An interview with Diana Laurie by Iain Fisher
2000, Italian Restaurant London
Part one: The audition
Iain: How did you get involved
in Lions Mouth?
Diana: Well I have known
Kens daughter [Victoria] for quite a few years and for a
long long time she was saying, I must get you to meet my dad.
I was acting at that stage then
I stopped. It sort of started again and at the end of last year I
decided I was going to act again and go for it, and then Vicky
mentioned again meeting her dad and I immediately said "Yes
please". What can you say? I really did want to meet him.
And then out of the blue, April-May, Vicky phoned me up and said
"Listen, Dad is doing a film, I really think you would be
great for it. Its a low budget, short film", and she
told me about it being based on this true story of Howard
Davidson, Rector of Stiffkey, and she said, "Do you want to
|So I went to meet Ken
at his office The Reef [a café in Waterloo Station,
London] and we just had a chat really. He read bits of
the script, in fact I think he went through the whole
script actually. I though it was great and really fun,
and that was it and at the end of the meeting just said
"Do you want to do it?" which was lovely. It
was just what you want really, he just sort of offered it
straight away which was so nice, so I was really
delighted and that was how I got involved really.
I later found that lots of
actors I know had auditioned for him at The Reef. At that point
he was going to represent the main character that the film is
based on, but then he decided to do it through my eyes as the
journalist, and make it a very mysterious search into who this
man is, and will we ever really see him.
A lot of people came to audition
for priests and tarts, people who had seen his ad in The Stage,
which I hadnt actually seen, so I was lucky to know Vicky!
How did you first get to know
||I had actually met Ken
and Vicky years and years ago when I went on a family
holiday to the Lake District and was absolutely amazed by
the celebrities that were there. Ken was there just after
The Boyfriend, so was Twiggy and Melvyn Bragg.
So Ken and his family had made a
huge impression on me when I first set eyes on them. I think that
was in the early seventies, about 1972 maybe. I just have this
memory of meeting him. He was very flamboyant, I think he was
wearing a full-length fur coat when I first saw him, and I think
he had a white Rolls or Bentley. Some fantastic car.
Sounds very Ken Russell
Yes it was. And of course this
enormous entourage, and kids, five kids at that point and Vicky
was great fun, and I did get to know the kids a little bit. I
remembered them but I dont know if Vicky remembered me too
much from then.
And that all appealed to me
madly and I thought, yes I want to be in movies. I related to
those people, and their eccentricity, and I loved the fact they
were very flamboyant and mad and did their own thing and that
really interested me. So it was a nice thing for me that years
later when I decided to start acting again I got to do a film
with Ken again.
You obviously knew Kens
films before Lions Mouth. What did you think of them?
Well I loved The Boyfriend very
much. I was about eight or something, I just loved it, it was
something that was very representative for me and my life.
Was it the images or
Yes, I think it was. What I
loved was the musical element, the kitsch-ness of it even then. I
recognised the kitsch even then as a child and understood it and
related to it and kind of understood the humour, I got it, but
its quite interesting because that little film was quite
important to a lot of people that I knew and years later I talked
to friends and they remember it was quite a big film for them. It
was very romantic, in a kind of kitsch way.
[food arrives and the waiter offers black pepper]
Ken´s got a good impersonation
of Italian waiters with black pepper. Its quite appropriate that
we have just had that, he does an impersonation with a lot of
frantic arming but you don´t actually get any pepper.
The Boyfriend was very romantic
and did for me what a lot of early musicals did for my mother and
her generation in terms of fantasy and I was very into fantasy
and romance. And though I love realism, there is something about
escapism that just does it for me.
Its a good film but for me
its not the best, its good but flawed.
Yes, I think that might be true
of more of his films. I think he also feels that about them.
He´s pretty self effacing and modest. I think he´s very
objective about his own work. He can be quite dispassionate in a
way, and really judge it. Sometimes I think he puts his own work
down too much.
He reminds me of my grandfather.
My grandfather was an East End boy made good and he left school
when he was ten, and went to work for his dad. And he went
through a lot, and founded his own business and looked after his
family. But towards the end of his life he didn´t think he had
achieved that much, although clearly he had achieved loads. I
think Ken has that at times, something in the personality.
