’t want to go into politics. I don’t think I’m articulate enough and it’s too late for me. Maybe when I was younger but not now. I like my garden too much. I like staying home. I like privacy. I like writing my book…sort of.”

She’s still writing that autobiography? “Yeah, four years already. I’m trying to convince the publisher to do it in two volumes so I could stop the first volume with my Harvard speech.” She is very proud of this speech. “It was in a book called The 100 Greatest Speeches of the 20th Century. But they edited it without showing me and that was not nice. I like manners. People in England have manners. They are always very nice to me.”

Streisand comes across as a woman of power, a woman unafraid of being criticised because she’s in control. A woman that feels being seen as controlling isn’t a negative attribute. It’s been an interesting journey to get to that point.

In 1976, as producer and lead actress of A Star Is Born she had final cut of the movie.  The ultimate control which is very rare and much sort after but she gave her power away. She cut out some of her own scenes because she didn’t want to be criticised for being a producer and having too much screen time. Why? She shakes her head.

“I love constructive criticism. It helps me learn something but I didn’t want to be … just criticised. “    Maybe this is a deep seated fear locked in by her super critical mother. There is anxiety in her eyes as she talks.

“A woman writer in the New York times criticised when I performed at the Clinton’s inauguration.  She attacked my suit. It was a man’s suit and I wore great diamonds with it and a waistcoat. I like the combination of masculinity and femininity. I liked the feminisation of masculinity.  I’m fascinated even in furniture, I like strong architectural lines covered in pink velvet. I like men who are masculine but have a feminine side. I like men who cry at movies and they like soft things. It just makes them complex and that’s interesting. So this woman criticised my suit with diamonds. This woman was talking about my sexuality because I was wearing a low cut vest and the legs of the trousers had a slit. I have a passion for design and that criticism was unfair.

It always seems to me unfair that she was never acknowledged as a beauty. Today she has a mesmerizing presence and her skin glows and not in an artificial way.  She doesnt look fake. She has a lioness quality.

In the mid seventies people in Hollywood weren’t used to a woman being in control. She was producing ASIB for First Artists – a company originally set up for Paul Newman, Sidney Poitier and herself. In exchange for no salary up front they could make their own film with full creative control and a piece of the back end which they only got if the film was a hit. Her budget was $6,000,000 and any penny spent over that had to come out of her own pocket.

“I was completely responsible for the money and the content.”

She updated the film from the Judy garland original (1954) to reflect the changing of the times.

“I wanted her to write her own songs. I wanted the character played by a liberated woman yet I gave away the title of producer and took a lessor one and I even cut out certain scenes of mine so I would have less screen time.”

Instead of being praised, she was vilified.

“I was put on a magazine cover bald and the title was ‘A Star Is Shorn’ They made me bald. Why? Because I was a woman in control and they wanted…” her voice trails. They wanted her to look horrible. “That’s right. So I got scared and I gave them power. But when I directed Yentl I had power artistically but I had a completion bond on my shoulder so I couldn’t go overbudget. I went only a tiny bit overbudget which was fine. I got an award for directing and I said it’s wonderful not to have to raise your voice because people are finally listening when you are the director. So… I’m going to direct another film and I won’t give power away in the way I did earlier.

“ When I’m directing I do give power away to make people feel they’re needed. I would make sure my understudy felt involved. ‘Why don’t you work with the cinematographer while I’m working on the script. Why don’t you measure distances for the lens and show me what marks I need to hit.’ In other words, empowering people. I want everybody to feel needed on the set.

“I enjoy working in England, perhaps because you have a Queen and you have a woman Prime Minister. I think they are less intimidated by a woman with power.”

Perhaps that just because she doesn’t live in England.

Is she acting as well as directing in the new movie?

“I can’t really talk about it. We’ve signed contracts but until I know more… I can tell you I’m not acting. I don’t like acting. I don’t like make believe. I like real life.”

That’s a shame. She’s so good at it. “I’m crap at it.” It always surprises me when she’s self-deprecating. Its part of what makes her an icon. The ability to take herself seriously and not seriously at all

The Way We Were still moves me – the ultimate impossible love story – she as the archetypal jew and Robert Redford as the archetypal WASP. It won her an Oscar nomination. She’s always played characters who had an uneasy vulnerability – you don’t expect that of her in real life. You do expect that she is a fighter, a campaigner for love, for truth, for dogs.

