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Vanessa Redgrave’s Controversial Career

British actress, Vanessa Redgrave, is probably best known by American audiences for her roles in films like Blow-Up, Murder on the Orient Express, Julia, and Howard’s End.

She is quite an acclaimed and celebrated actress. She’s been nominated for six Oscars – of which she won one, 13 Golden Globes – winning two, and six Emmys -winning two more.

Saying that ‘she is a force to be reckoned’ with on the stage and screen is putting it lightly. And you could even say that she’s carrying on her family business in a way by acting.

It seems like acting is a bit of a Redgrave family tradition, but clearly, Vanessa is the one that is the most applauded member of her brood. Both of her late siblings, Lynn and Corin, were both actors as well. So was her daughter Natasha Richardson before she died in 2009. Vanessa’s other daughter Joely Richardson has also dabbled in acting over the years.

Both Vanessa and her father, Michael Redgrave, both received the honorific title of CBE or Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

Vanessa Redgrave’s Vibrant Life In The Spotlight

Some might think notions of heritage and tradition sound kind of pretentious and hoitry-toity but Vanessa Redgrave embodies both beautifully. The Radgraves have some pretty deep acting roots as well. Both of Vanessa’s grandparents were also actors. Then you had Vanessa’s father, Michael, and his wife Rachel Kempson – they were both very popular actors back in their day as well.

Seeing as the Redgraves are basically acting royalty you might assume that they’d have a very conventional tried and true take on acting and living in the public light but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the Radgraves have always shied away from embracing conformity.

For one thing, Michael Redgrave and Vanessa’s first husband were both bi-sexual during a time that it wasn’t as welcoming for LGBT performers to be out. Vanessa also gave one of the most politically explosive acceptance speeches in Academy Awards history, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

Everything about Vanessa’s life has strayed from the mainstream but she has never let anyone else’s opinions hold her back from being who she truly is. She subscribes to the philosophy that says If people don’t like what you have to say, then they can just deal with it.

This is who Vanessa Redgrave is and always has been.

Rubbing Elbows With Famous Friends

Vanessa was introduced to her future husband when she was still very young. Her mother was actually working with Tony Richardson as an understudy at the time. When they met, he had a profound effect on her journey of self-discovery. Previously, she had been a very conservative individual but his unorthodox iconoclastic ways both intrigued and delighted her to no end.

As a whole new world opened up to her, she was introduced to movers and shakers like Charles Laughton, Paul Robeson, and Laurence Olivier. Famed screenwriter, Tennessee Williams, would even call Vanessa the greatest actress of our time. If that’s not the hardest complement to live up to then I don’t know what is.

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And make sure you keep watching to find out what Vanessa said in 1978 that almost destroyed her career.

Her First Lead Role Was A Huge Success

Like many other great actors that came before her, Vanessa spent most of her early career perfecting her craft on stage. She often appeared in Shakespearean plays that pushed her to excellence.

In 1961, she portrayed Rosalind in a production of As You Like It put on by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Throughout her career, she has made it a point to alternate her time back and forth on screen and on stage. The theater will always be something dear to her heart After all, she has played a lead role in over 35 productions in London’s historic West End.

In 1958, Vanessa made her big-screen debut in a film called Behind The Mask which starred her father as the film’s lead. She landed her first lead role in a film in 1966 in the comedy film Morgan! That performance even earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Not too shabby, for her first lead don’t you think?

She Didn’t Even Want To Be An Actor

Interestingly, Vanessa grew up wanting to be a dancer, not an actor. She wanted to make a career of it but it became clear very quickly that she simply was too tall for it. After she realized that her first plan wasn’t going to work out, that’s when she decided to try her hand out at acting instead.

In 1966 she starred in Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up and just like that she was a household name. But it wasn’t just Vanessa that made that film as good as it was. Blow-Up is one of those kinds of films that perfectly captures a place and time. To this day, it’s still the go-to film for experiencing the vibe of what was called Swinging London.

The film that Vanessa enjoyed being a part of the most premiered in 1967. Starring in Josh Logan’s musical Camelot was one of the most defining moments of her career. It’s also the reason she is regarded as a national treasure back home in England.

