Wednesday, 04 April 2012

‘I’m open to everything life offers… even my bus pass

As iconic actress Cherie Lunghi turns 60, she’s doing everything but slow down. She talks to Susan Rozsnyai about men, motherhood and why she won’t be having any more Botox injections

Written by Susan Rozsnyai
If Cherie Lunghi was feeling slightly apprehensive about the prospect of turning 60 this week, she didn't have time to dwell on it.

'I have two shows on my birthday. I don't even have time for a glass of champagne,' explains the actress, who has just opened alongside Kacey Ainsworth, Isla Blair and Denise Welch in a nationwide tour of the play Steel Magnolias.

Not that the former star of The Manageress and the Kenco ads should be remotely concerned about the onset of the years. At 60, she has a figure and a serene beauty that would be the envy of women half her age.

'Nowadays, 60 is the new 40,' she says. 'We dress and do our hair more youthfully than our mothers' generation. I have become quite accepting of the passing years.'

When she took part in Strictly Come Dancing nearly four years ago she was easily the most graceful female contestant and proved a huge hit with the public, not least the male contingency, who bombarded her with fan mail.

She did try Botox once, but admits, rather refreshingly, that she couldn't be bothered to keep it up.

'I didn't get attached to it. It is costly and you have to remember to keep doing it,' she explains. 'I am simply not such a slave to my vanity – and I don't want to be, because as you get older, you really have to start accepting the inevitable. The more you fight and try to hang on to what you had, the unhappier and more disappointed you will be.

'It's a shame because we spend so much of our youth unaware of what we have. There is so much pressure to be thin and you constantly compare yourself to others. But confidence is something that comes with age and experience – it has to be earned along the way.'

Cherie is relishing her role in Steel Magnolias as the spirited widow, Clairee, played by Olympia Dukakis in the 1989 film version of the play.

'Clairee has lost her husband; her children are grown up and she has to find a new purpose to her life when all the caretaking is done with. I can relate to that.'

She is also enjoying all the girly banter in the dressing room. 'It's great fun because these are very witty women who have known each other for years so there is a great ease and intimacy amongst them,' she says of her co-stars Cheryl Campbell, Denise Welch and Isla Blair, who play the Shirley MacLaine, Dolly Parton and Sally Field roles respectively, as well as Sadie Pickering, who plays Shelby, played by Julia Roberts in the film.

The female camaraderie of the play is something Cherie identifies with. She was brought up by her mother, her Aunt Mary and grandmother, who had lost her husband in the First World War. Her mother ran a boarding house in Kensington, after she separated from Cherie's Italian father.

'I grew up in a matriarchy,' she recalls fondly. 'These were hard-working, humorous and loving women, who got on with life because they had to. I grew up without a father when divorce was still unusual and unconventional. These days you will go into some classrooms and the majority of children have parents that have separated.'

Cherie-02-590She says the family set-up most certainly affected her values and expectations of men. 'I didn't have an example set of women who could depend on men. Women were selfsufficient and that is how I have always been because that was my norm when I was growing up.

'There was never a pressure on me to get married, not least because I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, when society was changing.

'I don't think it [marriage] mattered greatly to me. It would either happen or it wouldn't.'

Cherie was married briefly to a fellow drama student at 23, but the father of her daughter Nathalie, now 25, is the director Roland Joffé, who directed Cherie in the epic The Mission alongside Jeremy Irons.

The relationship faltered soon after Nathalie's birth and Cherie returned to Britain, reluctant to bring her daughter up in Los Angeles.

She has never been short of male attention since but she has never been tempted to remarry or set up home with another man. Neither is she in a relationship at present.

'I have wonderful male friends but I don't have a significant other, as they say,' she says, smiling. 'I am at a place in life where I am extremely content with everything as it is.

'I am extremely lucky that I am still earning my living doing something that I really enjoy and still learning.

'I sometimes feel we live in a society that almost encourages us constantly to want more. There's an industry of dissatisfaction and it is such a waste of time. We always seem to be focusing on howour glass is half empty and bemoaning that someone else is better off than we are. If we just stopped for a moment and looked around, we would see that there are a lot of people who are much worse off. We are all on the same planet and yet there are people going through such terrible things...'

Not one to pontificate, the actress checks herself, before adding: 'Let's just say, I am extremely content and open to whatever life has to offer – including my Freedom Pass!'

Steel Magnolias is at Theatre Royal Bath until 7 April, then at Cardiff, Bradford, Nottingham, Brighton, York, Richmond, Birmingham, Newcastle, Southampton and Milton Keynes.

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