People: Linda Thorson
After a career that bathed her in the London limelight, the Canadian actress who replaced Diana Rigg on The Avengers makes a homecoming in her first starring role as an icy Ontario matron in The Second Time Around
By Katherine Monk
“Never a dull moment.” For Linda Thorson, it’s more than a life motto. It’s an existential promise. The Toronto-born actor crafted a career on British stage and television after replacing Diana Rigg on The Avengers, but the life adventure just keeps going.
Thorson has a new boyfriend, and after five decades in the business, her first starring role in a feature film. Thorson plays Katherine, an uptight, opera-loving matron who finds love in a seniors’ home in The Second Time Around, a new movie from Leon Marr that recently picked up the audience award at The Palm Beach film festival.
Currently on the Canadian art house circuit with stops in Vancouver and Montreal, The Second Time Around tells the story of Katherine and Isaac (Stuart Margolin), two apparent opposites who hear the song in each other’s heart, and take a bold step toward love in life’s later chapters.
Thorson says she understands why some people find it easier to shut down as they grow older. Life can overwhelming and the world can get a little crazy, but even as a terrorist attacked London on the day we spoke, Thorson says she won’t stop living her life the way she sees fit.
The Ex-Press: What do you make of the world this morning?
Linda Thorson: I’m just watching the news and there’s been an attack on London. People are down on the bridge. Gunshots. Apparently something happened in Parliament… it’s all very confusing at the moment.
Ex-Press: Yes. Confusing in general. The world is changing so fast, it seems. Does it get any easier to process as one gets older?
Thorson: I don’t know. My headline is never a dull moment. I just say it: Never a dull moment. Every time I turn around, I am flying somewhere. And you know I spend my time between three countries, the U.S., Britain and now Canada. So you personalize these things because I could have been on the bridge, you know. And that’s the way it is these days.
Ex-Press: Does it change the way you live?
Thorson: No, not at all. You can’t stop living your life. They did an interview with a man who survived the Belgian bombing, which was a year ago today in the airport in Brussels. This man was severely, severely injured, but he said the biggest change for him was that he no longer had any fear.
Ex-Press: Fear can be such a burden.
Thorson: Somehow, I came into the world being extremely fearless. I don’t know why or where that came from. The only thing I have ever really been afraid of is something happening to my son. I wanted to live until he was 21. Now he’s 31, so you realize that was just a maternal thing. Not wanting anything bad to happen, but now it’s so liberating not to be afraid. Not afraid to be alone. Not afraid of dying. So it’s a personal thing. You have to deal with fear or you won’t do anything….
Somehow, I came into the world being extremely fearless. I don’t know why or where that came from.
Ex-Press: And you do so much. How did you become involved with Second Time Around and Leon Marr?
Thorson: I first saw the script years ago. He had written it with me in mind. I had the right look of this woman he saw walking around in his mind. That was a long time ago, and it had been through so many different iterations, but they got back to me and … we did it. There was no money. We all did it for the love of the story.
Ex-Press: So it was a love-in?
Thorson: No. Leon and I fought every minute of every day. I fought him on so many things. He refused to listen to me about some of the things… like the wheelchair. No one uses wheelchairs for a broken hip anymore. He’s infuriating, but the movie was in his head… Fortunately, the movie out of his head is wonderful! That’s the thing with Leon: he hadn’t made a movie in so many years. Something happened. It doesn’t make much sense until you meet him. He’s non-linear.
Ex-Press: Free-associating. Sounds very creative.
Thorson: Very much.
Ex-Press: For linear people, that can be tough though. Is there anything you’ve figured out about acting to make these dynamics easier from a professional perspective?
Thorson: I’ve worked with some really great directors. I worked with (stage director) Michael Blakemore three times… And he listens to all of your ideas. But he still knows what he wants. I remember one scene, where he watched what I was doing and said he was thrilled with it. He thought it was so funny, and I knew what I was doing and it was perfect. He said I’d improved on perfection, but the next time, he said, do it without the improvements. Take out the improvements…
Thorson: I know. WTF? I had no idea what he meant. Then I thought about it. What he meant was I was elaborating. All I had to do was keep it where it was because that’s where it was right. He didn’t admonish me. So it’s in the way you are handled.
Ex-Press: Any insights on how to be treated right?
