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Friday 18 August 2017
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What She Said! with Christine Bentley & Kate Wheeler on The Jewel Radio Network.

The Legendary Linda Thorson on The Second Time Around, The Avengers and More

Linda Thorson in The Second Time Around

Linda Thorson made international headlines in 1960 when she was chosen to star opposite Patrick Macnee in The Avengers, replacing Diana Rigg. It was a challenge but Thorson triumphed and today works as hard as ever in her hometown of Toronto and abroad. Thorson had her first taste of showbiz at the age of eight when she appeared onstage at Massey Hall as Mother Rabbit in Peter Rabbit. Her latest film the intimate romantic drama The Second Time Around is set in a retirement home where her independent character recuperates from surgery. She’s not happy with her circumstances but then out of the blue, falls passionately in love with a fellow resident. The film is warm and inviting, a beautifully made story co-starring a Who’s Who of Canadian co-stars. 

The Second Time Around takes us inside a place movies don’t usually go – a retirement home. It’s a big deal. There was a time there weren’t films for older audiences but that’s changing.

Yes. It was once considered the kiss of death to show anyone over twenty but the demographic is there. Take FX’ Feud with Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon and Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda on Grace and Frankie. There is a public there. And Charlotte Rampling is everywhere and she boldly goes out there with no makeup.

My character begins a very hard woman. She hates the home and she’s not very appealing but as the movie goes along, you see her fluff up her hair, put some lipstick on then in the end you have two people sharing an opera fantasy. When your heart opens up, blood flows and you look younger and better.

We shot fourteen days way out of sequence so the work for Stuart and me was tracking what we were doing and it was tough. I noticed a small thing. In the fantasy sequence I’m wearing red nail polish. We were so busy and I didn’t take it off and when we were doing the physical therapy scene, there it was. It made me laugh. You notice the little things. I laugh about it.

I brought all my own clothes for the movie because there was no budget. I chose all my clothes and jewelry and scarves, and took it all home at night because there was no storage space. I had to track it for scenes– in the movie I brought all my clothes, no budget, chose all my clothes and jewelry and starves for scenes, and I did my own hair and makeup. It was like coming from theatre and doing it and not having anyone fuss over me. That’s normal. There was no money. But this movie looks like it’s a $20M production

It was a Canadian Actors Hall of Fame on that set.

Amazing and because of the actors being very good actors and working in theatre and having so little time, just fourteen days so we had to work together. There was no time for a fit. Love everybody. Paul Soles had just an hour to do that scene in the dress shop and he’s 90 years old. Jayne Eastwood is so funny and selfless. She doesn’t worry about what it looks like, she just makes those faces.

The way all the actors worked together was amazing. Jocelyn Zucco, she had that upbeat thing going on and David Sparrow and the rest. It was such a treat to go onset and see all these people. They are journeymen actors, like the British. My father would say of British television that the journeymen actors were wonderful. You believe them in their parts. This movie is like that. It’s about turning up and knowing your lines. There’s a story about Marathon Man with Dustin Hoffman and Laurence Olivier and shooting the torture scene and Dustin says “I’m not ready. I’m not feeling it yet”. And Larry says “Have you ever heard of acting, my boy?” It’s a job.

Everyone is so great in this movie and the actors who play my daughter and my granddaughter. The three of us, I noticed it right away. We looked like family. Leon Marr did an amazing job, and he wrote the film for me. But casting the other women was incredible, he did an amazing job. We don’t look the same but we look like family. It works.

And there was Don Francks in his final film.

One of the first things I ever saw in a theatre was Don Francks in The Fantasticks at the Library Theatre. Don was so charming and funny and a great actor. Also Louis Del Grande and Martha Gibson and Stuart Margolin. It was easy to fall in love with Stuart, he’s a marvelous creature, and everyone loves him. Gavin Mitchell the production designer had no money and made it look good. Ludek Bogner did the cinematography and lighting without using any lights. He used natural light, angles and windows and shading, like the Europeans do, and after shooting for thirteen and a half days and I was in every shot and traveled to and from Hamilton every day, basically I told him I was tired and looked like shit. He said don’t worry! All these people came together for Leon Marr so tirelessly.

