Miriam Margolyes, the actor famed for Harry Potter, The Age of Innocence and her supremely entertaining chat show appearances, has released a new memoir: Oh Miriam: Stories from an Extraordinary Life.
Margolyes, who has increasingly become known for her candid anecdotes during her TV interviews, has not held back in the book, which is out now.
1. Margolyes says she is now mostly unable to do theatre as she is “semi-crippled”
Margolyes describes herself as” semi-crippled” in the new memoir, adding: “Usually that means you have to stop. And I don’t think I can do theatre again unless I’m playing a character similarly disabled.” I know Maggie [Smith] and Eileen [Atkins] and Judi [Dench] and Vanessa [Redgrave] still tread the boards, and they’re older than me – but they’re fitter, bugger it, and good luck to them!” But Margolyes says she has told her agent to tell casting directors that she is still available.
2. Margolyes names her most-despised people ever
In the memoir, Margolyes names Israeli president Benjamin Netanyahu as the “living person” she “most despises”. She writes: “The decline of decency, honesty and justice in the world during my lifetime has been inexorable. And the nastiest of the current nasties is the Israeli prime minister, who should be in jail for breach of trust, accepting bribes, and fraud.” Explaining her reasoning, she continues: “The crime of his recent attempts to control judges in Israel is the most egregious. He is fanning the flames of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians and removing the chance of peace between them.” Elsewhere, Margolyes writes that “there is no shortage of candidates for my Despised List”, adding that the other people she “loathes most in the world” are Vladimir Putin, Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and David Cameron.
3. Margolyes calls out Warren Beatty for on-set habit
Margolyes says that, after she was cast by Warren Beatty in 1981 film Reds, she took it upon herself to call the actor-director out for his “irritating habit of filming” people “without warning”. She writes: “I challenged him on it. He said, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t have time to prepare people. If I want to take a quick shot, I say their name, and they must be able to act straight away.’ I found that rude and inconsiderate and I told him so. He stopped doing it, so I think he understood, but he was definitely irked. He’s not somebody I would call the mother of the company. The motherf***er of the company maybe.”
4. Margolyes flashed Martin Scorsese on Age of Innocence set
Margolyes reveals she once flashed a tired Martin Scorsese after one particularly long morning on the set of his 1993 film The Age of Innocence. Margolyes says that after seeing crew members’ faces “lined with fatigue”, she “felt it was my duty to raise their spirits”. Consequently, she “fell back on my well-tried remedy for the flagging male – and female”. The actor writes: “And without further ado, I pulled up my maroon ‘Dickens’ Universe’ T-shirt and my proud and thrusting breasts, released from any confining brassiere cascaded out of my clothes, in a snowy Victoria Falls of mammarial magnificence.” She says Scorsese and the assembled crew’s reaction was a “stunned” and “dazed silence”, which quickly turned “into roars of laughter” and ultimately, according to Margolyes, “gratitude”. Margolyes says Scorsese “has never forgotten” the memory, stating: “Many years later, he said to me, ‘I remember that hair and make-up parade most particularly.’”
5. Margolyes says Kenneth Branagh “sacked” everyone on set of his first film
After being offered a role in Mike Newell’s 1979 directorial debut The Awakening, Margolyes says she “accepted like a shot” – but “knew he’d cast me because I was a friend and friends are needed on a film set”. The actor claims this was a lesson learnt by Kenneth Branagh while he filmed Dead Again (1991), which Margolyes had an uncredited role in. According to Margolyes, she was “flabbergasted” when Branagh went “nuclear” and “sacked” the whole crew working on the film after they “refused to do anything he told them to do”.
6. Margolyes says working with Steve Martin was “horrid”
In the book, Margolyes reflects on the “uncomfortable” experience of working with Martin on Frank Oz’s cult hit Little Shop of Horrors, which was released in 1986. Margolyes, 83, played the secretary to Martin’s “psychopathic dentist” Orin Scrivello in the film and, in their musical number “Dentist!”, Margolyes is punched by Martin’s character, who also slams a door into her face. Margolyes suggests she was hurt for real while filming the scenes, writing: “I was hit all day by doors opening in my face; repeatedly punched, slapped and knocked down by an unlovely and unapologetic Steve Martin – perhaps he was method acting – and came home grumpy with a splitting headache.” She adds, “Let it not be said that I have never suffered in the name of art,” concluding that the actor “was undeniably brilliant, but horrid to me”.
7. Margolyes felt “terrible” after swearing about Jeremy Hunt on BBC Radio 4
She reflects on the blunder that saw her swear on BBC Radio 4 in October 2022. Without realising she was still live on-air, Margolyes said of Jeremy Hunt, whom she encountered as he was leaving the studio: “When I saw him there I just said, ‘You’ve got a hell of a job – best of luck,’ but what I really wanted to say was, ‘F*** you, you bastard.’” Margolyes says in the book that she was “overcome with horror” over the “terrible” moment, writing: “I was still shaking, because it’s an unforgivable blunder to utter such words on the nation’s main morning programme – and I felt I’d let myself and Radio 4 down.” She adds that she “felt ashamed about it until the producers sent me flowers to comfort me” even though she “thought they’d be furious”. Margolyes describes the blunder as “a reminder that sometimes you do need to button yourself up”.
8. Margolyes calls Mick Jagger a “smug c***”
Margolyes says that she encountered Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger after working with his ex Sophie Dahl in a 2001 production of The Vagina Monologues. “Every evening, Mick Jagger would pick her up at the stage door, looking like a debauched 57-year-old angel in tight jeans, his face perpetually grumpy,” she writes, adding: “I’d never had much time for Mick Jagger but Sophie loved him so desperately that Siân [Phillips] and I worried about her. She may have been voicing a vagina in the production but if anything, he was the c***. He was always so smug and a smug c*** is such a turn-off.”
9. Margolyes recalls falling in love with Vanessa Redgrave
According to Margolyes, Vanessa Redgrave, while rehearsing Orpheus Descending in 1988, delivered “the single most extraordinary piece of acting I’ve ever seen”. The actor says she developed “a schoolgirl crush” on Redgrave, writing: “I was ‘cracked’ on her just like being back at Oxford High School. By the last night, I had to say something. I couldn’t let the production end without letting her know. Just after the final curtain call, as we were all going off stage together, I blurted it out: ‘You know I’ve fallen in love with you, Vanessa?’ She stopped dead, looked intently into my eyes and smiled sweetly and very tenderly at me. And then she said, ‘But why did you wait till the last night to tell me?’”
10. Margolyes “feels sad” about the Phillip Schofield controversy
Margolyes says that she enjoys appearing on morning shows as “egos are less in evidence”, and name-checked This Morning as one she “particularly enjoyed”. The actor says hosts Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield “were warm, welcoming and ready to join in the frolic” when she appeared on the series as their Agony Aunt. Addressing Schofield’s decision to quit after admitting to lying about an affair with a younger male colleague, Margolyes adds: “I feel sad I shan’t have the chance to make Phil laugh again; he was a darling then and to me he always will be.”
11. Margolyes “regrets” Matthew Perry exchange on The Graham Norton Show
Margolyes reflects on appearing on The Graham Norton Show alongside Friends star Matthew Perry while having “no idea who he was”. She writes: “Matthew was expecting a bland conversation that stayed on the surface of things, but I was warming to my theme and immediately launched in, burrowing deeper. I asked him if he was an alcoholic. On reflection, I really wish I hadn’t.” She says that particular chat show episode “was one of the few times” she “didn’t quite ‘mesh’ with another guest”.
Oh Miriam: Stories from an Extraordinary Life is out now.