The Handbag of God: When Homeless People Seem Lazy, Sleep Seems a Waste of Time and Sex Even More So, You're Ready to Play Margaret Thatcher. Andrea Riseborough on Becoming the Young Iron Lady

By Riseborough, Andrea | New Statesman (1996), June 30, 2008 | Go to article overview

The Handbag of God: When Homeless People Seem Lazy, Sleep Seems a Waste of Time and Sex Even More So, You're Ready to Play Margaret Thatcher. Andrea Riseborough on Becoming the Young Iron Lady


Riseborough, Andrea, New Statesman (1996)


Thatcher left a provocative taste on the nation's tongue both politically and domestically, whether it be the stale emptiness of hunger, or of the now soured cream atop a Black Forest gateau bought with new money ... Yes, the handbag of God touched us all.

As my right foot reached the tarmac of the parking lot outside Great Meadow Productions, June 2007, and my left remained gripped to the carpet of an old black cab, I attempted to steady myself in preparation for as graceful a descent as one can muster with three backpacks, six scripts and a satchel full of episodes of the former Yugoslavian hit TV series Tesna koza.

" Kevin" the cabbie craned his neck to spectate in silent satisfaction. Kevin had reminded me on loop round every bend from Borough that he knew where I was going and I didn't. As I spat myself out of the car he couldn't resist icing the sticky journey, caked in heat, by purring, "Now, have you got everything, love?" both sides of his mouth curling. I made my way into the cool tranquillity of a public toilet in the basement and began to talk to myself in the mirror. Once I'd stopped feeling the urge to punch Kevin, specifically Kevin, I then felt the urge to punch all men. And thus my understanding of Margaret Thatcher began.

" Go back to the literature"--Joan Didion

Many thank yous to Kevin later, the Great Meadow meeting having been successful, I found myself surrounded by great doorstops of cold, hard fact, with a sprinkling of fiction, most of them written by the good lady herself.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

For Maggie, knowledge was as powerful as it had been for John Liburne in the Fleet Prison during the English Civil War. For the actor, as Mike Leigh once told me, there are things one needs not to know, but, in some part of my psyche, Margaret Thatcher will always be prime minister. All through my childhood that was her job. My job was to complete the Lego space hub for a newly acquired caterpillar. My dad's job was to sell luxury Japanese cars to Geordies all day, then come home to my plastic construction site and tell me how great Margaret Thatcher was at her job, while my mum picked curtains for the new extension and my sister got her fingers jammed in the new VHS player.

The Grocer's Daughter was responsible for a significant boom in my household's economy during the 1980s, not least the upgrade from Betamax. It was therefore essential to attempt to forget everything I'd ever seen on Look North Tonight. I also realised after the first 50 conversations (enjoyable though they had been) that I should never tell anyone that my next role was Margaret Thatcher, especially men and drunk people at dinner parties. Everyone has an opinion.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Having studied the earliest footage available, I worked backward, chipping away at the shroud of preconception to explore the mental and physical enigma of this social-reform-hungry young thing, and here met the Margaret and the make-believe. …

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