Raised by socialist parents, she became a powerful figure in left wing politics; she championed the women who held a strike against the Ford plant in Dagenham, England in 1968 for equal pay. They effectively brought the company to its knees in an international work stoppage. Miranda Richardson, a longtime follower of Castle, plays her admirably in Nigel Cole's 'Made in Dagenham.'
Moviefone caught up with the 52-year-old at the Toronto Film Festival. Richardson opened up to us about sex as political power, bringing companies – and men -- to their knees, and the changing film landscape.
Your performance as Barbara Castle is striking and exuberant. She was determined to win a battle at a time when women's rights were considered a joke.
I regard her as being very lucky and I regard myself as very lucky, having a vocation, because so many people don't have any passion to do a good job. I'm sure there were days when she wished she was doing something else. Not necessarily staying at home with the rubber gloves and washing up, but it's frustrating and heartbreaking sometimes, not being able to get something through Parliament that you are convinced was right. Not just right because of ego, but what's right for the country.
Thatcher was known worldwide as being the Iron lady. Is there a tradition of strong women in British politics?
No, Barbara was unusual. People talk about Barbara paving the way for Margaret Thatcher, but I don't know exactly what they mean by that. Just being a strong woman getting the point across. But she was diametrically opposed to her politically. But they both had reddish hair! The men in Thatcher's time talk with awe about her femininity which is difficult for us to get, but that is what they said about Barbara too. The rude ones would say she used her femininity to get what she wanted. She is a woman and she goes about things differently than men.
She definitely used what she had to get attention.
She was the first person who understood presentation of image when you're getting something across. It' a different world now, but if she had turned up looking like a slob, people would say, "How did she ever get where she is, she's a joke!" They would discount her and not want to look at her. She needs to be good to look at, and she keeps herself nice and makes her point very well... and she did, admirably. She's precise and to the point but she is engaging with whoever is talking to her.
Compare her to Sally Hawkins' heroic factory worker, Rita O'Grady, who led the strike; both were natural born leaders.
Well, I hadn't thought about that. I just say they are both women, they're working in a male-dominated world. Actually the women in the factory feel very powerful. They are very powerful with the men around them, even though the men are controlling the money and everything. The women have their amazing force. I love that scene, every time a man comes through the factory; they're not supposed to look at the women. And the women just make it really hard for them. It's great! It's a little bit of mystery and power, kind of goddess-y stuff going on. We know we can make you weak at the knees, like nobody's business. Most of the women come to work, looking very good, hair carefully done, a sense of pride. It's appropriate.
You play a woman who existed and everyone (at least in the UK) knew her; did it give you cold sweats at night worrying that you'd do her justice?
No. It's a responsibility and a lot of people felt very strongly about Barbara. But then, I don't spend a lot of time with Tory politicians! She's a heroine, a champion.
The film's about pay equity in the automotive business. How are things in film and TV?
In our business, there can be that rare opportunity where there is a female star who has made it big and she can top a movie and proportionately not make the money the males do. The bulk of the money often goes to the male star. If were talking a female and male star there is still quite a disparity.
You've collaborated a lot with Jennifer Saunders on 'Absolutely Fabulous' and 'The Life and Times of Vivienne Vyle.' Really outrageous stuff.
I was hoping 'Vivienne Vyle' might come back but it hasn't as yet, but you never know. I love it! I would do more. I don't know who is writing now. There are several programmes I watch religiously and if I watch late night stuff it tends to be comedy.
Is there still snobbery about English film stars doing TV?
There is less of a stigma these days. I don't think there is any such thing anymore as a career that goes da-da-da-da-da. I think they're more like wheee, whoops, so if something appeals and doesn't seem inappropriate, they should probably do it. I caught that episode of 'ER' which Ray Liotta did, and I was absolutely mesmerized. I got why he did it and also a load of people have been on that and it doesn't prevent them from doing other things. You don't go, oh, Ray Liotta's career is over.
It brings in a wider audience.
It can if you go about it right. Angela Lansbury did 'Law & Order.' She is the original trooper, she's done it all. And now she's in New York doing theatre, how punishing is that? She's in her 80s. I think she's fantastic.
'Made in Dagenham' opens in US theaters on November 19, and in Canadian theaters on November 26.