Glenda Jackson: ‘Awards should be something you share… the camaraderie was absent’

Her performance in Elizabeth Is Missing won the veteran actress a Bafta and an Emmy – and she hasn’t missed dressing up for the virtual ceremonies

The British actor and former MP returned to the screen in 2019 after a 27-year break for the BBC One drama Elizabeth Is Missing. Her portrayal of Maud, a woman living with dementia, last year won her a Bafta TV award and an International Emmy for best actress.

Glenda Jackson is something of an awards ceremony veteran. Throughout her career, she has amassed an enviable range of statuettes: two best actress Academy Awards (one for Ken Russell’s notorious Women in Love, the other for A Touch of Class), a Golden Globe, several Emmys, Baftas and a Tony, among others. At one Oscars ceremony, she was introduced on to the stage by Frank Sinatra. But that, she says, was in the early days, “years before they became what they are now. Which are mainly fashion shows, aren’t they?”

Last July’s TV Baftas were quite different. Jackson spent the evening in her living room, looking at a screen and waiting for her category to come up. When she was announced as the winner of the leading actress award, you could see several emotions flicker across her face: surprise, elation, and, unmistakably, a hint of boredom. She says: “I’m not very good at dressing up, so that side of it I quite appreciated. But the major difference was that you couldn’t speak directly to everybody else involved. Awards are something you share with everybody you worked with – the camaraderie was completely absent.”

Glenda Jackson as Maud in Elizabeth Is Missing.
Glenda Jackson as Maud in Elizabeth Is Missing. Photograph: BBC/STV Productions

Ask any actor and they’ll tell you they’re not motivated by awards, but in Jackson’s case you get the sense she means it. She says: “An award is a gift, isn’t it? Somebody gives you a present, which is very nice of them.” But, she says, she chooses her roles not for the awards but “because they are so fascinating to do”. She adds: “You’re so fortunate to be given work in the first instance, particularly if you’re a woman. The best award is a job.”

And not all jobs involve red carpets and evening gowns. In 1992 Jackson quit acting to become a Labour politician, serving for 23 years as MP for Hampstead, fighting for causes such as welfare reform and fiercely opposing the Iraq war. In 2015 she dipped a toe back into acting with a Radio 4 play based on the work of Émile Zola, returning to the stage the following year to play the role of King Lear at the Old Vic. Elizabeth is Missing, which aired in December 2019 on BBC One, was her first screen role in 27 years. She was tempted back by the script, based on Emma Healey’s novel, and by the subject matter: a woman living with dementia, trying to piece together what is happening through fragments.

Jackson has long been concerned with the lack of social care around illnessessuch as dementia and Alzheimer’s, which are “like this big black hole that’s waiting for us”. The character of Maud spoke to viewers on a personal level: “Total strangers would come up to me and say they had direct experience of dementia,” she says. “And it is heartbreaking, because people’s partners and parents don’t recognise them.Now that people are speaking about these issues more, I hope some of that sense of helplessness will be taken away.”

Jackson has, like many others, spent the past year sitting out the pandemic at home; she thinks she has only walked out of her front door about four times. She is characteristically sanguine about the situation: “I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve got the basement flat in our house, which leads straight down to the garden; my family live in the rest of the house, and they feed me at night”.

While film, stage and TV have taken a battering, she is hopeful about the industry’s ability to recover, at least once audiences feel safe enough to return to theatres. She says: “It’s not a profession anybody really goes into expecting to work 365 days a year: we are very adaptable, because those are the realities.”

More generally, Jackson hopes the pandemic will lead to lasting change. Though she is no longer an MP, she continues to fight for the causes she cares about, saying: “I think it’s become clear to everybody now the kind of country we live in, and its gross unfairness and inequality. But the positive side is the way people have, simply out of the goodness of their hearts, helped those they could help. That’s an aspect of society which has been really heartwarming.”

Glenda Jackson accepts her leading actress Bafta from Richard Ayoade at the 2020 ceremony.
Glenda Jackson accepts her leading actress Bafta from Richard Ayoade at the 2020 ceremony. Photograph: Jonny Birch/Bafta/Rex/Shutterstock

Best award you’ve ever won?
I don’t take pride in that – I’m grateful to all the people who watched whatever it may be, but you don’t work for an award.

What do you look for in an awards outfit?
That it fits, I suppose [laughs]. Always the problem with me – I’m not good at dressing up.

Worst thing about awards ceremonies?
Some of them are very long. Hanging around can be extremely tedious.

Where do you keep your awards?
My family have them upstairs on the bookshelves. I haven’t had the Baftas yet – I don’t know what they’ve done with them, but they certainly haven’t managed to send them to me.

Watch a trailer for Elizabeth Is Missing.

Elizabeth Is Missing is available to rent on Amazon


Kathryn Bromwich

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Jamie Demetriou: ‘When I won the awards, I almost felt sheepish to have good news’
The creator and star of Stath Lets Flats, who scooped three Baftas last year, on the incomparable boost of winning big in Covid times

Kathryn Bromwich

11, Apr, 2021 @7:00 AM

Article image
Remi Weekes: ‘To be nominated for a Bafta is up there in terms of great fantasies’
The director of acclaimed horror His House on the strangeness of Covid-era awards – and almost being upstaged by his housemate

Killian Fox

10, Apr, 2021 @4:00 PM

Article image
John Legend, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice become EGOT winners
With Emmys for Jesus Christ Superstar, the trio join elite winners of an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony. Legend is the first black male EGOT winner and joint youngest

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

10, Sep, 2018 @10:19 AM

Article image
Wendy Mitchell on her extraordinary Alzheimer’s memoir
Diagnosed at 58, Mitchell was determined not to be beaten: ‘Why feel ashamed of having a complex brain disease?’

Nicci Gerrard

28, Jan, 2018 @8:00 AM

Article image
Garrett Bradley: ‘I was wearing sweatpants for one award ceremony and no one knew’
The US director – whose documentary Time is up for an Oscar – on why virtual ceremonies are like video games

Killian Fox

11, Apr, 2021 @1:00 PM

Article image
The awards season is upon us and again the critical buzz surrounds the indies. So why can't popular films win Oscars?

The race for film's most coveted awards has begun. Jason Solomons sifts through the hype to predict which movies will be lead the field next spring

Jason Solomons

28, Nov, 2010 @12:07 AM

Article image
Andra Day: ‘I want to be sexy and pow in an awards outfit’
Playing Billie Holiday was a daunting task for the first-time actor and now Oscar nominee, but she’s having a blast at the virtual award ceremonies

11, Apr, 2021 @9:00 AM

Article image
Does awards season turn you off?

Johnny Dee: They might be fun for the stars who are nominated - but are awards shows such as the Grammys, Baftas and Oscars as interesting for viewers at home?

Johnny Dee

11, Feb, 2011 @2:32 PM

Article image
Long shot: Rankin remotely directs Bafta TV awards portraits
Faced with Covid-19 controls, photographer turned stars’ families into celebrity snappers

Lanre Bakare Arts and culture correspondent

29, Jul, 2020 @11:00 PM

Kate Winslet and Danny Boyle among British winners at this year's Golden Globes

• Kate Winslet wins best actress and best supporting actress
• Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire on course for Oscar glory

Dan Glaister in Los Angeles

12, Jan, 2009 @7:40 AM