STAR TURNS: The actress who gave me a jolt on Brexit
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Academy Award nominated Sarah Miles gave TIM WALKER a shock when the topic of the EU referendum came up mid-interview.
Sarah Miles and I should really be friends. We established a great rapport four years ago when I journeyed to her 11th century manor house in the Sussex countryside. Interviewing film stars is normally a formal and sterile business these days, with a publicist involved and seldom much more than an hour made available. The actress best known for Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines, The Servant and Hope and Glory ended up giving me an entire day, even making an impromptu lunch, challenging me to a game of table tennis (which I ungallantly won), and then, in the afternoon, taking me on a leisurely stroll.
We'd first met in the late 1980s when she'd been appearing in a play at the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith, west London, when I remember her being an anxious and distracted interviewee. It was perhaps not surprising as she was at the time caring for her husband Robert Bolt – the playwright who wrote A Man for All Seasons – who had been left paralysed by a stroke in 1979.
The Sarah I caught up with again – 21 years after Bolt had died and she'd had him buried beneath the croquet law – seemed more relaxed and mellow. She was open to people and ideas and asked me even more questions than I asked her. She was into star signs and was happy that I was a Cancerian.
Our meeting had followed a lengthy exchange of emails in which she mainly wanted to establish that I wouldn't raise the issue of her drinking her own urine, which is a matter that featured heavily in the press cuttings about her. For the record, it's true, she does, but she swears that it has health benefits.
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She was a fount, too, of showbiz gossip. Her late husband had also written the screenplay to Ryan's Daughter and she said he was appalled when John Mills had arrived on the set with his hair cut brutally short and his face distorted by fearsome false teeth and padding. His performance as a mute village idiot ended up winning him an Oscar, but his characterisation wasn't what Bolt had had in mind at all and it was generally agreed among his fellow actors he had been showing off terribly.
Sarah talked, too, of the film's languidly handsome star Christopher Jones, who she recalled encountering by chance in Los Angeles not long before his death in 2014. He had succumbed to various addictions, looked like a long-haired old tramp, and, after following her around, exposed himself to her in a lift.
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We touched, too, on her relationship with Laurence Olivier, a complicated man who seemed to her to be jealous of Ralph Richardson because he could communicate an innocence in his acting that he felt he'd lost. She'd loved, too, Steven Spielberg and Robert Mitchum and we'd discussed their insecurities, and Trevor Howard's epic drinking sessions during the making of White Mischief.
It was late into the afternoon when politics finally brought our conversation to a juddering halt.
The EU referendum was then four months away and I hadn't planned on raising it at all with her as it had seemed to me at the time a foregone conclusion, and anyway this was a showbiz interview. Sarah brought the subject up and was clearly dismayed when I made it clear I was going to vote to remain. Suddenly she saw me as an Establishment man, dull, boring and unable to think outside of the box, which I didn't think was fair at all.
She had not only written a poem about Brexit, but also a song with the repeated refrain 'C'mon, old England'. I sat quietly as she belted out all five verses.
I respected Sarah as an actress, and still do, but her passion about Brexit startled me. She was, looking back, the first supporter of Brexit I'd ever met. It was a jolt that made me suddenly aware the ground I was standing on wasn't nearly as stable as I'd imagined.
Sometimes it's best to keep quiet at times like this – I was her guest, after all – but she had asked for my opinion and I gave it to her. I tried in vain to convince her remaining would be best for our country, but she was having none of it. Up until that moment, I'd had a joyous day in the countryside and laughed a great deal, but we parted rather formally, both sensing we'd be unlikely to see each other ever again.