Its easy to feel powerless – that’s why she’s so compelled now to stand up to Trump – to grab back the power.

I just saw the new version of A Star Is Born. Whether it’s better  than the previous version, divides the nation. Did she think Lady Gaga was channelling herself in some parts?

“I don’t know. Did she say anything about that? I haven’t seen it but I know they used the nose thing.”

The original movie, written by Joan Didion, made a reference to Streisand’s nose. At the time she was considered kooky looking, a prominent noise was not seen as a bonafide glamour-puss movie star nose. In the Gaga/Bradley Cooper version they overplay the nose with several references to Gaga’s nose and a lot of nose shots. At the time Streisand’s nose was considered not beautiful and she had to fight to keep it untouched in movies, on record covers and refused any nose jobs in real life.  Gaga is not known for her nose but none the less the movie makes a big deal of it.

Streisand shrugs. “I haven’t seen the whole movie but I saw the beginning and it looked like mine. Bradley (Cooper) showed me that and the beginning started with the same concert and then singing in a little club.”

I note the new A Star Is Born has the same producer as her version – Jon Peters – her hairdresser who became her boyfriend and thereafter a big deal producer – with her help. Perhaps that’s why there are some of the same nuances. Because of the same producer.

“Well he was the one I gave the credit to.” Does she mean gave her power away to. “That’s right.” Because he was her boyfriend too?

“Because I wanted him to have respect on the set. He had good ideas. The first time I walked into his house he had crude burnt wood frames paired with lace curtains at the windows. He understood masculinity and femininity. He was complex. I liked that.”

I am sure she still likes Jon Peters although she does not like being reminded that she gave her power away to a man because she feared criticism for being overbearing.

It’s a complex thing, she likes strong men but not bowing down to them . She has the right balance with her husband of 20 years James Brolin

“My husband has the perfect forehead, the perfect jaw, the perfect teeth. Even when he makes me angry I still get a kick out of his symmetry”

She is also immensely loyal – she has had the same manager – Marty Erlichman for 52 years.

Someone else who works with her is waving their hands in a panic. “I have to get out. I have to go.” One more thing. “What?” she says suspiciously. A picture. Streisand has famously and repeatedly said no to impromptu pictures.  She’s still afraid of a bad shot, of criticism? She says -she’s going to do it.

It takes bravery and a little bit of control. “I’ll do it but not with your phone. With mine so I can have power to delete.” She directs the way we’re sitting, tells the assistant with the phone, “you’re going down too low.” I move closer to her, so close I’m almost touching her but of course we’re not going to touch. I feel that’s making her uncomfortable.

Her hair sweeps long beyond her shoulders. It’s beigey blonde the colour of a lions mane. It even mingles with mine. I can smell her hair. It smells of roses, perhaps from her own garden. It’s a heady smell.  She makes me promise that I won’t put the picture in the paper and before she goes I read her a message from my friend Nancy who grew up with a criticising mother, like Streisand’s, and wanted me to let her know, “She’s helped me throughout my life. She’s my secret mother. I love her. I love the way she sings with skill and abandon. I love what she’s doing today. It shows the spirit of women and it shows that I was right to love her. No one else is sticking their neck out politically and she’s on the right side of history.”

She’s taken the picture and she’s taken the compliment and she likes it very much that she’s on the right side of history.

Jackie Collins (March, 2014)

