Maggie Smith was convincingly “intolerable” in The Lady in the Van.
The British actress stars in the movie as real-life eccentric Miss Shepherd, who set up camp in her vehicle outside playwright Alan Bennett’s home for 15 years until her death in 1989. Alan turned the story into a play, which also starred Maggie as the main character, and he cast actor Alex Jennings as himself. When director Nicholas Hytner came to helming the film, also penned by Alan, it was a no-brainer to bring Maggie back.
“She played it nine months on stage and never missed a show,” Nicholas told Deadline. “Nobody does that anymore. The way she plays an audience is second to none. The audience were just delighted by her. All the things that made the real Miss Shepherd intolerable – her gracelessness, her lack of gratitude, her aggression, her lack of sense of humour – the audience just loved all that.
“The performance on film is quite different, because it’s self-enclosed. With the movie, you are allowing the camera access to something which you are doing as a consequence of being immersed completely in the character and situation, which is what she is doing in the film.”
The Lady in the Van was shot around Alan’s former neighbourhood in Camden, London, where the events took place. Many of the residents who witnessed Miss Shepherd’s presence were still there during filming and were happy to share memories from the ’70s and ’80s.
Despite the demanding workload for 80-year-old Maggie, Nicholas was impressed by how much of a trooper the veteran actress was. “It was tough physically for Maggie because the part requires so much physical energy and you can see she just never stints on anything – she’s hurling herself in and out of that van and running up and down the street,” he recalled. “So we would do two days with her, Monday and Tuesday, give her Wednesday off, and then do Thursday-Friday. She never holds back.”
– Cover Media