Thorson: I have fought with a lot of directors. I had a great part in August Osage County, playing Violet. It was the best part of my life, but the director wasn’t trusting me. He didn’t believe that I could get there on my own. That’s when I realized what directors really need: They need to be told they are amazing.
I have fought with a lot of directors. I had a great part in August Osage County, playing Violet. It was the best part of my life, but the director wasn’t trusting me. He didn’t believe that I could get there on my own. That’s when I realized what directors really need: They need to be told they are amazing.
Ex-Press: Don’t we all…
Thorson: I tell you the best advice I ever had from anyone about acting ever is: go through your whole day, the whole process, treating everyone the way you would a four-year old. It works like a charm…. Like when a four-year old shows you his drawing, you say, ‘My! How interesting! Tell me about this, and what are those green things over there?’
Ex-Press: That sounds like diminished expectations about others…
Thorson: It’s one way to avoid disappointment. Always look on the bright side of life … [sings Monty Python’s Bright Side of Life from the Life of Brian].
Thorson: I fight a lot and not everyone can handle it. I’ve had the worst fights with female directors. Sounds terribly sexist to say it. But I’m a fighter because I can’t do it the way I think is wrong. A lot of great directors have wanted to use me again, so it hasn’t been a liability. I simply demand to be treated like a grown-up.
I tell you the best advice I ever had from anyone about acting ever is: go through your whole day, the whole process, treating everyone the way you would a four-year old. It works like a charm….
Ex-Press: Can it be that condescending?
Thorson: I tell you, Katherine, after all these years in the theatre, I have had people tell me: “Now you need to know your lines by 3 o’clock on Tuesday.’
Thorson: Yes…. No one should ever say that to you. It’s your job.
Ex-Press: Your job has taken you all over the place. Theatre in London and New York, and now back to Canada?
Thorson: I’m in New York now. I was just in London. And I have an apartment in Rosedale that I’ve had since my son was studying at U of T. I am probably going to sell my house in New York, because of taxes and it’s an empty nest, but it’s so funny because I left Toronto at what, 15? And now, in light of how we started this conversation, isn’t Canada turning into the best place in the world. I love it.
Ex-Press: Me too! And it’s one of those things that you don’t truly appreciate until you’ve been away a lot.
…Isn’t Canada turning into the best place in the world. I love it!
Thorson: So true. And at my age you can start to see around the corner. And what you see around the corner is a glimpse of life… And around that corner, Toronto looks like a great place to grow old… I can’t stay in London too long. There’s not enough sunshine. The dark is harder the older you get. I think that’s why so many people go to Florida.
Ex-Press: you don’t seem very Florida to me.
Thorson: Let’s not put down Florida. We just won the audience award at Palm Beach… where the movie really resonated with people. There was a 97-year-old woman with white hair (they thought she was my mother), and she told me it was her story. She and her second husband met 25 years ago and were still having a great time….
Ex-Press: What did it feel like to be in that space in Hamilton? It was a real seniors residence. Where did your mind go?
Thorson: I lost my mother at 60 and my sister at 63, she also had cancer. When you watch your mother and sister as they die… I went in there with the sense that it was everyone’s last home. I understood and respected that. And given the tight shooting schedule [14 days], I finally asked to stay there instead of being driven around all the time. So I lived there for the last five days. And you know what? It has a real charm. I went down for breakfast and everyone has their jokes, their story. It was warm, didn’t smell bad and the people were lovely.
Ex-Press: Could you see yourself there?
Thorson: I decided a while ago that I am going to find a hut, wear a mumu, get some good marijuana and fade away on the beach.
I decided a while ago that I am going to find a hut, wear a mumu, get some good marijuana and fade away on the beach.
Ex-Press: Sounds ideal. You just have to get the timing right. Like acting, I guess. It’s all about the timing.
Thorson: It is all about timing. Speaking of which…Who would think that after all these years of life I would meet the most amazing person? It’s love. We’re in love. So art is imitating life.
Ex-Press: Truly. You found love the second… or whatever… time around…
Thorson: Yes. And that after all these years, I should come back to my hometown starring in a feature film for the first time ever. I just wish my mother and sister, my biggest fans, were here to see it.
Ex-Press: Definitely life imitating art… How did you meet your current partner?
Thorson: We met last March. We were in a play in London, set in 1947, the year I was born. We were working together. And one of the things that is difficult as you get older is where do you meet people? For actors, it’s one of the perks of the job. You’re always working with other people. Granted, there are a lot of people my age who have no desire whatsoever to meet anybody, but for me, I just don’t want it to be over…. There’s no fat lady singing, I tell you that.