He drove me completely mad, I
drove him completely mad. We are both Cancerian so we are both
probably control freaks and moody, very very moody. I find him a
very interesting person, with all his issues and moodiness and
difficulty, which I think he admits to.
I get the impression he is shy
and the flamboyance is a cover up.
Yes, he is very shy and very
insecure. I think he is very demanding of himself and other
people, then is perhaps sorry that he is like that, so I think he
has got that conflict which I think had to do with upbringing an
expectations of yourself, disappointment. All sorts of things
combine to make him.
His entire childhood is
mysterious. Youve read A British Picture...
Yes, I loved it, its so funny isnt it?
...there are about 10-15
anecdotes about his life as a kid, and thats it. I
dont think his father is mentioned.
He mentions his dad but it kind
of implies that he didnt think very much of his him,
particularly at the end of his life and the end of his
mothers life. He was very disappointed with his
[fathers] behaviour to his mum I think.
Hes a sentimental guy. Ken
is pretty well loved, he really is.
About the film itself,
Lions Mouth. You liked the old title, Leomania, and I fear
I am the person who got the title changed.
I know. Why didnt you like the title?
I dont like Lisztomania, I
really dont like it, so the new title reminded me of it.
Plus the title was already in use for a documentary about
Part two: Filming
You go the job, what happened then?
Got the job, then got the script.
How big was it?
||About 20 pages. I
wasnt sure what I felt about the script initially.
I thought it was very camp and certainly lending itself
to comedy, and I didnt see how it was going to be
treated seriously. Having read the book, I was concerned
that there was a lot of pathos in the book and I was
concerned that we were not going to do this guy justice.
I dont think we really did
in the end, but I dont think he would have really
What book was it?
Its called The Prostitutes
Padre. So I wasnt sure about the script initially. It was
going to be his first draft and I was pleased with that, as it
would be fleshed out, but it ended up being the working script,
the script we used.
Kens quite contradictory
because on the one hand he talks about scripts being really
important and you need a good script. But I think he is more
interested in the visual element, so I think he could take
anything and tart it up a bit and go for a run with it. And I
realised that he was going to go his own way. I disagreed with a
lot of stuff, but I thought who am I? And I was right!
What sort of things did you
I was concerned about contrast
in acting styles because he wanted me to be very camp and gung-ho
and theatrical, which I think was very good but I didnt
think at times it worked. I felt the acting styles were too
contrasting. I was the only professional that he used, whatever
that means, that doesnt mean that people arent good
actors, it just means in this particular case that people acted
very differently and perhaps had more nerves, so I think at times
I overcompensated to pull something out. And I thought at times
it makes me look like I am massively overacting.But he is pretty happy about it,
and having seen more of the film I am more positive.
Who were the other actors?Friends of his. I think you have been in contact with Emma and
I was concerned about certain
aspects. It was so much his own project. There are many people
from film school and elsewhere who would have loved to work with
Ken, and they will be disappointed to hear that he did it on his
own, but he didnt want that, fair enough its his decision.
He didnt want the hassle and the organisational hassle, and
the catering and so on.
So you got an initial script,
which became working script. What was the next step?
The next step was that we wrote
to each other a few times and he was very pleased that I was
going ahead. And we started talking dates, and he talked to the
girls Emma and Marie about doing some more writing and changing
some of it. He thought some of their ideas were amazing, very
||So we had meetings then
arranged for me to go down there and discuss the script
and ideas. By this time I had looked at some costumes
from the BBC and took some pictures. I showed him the
pictures and he said he hated them, absolutely hated
them. He wanted me to look more like I look in real life,
which was great for me as it helped me to develop the
character. She was quite eccentric and she would have
found clothes in a thrift shop, she was fashion conscious
but with her own style. That was great because I like
interpreting. So what you see are my own clothes and he
was delighted and really happy with that.
Then I went down there.
