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24 September 2014
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He Knew He Was Right
Anna Massey as Aunt Stanbury

He Knew He Was Right

Anna Massey - Aunt Stanbury

Award-winning actress Anna Massey stars as the fearsome Aunt Stanbury, the wealthy spinster who can't resist meddling in the love lives of everyone around her.

Unlike her fictional character, the real Anna is an incurable romantic. Despite living alone for nearly 30 years following the break-up of her first marriage, she never gave up on the belief that one day she'd fall in love again.

When she met Uri Andres, a Russian-born professor of metallurgy, they fell head over heels in love with each other.

"We met at a dinner party and ten weeks later we were married! We've been married 15 years this year, a long time.

"It's either courage or madness that we married so quickly," she adds, "but I think those sorts of things you just know. You're so lucky if you find a partner because life is tough."

In the business for more than 40 years, acting was certainly in Anna's genes. Her mother, Adrienne Allen, was one of the leading stage actresses of the 1930s and her father was Raymond Massey, the Canadian-born actor best known for playing Dr Gillespie in the Sixties hit series Dr Kildare.

It was taken for granted that Anna and her brother - the late actor Daniel Massey - would continue the family tradition.

"If I'd had an education, I'm not sure that I would've been an actor. My education ended when I was 15 and it was assumed that I would go into the theatre and I did.

"Part of me sometimes regrets it but you can't re-live your life, we're not given another chance."

Although Anna wasn't given the option to further her education she doesn't resent it.

"I didn't think about it at the time," she explains, "This is only retrospective. It takes a lot of growing up to be able to stand back and think about it and often you follow in other people footsteps.

"In fact, very few girls did go to university in my youth, it was quite rare compared to what happens nowadays.

"If I hadn't gone into acting I would've loved to have been a detective. It's not a dissimilar profession to acting - an actor is always minutely observing behaviour in other people and if you're solving a crime you actually have to go into the workings of another person's mind.

"As an actor you should do a lot of inner research to find out about your character. It's then detective work to try and get inside the mind of your character."

As well as roles in Hitchcock's Frenzy, Michael Powell's Peeping Tom and as the menacing Mrs Danvers in ITV's Rebecca, Massey won both a Bafta and a Royal Television Society Best Actress Award in 1987 for her poignant performance as Anita Brookner's romantic and lonely heroine, Edith Hope in Hotel Du Lac.

He Knew He Was Right is not Anna's first Trollope - in 1974 she played Lady Laura Standish in The Pallisers.

"I've been in Trollope's world before and I think he's a brilliant writer. A lot of people say He Knew He Was Right is his masterpiece. I think it's wonderful, it's a dark and original story about love and how it can go wrong.

"Aunt Stanbury is the most remarkable character but a lot of people couldn't live anywhere near her! She's very demanding, very eccentric - but people do tend to get more eccentric as they older. She's lived alone a lot of her life but I believe it's better to live alone than with the wrong person.

"She's probably the most honest person who ever existed and she says what she thinks and she's prepared to accept being in the wrong.

"Most people who are as wilful as she is don't do that. That's what is so amazing about her, she is able to step back and apologise and see how foolish she's been which, certainly at that period, was a very extraordinary trait to have. She's a very unexpected and rich character."

Anna can identify with Aunt Stanbury to a certain extent: "One can always find hideous similarities in parts you're playing and I'm probably quite ashamed of some of them! I sometimes speak rather bluntly but I'm not exactly like Aunt Stanbury.

"I think that when you get older you stop censoring yourself quite so much because life is short and I think that's probably what compels her to sometimes behave as she does."

Unlike the severely dressed Aunt Stanbury, Anna has an understated elegance. Astonishingly, she has had her trademark white hair since the age of 28.

On the death of her beloved nanny, who had brought up both Anna and Anna's son, she suffered a terrible bereavement.

"I was so traumatised my hair turned white overnight."

At this stage in her career Anna prefers work in television and film to the theatre:

"I don't really enjoy the theatre anymore - it takes up too much of your life.

"When you're filming, you're very concentrated for a certain amount of time but your family life can go on. Whereas in the theatre, it eats into your family life and I have a grandson and I have a husband and I'd rather I was able to be a granny and a wife."

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