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Actress Lesley Manville Hits the Big Time at 63

'Phantom Thread' star on Oscars, aging and 'Ordinary Love,' her moving drama with Liam Neeson

spinner image actress leslie manville reclines on an orange chair
Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Lesley Manville, who plays a breast cancer patient married to Liam Neeson, 67, in Ordinary Love (opening Friday), got her first Oscar nomination at age 62, for stealing 2017's The Phantom Thread from Daniel Day-Lewis, 62, playing his bossy sister. She tells AARP about midlife success and says there's hope for those with breast cancer, whose death rates have plunged about 40 percent in 28 years.

Life after cancer

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There isn't a person in the world who isn't six degrees of separation from cancer. My sister Diana is past the five-year mark since diagnosis. It isn't all doom and gloom. Ordinary Love is saying, if you can do your best to see the good in things, to carry your own private little torch, endure all life throws at you with a glass half full, you're winning.

Endless love

Liam's and my characters are a very optimistic, life-affirming couple. It's a middle-aged love story, and love survives cancer — it transcends it. There is going to be pain, heartache, illness, tragedy, all of those things are going to come our way. But there's a way of living through them and coping with them and managing them and enduring them.

Grownup actresses conquer Hollywood

Being 60 isn't what it was when my mother was alive. I don't think of myself as old. If I would have been my age 20 years ago I would have probably been finding it much, much harder. It's shifting — older women are fronting films: myself, Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep, Annette Bening. We're out there making films that tell important stories, playing some amazing women who are defiantly not conforming to what's expected of them once they're over 60.

Hair goes, sex stays

Manville’s Fast Facts

spinner image Lesley Manville attends the 90th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood and Highland Center on March 4 2018 in Hollywood California
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

Hometown: Hove, Sussex, England

Age: 63

Early notable role: Topsy-Turvy (1999)

Breakout role: Another Year (won 2011 AARP Movies for Grownups best actress award)

TV hits: Mum, Harlots, Cranford

Next movie: A chain-smoking peroxide-blonde opposite Kevin Costner in the film Let Him Go.

Liam's makes my character feel beautiful even though she's lost her hair to chemotherapy. Our sexuality is not dead in the water. We're still active and want to be thought of in that way. More films promote that idea now, and producers are seeing that there's a real market for it.

Family Oscar night

When I was nominated for The Phantom Thread, Gary Oldman [her ex-husband] won for Darkest Hour. Our son, Alfie Oldman [a cameraman for Hugh Grant's Patrick Melrose miniseries), was very happy that night. He's one of the rare few who's had both his parents Oscar nominated the same year. After the ceremony, we got together with his half brothers, with Gary and his wife, Gisele, and my sister Diana, so it was really lovely. A historic moment, you know.

Empty nest, happy heart

Now Alfie's grown, so I'm very free to pursue this amazing tidal wave of career that I'm on. All of these age barriers being broken down is just a positive. Because I have as much life and ambition and hunger and frivolity and bearing — I feel I have all of those things absolutely as much as I did when I was in my 20s.

Too hot to retire

I couldn't think of anything worse. I don't know what I'd do with my days. I don't know how I'd use my brain. I've got 30-year-old friends who get more exhausted than I do.

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