Jackie Collins & Chrissy Iley
Jackie Collins & Chrissy Iley

Jackie Collins’ kitchen is exactly how you’d expect it to be – exotic, efficient, ultra modern, luxurious, vast. What you don’t expect is that she is in it so much.
It is bright white, two double refrigerators, two double ovens, endless hobs. And a collection of brightly coloured cows line the windowsill.
She is preparing lunch for me with some of the recipes from the Lucky Santangelo Cookbook, inspired by the life and loves of her fictional heroine. She has always determined that Lucky ‘is the woman I would like to be in another life.’ And they are of course inextricably linked.
Lucky is the feisty heroine of her best selling Santangelo novels. A powerhouse woman, daughter of a former mafia boss who now runs his empire and enjoys dangerous passions and sun drenched sex in exotic locations where she/Collins have picked up many signature dishes from destination restaurants.
The recipes have actually featured in the books. Sometimes as celebration dishes or as seductions. The cookbook is also inspired by Collins’ own British childhood and life in California.
In Los Angeles she eats out 50 per cent of the time. At 76 she looks svelte, womanly, and just like you expect her fictional character to look – dramatic dark eyes, statement jewellery, ageless with long lustrous chestnut hair. ‘Extensions,’ she whispers as she sautés mushrooms for her meatball sauce.
‘I have never been on a diet. I eat what I like. Food is one of life’s great enjoyments. There are so many books coming out now, don’t eat this, don’t eat that, be gluten free, I think **** it, I just want to enjoy myself and eat delicious things. Not over indulge but just eat what I love. I know I’m the odd woman out in this town but I’ve never gone on a diet and I’ve never had a facial. Which is why I can write about women in this town with an amused eye because I’m not one of them.’
Collins is of course queen of the stories about Hollywood wives, Hollywood divorces and Hollywood sex lives. The relationships in her books have more twists and turns than an alpine road. Does she believe that relationships would be more stable if there was more home cooking? ‘I do actually. Not just the wife cooking, but the husband too. Just paying attention to what each other likes. That’s what happens in these celebrity marriages. They are so surrounded by gofers, go for this, go for that, laugh at my jokes, tell me I’m wonderful. Real life gets lost in the shuffle.
‘When my husband (club impresario Oscar Lerman, who died in 1992) was alive and my kids were little I would cook a lot and every meal he would say “that was the best meal I’ve ever had, it was delicious”. It wasn’t true but he said it night after night. And my fiancé Frank (Calcagnini – they became engaged in 1994 but he died in 1998 from a brain tumour) loved all my pasta dishes and all the Italian dishes – he was Italian American.
‘I love cooking for men.’ Does she think the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach? ‘All men are little boys and what do little boys like to do, eat and play with themselves. Big boys like to eat and have sex.
‘I am an experimental cook. I look at recipes but then I add something, or I try to make something that I’ve had in restaurants that I like. The meatballs are in the cookbook (with veal), but I’ve adapted them to turkey today.’
She stirs her delicious smelling tomato sauce. ‘I always use extra virgin olive oil,’ she says spicily. ‘I always like to deal with extra virgins.’
Has cooking always been important to her? You imagine her on a leopard skin chaise longue surrounded by her collection of panthers sipping a cocktail while writing a sex scene in longhand. You don’t imagine her hard at work in the kitchen, even if she does have a kitchen as large as most people’s entire apartments.
‘Cooking says that you can do anything you set your mind to. People say oh I can’t boil an egg. That’s stupid. That’s like people who say I don’t’ understand social media. Also stupid. If you want to survive in this world you have to be able to cook. If you can’t cook you are going to depend on restaurants or other people and that’s ridiculous. I can make food out of anything. I can take out a packet of rice, chop up a pepper, an onion and a tomato, and there’ll be a fabulous rice dish out of nothing. You don’t have to go to the supermarket every ten minutes. I usually freeze pasta sauce, or meatballs or meatloaf, things like that.’
Jackie Collins and Lucky Santangelo have much in common. They are independent, they are capable. Although Jackie points out, ‘I have had cooking disasters. One Christmas the oven failed. I never look at the turkey. I wrap it up in foil and take it out five hours later. The oven had malfunctioned so it was raw and we ended up ordering pizza.’
The whole family were waiting, including her sister Joan. ‘Joan can cook. Spaghetti Bolognese. That’s all she cooks.’
What is Joan’s favourite dish? ‘Her Spaghetti Bolognese. She likes my chilli a lot. She has a seafood allergy. She can’t eat seafood. I feel so bad for her because I love seafood.’