You talked about discussions on
||I had read the book and
I had written down lots of questions, so I asked him
about what sort of feel the film was going to have, and
what sort of world we were inhabiting in the film. The
idea that I came away with was quite camp, he doesn´t
like po-faced period pieces. He feels they dont
represent the period very well, people try to be too
clever and too exact they miss the atmosphere of the
time, I strongly agree with this.
We had some hilarious moments
because he used his home for location shots. One time we were
about to use his little office and we were doing a shot, and
behind us were rows and rows of CDs, and the film was meant to be
set in the 1930s, and I said to Ken what about the CDs and he
said [Diana impersonates Ken] "Love the CDs, love
them". I thought fine.
Actors get precious because they
feel so vulnerable about what they are going to be seen in.
Sometimes you can be cut into anything, you can be in a
completely different film from what you thought you were doing.
There is an element of where am I going,
what is really happening her. On the other
hand it is very nice to be working with somebody with his
reputation, so you think you have got to toe the line.
And with the CDs I didnt
know where we were going, so I brought it up again. He went
bright red: he is always red but he went redder, and he said his
famous line to me [impersonates Ken] he said "Diana if they
are noticing the CDs then you have failed as an actress"
Really shut me up.
Its almost an Oscar Wilde line.
Yes, hes full of those.
There was one evening,it was very intense. We were by ourselves
doing a lot of filming and I found it really quite difficult, and
there was no assistant director to talk to about problems. Ken
would lose his temper if he didnt like something and you
would be swinging between admiring him for managing so much of
this on his own, to you are really horrible
I cant work with you. I have to do a comic scene and you
have just shouted at me 300 times and I am still supposed to make
this look funny and I´m sort of with
trembling lip and about to burst into tears [laughs].
So there was all that going on.
One particular day I was feeling got at, and it was having an
adverse effect on my work, and I felt this is not fun at all. So
I was thinking the whole day, how can I handle this situation? I
wanted to talk about it, thinking of all the approaches I could
||Finally we were going to shoot the scene in the evening, and he was
very tired. He had been filming the whole day and I knew
he was really tired, and he said "Shall we do the candlelit
scene". And I said "We can do it, but are you
sure you are not too tired". And he said "Well,
I am but we have got to get it done". I said OK.
So we set it all up and started
to do it, and a few seconds into it he was getting really cross:
"No I said do this, I said I dont want you to do it
like that", thats how he can react.
By this time it was quite late
and I let it go once, but he did it again. I just suddenly turned
round, it was just pure instinct, it was so funny. I felt like
the girl in The Exorcist, my head spinning round. I shot round
and said "Ken do not shout at me" and he started to
" and I said again "Ken,
do not shout at me" and he said "but I am tired"
and I said "I know you are tired but do not
every time he tried to talk I said "Ken, DO NOT SHOUT AT
The story has gone round London,
so many people know this story, friends come up to me and say
"Kennnn....., do not shout at me!!!!!". That was my way
of getting a grip of the situation. At the end of the day you
almost dont care who you work for. Theres a point
where you think I cant work like this,
I cant be bullied. Its not helping me. Its meant to be fun,
everyone wants this to be a good film, we are all in it to make
Was he doing it deliberately to
create an atmosphere or emotion for the film?
I dont think so.
|I think we had a
healthy disrespect for each other. We were both aware of
all the personality things. Any way the next day- he
denies this incidentally- but the next day I said
"Would you say I am very difficult to work
with" turning it round which I though was quite
good. He said "Not at all, not at all. Darling I am
the most easily irritated person that I know". I
related to that because I can get easily irritated. When
I repeated it a while later to him, he said "I never
Is that just his film persona?
No. He is a mix, hes such
a mix of generous and stingy, relaxed and control freak, warm and
then at times quite suspicious or untrusting of you, and
comfortable and uncomfortable with himself.
The other classic line after we
had shouted at each other, he said "OK I´m sooooorrry, I´m
sooooorrry" it was so like a child it was really funny. And
I said "love hate relationship" and he looked at me and
said "Sweetie, its all love on my part". I didn´t say
its all hate on mine!!! (laughs).
