British Icon of the Week: Glenda Jackson, Acclaimed Actress and Former MP Who Just Won a BAFTA AwardAugust 4, 2020
Glenda Jackson has had two impressive careers: first as one of the most acclaimed British actresses of her generation, then as a hardworking Labour Party MP who represented her north London constituency for 23 years. Since standing down from British parliament in 2015, she's resumed the acting career that she put on hold in the early '90s – and reminded everyone of her stunning talent. Following a series of tour-de-force stage performances on Broadway and in the West End, she capped off a remarkable comeback on Friday (July 31) by winning Best Actress at the BAFTA TV Awards for her haunting performance as an elderly woman living with Alzheimer's in Elizabeth Is Missing.
It's just been announced that the 90-minute TV film will kick off PBS Masterpiece's 50th anniversary season in January 2021, but in the meantime, here's a reminder of some of Jackson's many accomplishments, and her fierce, no-nonsense attitude towards her work.
1. Though she's won two Academy Awards – Best Actress in 1971 for Women in Love and again in 1974 for A Touch of Class – she doesn't place too much stock in trophies.
“My mother polished them assiduously,” she said of her Oscar statuettes a few years ago, “and it doesn’t take long for the gold to come off. Nothing but base metal underneath.”
2. She's also won two Primetime Emmy Awards – both for playing Queen Elizabeth I in the classic BBC period drama Elizabeth R.
When Entertainment Weekly suggested that the revered 1971 drama serial, which comprised six 85-minute TV plays and also aired on PBS, "basically helped to invent longform TV," Jackson replied modestly: "That’s an exaggeration. But there was an audience, yes, especially since it had to do with dead, long gone Royals."
3. When she won the 2018 Tony Award for Best Actress for her performance in Edward Albee's Three Tall Women, she completed the prestigious "Triple Crown of Acting."
Only 24 performers can claim to have achieved this hat-trick by winning a competitive Academy Award, Emmy Award, and Tony Award. Jackson is the most recent addition to the exclusive club, joining the likes of Al Pacino, Dame Maggie Smith, Ingrid Bergman, and Viola Davis.
4. She's consistently called for a wider variety of substantial acting roles for women.
During a recent BAFTA panel with fellow Best Actress nominees Jodie Comer (Killing Eve) and Suranne Jones (Gentleman Jack), Jackson revealed what she'd like to see in more female characters on screen. "A really decent part that is the dramatic engine of the piece," she said. "I find it incomprehensible why contemporary writers still find us so boring. They never, or hardly ever, place us as the central engine. That’s what I would like to see."
5. She has no time for personal vanity when it comes to her work.
“Now, this is going to sound f****** pretentious,” she told The Times last year. “But I don’t want my audience to love me. I want them to believe me.”
6. She segued from acting to politics because she was incensed by then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's comment that "there is no such thing as a society."
"Anything I could have done that was legal to get her and her government out of office, I was prepared to have a go at," she recalled during a typically passionate and articulate appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Jackson was duly elected as MP for Hampstead and Highgate in 1992 and served until standing down in 2015.
7. She describes serving as a London MP for 23 years as "such a humbling experience."
"All MPs hold what we call advice surgeries, where you’d be in a little room and some constituents who you had never seen before in your life would come in and lay their life on the table in front of you," she told Meryl Streep in an Interview magazine tête-à-tête. "And some of these people’s lives are unbelievable in terms of what they have to deal with. Then, whether you’ve got the result they wanted or you didn’t, they would say, 'Thank you.' That puts you in your place."
8. When she returned to the West End stage in 2017 to play King Lear – the iconic Shakespeare role traditionally portrayed by men – she took up swimming and cut down on cigarettes to ensure she had the stamina for eight performances a week.
"I was initially concerned that I wouldn’t have the vocal or physical energy to do it but the only day I felt exhausted was Sunday, when we didn’t play," she told London's Evening Standard shortly after her award-winning run at London's Old Vic theater.
9. She took her TV comeback role in Elizabeth Is Missing because she witnessed the ravaging effects of Alzheimer's and dementia first-hand during her time as an MP.
Speaking at a panel to promote the show last year, Jackson explained that it's an issue “that I have been banging on about for at least a decade. We are living longer and this is a deep black hole which... let’s get slightly political, which none of the political parties has really taken onboard, but [which] we as a society are gonna have to deal with.”
1o. Though she's known for being passionate, plain-speaking, and politically engaged, she also has a lighter side.
She guested on a 1980 episode of The Muppet Show and really threw herself into the experience, as this jaunty clip shows.
Do you have a favorite Glenda Jackson performance?