Magazine article The Spectator

'I Was Asked If I Would Wear Nicole Kidman's Breasts'

Magazine article The Spectator

'I Was Asked If I Would Wear Nicole Kidman's Breasts'

Article excerpt

Geraldine James's agent telephoned one day and asked if she would care to play an over-protective mother. And he added there was something that she ought to know: it involved breastfeeding and, ah yes, the recipient would be a man in his thirties. The distinguished stage and screen actress has always liked surprising people and that was why, after she had seen the script, she agreed to appear in the 'Bitty' sketches in Little Britain -- although not, she hastens to add, with her own breasts.

'Everybody assumes they were mine, but in fact they were prosthetic and made by the man who made the fat suit that Matt Lucas used when he played Bubbles, ' says Miss James matter-of-factly.

'Like Bubbles's, they were low-slung, which was helpful because all I had to do was lift a tiny bit of my jersey and David could pile straight in. There was pipework running through them to provide the necessary liquid and that meant, behind the sofa or whatever, several men close by had to be operating a pump.

'I grew fond of those breasts and when I was asked to appear in the American version of the series, I asked if I would be getting the same pair and they told me: "No, we have got you Nicole Kidman's." I wasn't sure if that was going to work -- Miss Kidman is, after all, a lot thinner than me. I never did ask what it was that she had needed them for, but they still fitted pretty well.' People tend to react with either wonderment or exasperation to Geraldine James's career. Those who take the latter view point to how she never capitalised on The Jewel in the Crown, one of the most successful television series of the 1980s which ran to 14 episodes. The casting directors wanted her to replicate the same role over and over again and she simply wasn't having any of that.

There were a number of points when she seemed about to make it big but she always seemed to elect, contrarily, to disappear from public view. After her successful run on Broadway in 1990 in The Merchant of Venice, in which she played Portia to Dustin Hoffman's Shylock, Sam Cohen, the American agent, promised her he could make her name if only she would go to Los Angeles after the run finished. 'I did it for Meryl and I can do it for you, ' he had said. Miss James, being Miss James, went back to England.

'I remember ringing Jo, my beloved rock of a husband, and telling him what Cohen had said and he replied that I had been on the 16th floor of my apartment block in New York for long enough and it was time to come down to earth. Our daughter Ellie had been with me in New York and was about to start school in England when she turned five. My daughter always came first and I got used to my agent saying, when I turned down this or that project because of her, "Oh yes, of course" rather glumly. It was all about priorities.' Next month Miss James's priority is Victory, a play by Howard Barker. It is a dark Restoration tale about a nation living under a failed regime and, while obviously topical, it is being staged at the Arcola, a well-regarded, if tiny, theatre in a less than accessible part of north-east London. She was offered the part last May and, after some agonising, decided to do it because she loved the poetic quality of the writing.

'I enjoy fringe theatre because you get a real sense of collaboration with the audience which you often don't get in the West End where, on occasions, one has been made uncomfortably aware of people dozing off. …

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