Angela Lansbury, beloved as Broadway’s Mame and as a sleuth on TV’s Murder, She Wrote, remains warm, fun and sharp as a tack. To think she was only 17 when she made her first movie, Alfred Hitchcock’s Gaslight (she even got an Oscar nomination). Now the mother of two and grandmother to three delights as moneybags Aunt March in PBS’s Little Women reboot, premiering May 13 on Masterpiece, alongside Maya Hawke, daughter of actors Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman. And after 18 Emmy nominations without a win, this could be the one that nabs her a trophy at 92 years old.
Rich busybody Aunt March is a forceful character in Louisa May Alcott’s classic Little Women, isn't she?
She is crusty as all get out! And, you know, I don’t relish being that crusty as a rule. I wanted to show that there was something underneath, some humor and some warmth.
Out of period dress, you’re modern, stylish and your own kind of energetic. Any tips?
Well, thank you. I’ve always said I have my grandfather’s genes [British Labour Party leader George Lansbury]. And I’m careful with my diet. I eat a lot of yogurt, a lot of fruit in the morning. I don’t overdo. Christmas, Easter, too many chocolates? Yes. The rest of the time? No.
Are you still big on gardening?
I love my garden. I do a lot of the actual manual work on it. I take care of the pool. When we have a big gust of wind, I’m out there skimming the leaves off the pool. Obviously, I have a pool company who takes care of it every week. But there are times when somebody’s got to get out there and get that stuff off the pool!
Do you wish in some ways people didn’t know how old you were?
Well, I never think about it in that way. I don’t think they know that I am in my 90s. They just think, she must be of "a certain age" now, and they’d be right. I’ve never made any pretense of being younger than I am. I am what I am. It’s OK. I’ve made peace with myself. (Laughs)
What’s your social life like these days?
My children are a very important part of my life. My daughter, Deirdre — she’s called Angela as well — has a very successful restaurant, Enzo & Angela, with her husband Enzo [Battarra]. Best Italian food in L.A.! Delicious. I saw her this morning. She comes by my house a lot and so does my son, Anthony — we’re this close. I have fewer friends out on the West Coast than I did back East, where I spent the major portion of my professional life. Bea Arthur used to live out here, and we were very close friends. I miss her, I miss her being around. I have a few relatives, which is lovely — nieces and so on. We do lunch, as they say. (Laughs)
Any regrets in life?
Juggling work with family can be very difficult. There were days that were very hard: Wanting to take the things that are dear and warm and loving to you – my family – and then having to do my job. You’re a breadwinner, you’ve got to do the job. You can’t do it all, but you want to.
Yet you were lucky that your second husband, Peter Shaw (producer), stepson David, brother Bruce, and Anthony all had jobs on Murder She Wrote.
Oh, yeah, that was wonderful. Everybody was on board, everybody. Except for my daughter. She was in Europe for some time. And then she and her husband finally came back to America and she was also part of it!
The world is crazy for remakes and reboots. You’ll be seen in Mary Poppins Returns next year with Emily Blunt.
It’s a tiny part.
Is there any actress today you’d love to see in a new Murder, She Wrote, someone who maybe reminds you of when you did Gaslight?
No. In answer to your question, there is not. (Laughs.)
Q: Do you ever think about giving up acting?
I think the exciting thing about acting is I leave myself at home, and the person that arrives on the set is hopefully akin to the character that I’m going to play. And that gives me the chance to indulge myself in the thing I love doing most, which is acting. Acting as somebody else, not me, because I’m dull as dishwater.