The Post Camelot Years

Vanessa and Tony Richardson were married from 1962 to 1967. They had two children together, Natasha and Joely. While on the set of Camelot, she met an Italian actor named Franco Nero. They ended up hitting it off and had a son that they named Carlo Gabriel Redgrave Nero. She and Franco got married in 2006, almost four decades after they first met. Vanessa spent most of the 70s and the early 80s dating actor Timothy Dalton.

After Camelot, she starred in A Quiet Place In The Country alongside Nero. She’d win her second Academy Award for her portrayal of Isadora Duncan in 1968s Isadora. In 1974 she joined the all-star cast of Murder on The Orient Express.

She’s Opinionated And Not Ashamed Of It

Even though she has always been in the spotlight, Vanessa has never been afraid to stray away from popular way of thinking and speak out against the various injustices that exist in our world. She was an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War and the War in Iraq and even ran for office once as a member of the Trotskyist Workers Revolutionary Party.

In 1978, Redgrave won an Oscar for portraying the title role in the film Julia. The film is about an anti-Nazi operative in World War II. While shooting the film, she produced another film called The Palestinian which was made by two Palestinian students that Vanessa had lived with during the production of Julia.

The creation of that film would have one of the most profoundlt impacting effects on her career, but not for the reasons that she would have hoped for.

The Most Political Speech In Oscar History

She was nominated for another Academy Award, and when Vanessa got up to give her acceptance speech for her role in Julia, she made several sharp comments about what she referred to as ‘Zionist hoodlums’ that were attempting to suppress the film.

As soon as she uttered those words, boos and gasps erupted from the audience. It’s believed that she was referring to the members of the domestic terrorist organization, the Jewish Defense League who were picketing out front of the ceremony.

The comment was shocking. Although it’s clear that she was attempting to be pro-Palestinian, many in the audience interpreted her words as being anti-Semitic or anti-Israel in some kind of way. Once the news hit the newspapers the next day, her reputation was further damaged.

It was only because of her stature and glowing reputation in the film industry that she was able to continue to find success in Hollywood following that divisive speech. Although, she no-doubt missed out on several roles because of her words.

Asked in 2018 if she regretted what she said during that acceptance speech, Vanessa explained that she still believes in the words she said and that she was just doing ‘doing her part’ in ‘what had to be done’.

She not only rubbed the Hollywood elites the wrong way with her unpopular opinions but she also ticked off the protesters that were picketing outside. The Palestinian was going to be shown at Doheny Plaza theater in LA on June 15 1976 but early that morning a bomb exploded in front of the theater. A member of the JDL was later convicted of the attack. Fortunately, the film’s screening was only delayed by one day.

From 1980 To Today

It ruffled everyone’s feathers once again when Vanessa was hired by CBS to play real-life nazi concentration camp survivor Fania Fenelon in the 1980 TV film Playing For Time. Apparently, even Fenelon didn’t even want Redgrave to play her. Still, she won an Emmy for the part and it was one of the highest-rated programs of the year.

In the 1980s, she focused on doing TV films and high-budget mini-series but she also found time to do some theater in both New York and London. She sued the Boston Symphony Orchestra for $5 million in 1984 for breaking their contract with her prematurely over her political views.

In the 90s, she had a string of small roles in several high profile films like Howard’s End, Mission: Impossible, and Cradle Will Rock. She also had a couple of leading roles in films like A Month By The Lake in 1995 and Mrs. Dalloway in 1997.’

In 2003, she finally won a Tony award for her performance in ‘The Long Day’s Journey into Night’. She followed that up with another Tony-nominated performance in 2007’s ‘The Year of Magical Thinking‘, and another for the 2010s ‘Driving Miss Daisy‘.

Vanessa is very politically involved. She donates a sizable chunk of money to causes that she beliefs in. She was elected to serve as UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in the mid-90s and she famously declined the invitation to be made a Dame in 1999.

Redgrave almost died in 2015 when she had a massive heart attack. Later that year she revealed that her lungs are only functioning at 30 % capacity due to emphysema. These days she is living in a two-bedroom apartment in West London. Even at 84, she still has an active stage and screen presence with no indication that she has any plans on stopping anytime soon. It’s very likely that she will keep acting until the day she dies.

Well, it looks like we’ve come to the end of another facts-packed video, but we’d love to hear from you! Which film do you think that Vanessa Redgrave shined in the brightest, Julia or Blow-Up? Let us know in the comments section below.

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