Glenda Jackson, an Unnervingly Energizing Presence at Every Age

When she returned to the theater at the age of 80, several years after retiring as an MP, it was – of course – London’s Old Vic in the greatest outrage role in the classical canon: King Lear. was playing Along with numerous awards, dazzling reviews proved that her age had not softened or silenced her. Two years later, when she returned to Broadway, she won a Tony Award in Three Tall Women, playing a dying mother with a spleen, a firework display that burned her eyes. Awarded.

In 2019, she hit Broadway with Lear, a reimagined production with plenty of postmodern vanity that might have stifled the less assertive star. Jackson cut through the flashes around him like a rotary saw, throwing himself into the walls of senility and mortality until he nearly collapsed into unanswerable darkness.

Ms. Jackson didn’t get any self-analysis, or at least nothing she wanted to share with the world. She also didn’t like to talk about the details of her craft. And her life outside of work was simple, she said, like her grandmother doing her own shopping and cleaning in the basement of her apartment. She avoided her 21st century technology (no cell phones) and celebrity trappings, but that fact only seemed to embarrass her.

And though she avoided much of a personal confession, she made one that surprised me. When I asked her if she felt different acting again in front of a live audience, she said she felt exactly the same, saying that this is the most fearless dramatic actress. It means that you were very scared. “She can be on that stage every night,” she said. “It’s like climbing to the top diving board all the time and not knowing if there’s water in the pool.

“Every time I say, ‘Yes, I’ll do it,’ I think, ‘Oh my God, I don’t know how to do that.’ I am torturing myself.”

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