Miranda Richardson plays the wife of Winston Churchill in a new film
But as the years have gone by she has discovered the harshness of ageing. “I have had the experience of starting to feel invisible as an actor,” she says.
“I think it’s common for middle-aged women to feel that.”
Richardson, 59 – who was signed up by the prestigious Bristol Old Vic from school at just 17 – moved to London at 21 for a West End stage debut that launched a striking career.
Her riveting first film, Dance With A Stranger (1985) in which she played Ruth Ellis, the last woman hanged in Britain, kickstarted screen success with awards and recognition from Hollywood.
She received Oscar nominations for Damage (1992) and Tom & Viv (1994) and won Golden Globes for Enchanted April (1992) and the TV film Fatherland (1994).
She also became well-known to British TV audiences for playing Elizabeth I, known as Queenie, in Blackadder II (1986).
Churchill would not have been able to do what he did without the unfailing love and support of his wife
But at the very point she was enjoying her biggest successes, she now admits she felt shy and awkward.
“I remember the Blackadder producer John Lloyd being famously rude about me on the radio,” she recalls.
“He said: ‘It was the end of the day and this dishevelled creature came in, her hair looked like it hadn’t been brushed for a month and I had not seen anything less like a possible Queen.’
She is well known for her role as Queenie in Blackadder II
“I thought, ‘Oh, no, was I that bad?’ I knew I was like someone from another planet for several years but that was very embarrassing. It didn’t stop them hiring me but for the first week’s filming I was as nervous as a kitten.”
I recall the first time we met, on location in Bohemia while she was filming Fatherland at the height of her fame. She was regarded as not being particularly confident off camera.
But that is now far from the case. Her acting is as immaculate as ever and she brings realism and quality to a powerful new film, Churchill, with Brian Cox playing wartime leader Winston and she his formidable wife Clementine.
It was said that she was Churchill’s secret weapon during the Second World War, giving him confidence and support in the darkest days.
The film deals with his insecurities in the 96 hours leading up to D-Day on June 6, 1944.
He became highly stressed about the Normandy invasion, which changed the course of the war.
He feared a repeat of the ill-fated Gallipoli attack against Turkey in 1915 during the First World War when his fatal decision as political head of the Royal Navy ended in mass slaughter.
“There was a vitality in their relationship,” says Richardson.
“They had such rows. If Clemmie did not like something she would take herself off to her room. Her bedroom was her sanctuary and she would just lie there, under the sheets.
“It did not matter the time of day. If she did not like someone at the dinner table, she’d leave. I admire that about her. But she would allow Churchill to become the person he became and to fulfil his destiny.
“They also shared a sense of humour. In so many old photos together, Churchill has a twinkle in his eye and she is openly laughing. There is a line in the film which sums up their relationship. ‘It’s not easy being a leader,’ he says. She in turn replies: ‘It’s not easy being married to one, either’.”
Churchill is set in the run up to D-Day and concerns the WW2 PM’s doubts about the invasion
But while Winston and Clementine may have had their differences the same cannot be said of Richardson and her co-star Brian Cox.
Although the pair had met socially before they had never worked together.
“We both loved each other’s work and it was such a nice thing,” she says.
“We don’t know why it hadn’t happened before but it has happened now. And it might happen again, who knows?”
If it has not been easy to adapt to middle-aged roles she brushes it aside.
“I did not expect anything else,” she says. “It is a fact of life and when parts like this come along, they are welcomed.”
She takes a pragmatic view on Hollywood. “I never wanted to move to LA permanently,” she says.
“I liked to go there and work and then leave. And I don’t take the roles home with me at all. I can just turn off. Some American actors like to stay in character and that strikes me as being fearful. I also like doing things I have never tried before. I would be bored otherwise.”
She’s unmarried, without children and always steers clear of any comment or gossip.
Despite being famous for much of her life she has never even been photographed with a significant other.
She has had boyfriends and has been able to conduct long-distance relationships. “I have never been at ease with the personal stuff,” she says.
“I can walk around London unrecognised for the most part. It is surprisingly easy to stay out of the gossip columns if you don’t want to be in them.”
Richardson, who grew up in Southport on Merseyside, first started thinking about an acting career by the time she reached her teens.
Brian Cox is playing wartime leader Winston and Miranda his wife Clementine
At 14 she was talent-spotted by an English teacher at Southport High School For Girls and pushed towards acting.
“I was not particularly academic but when we read plays in class she would always give me the great roles,” she recalls.
“That encouragement and her tuition made me think about acting for a living. It was a great moment.”
But she is the first to admit that it hasn’t always been easy. When she moved to London she needed to earn money. “I did everything and anything,” she says.
“I worked in an office and a hamburger bar to help pay the bills when I was not acting. I have been lucky enough to be independent over the years.”
However, there has been a change of emphasis during a near 40-year career. “There are ‘stars’ now who are in their teens,” she says.
“TV series have allowed that to happen. They are up and running and the quality is fantastic.”
Richardson’s quality is also seamless and her range of recent work proves she’s always looking for new challenges.
Her next major film, Stronger, follows Jeff Bauman (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) who lost both his legs in the Boston Marathon terrorist bombing of 2013.
She plays Bauman’s mother. She’s also been filming alongside Colin Firth and Emily Watson in The Happy Prince, a biographical drama about Oscar Wilde, written and directed by Rupert Everett.
But it’s the role as the smart and steely Clementine that feels like new territory for Richardson. “I love new work,” she says.
“I love breaking ground and that’s what I feel like I had the chance to do with this. My own life has been very different to Clementine’s. But Churchill would not have been able to do what he did without the unfailing love and support of his wife.”
Churchill is released this Friday