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Zoe Wanamaker interviewed about Boston Marriage

Fable, 2001-11-01

Zoë Wanamaker is brittle and brilliant this month in David Mamet's 19th century drama A Boston Marriage.

What is a Boston marriage?
It was a term that was first used in the early 20th century to describe two women, usually upper-middle class, who had been left with some inheritance, but not quite enough to live on.  They couldn't survive alone, so they would live together.  The term became synonymous with lesbian relationships - and sometimes these very close relationships between women possibly did become sexual.  I think it comes from Henry James's novel The Bostonians.

Have you ever been in such a relationship?
Hah! - Sometimes one thinks it might be preferable - in the past I have thought that.  But I'm not telling you if I have or haven't.

What might be the advantages and the disadvantages?
Only a gay person could really tell you the answer to that.  Judging by most of the gay people I know, it is harder for lesbians and gays to have long-term relationships, and to find their true lover in our very closed society.  But I think this is changing.

How do you find wearing corsets on stage every night?
It's great - I'm used to it.  They are very sexy, and they also make you stand and walk and sit in a particular way which gives you a good insight into how people behaved in the era.

Did you have to take lessons in how to drink tea in a late Victorian way?
[Laughs] - Being a middle-class girl I think I already know a bit about that - but only upper-class people know all about it.  Although, I've always thought the more upper-class you become, the sloppier you can be.

Do you ever yearn for bygone manners?
No!  I'm so relieved to be in the 21st century - going to the loo in a bustle is a nightmare, and the sweat that comes off you.  It makes you appreciate the dry cleaning services that we have today.  Of course, there are certain manners that I would like to bring back, but I guess I'm just that sort of girl.

What can you fit in a reticule?
They're very small.  You can fit in your handkerchief, a little pot of rouge and possibly your prayerbook - your fags, a lipstick and perhaps a few condoms.

Could you live with one?
No, I can't have a small bag.  I have tried, but I'm not ladylike enough.

What is good about being a character actress?
It's easier.  You don't have to be pretty and you don't ever have to worry about being glamorous.  It's more fun to be a character actor because it is about being three-dimensional.  Anyway, most actors are character actors these days.  I think it just means that you aren't Kate Moss.  In fact now, if you are gorgeous, you have to work harder.

You play Madam Hooch in Harry Potter; did you do any action scenes?
Yes, and I did all my own stunts.  It wasn't anything very dangerous - but I regretted putting my hand up and saying I could do them, because I had to repeat the thing again and again.  No, I can't tell you what it is.  You'll have to wait and see.

Did you ever want to strangle the child actors?
Not at all.  They were fantastic and I say that in all honesty.  I had worked with Daniel [Radcliffe] before in David Copperfield, he is marvellous.

Who is your female best friend?  And why?
I have a great friend who lives in New York who I have known since 1980.  Her name is Dena.  Dena H.  I love her because she is extremely articulate about her emotions, very funny and very loyal.  And she has this great ease about her, which is very enviable.  She is just a great, great woman.

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