If Cruella De Vil were here, she’d be bundled in puppy pelts. But on this frigid fall afternoon, Joely Richardson, who plays dog lover Anita in Disney’s live-action 101 Dalmatians, has arrived at the open-air rooftop bar of the Peninsula New York Hotel clad in a thin gray-and-black sweater-blouse, a black skirt, and black leggings. ”Oh, it’s only a bit chilly,” she declaims. In fact, it’s colder than a pooch’s nose. Yet Richardson is so deferential, she won’t hear of popping down to her room to retrieve a jacket, lest she disrupt our chat.
”I’ve had to fight so hard, doubly hard, to establish any kind of career,” says the famously pedigreed actress, cradling a cappuccino in her elegant hands for warmth. Born in 1965 to Vanessa Redgrave and Tony Richardson, the stage and film director (Tom Jones) who died of AIDS-related illness in 1991, Joely can’t help but exude an air of theatrical royalty. Part of it is her way with locutions; part of it is what her mother has described as the ”sad, pensive look in her periwinkle blue eyes.”
Though Richardson says she appreciated growing up among thespian thoroughbreds — Mom, Dad, her granddad Sir Michael Redgrave, her aunt Lynn Redgrave, her elder sibling Natasha — she can’t help feeling they also handicapped her. ”There’s no way I’ve gotten the work I’m getting because of my family,” she says. ”It’s the reverse.”
In fact, Richardson had to come on like a pit bull to land such modest British dramas as Sister, My Sister, in which she eschewed glamour as a murderous maid. She won notoriety in a nudity-spiced 1993 BBC-TV miniseries of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, then made I’ll Do Anything, James L. Brooks’ de-musicalized bomb; few saw her hilarious performance as a flighty script-development exec. Two years later, Hollywood is playing Richardson’s tune. She’ll be seen this week in the adventure Loch Ness with Ted Danson on ABC. She starts filming Paramount’s sci-fi epic Event Horizon next month with Laurence Fishburne.
Though glad to break with years of ”dark, edgy” roles, Richardson found playing Dalmatians’ Anita akin to ”mainlining fudge,” a pet phrase she took up from costar Jeff Daniels. ”When we were getting married in the film,” says Richardson, who got hitched to Four Weddings and a Funeral executive producer Tim Bevan four years ago, ”we were staring into each other’s eyes, and he said, ‘I’m definitely doing a porn film next.”’ Richardson is now so cold she hugs her arms, but she laughs so heartily, you’d never notice the goose bumps.