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Saturday, January 22, 2011
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Yesterday, I had the opportunity so speak for about 30 minutes over the phone with the legendary British stage and screen actress Claire Bloom, one of the great talents and beauties of the past century. Bloom, who made her film debut 63 years ago and has co-starred with countless greats — among them Charlie Chaplin, Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton, John Gielgud, Rod Steiger, and Paul Newman — is still going strong at the age of 79. Most recently, she gave a brief but memorable performance as Queen Mary, the mother of King Edward XIII (Guy Pearce) and King George VI (Colin Firth), in “The King’s Speech” (The Weinstein Company, 11/24, R, trailer), which the Screen Actors Guild rewarded with a best ensemble nomination.


Over the course of our conversation, Bloom and I discussed…

  • her early theater- and movie-going experiences/acting inspirations (her mother loved Shakespeare and her aunt was a well-known West End actresss, so she was taken to see — and greatly inspired by — the 1936 film adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet” and the 1942 Broadway production of “The Three Sisters“; she was acting professionally, as member of the Oxford Repertory Company, by the time she was 15)
  • her early successes (including a BBC radio play and several major theatrical productions) and her early disappointments (she was screen tested — and was a finalist — for the part of Ophelia in Olivier’s 1948 film of “Hamlet,” but lost the part to Jean Simmons)
  • the story of how and why Chaplin (“whom I worshipped”) got in touch with her when she was just 21; the long professional courtship that resulted in her being cast as his co-star in “Limelight” (1952); and the experience of making that film with him (“It was the most exciting time of my life… the high point of my life… to this day I can’t believe that it happened to me”)
  • what specifically appeals to her about playing Shakespearean characters (she’s played them in numerous plays, in Olivier’s 1955 film of “Richard III,” and in a one-woman play, and she’s played variations of them in numerous other productions, including “The King’s Speech”)
  • the appeal (working the renowned editor-turned-director Robert Wise) and challenges (acting opposite nothing for much of the film, since sound and visual effects were only added in post-production) of making the groundbreaking horror film “The Haunting” (1963)
  • her participation in “Charly” (1968), for which she was hired to replace another actress after production had already gun, and for which her co-star Cliff Robertson ultimately won the best actor Oscar
  • her experience working with Woody Allen on “Crimes and Misdemeanors” (1989) and “Mighty Aphrodite” (1995) (on the first film she was initially “very uncomfortable and unhappy” with having to improvise, per Allen’s insistence, but she eventually grew to like it, and they re-teamed again)
  • how she first heard about “The King’s Speech”; what her reaction was to being offered the part of Queen Mary (she “read the script and thought it was a terribly small role,” but was all-in anyway because she had admired director Tom Hooper’s 2008 HBO mini-series “John Adams” — “and then when I heard that my two sons were Colin Firth and Guy Pearce, that didn’t sound too bad to me either!”); what she knew about Queen Mary before taking on the part (“Nobody was familiar with the personality of Queen Mary; nobody knew much about her”); her own memories of the period featured in the film (she remembers listening to numerous landmark speeches on the radio, but not King George VI’s declaration of war, yet she still knew at the time that he had a stutter)

Photos: Claire Bloom in an early photo (uncredited) and in “The King’s Speech” (The Weinstein Company).

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  • exackerly

    Great interview Scott. By coincidence I just finished reading her memoir, Leaving a Doll’s House, which I highly recommend. Very candid and moving. Her personal life (esp her relationship with Philip Roth) alas has not always been as successful as her career. But what a beauty, at any age.

    • Thanks a lot! I’ve heard that memoir is quite a read…

  • Jeanne

    This was such a treat to listen to, Scott. Thanks for sharing this interview. Claire Bloom is a lovely actress, and I was so interested in hearing about her experiences in filming “Limelight” with Chaplin.


  • Lambert Lorette

    God, Claire Bloom was so beautiful as a young woman. As a boy I was totally in love with her…it’s nice to see that she is also such a gracious person, and still going strong at 79.

  • joycepatrice

    I am listening to her delightful, one-person taped rendition of Henry James’ “Portrait of a Lady” – and I’m in heaven! What a wonderful talent she is – Long Live Claire Bloom!:)