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'In Queenies Court' - Birmingham Post, January 12th 2000 - by Alison Jones
"Miranda Richardson might have been operating in a very different theatre"

An interview with Miranda Richardson should be approached with extreme caution.

Nervous as a young filly, she bridles at the most innocuous enquiries, her answers a mixture of wit and waspishness. Pauses in the questioning elicit a crisp "Next" and she feigns sleep when she thinks the conversation is becoming boring.

You sense her favourite role was that of the lisping Queenie in Blackadder who delighted in having the heads chopped off fawning courtiers.

Noted for her porcelain beauty, Miranda's familiar blonde hair has been dyed a startling marmalade colour.

Dressed in a pair of clearly ancient shrunken jeans and boots that look like a cross between leg warmers and a pair of wellingtons, her claims that she regards wearing "fabulous frocks" as one of the perks of the job is greeted with stunned silence.

She is squeezed into several waist-narrowing, cleavage-enhancing 18th-century numbers in her latest film, Sleepy Hollow.

The patient few prepared to put up with the queues at the Millennium Dome can also enjoy Miranda's reunion with the rest of the crew from Blackadder in a specially made episode of the now classic comedy series.

Her role in Sleepy Hollow afforded the dubious accolade of being the recipient of Christopher Walken's first screen kiss. And as he was playing a vicious mercenary with teeth filed down to points it looked a less than pleasant experience.

"It didn't really hurt," said Miranda somewhat testily. "The idea was it was meant to look like it did. He said it was his first screen kiss but I can't really believe it."

"I said: 'What about Deer Hunter, that was really romantic?' but he was 'no no, I don't make those kind of films'. So I told him I was deeply honoured."

A gifted stage performer, the Hammer Horror-inspired campness of Sleepy Hollow, about an 18th-century village being terrorised by a headless horseman, appealed to her sense of theatricality.

"Hopefully this will underline the idea that I'm a serious actress who doesn't take herself too seriously," said Miranda, who has twice been nominated for an Academy Award.

"It is fun but you do worry about getting the tone of it right. We were aware that it was a homage to Hammer, but Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing based whatever they were doing in great truths, so you want to hit it right. Not over or under do it."

"When I read it I thought that it was like the mad coach ride in Nosferatu, the whole script just rattled along."

Ironically her chilling turn as a sinister stepmother is not one she would have relished watching as an impressionable child, who became hysterical at the considerably more cuddly 101 Dalmatians.

"I remember running screaming from the theatre when Cruella De Ville's eyes went funny. I had to be taken home. I wasn't very keen on that sort of thing at all," she said with earnest amusement.

After doing double duty as both wicked Queen Mab and the blue-hued Lady of the Lake in the mystical mini-series Merlin, Sleepy Hollow gave Miranda another excuse to slip into something sumptuous.

"There was one dress which I thought I was going to have a problem with. It was banded with black and I would look like a wasp - the insect variety - but on screen it looks great."

She was equally surprised by how well the American star slotted into what she affectionately described as the "Eurotrash" cast.

"Johnny (Depp) was very European. He loved our sense of humour, particularly The Fast Show and I remember thinking: 'oh, a man of taste'."

It is 15 years since Miranda made her stunning film debut as the fragile Ruth Ellis in Dance with a Stranger. She followed this with scene-stealing performances in The Crying Game and Tom and Viv and, as the wronged wife of an adulterous MP, gave emotional depth to the otherwise soulless Damage.

So much in demand is she that she has the luxury of picking and choosing parts.

"I am not very good at doing back-to-back work because I can't feel I can concentrate on what's next when I am in the middle of something," she said.

Adept at accents she could have easily found herself competing for jobs with Meryl Streep. But she rejected the Hollywood route, turning down the Glenn Close role in Fatal Attraction on the grounds it was "crap", and chose to stay on London and mix theatre and television with the occasional British and American independent movie.

"I don't really see why I should have to relocate to the States. I think if you are established enough you can choose where you want to live and just travel to where the work is. Most stars don't live in Los Angeles anyway. They are in New York or Montana.

"On this film it was a real luxury to be able to go to my own home at night."

Forty-one-year-old Miranda shares her West London home with her cats and an axolotl (salamander). Her collection hints at a passion for pets that almost led her to become a vet.

"I didn't want to act until I was about 15 or 16. I had a really great English teacher who got me interested.

"When I was quite young I wanted to be a vet but I would have been absolutely hopeless, far too squeamish and emotional. Plus I can't do sciences."

Instead she finds a less gruesome outlet for her interest in animals by doing falconry.

"I'm not into hunting," she added hastily. "But I do find falconry quite romantic. It harks back to medieval days.

"I got involved after a day out somewhere and there was a kestrel who was injured. I sat looking after it and by the end of the day it was on my shoulder. I got quite excited by that and I got interested in every aspect of birds of prey."

She has a friend who keeps a bird breeding centre that she visits.

"I don't have a bird of my own although I have one that I named. They have themes so I suggested chefs - Raymond etc. In the end, mine was called Ramson because that was the name for wild garlic and she really liked that."