You’re so beautiful – it must have given you terrific advantages but did you ever lose a role you wanted because of it?

I think in England less so because they will allow you to be a character more. But the best thing I ever did was to let my hair go white. It’s pure white. So then I could immediately be cast as a grandmother who still looked ok. There is such confusion in Hollywood because they want a 70-year old to look like 55, but if you have white hair, its “oh, grandmother”. This really opened things up for me. Certainly I would love to be in Orange is the New Black but it’s very difficult. In Emily of New Moon, I wore no makeup, I was the school teacher. I never had problems, I would do character work. I would have worked more if I was fat. It’s true.

It’s a burden to be an older woman who was considered glamourous. The Second Time Around has a lovely combination of both.   Stuart at the beginning of the movie looked all greasy and yucky and he was irritating and slurping his soup. And as the movie progresses, he’s falling in love and he’s attracted to my character. Eventually he’s sitting on the patio with a cigar and he looks like a movie star.

I remember you vividly as Tara King in The Avengers, a massive breakthrough, a Canadian actor hit the big time! It was so exciting. What was that time like for you?

It was amazing! I had been sent for a reading by John Huston who had seen me do something else for the Academy and thought I was very interesting. It was to replace Diana Rigg in The Avengers, so he told me to go along and see them. I called my friend and said I think I’m going to get a part in this TV series and the day I went up to see them about it, there were some other girls they were seeing.

The point is there were 200 other actresses waiting to be seen. Huston sent me for a funny reason. He had asked me to be in a film but then he cast John Hurt and then he told me I’d be too tall, so to make up for it, he send me as a gift. I misunderstood. I was very young still at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, I was 17 or 18 and very poor and had no TV and lived in a tiny place that cost me four pounds a week.

So after an endless process that took six months and screen tests they narrowed it down to fifty girls, then eight and then three and we read week, after an endless process and then we read with Patrick Macnee. That’s that Canadian tenacity in me.

But more importantly, I was athletic being raised in Canada. British girls rode horses. Nowadays British girls are more athletic but in 1960 it was rare. And I had to be able to do stunts. I was a skater at the Granite Club and a champion, at the summer cottage I swam and dove and was a biker so I had this ace card.

Also the producers allowed me some input which was rare in those days. I asked to be called Miss Tara King because I thought it would be more decent for her to be at the flat if she wasn’t married. I also chose the name which came from my favourite movie, Tara, the house from Gone with the Wind and King because I was a Royalist.

Also Tara was in love with John Steed even though I was 20 and he was 45. The young spy apprentice would fall in love with this amazing character and it changed Steed. Diana Rigg was stronger than he was, very powerful. But with Tara he was no longer avuncular; he was a romantic leading man. She finds him sexual and was crazy about him, which changed it up. Taking over a role like Diana Rigg was very hard so I made her completely different.

My parents saw me on the front page of the Telegraph and fainted away. No one in my family ever had anything to do with show business! I told them I was going to RADA and they never stopped me.   They let me go and I spent twenty years there. They were proud of me. My mother and my sister who both died young were my biggest fans and they would be so proud to see me in a film in the Varsity Theatre.

Do you identify as Canadian now?

I have three passports and spend all my time renewing the bloody things. I’m a member of all the unions in every country and it’s such a privilege to work in different places. They all have their ways of doing things and peccadillos. I’ve made so many lifelong friends. I still have the energy to do it and enjoy it and it also means at my age that I have a much bigger play book with agents in London, Toronto and New York. It’s a really nice thing. And directors get to know you. The internet is great; you can have reels online, on my website and can see a seven minute movie. You had to fly to LA before to meet the director, it’s easier now.

by Anne BrodieBFCA BTJA AWFJ TFCA FIPRESCI