Celia Imrie became an instant star as Edwina’s acid tongued p.r. rival Claudia “bloody” Bing in Absolutely Fabulous. Since then, she’s played many similar characters, glamourous, upper crust types. But for Richard Loncraine’s comedy Finding Your Feet, Imrie goes against type tossing the hauteur out the window. Imrie clearly revels in playing Bif, whose low key life centres around a houseboat, painting, swimming, working for left wing causes and enthusiastic sex. Imrie stars with Timothy Spall, Joanna Lumley, David Hayman and Imelda Staunton as, ironically, her upper crust, haughty estranged sister. Brought together after a decade by a bit of bad luck, the sisters start off poorly and go straight downhill. We spoke with Imrie about the film, her career and why life is good.
Finding Your Feet has a dream cast. I suppose you’ve all known each other for a long while. Does that change anything about the work?
It does, it certainly speeds it up like mad. For instance, Imelda Staunton and I met many years ago playing the Kit Kat girls in Cabaret. It was many years ago but the great thing is when you’re playing sisters even though in the story we’ve not met for ten years – the familiarity of siblings has to be believable.
Sisters’ relationships can be loaded. It’s good if they get along and a shame if they separate unnecessarily as these did. What’s the takeaway?
With no connection, it makes the stickiness at the beginning all the more the rewarding as it progresses because we’d met after living such totally different lives. We don’t approve on one another’s choices, and it makes the coming together so much better.
Did you attend the Greenham Common nuclear protests as Bif did?
I didn’t have any connection with Greenham Common but I remember watching it on TV and admiring the women who were there. I was too young to go, what a drag.
Apparently Bif has the power to overcome men with her sexuality – I mean really overcome!
Yes she is quite powerful. It’s wonderful, I think there are so many facets of her that are appealing, but you don’t necessarily expect that. It’s a lovely surprise. She’s a game girl!
She also has the power to hide a secret. But what is secret of her incredible optimism?
Yes. I don’t know. It’s hard. I’ve certainly been more aware as time goes on how precious life is and how we must honestly try to live each day to the utmost as we can, so I understand the way she lives and applaud it completely. Life is good and we’ve got to grab hold of it. Enjoy.
I’ve seen you mostly as fearsome, upper crust characters but here you’re a devoted casual leftist.
Oh good, I agree it’s a lovely welcome change because I love to surprise people. To put yourself into the opposite kind of role is great and I’m delighted. It takes a while to get people to give me the chance some years ago I did a rather wonderful miniseries The Gathering Storm and played Winston Churchill’s secretary. Albert Finney played Churchill. I mention it because it was Richard Loncraine who directed Finding Your Feet. He knew me from that.
Do you find yourself typecast?
Typecasting is a little bit inevitable. I have tried to fight against it so much so that I’m going to be horror film. I’ll play a really, really evil character. It’s called Malevolent and it has nothing to do with Snow White! My character is pretty horrible.
Do you ever identify really strongly with a character or do you approach things more technically?
I’ve completely understood her and think there is an awful lot of her I share, her outlook and also by the way I share her untidiness. In 1975 I came to Toronto with Glenda Jackson to play in Hedda Gabler at the Royal Alexandra Theatre. I was very young in these days and an understudy as well as the tea girl.
I tell you this because when I was filming Finding Your Feet I was playing Goneril and Jackson was playing King Lear, at age 80! Therefore I was shooting this crazy comedy and doing Shakespeare onstage. So Loncraine came to my house to rehearse because I was doing both jobs at once.
I went to make a cup of tea and he was taking little photos of my studio piled high with papers and photos. I had no idea but he designed Biff’s houseboat based on the pictures! I did not know until I saw the set.
Interview by @annebrodie
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