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ShowTickets Q&A: Glenda Jackson of ‘King Lear’

Category Broadway

|by Jeryl Brunner |

Jackson on performing Shakespeare: “I have some of the greatest words ever written in my mouth every night.”

Actress Glenda Jackson starred in the title role in the recent Broadway production of King Lear. Jackson also played Lear at the Old Vic theater in London. The part won her an Olivier Award. Directed by Sam Gold, King Lear featured an original score composed by Philip Glass. For 23 years, Jackson was a Labour Party member of the British Parliament. When she returned to Broadway in 2018, she triumphed in Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women, and won a Tony Award for her performance. Jackson is also two-time Oscar winner for the films Women in Love and A Touch of Class. A Commander of the British Empire, some of her other classics include Sunday Bloody Sunday and Queen Elizabeth in the BBC series Elizabeth R. Jackson is also the recipient of Lifetime Achievement Award from the Lillys. The organization celebrates all women in the theater, and demands that they have full participation in the world’s stages. The awards are named for pioneering playwright Lillian Hellman.

Glenda Jackson starred in ‘King Lear’ on Broadway (Photo: Brigitte Lacombe)

Glenda Jackson starred in ‘King Lear’ on Broadway (Photo: Brigitte Lacombe)

When what went through your mind when the possibility of playing King Lear came about?
Glenda Jackson: I had seen a friend of mine, a wonderful Spanish actress, Núria Espert, do it in Barcelona. I had come over to see her. And she said to me, “Why don’t you do it?” And I said to her, “Don’t be silly. They would never let me play Lear in England.” But then the Old Vic wanted me to do a play there, and I love that theater. And so, I put forward the suggestion, and we did it.

When did you first discover King Lear in your life?
GJ: I can't remember. I doubt we had studied it at school. Like most of the Shakespeare canon, it is always in your life somewhere. I remember seeing Paul Scofield play it at the RSC way back in the 1960s. He was just such an extraordinary, wonderful actor.  


One of the really fascinating things about Shakespeare is that he is, in my opinion, one of the most contemporary dramatists around. He is essentially always writing about us. Who are we? What are we? Why are we? There are tropes, as in all his plays, that come zinging straight at you. And you think, “Yes, that's exactly like we are now.”

What qualities does King Lear have that you really like?  
Essentially his honesty. He has no self-pity. He really has no fear. He doesn't lie. I think he probably was a very good king, actually. The country probably did well under him. But he never really loved. And so, when he discovers what real love is, it has all come too late for him.

No one has ever said “no” to that man in his life. He says, “She's my joy,” about his daughter. “I loved her most.” I think he is somewhat unaware of what real love is until right at the end of the play.

How did you discover you wanted to act?
GJ: A friend of mine was a member of an amateur theater group. She said, “Come along, this is fun.” Then someone said, “You should do this professionally.” I wrote to a drama school that I had never heard of. I had two auditions for them. I had to get a scholarship, because we had no money. They said “We haven't got a scholarship available for this term, but if we had one, you would get it." Fortunately, I was working a chemist shop (pharmacy) at the time, Boots. And the manager wrote to my local authority. And in those days, local authorities could fund universities and things like that. They paid my fees for the two years I went to RADA (The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art), which was wonderful.

It hard to put into words how it makes you feel when you perform Shakespeare?
GJ: I have some of the greatest words ever written in my mouth every night.

What do you do when you are not working?
When I'm not working, I do ordinary normal things. I have got a grandson, and have grandma duty. But when I'm actually working, my working day begins about two o'clock in the afternoon. Everything has to be saved and directed for the energy I need when I actually go on stage. So I do absolutely nothing.

Do you stop talking?
GJ: Absolutely.

What do you love about New York? 
It’s so alive. It’s amazing. I have a lot of friends here, and it’s lovely to be able to see them. I also love Central Park. Please god, make sure that it stays a park. I love to just wander there. 

For more of the best of Broadway, check out our list of the Top Shows in New York in October 2019. 

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