When Miranda Richardson signed on to play three different roles in the drama "Spider," the actress found a part she could literally sink her teeth into -- and the result is already generating Oscar buzz.
In the dark film about a schizophrenic nicknamed "Spider," played by Ralph Fiennes, who is discharged from a London asylum to battle his past and demons in a halfway house, the 44-year-old Richardson transforms herself from Spider's restrained mother to a lewd prostitute and then to the overbearing proprietor of the halfway house.
Richardson said she relied heavily on make-up and costume to mentally prepare for each distinct character, but she wasn't able to fully nail the role of the tart, Yvonne, until she came up with idea of changing the look of her teeth.
"Costume and make-up were a big part of it. Sitting in front of the mirror, you can see the transformation taking place and I was continually working on this right before going on the set," said Richardson.
"While I was waiting to be called on to the set, I was thinking about her (Yvonne), what to keep in mind, and I sort of had a little lightbulb come on," she said.
"I rushed into make-up and and told them to make a little gap in her teeth or something that made her seem from somewhere else. It all came together after that," said the actress, whose soft, beautiful and refined features bear little resemblance to the hard, flashy Yvonne as seen through the eyes of Spider.
Reading the novel by Patrick McGrath, who also wrote the script, also helped Richardson. The actress said she also wove in traits from people she had observed in her life, ranging from strangers on trains to her own mother.
The performance has already earned Richardson an award from the newly-formed San Francisco Film Critics Circle, and critics are calling it a likely contender for an Oscar nomination.
Nabbing an Academy Award nomination is not novel for Richardson, who grew up near Liverpool, England, and who is acclaimed for donning diverse persona in such films as "The Crying Game" and "Enchanted April." She previously received Oscar nominations for "Damage," and "Tom & Viv."
Richardson, who once wanted to be a veterinarian, also has a small part in "The Hours," starring Nicole Kidman and Meryl Streep. The movie interweaves three stories about writer Virginia Woolf, a depressed 1950s housewife and a troubled modern woman.
The high-minded Richardson, who in the past has often expressed her disdain for crowds, photographers and the demands of stardom and fame, said working on "The Hours" was "uneasy."
"It was a little tentative. It felt uneasy to me and that was probably just the time factor, since I was only there for about 10 days," said Richardson.
By contrast, she makes "Spider" -- an intense portrait of mental illness, directed by David Cronenberg -- sound like a walk in the park.
"This film was easier. David Cronenberg is very relaxed and enthusiastic. He makes you feel like you have a blank slate and it feels very creative," said Richardson.
Cronenberg came on board in 2000, years after both Fiennes and Richardson committed to the film, which was nearly shelved in 2001 as financiers pulled out. Despite the setbacks, Richardson is pleased with the finished product.
Richardson, who describes herself as shy, enjoys curling up with a good book and spending time at her country home in England. "It's where I have ideas," she said.
The actress, who lives alone and refuses to discuss her private life, said she entertains the thought of someday having a family. She also disputes the notion that she is a solitary person, which seems to come up again and again.
"I'm very gregarious. I have lots of friends and people are coming over all the time," she said.
When asked what "Spider" co-star Gabriel Byrne meant when he recently called her "enigmatic", Richardson quipped, "OK. Maybe, he didn't try hard enough to get to know me."
And reports of tensions with stars like Jeremy Irons on "Damage," for which she got an Oscar nomination, were overblown, she said.
"That wasn't a completely easy shoot," she admits, but noted the friction mainly arose out of Irons' desire to collaborate more and her own preference to prepare alone.
Whatever people may think, Richardson radiates with confidence and a sense of humor. Having sworn off wine because she was feeling "depleted", she now wakes up more "energized" than ever and is searching for the perfect form of exercise.
In terms of her work, Richardson is thinking of lighter things, like working on a great romantic comedy. Spider, spider go away.