|Jane Asher found Celia Ryder,whom she plays in Brideshead Revisited, 'a funny character'.|
Everything about her is fresh and fine: her skin, her blue eyes, her hair, which has lightened over the years from red-gold to silver-gilt. Jane Asher at 35 still looks a snowdrop of a girl.
That fragile air hardly hides a basic sturdiness. Rejecting any notion that she offers the world a romantic pallor, she cheerfully observes that she had always been as white as a ghost. She is good at fielding inquiries she sees as an invasion of privacy. At the age of 19 she was in the middle of a long, lively, much-touted relationship with Paul McCartney. the results of her openness then have left her wary of interviews.
Jane Asher lived with political cartoonist Gerald Scarfe for some years. They have a seven-year-old daughter, Katie. These days Miss Asher is Mrs. Scarfe and Mrs. Scarfe sweetly does not care to say how long she had been married. 'For quite a while,' is the most she will manage. 'You can never explain your own life to anyone else,' she said last year. 'whatever you say, you're bound to antagonise someone.'
Gerald, Jane and Katie Scarfe live in Chelsea. Not long ago, sitting in her vast, handsome kitchen and waiting for a sibling for Katie, Jane said she likes being pregnant. 'I'd have babies all the time. You can always work round them. I've never planned a family round work. If a baby is good you can do almost anything.' She sounded slightly vague. As this is a lady who does not drift, sounding vague is probably as good a ploy as any to block questions.
Little Jane Asher was six when she played in her first film, Mandy, the story of a deaf-mute child. 'It probably made me want to go on the stage, but I was so young that I don't know whether I would have tried, anyway. I like to think that I persevered where my brother and sister didn't.'
Peter, two years older than Jane, abd Claire, who years younger, acted in films and on radio when children. But only Jane worked hard enough to take her O levels at 15, because her parents made it part of the deal that if she got behind with them she would have to stop acting. She performed professionally on television all through school and she carried on from there. 'I didn't have formal training. I just did it.'
Perhaps it was this early start which early on gave her the confience to pick and choose her parts. 'i'v always een very choosy. I particularly enjoy doing something that's just been written, creating a new role. I'd like to think that you can influence a new play a lot. When you're working on a character for the first time, shapes emerge.'
She has done some good first-time stuff. Christopher Hampton's The Philanthropist and Treats, Brian Clarke's Whose Life is it, Anyway? with Tom Conti. some of the plays are plenty wry, but as yet she has not properly taken on the ultimate challenge of straight comedy.
This is something she wants to do. she hopes she has brought comedy to Celia Ryder for Brideshead Revisited. 'Celia's a bit of a funny character. the more i played her the more sympathetic to her I became. charles is so beastly to her.'
Unintentional comedy attended Celia. The ITV strike in 1979 stranded Jane in the middle of a scene – she was standing in a bedroom about to enter the bathroom. a year-and-a-half later she found herself opening the door, looking, she imagines, a lot older, 'and wiser, maybe.' But what was one doing with the character 18 months earlier?
It was hard to remember: she had been in a play during that time. Before the Party, by rodney Ackland, got Jane Asher launching out in new directions. She produced as well as performed and for the first time she had to take on the drama's organizational and financial sides.
Sorting out her experiences, she came down for organisation. 'I'm not particularly good at finance but I am interested in getting things done. It's difficult to go up to people and say,you must put your money into this wonderful production, but I do. I try to find angels [backers] for a joint company I've formed with The Oxford Playhouse.'
Last Summer Jane stretched her organisational gifts by successfully staging a charity show, Hidden Talents, for London's Mermaid Theatre. John Le Mesurier sang a Cole Porter song, Clive Jenkins read petry, Tim Rice did his Elvis impersonation and astronomer Patrick Moore performed in this own operetta. The results were impressive enough to give rise to talk about a series for ITV's new Channel Four.
Since Brideshead Jane has acted with James Fox in Love is Old, Love is New, a four-parter for BBC Television, and with Laurence olivier in John Mortimer's A Voyage Round My Father, for Thames Television. More recently she has been working on a book which shows her at her most domestic.
She has always enjoyed engaging in domesticity and the book is about her unusual talent for elaborate and fanciful cake decorations. 'I've done lots of cooking and cake-decorating for years. During Before the Party, Phyllis Calvert [Jane's co-star] said I should put a book together on the subject.
'If you're going to decorate a cake yourself it's much funnier and more charming tomake it about the person it's intended for. the point about this book is that it isn't professional. People who think that ornate decorations must be a professional job won't be over-awed. I'm very much an amateur, working at the kitchen table among children and dogs, and having to clear up for dinner.'
the book will have lots of pictures showing needle-fingered Jane fiddling about with the tiny, imaginative details which emerge from her piping bag. It should be out next Easter, a good time for cakes.
Jane once said of acting: 'I sometimes wonder what it does to the brain, saying the same things over and over again. It seems strange to do it eight times a week.' the observation came out of a long run. She still wonders, remarking that – like words – lines repeated too often lose their meaning. 'It's interesting. It goes in waves. You can enjoy yourself discovering something new for a while and then you can sink into a great trough and feel you've lost it completely. Then suddenly one night you find it again.'
Jane Asher would make sure that she found it again. Cakes, babies, scripts, angels – whatever she tackles, she tackles well.