Angela Lansbury's The Last Word: Five candid takes from her final interview

Alexandra Ciufudean October 12, 2022
Angela Lansbury's The Last Word: Five candid takes from her final interview
Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

Featured

In 2010, Angela Lansbury recorded an interview with The New York Times with the understanding that it will only be released after her death.

While the actress went on to be active in her career until her death – her last role is a cameo appearance in Rian Johnson’s Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery – this is considered to be her final interview, as it was released after news of her death.

Here are five surprising takeaways from Angela Lansbury: The Last Word – her most candid interview, released posthumously.

Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

Angela Lansbury lost her father at a young age

Angela Lansbury died Tuesday, October 11, at the age of 96. But, in 2010, she sat down with The New York Times and reporter Mervyn Rothstein to record an extraordinary final interview that was not to be published until after her death.

Lansbury was born in London on October 16, 1925, to actress Moyna Macgill, and timber merchant and politician Edgar Lansbury. Her childhood, however, was abruptly interrupted by the death of her father when Angela was just nine years old.

After Edgar Lansbury died of stomach cancer, the family began to struggle financially.

“My mother found herself a widow with four children and her income was very much reduced,” the actress explained. “She sold everything. Books, everything.”

When World War II started, Macgill secured a job supervising a group of British children being evacuated aboard the Duchess of Atholl, so Lansbury, her mother, and her brothers, Bruce and Edgar, moved to New York.

Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Once in the States, the family moved around a bit, eventually settling in California, where Macgill was keen to reignite her screen career and a teenage Angela Lansbury was offered her first screen role. She played Nancy Oliver, a scheming housemaid plotting against her mistress in the 1944 classic Gaslight, which earned the young Angela an Oscar nomination.

Hollywood did not see her as ‘a pretty face’

“They weren’t going to groom me to be an over-the-title star,” she said, looking back on her Hollywood career during the 1950s and 60s. “But then, I never was really that kind of material.”

“If I had been knock-down fantastic, you know,” she added, comparing her looks to those of contemporaries like Betty Grable, “maybe I would’ve been able to…force them to put me up there and to build me into a big movie star.”

Lansbury believes, though, that what really stopped her career from going in that direction were her finely-honed acting skills.

“I can say this in all honesty, I was too good an actress.”

Jessica Fletcher from Murder, She Wrote was closest to her heart

Lansbury starred as crime novelist-turned-detective Jessica Fletcher in the popular CBS series Murder, She Wrote, which aired from 1984 to 1996, the role she is perhaps best known for today.

Told in a mystery-of-the-week, anthology-style, Murder, She Wrote follows the daily life of Fletcher, as she works to unravel crimes and unsolved mysteries in her little town of Cabot Cove, Maine. Throughout the series, Fletcher is a best-selling author of mystery novels, a creative writing teacher, amateur detective, criminology professor, and even a congresswoman.

Photo by CBS via Getty Images

In season 1 episode 10, Capitol Offense, Fletcher is asked to temporarily step into the role after a congressman for Maine suddenly dies of a heart attack.

In the New York Times interview, Lansbury admitted that, of all the roles in her 80-year career, Jessica Fletcher was “about as close to the sort of woman I might have been,” she said, “had I not been an actress.”

Lansbury particularly admired the character’s “ability to pick up on little bits and pieces that allowed her to solve a crime” and fought for Fletcher to keep her “mystique” in the face of studio pressures to introduce a romantic storyline.

Lansbury opens up about her children’s drug issues

In the mid-1960s, Lansbury returned to the stage with the title role in the Broadway musical Mame, for which she won her first Tony award. This marked the start of a period in her life she described as “heady business.”

“It was not the happiest time.” Though her career soared, her family life was suffering, as she and husband Peter Shaw discovered their children were involved with drugs.

Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

In a 2014 interview with The Mail Online, the actress talked openly about her daughter, Deirdre’s heroin habit and fascination with Charles Manson.

“It started with cannabis but moved on to heroin,” she explained. “There were factions up in the hills above Malibu that were dedicated to deadly pursuits. It pains me to say it but, at one stage, Deidre was in with a crowd led by Charles Manson. She was one of many youngsters who knew him – and they were fascinated. He was an extraordinary character, charismatic in many ways, no question about it.”

Soon after that, Lansbury relocated the family to County Cork, Ireland, where she had bought a house with “20 acres and a walled garden.”

Angela Lansbury’s legacy

The legacy she wanted to leave was simple: “Through my acting I hope enabled people to get out of their own lives and be transported into other areas of life that they otherwise would never have,” she said.

“I’d love to be able to feel that I’ve enabled people to do that. Life is so hard for so many people.”

You can watch a clip of the interview here if you have a subscription, or on The New York Times’ YouTube channel.

Have something to tell us about this article?
Let us know
Alexandra Ciufudean is the Head of Entertainment at The Focus where she manages a growing team of outstanding writers. On a day-to-day basis, she hunts for the latest in online trends and keeps her finger on the pulse of US culture, politics, and celebs. Alexandra helped launch The Focus in 2020 and developed the site into an expert online news source. A language nerd through and through, she boasts 5 years of experience as an editor, writer, and content specialist across web, video, and social platforms, and a master's degree in Comparative Literature.