Joanna Lumley on The Picture of Dorian Gray: ‘Obsession with beauty is so relevant today’

Joanna Lumley on The Picture of Dorian Gray: ‘Obsession with beauty is so relevant today’

March 15, 2021

As the actor appears in a new production of Oscar Wilde’s story, she talks about modelling, her anxieties for young people and the ‘Pandora’s box’ of social media

You’re starring in a digital production of The Picture of Dorian Gray. Has the story been updated?
It’s an extraordinary retake of the Oscar Wilde story, with everything this world knows about: Instagram, Facebook, dating apps. I play Lady Narborough, who is interviewed by Stephen Fry playing someone who is trying to piece together how this sorrowful tale came about. We did it as if I was being interviewed in a Zoom call. I first saw Wilde’s novel done as a play in Greenwich, London, in 1975 with Michael Kitchen as Gray. Obsession with beauty is so relevant to today – when you think of people beautifying their images on their phones, the frantic competition and anxiety about appearance.

How have the demands on actors’ looks and the nature of fame changed over your career?
Hugely. When I started, I wanted to act because I loved acting. It sounds naive but you never think of the fame side. You just hope you might be employed – that you might pay the gas bill, that your name might be mentioned in a review, that you might then get another acting job. That’s about as far as my ideas went. I wasn’t very clued up about billing – if someone said they’d like higher billing than me, I’d say sure. None of those things troubled me.

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