< Back to Interviews menu

How Zoë's Grief Turned into Love

Edward Goodland TV Times, 1996-08-03

When her father died, Zoë Wanamaker thought she'd never recover.  Then she met someone who knew just how she felt...

It's almost as though Zoe Wanamaker is stuck in a time-warp.  It seems that for some people the petite, crop-haired actress has never really left Love Hurts.  It may have been three years since the feisty Tessa and her on-screen partner Frank left our screens but, as Zoë's constantly told, it still feels like yesterday.  'Odd, isn't it?' she says.  'I think we left it at the right time but I'd do another one day.  It'd be nice to see what happened to Tessa...'

But Zoë herself has moved on.  This week sees her return to TV in The English Wife, and she hopes that more roles will follow.  Zoë's personal life, too, has changed.  The final series of Love Hurts coincided with the death of her father, director and actor Sam Wanamaker, after a long battle with prostate cancer.  And even now, as she sits in one of her favourite Soho haunts, you sense that the wounds of recent years are still raw.

She's friendly and relaxed, and looks wonderful in chic dark trousers and a summer top, her hair bleached blonde with a buzz-saw cut that suits her pixie-like face.  But when she speaks of her late father her voice drops a little.  'I don't know how I got through it,' she says.  'I started rehearsals for a play the day before Dad's funeral, then it opened in the West End.  At first it was good to have structure in my life.  But it caught up with me in the middle of the run -- I felt completely exhausted.'

During her father's illness, Zoë, 46, turned to the Voluntary Euthanasia Society [now Dignity in Dying] for guidance but discovered that, despite her father's wishes that he should be helped to have a dignified death, the law would not allow it.  'It was horrific and traumatic because he didn't die as he wanted, without fuss and people running around.  The quality of his life had disintegrated and he was suffering tremendous pain.  It was ghastly to watch my father go through that.'

Sam Wanamaker's legacy was to raise millions to rebuild Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London, but he died before seeing that project open.  'That was very sad,' says Zoë, who continues to help with fundraising for the Theatre.

After her father's death, Zoë's friends rallied round to offer comfort.  One of them, the actor Gawn Grainger, was himself grieving for his wife, the actress Janet Kay, who had also died of cancer.  'I'd known Gawn and Janet for a while,' says Zoë.  'We'd been friends and on occasion I'd borrow Gawn as an escort.'

Gawn and Zoë's friendship, deepened by a mutual understanding of each other's grief, deepened into love, and they married almost two years ago.  'It sort of happened.  I suppose I just continued borrowing him as a friend and that's how it started,' she says.  'Marriage is fantastic.  It couldn't be better.  And I've inherited two step-children, so that part of my life has changed completely.

The children are wonderful.  One of them comes in for pit stops and the other is just becoming a woman, so all these different things are going on, which is great.'  Right now she's at home in London with Gawn - who stars in Anthony Hopkins' film August, due to open this month - and the children, 19-year-old Charlie and 15-year-old Eliza.

She'll be ploughing through scripts, hoping to find something that catches her eye in the way that The English Wife did.  Zoë plays Madam Griveau, and Englishwoman married to a Frenchman.  On the surface they lead a glamorous life.  'But beneath that, rather a lot is going on and they're really in big trouble,' explains Zoë.  'It would have been easy to make them cardboard villains but my character is actually rather sad and I felt sorry for her.'

The English Wife is a one-off drama but before too long Zoe hopes she'll be back on screen in a long-running series.  'I'm quite picky about what I do,' she says.  'But it's just a question of when the right thing comes along.'  In the meantime, Zoë is enjoying life with the man she loves and her new family.  'Doing domestic things and having a nice time.'  Who said love hurts?

With thanks to Kerrie for this interview.

Site design and original text © 2002 - 2024 www.zoewanamaker.com, unless specified otherwise.
Most images used on this site are the copyright of their photographer, Ms. Wanamaker, and/or the production company of the show. Use of these images is covered under the fair use limitation in the USA, and the fair dealing limitaton in the UK.
This site is a non-commercial endeavour.