We sidle over to a bowl of lemons, or rather a small fishing boatload picked from her garden earlier that morning. She uses them amply in her cooking and also to make cocktails, including the Jackie Collins – vodka, fresh lemonade, lime, raspberries, simple syrup – named after her by LA celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck. And Lucky’s Killer Margaritas – lime zest and juice, lemon zest and juice, grapefruit juice, sugar, tequila, Triple Sec, salt optional.
Collins likes to cook with music and mixes her margaritas to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On or Enrique Iglesias’ Hero. There is an ever-present TV on in the kitchen and appliances line the room – several blenders, sandwich maker, orange juice squeezer, coffee makers.
‘I entertain a lot. Sometimes if it’s more than 20 people I have a caterer. Otherwise I love to do it.’
She lets me look in her cupboards, which are immensely clean and tidy. One houses several varieties of virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Another teriyaki glazes, jams and marmalades. Another different teas and coffees. And another for spices and Bisto. There is a note that says do not put anything on the top shelf. ‘That’s because I can’t reach it.’ Jackie Collins would never ask for help in the kitchen, not even to pull down a spice or a bottle of olive oil. One of her fridges, which is the size of a walk-in closet, is stocked fully with ice creams and frozen yoghurts.
‘I picked these lemons this morning. All off the tree. That’s what happens when you live in California and have a lemon tree in your back yard. I like to slice the lemons very thin, cover them in Cointreau, add some sugar, and then you have the most incredible lemon zest.’
What made her decide she wanted to do a cookbook? ‘I thought I’d like to give something back to my fans who kept asking me about all the moments that have been punctuated by a specific meal in my Lucky Santangelo books.’
Some of the recipes are accompanied by excerpts from the book in which they first appeared along with the music they would have listened to while they were preparing and eating them.
The recipes are old school exotica. No opportunity to lace with alcohol or plump up with cream is missed. Champagne and lobster feature in sauces. The desserts are an interesting mix of sumptuous and homely, like Jackie herself.
What recipes did her mother give her that have inspired her? ‘She would make cakes from scratch and I would wait for her to get a phone call and go out the kitchen and eat the raw cake mix. That’s when I first started hanging out in the kitchen. Then I would watch her cook chicken, not in the traditional way. She would put it in a pan, cover it in oil, then butter, then paprika and herbs and leave it for two hours. She wouldn’t even open the oven to poke at it.
‘I realise you have to be an instinctive cook. I prefer electric ovens so I know exactly what’s going on with my food. My mother would make mostly cakes and roasts when there was my older sister Joan, my younger brother Bill and me at home.’
Joan didn’t pick up the cooking gene then? ‘No. Joan does a fantastic spaghetti bolognaise and that’s more or less it. ‘
She has a recipe for cherry pie. ‘It’s very virginal, isn’t it. I love pie. I love cheesecake and I love making it very very creamy and very very soft. I don’t like New York cheesecake because it’s very dense. I like so you can taste the creams and the different flavours. I got the cheesecake recipe from a very old cookbook that I found in my mother’s kitchen. I changed some of the ingredients, like I’d add orange zest or lemon zest or chocolate to make it different. And that’s what you can do. You can take a recipe from this book and you can experiment.
‘I’ve always loved food right from when I tasted cake mix. When I was a child in England if you had a can of peaches it had to be eked out because there were food shortages. Back then if you wanted cream you had to put your finger in the top of the milk to get the cream out. Sometimes for dinner I’ll just have a whole can of peaches and cream. It reminds me of my childhood. I also love shrimp, caviar, smoked salmon. White fish is too boring.’
Does she think she gravitated towards these luxury items because of growing up with food deprivation? ‘Probably. But I eat things because I like them. If you give me broccoli with a fabulous sauce I would eat it. But plain broccoli? I don’t think so. I do love peas, there’s a recipe for them in the book with onions, garlic and cream.’
The kitchen is filled with the tantalising aroma of tomato sauce and mushrooms. I taste the sauce that I’ve watched her make and it is entirely delicious.
‘I cooked for 38 people for last Christmas lunch. Three turkeys, a ham, seven different vegetables, roast, mash and sweet potatoes, gravy and bread sauce. That’s why I have four ovens.
‘Most of the family were here in including Joan with her daughter Katie and her husband Percy. I love Percy. My brother Bill with his gorgeous wife Hazel. And lots of friends. Percy and David Niven Jnr always do my carving. Joan is always trying to help. You don’t want a lot of people in the kitchen, you want to put a notice on the door saying: I know you want to help but please keep out.’
Does she think she’s a good cook because she loves food or because she loves entertaining? ‘Both. I started to cook because I picked it up from my mother – delicious English roast potatoes. Michael Caine taught me how to make Yorkshire pudding, he’s a fabulous cook. I had a birthday party for him a while ago, I cooked him meatloaf.