He is a very human, he is very
sensitive. You feel that emotionally he has understanding of such
a lot, and he really does care about people. But when he is
working with you he is so obsessed about it being how he wants it
In your discussions was he open
to your ideas?
Yes he was. He was open to
things but he was also closed. I think that is the only way to
describe it. At times he seemed very open but he was closed.
Do you think he had the entire
film in his head? That he knew exactly what he wanted?
Yes I think so. And he said that
he works like that, he has already cut the film in his head. When
he films there isnt much that he doesnt use.
Did you rehearse?
No not really, which was
daunting, especially if other people in the scene looked panic
stricken because they didnt know what was happening. It is
also a complement, because you feel "He thinks I know what I
am doing". Sometimes we would have to go over things a
couple of times to get the right intonation.
How many takes did he typically do?
Sometimes its done in the first
couple of takes, sometimes about six. Sometimes more.
Are the takes just basically the
same scenes with minor variances?
Yes, just the same scene.
Does he look at the results the
Yes he does
Do you get to see them?
Yes I did. There were a number
of continuity scenes I was worried about. He would shoot one part
of a scene them come back for lunch, then decide to film the rest
in his back garden.
How fast did filming go?
We went through it very quickly,
sometimes wed get a whole scene done, sometimes just a
couple of shots
We worked on and off for a
couple of months. I would be down for a few days then I would be
Were any scenes redone
No but I wish some had been.
After the filming we did dubbing and voiceover.
Part three: Ken and filming
Ken, Alex and I had a standing
joke, for every shot we´d say fifty
thousand that would have cost. Later I was
at the Raindance film festival and saw a film in which a friend
of mine was in, we were speaking to the director afterwards who
was rather chuffed with his effort, and he "Yes not bad for
fifty thousand!!!" Kens film cost about two
I went and shot a commercial in
the middle of the film, and there were sixty people crewing a
sixty-second commercial. I was having my nails done by one
person, my hair by another, and another doing the costume and
another the jewellery, and then I go back to Ken and I am getting
in my costume and Ken shouts up "Could you strip the bed
while you are up there Darlinnng" because I was leaving
after that scene to go back to London!
If I had $10M I would give it to
Its very sweet that you would
give him $10M. I think he should be getting some attention, I
really do. He is not being given enough attention.
Lots of crappy directors who
have done nothing good for years get $10M. Does Ken create the
Yes, I think he shoots himself
in the foot sometimes. I think its an ambivalence. I dont
know if I project myself onto him, but I can see the need for
privacy and to be shy, and on the other hand acknowledgement, his
need to express himself, wanting praise but then saying I want to
do what I want to do.
I think hes like that with
human relationships as he is with his media relationships.
He seems to have incredibly
Yes, theres quite closeness there.
Is he intelligent?
Yes, very very intelligent.
Do you think he is still capable
of doing a full scale film, physically.
He is very tired. I am amazed by
his stamina. From what I heard he has always been difficult to
work with, but he was very very stretched by the sheer physical
work involved. I think if he had a crew it would have helped, yes
I think he could do a full-scale film. The alchemy is still
I think that what would happen
is what happens a lot with him. It reminds me of when as a child
you do a hand-written letter you start off doing very nice
writing then it gets messier and messier, and I think Ken can be
a little like that. He gets tired and does not do a retake when
he should have done. And I think that is almost part of his
charm. He get cross then say lets go off for lunch. Thats
probably what creates this sort of mood in his films, which is
I think he uses this
characteristic, which is a sort of laziness I
cant be bothered and an
improvisational attitude, and he turns it to his advantage.
Part four: Diana
Tell me about your background.
[a foreign family sits at the table beside ours]
My initial training was in fine
art, I was a painter for quite a while, but during that time I
felt slightly like a fish out of water though I loved painting,
because I was a very theatrical person and very into
communicating with people.
I found that at art school
things were a bit too quiet for me, in terms of expression, it
was all doing something on a canvas and I am kind of more
physical verbal sort of person, so after art college and trying
to sell my work for a while as a painter, and various other bits
and pieces, I decide to train part time at various different
colleges, and I did that for about three years. There was the
City Lit in London, and a place called the Actors Institute and
then the Actors Centre, and did tons and tons of classes and just
fell completely in love with it.
