Vanessa Redgrave: The Great Seductress-Actress

Photograph by Victor Skrebneski

The following entry is comprised of both statements made by Tennessee in New Orleans in 1982  and from notes he had begun on a profile of Miss Redgrave.

I began to feel at some point in the 1960s and early 1970s that I did not understand any of those things that had once been important to me: writing, the theatre, politics, the culture, the world. Everything appeared to me to be immersed in some particularly toxic form of amber, and the movement, if there was any, was of struggle, anger, futility.

Of course the toxic amber had been self-administered, but that realization came to me later, and the futile struggle is how I might classify my attempts to write as well as I once had, to understand as I once had.

To be who I once was.

Drugs induce the strangest form of dreams, if they can be called as such. A dream to me is pleasant, a reverie, an extended wish played out on the mental stage. A dress rehearsal for all of those things you would like to see appear in your waking life.

The dreams I was having were turgid and frightening, and of course they were very real reflections of what was going on around me and inside me.

There were a few pleasant images and insights.

I kept thinking of the type of actress that had once appeared to me, begun talking, and who had then led me to a character or an event or a play.

I was not finding as many of these women as I once had, although I now know that my vision was neither prepared nor deserving of such a woman.

I was feeding off the memories of women from my past--from films and earlier plays and earlier dreams.

An exception to all of this ancient inventory was Vanessa Redgrave.

Vanessa Redgrave allowed me to think of the Pre-Raphaelite artists of whom I had not given a moment since the days when Bill Inge and I were attempting to cultivate the minds we felt were required to be great writers. Bill and I would pore over books and prints and try to then emulate the images we had seen through the words we would summon. I don't discourage this activity--it is enjoyable and it is good for the eyes--but it does not make you into a writer you were not born to be.

But it gave me images, and I thought of them when I saw Vanessa Redgrave, who looked like something Millais or Edward Burne-Jones or Rossetti would not only paint but study, follow, pester.

Redgrave's beauty draws you toward her--a Pre-Raphaelite Garbo--but her intelligence and talent keep you focused on her next move.

She is a daring actress, a teaser. She seems to be perpetually aware of all of us in the theatre, as well as all of those who will eventually watch her on the screen, and she transmits messages to us. A great actress is fully committed to her work, to the truth of her text, but she is also acutely aware of the audience, their moods, their expectations. A great actress is a seducer, and as in the bedroom, so in the theatre: She knows where the eyes are going, where the blood is pooling, where the pulse is heading. Vanessa Redgrave is fully in control.

There have only been meetings, cross-overs, waves across rooms: I want time to talk and to study and to create a character with her, one that is solely hers, one that has been conceived with her in mind and with her fingerprints.

She gives us her full body, but also her mind. She is a ravenous actress, selfish in all that she consumes, but she is also fulsome and generous in all that she shares, gives away, reveals. The great seductress-actress is very sensitive to the scales at which she glances, making sure that equal amounts are given and taken, obscured and revealed.

Those frightening dreams I had often revealed Vanessa Redgrave, and there was a sort of alchemy involved, but the dream never concluded. I was always interrupted, awakened. 

If there existed something like a dream in which a recipe was concocted to create an ideal actress, that dream would end with an entrance by Vanessa Redgrave.


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