TERRY GROSS, host:
The actress Natasha Richardson died yesterday after suffering a head injury in a skiing accident Monday. And it seems so wrong and so sad. She was 45. As Bruce Weber writes in Richardson's New York Times obituary, she was quote, "an intense and absorbing actress, unafraid of taking on demanding and emotionally raw roles. She was admired on both sides of the Atlantic for upholding the traditions of one of the great acting families of the modern age," unquote. Her grandfather was Sir Michael Redgrave, her mother is Vanessa Redgrave, her father, the late director Tony Richardson. The husband she leaves behind is a great actor too, Liam Neeson.
Natasha Richardson was in mainstream movies like "The Parent Trap" and in more unconventional films like "Patty Hearst" and "The Comfort of Strangers." She won a Tony in 1998 for her portrayal of Sally Bowles in the musical "Cabaret." We're going to listen back to an excerpt of our 1992 interview.
What was it like to see your mother, Vanessa Redgrave, on stage or screen when you were growing up?
Ms. NATASHA RICHARDSON (Actor): Well, I didn't see her much on stage because at that period of her life I don't think she was on stage much. I think it had a profound effect on me. I took it very real, but not only because she's such a great actress, but, you know, when I'd see her as Isadora, you know, die at the end, I'd get doubly upset.
And my mother would say, no, it's okay, I'm here. And I'd say, well, I know you're here, but it's a true story, and that really happened and it's really upsetting me. But I just love, you know, I just loved watching her movies. I loved - I've always been, you know, I could eat movies for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I mean, I need them like a drug.
And I used to watch always old Judy Garland movies, and Marilyn Monroe movies and Katherine Hepburn, all - mostly old Hollywood musicals, but those were the kind of movies that I was brought up on.
GROSS: When you went to acting school, did being from one of England's first families of acting affect the expectations if you didn't make it?
Ms. RICHARDSON: Well, I went - I was very concerned about, like, that. And like most young people, I was determined to make it on my own. And I realized that my parents having certain connections weren't going to help me in any immediate way, whether I have wanted them to. You know, when you're a young actress starting out at drama school in England and what you need to do is get a job in the regional theater, it doesn't help much to have met Jack Nicholson, you know.
So I went out of my way to hide what my family background was when I auditioned for drama school, and they didn't find out. I had had to audition three times, and they didn't find out until I got in because Richardson is a common name, unlike Redgrave. And I think it was the voice teacher who found out, who one day said to me just after the first semester had started, she said, I recognize certain notes in your voice, and you any relation to Vanessa? And that's how they found out. And I was thrilled that they didn't know because then I thought, well, I was accepted on my own terms.
GROSS: The two of the movies I've seen you in "Patty Hearst" and "The Comfort of Strangers" were directed by Paul Schrader.
Ms. RICHARDSON: Yes.
GROSS: Now, how did he first cast you? Because I think he - I think "Patty Hearst" was your first movie.
Ms. RICHARDSON: No, "Patty Hearst" wasn't my first movie. It was my first American movie and it was the first - it was kind of my big break movie.
GROSS: Oh, that's right, you had been in "Gothic" before that.
Ms. RICHARDSON: I had been in "Gothic" before that, and I'd also done another movie. But it was, I think seeing "Gothic" that gave Paul the idea that he wanted me to play Patty and so that's what happened. He called me up and I was in a show in London, I was playing Tracy Lords in the musical comedy on stage of "High Society." And so he came and saw the show, and he screen tested me and several nail-biting weeks later, I found out that I had the part.
GROSS: You spend a lot of time in the movie locked in a closet and, you know, you're - you're occasionally let out. Did Paul Schrader as a director want to do anything to you to get you that claustrophobic feeling and the kind of paranoid shut-off feeling that you would adopt?
Ms. RICHARDSON: He didn't have to do anything. I was feeling that way already. I mean, he started the movie by doing a week's rehearsal in San Francisco with all the SLA members, the actors playing the SLA members and myself. And we all had to live in this trashed apartment with practically no running water or whatever for a week. And all sleeping on sleeping bags on the floor and kind of living that life.
And I thought, whoa, who is this guy? Is he going to, you know, make some method situation happen here where I'm going to get raped or something?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. RICHARDSON: And so I had various numbers of friends in San Francisco to call in case anything got out of hand. But it didn't. But I can just tell you that just being, albeit for a few hours, and occasionally being able to take the blindfold and the handcuffs off, just the process of being like that makes you feel dehumanized and oversensitive. When you're blindfolded, somebody just has to touch your arm and you jump. So it wasn't too much of a stretch of the imagination to get where she was, you know.
GROSS: Your mother is an actress, your father was a director. Did you get advice from either of them? And was the advice different because they had different jobs within theater?
Ms. RICHARDSON: I would say generally I wouldn't get much advice from my mother, except in terms of approach to work when I started out. Her father, when she was in drama school, introduced her to the works of Stanislavski, which in England were shied away from and even frowned on and are, really, to some extent, to this day. And so she in turn introduced me to his works when I was at drama school. So that - they really affected me in how I work.
I think I did have a lot of advice from my father. He was the person who's advice and criticism I most respected and trusted because not only was he my father, but he was a great director and he was a very harsh critic. So I knew when he said not good enough, that it wasn't. And I also knew when he said, yes, now you're there, that's great. I knew that that was praise indeed.
GROSS: You said that Stanislavski was frowned on, and to some extent, still is in England, for what reason?
Ms. RICHARDSON: Because I think people in England are generally taught to act rather than be, if you know what I mean by the difference. There's a certain -they sort of frown on what they call, you know, what they think of as the method. And, you know, they think it's all pretend and you can't really be it, you know. And they get frightened of that - of that method and that approach.
And I have a hard time with that because, sure, you know, actors need, or sometimes need technique, but it has to come from inside. It's the way I work. And I don't say it's the only way, but I think that's the surest way to the truth, which is what it's all about.
GROSS: Natasha Richardson recorded in 1992. She died yesterday at the age of 45 after suffering a head injury in a skiing accident Monday.
I'm Terry Gross.