I decided that I was definitely
going to do it, and developed a childrens show to get my
equity card, and got my card. Then I freaked out, and saw what it
was like; it was far too insecure at that stage in my life to
actually go ahead with it. I tried it for a while and got so down
when I didnt get parts.
[the girl from the table beside
ours has extremely loud hiccups, which wont go away]
And we have got alien hiccups
infiltrating. Alien hiccups infiltrating. Thats a nice
title isnt it?
I kind of freaked out, thought I
cant do this. Dealing with the stuff
one does, childhood stuff, trying to come to terms with all sorts
of things and not really thinking I should act, for various
reasons to do with various tragedies in my family. So I put it
away for a very long time, this compulsion to do it, and
developed a jewellery business by accident really. Just put my
passion into making these mad creations and I just started to
make money from that.
Is that one of your jewels?
Yes thats one [displays ring].
I just went for that because it
was safer I suppose, and after about seven years it has given me
security and routine. But I was missing acting so much so I
re-joined the Actors Centre. I suppose its a really big
cliché but I really did think I have found my thing. I related
to a lot of actors, even though we are at times pains in the
neck, and we are very darling this
and darling that and
very exuberant. At the end of last year I walked out of the
Actors Centre one day and I thought, From
this moment on I´m an actress. I had only
really myself as my responsibility, and I had to go for it. And
as soon as I did, things started to happen, so we will see what
will come from this.
Films or theatre?
I love theatre but what I
dont like about theatre are the nerves, which can
absolutely screw you up badly, and that side of it I do not like.
But I do like the atmosphere with an audience, and what you can
create. But I also love film. Ive always found going to
theatre more an endurance test, apart from fringe. I am
fascinated by improvised theatre or theatre which focuses on the
acting rather than the set.
Have you seen Theatre de
Yes, they are my absolute favourite theatre company.
||I saw them years ago
with Street of Crocodiles and really loved it. Then I saw
it again when they revived it recently, and it was just
as good, but some of the best scenes from the first
werent in the second, they had just created equally
good new scenes.
just create a world that is so emotive.
Ken might be able to
film them. I think a conventional filmmaker couldnt
I think we may have
talked about them. We would sit over a bottle of wine at
night and talk about people but not remember who they
were. Wed talk about films but not remember the
names or the director or actor. Wed say Oh yoouu
knooow, the one who looks like so and so... with the grey
hair... who was in...? Yooou knooow!!!
I am also into comedy, I loved
the early days of Comic Strip, I used to go and see them at the
I loved the GLC film.
It wonderful, what was it called again?
GLC: the Carnage Continues.
||Marvellous. Do you
remember the scene with oranges, very wonderful,
Streep-esques, method acting? I love Pete Richardson.
So thats my background, so
I am hoping I can use this film to show people. There is
certainly interest. I went through a phase of being really
careerist, but thats the way I want to do it, I want to do
some really good things but perhaps (hate this word) be a bit
more "organic" about how it all develops, and this
includes the work itself.
What about you, how did you get
into Ken´s films?
I saw The Music Lovers when I
was at university in Edinburgh. It was on a Wednesday and by the
Friday when it moved in I had seen it four times. And each time I
brought other people, and none of them liked it. So I loved his
films from then on.
Then he lost it for me. I saw
Salomé, which I though was rubbish and decided he was finished.
Then years later someone said I should watch Whore, which I did
and I loved it, so I came back to Ken Russell.
Then I saw Salomé again, and it
was so good, it is now one of my favourite films.
Its so funny the way that
happens. I think what happens is that certain directors and
certain artists, you can look at a painting and find it gaudy and
vulgar, then suddenly you look at it and realise it is dazzlingly
beautify. Its funny the way it emerges, the soul of the person
Any final thoughts
on Lion´s Mouth?
My feelings about
the film have changed quite a lot. It certainly has got a certain
charm. I havent seen the whole thing yet, but I did get a
good vibe about it, and I thought the CDs did look rather good.