I just don’t want it to be over…. There’s no fat lady singing, I tell you that.
Ex-Press: Ha! Were you a fan of fat ladies singing – a fan of opera before this movie?
Thorson: I have my go-to: Kiri Takanawa. I listen to her in the dressing room. Listening to opera takes you into that other stratosphere. And I’ve always loved Callas. The music is a teacher. My husband used to pick up our son on the weekends, and instead of being sad, I had a big mirror in the living room, and I would take out a table, blare the music and dance on the table. And I would play opera or Beethoven with French horns, because I knew that music changes everything.
Ex-Press: There’s definitely an alteration…
Thorson: When you’re in love, and you hear love songs, it’s like you’ve never heard those songs before. It’s lovely, you know.
Ex-Press: Ah. True enough.
Thorson: Music is the mood changer. And also in this movie, of course, people talk about the opera. But what’s interesting for Katherine is, here’s this woman who has lived a certain kind of life, yet never would have fallen for someone like her husband, who passed away. She’s interested in someone who makes her use her mind. And in this man [played by Margolin] who sings Yiddish songs, she’s met her intellectual match. She realizes he has music in him, and so she puts her headphones on him, and plays him her opera. He is unlike anyone she has ever encountered. That’s what turns her on. Music is the great common denominator.
Ex-Press: As far as your understanding of this woman, have you met a woman like her? Is she someone you recognize as a character?
Thorson: She’s like an English matron… Oooh! Oooh! One my mother in-laws was Scottish and she’d go ‘Oooh! No!’ If you’d ask her if she’d like to join us in a glass of wine she would say ‘Ooh! No!’ Then she’d say, ‘Well I might have just the one’… And four glasses later: ‘Well, maybe just one more.’
Ex-Press: Ha Ha! I felt like I had seen this woman before, maybe spending the day at Holt Renfrew. She felt very, um, Toronto.
Thorson: Yes. She is very Toronto because that’s where the old Brits are. And yes, Holt Renfrew – the hair, the clothes, the whole thing. I knew how she should look – not wanting to attract attention to herself. She keeps a lid on it. There’s something fearful about her. She subsumes her dreams and goes to Arizona so her husband can play golf. But that’s what was fun about her. She starts off as someone who doesn’t smile. She is cold and rather unlikable. But she begins to blossom, and turns into someone quite lovely.
She is very Toronto because that’s where the old Brits are. And yes, Holt Renfrew – the hair, the clothes, the whole thing. I knew how she should look – not wanting to attract attention to herself. She keeps a lid on it. There’s something fearful about her. She subsumes her dreams and goes to Arizona so her husband can play golf.
Ex-Press: I agree, and it’s such a sweet performance. Was it hard to be her?
Thorson: She was so unlike myself that it was actually easier than most. It’s harder to play someone close to yourself than someone in the other yard. The same thing with Stuart. You know, when he sits out there in the yard smoking his cigar he looks like a movie star. Watching the movie you can see them bloom together…Stuart is such a marvelous actor. He made it all easy.
Ex-Press: You’re both kind of iconic that way. I watched the Rockford Files, too. What was your rapport?
Thorson: Well, we have similar backgrounds having done a lot of TV work, and theatre, so we knew what the work involves. We knew how to shoot quickly, and that was important on a 14-day schedule. We’re also both self-starters. In fact, Stuart just finished shooting his first film as a director. So at the age of 77, he’ll make his directorial debut. He’s that kind of man, so we recognized one another. He is also a delightfully charming man. He is easy to fall in love with. A true gentleman…
Ex-Press: Well you find an easy chemistry together. You find the beats of a couple falling in love. How did you manage that?
Thorson: Well, you know, Katherine, he smelled good. There were things that made everything easy. Just being around Stuart: His hands were always lovely, his skin is soft. He’s a person who has been married for 50 years to a high court judge. She is the judge in all the photographs of LBJ being sworn in on Air Force One. She’s this little woman with tremendous power as a judge and he loves her to death. That’s the kind of human being Stuart is attracted to. That’s the kind of man he is. How could you not fall in love with someone like that?
The Second Time Around is currently playing Vancouver (engagement ends Thursday), Toronto and Montreal.
THE EX-PRESS, April 4, 2017