‘If I go to restaurants I sample what they have and then I might do a version of it. Or sometimes I will give them recipes. For instance Craig’s, my favourite restaurant (every time I’ve been there I’ve seen Jackie along with Elton John and George Clooney) now make me scampi. I told them how to do it.
‘I also love Mr Chow’s and Trader Vic’s who do fabulous hors d’oeuvres and spare ribs and Rock Sugar who do an amazing pear martini and caramel chicken and princess shrimp.
‘I’ve collected dishes from restaurants all over the world and tried to recreate them. I don’t know the exact ingredients but I know what I’d like it to taste like in the end.
‘I don’t go out every night. If I’m at home by myself I might have a bar of chocolate and ice cream because I might have gone out for lunch.
‘Yesterday I ate a whole pear pie. So delicious. That’s all I had all day until the evening. I never eat breakfast unless I’m in a hotel where I’ll order has browns, eggs and bacon.
‘I usually write in the morning. I just have green tea and maybe some crackers until dinner usually. I’m not that interested in food unless it’s something I love.
‘Food has always been important to me. My philosophy is eat what you enjoy. Don’t eat for the sake of eating. Eat only what you love and you’ll never put weight on.’
Collins’ MO is to eat what she wants when she wants and if it’s delicious she’s always satisfied. Against all odds she turns out to be a do it yourself kind of person.
‘I’m a quick cook. I like to take short cuts. I wanted to make recipes that were simple but delicious. I love pasta and I love lobster and I love cream sauces. I think it’s quite a sexy book.’
There are lots of sexy scenes between Lucky and her husband Lenny. ‘They are almost making out when they are eating and Enrique Iglesias is playing in the background.
‘I wanted to write a fun book. This is my 31st book and these recipes have been around for a long time. Food is a seduction when you think about it. The most seductive meal I’ve ever had, I was a young girl in London and I had a blind date with a prince. He arrived in this Mercedes where you open the door and it lifted right up. A fantastic car, but I didn’t like him much. He said he wanted to cook for me. I went to his apartment and he had a jug of champagne filled with white peaches. He cooked mash potatoes that were so creamy with delicious teeny-weeny fried onions and an incredible steak. It was the most seductive meal ever. I didn’t end up with him but I ended up with the car for a couple of days. He almost got me with that meal and I’ll always remember the champagne and white peaches.’
What would be her most romantic meal? ‘A small portion of lobster rigatoni is very sexy followed by perhaps a steak or a beef stroganoff. I picked that one up when I was in Russia. This fabulous restaurant that I was in served it and I asked them for the recipe. I don’t think I would want to go there now. I
‘I have this friend who is a very famous singer, like the Madonna of Russia. I was there with her and her husband. Bodyguards surrounded them at all times. Bodyguards just shoved people out of the way. Russian men are very rough. I’ve watched a few of them with their women. There was one famous ballet dancer who was going out with a famous actress here. He would march into parties in Hollywood and go up to women (deep Russian accent) I want to furck you, I want to furck you [NB I know we can’t say furck but I thought it was funny, maybe we should say sleep]. The actress would just laugh because she knew he didn’t mean it. They stayed together for a while, a couple of years. I like writing about Russian men. Sometimes they are powerful. Sometimes they have a sexy thing about them. And that’s what I put into the stroganoff. A bit of sex and power in a dish.’
I think she loves excess and luxury because of the simplicity and food shortages of her childhood in 1940s Britain. The recipes all seem to embrace the celebration of a life well lived and are surprisingly simple to execute.
What does she feel would be her most celebratory dish? ‘I would like to start off with teeny baked potatoes with black caviar in them followed by a fabulous shrimp cocktail with pink sauce, then a thin sliced steak, incredible mashed potatoes and peas with onion accompanied by the Jackie Collins or a pear martini. I’m not a wine drinker, I do like sangria because it’s sweeter.
‘For family suppers I would make shepherds pies. I like to use Bisto. I like them to have a crispy top and I serve with Heinz Baked Beans. Then I might make some ice cream with my ice cream machine.
‘I used to have big parties where we’d play charades. I’d make a shepherds pie for those. I would do everything myself and serve Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Dudley Moore, Michael Caine and their assorted wives and sometimes Angie Dickinson. I’ve got wonderful pictures of those parties. I’ve always taken lots of pictures. I’m going to do a picture book next.
‘I am a Nigella fan. I don’t really watch cookery shows but I did see her show because she is very sexual when she cooks dipping her finger into the cake mix and sucking it. I would never let anyone dip their fingers into my food. I like to use a spoon,’ she says as she hands one to me for the final sampling of her meatballs and tomato sauce accompanied by brightly coloured salad. Simple, delicious, with a touch of exotic.

· Jackie Collins’ The Lucky Santangelo Cookbook (Simon & Schuster) is published on April 8.