Miles is one of a kind.

First published in Interview by

Ask most actresses
for their memories
of their debut film
– one that saw them
star opposite Sir Laurence
Olivier, no less – and you
might expect fond, mistyeyed
reminiscences. Not
Sarah Miles. “That film,”
she says, referring to
1962’s Term Of Trial,
“was my downfall.”
Fresh from a
stint at Worthing
Rep (which
she describes
as “the
happiest
time of my
whole life”),
the 19-yearold
played a
young girl who
accuses a schoolteacher
(Olivier) of
indecent assault. “From
that point on, I
was cast as a sex
symbol,” sighs
Miles. “It
wasn’t what
I wanted
to do.”
She went
on to become
a familiar face
of Swinging
London and had
starring roles in
films such as Blow-Up,
The Servant, The Big
Sleep and Ryan’s
Daughter –
most of them
playing the
love interest.
“I was as far
away from
being a sex
symbol as
I was from
being Cassius
Clay! I was
lumbered with it
in Term Of Trial and went
on being lumbered with it.”
She didn’t even like acting
very much – still doesn’t.
Despite working (and
having love affairs) with
almost every actor worth
his salt and scooping two
Oscar nominations, she says
she is an alien in the profession.
“I don’t feel at all part
of it or at all special to it.”
Her mother pushed her
into acting “in desperation”
after she’d been expelled from
three schools, including
Roedean, the independent
girls boarding school on the
edge Brighton. “The Queen
Mother came to visit and
we’d all been told to curtsey,
answer her question and
then curtsey again. We’d
been bobbing about on the
Downs practising for weeks.
When she did finally arrive,
she asked me, “How do you
like it here?” and I said, “I
hate it!” She didn’t say anything
but she wagged her
finger at me and laughed.”
Needless to say, the headmistress
didn’t find it quite
so funny and Miles was
duly booted out. “I wasn’t
disappointed at all. I was
thrilled to bits in fact.” It’s
not that she was a rebel
without a cause – her
undiagnosed dyslexia led
to her constantly being
told she was stupid “and
it does start to rub off on
you after a while”.
While she had no real
interest in it, Miles proved
to have an aptitude for
acting and won a place
at RADA. She puts this
down to a memory for lines
that developed when being
treated for a stammer. “I was
sent to this woman who gave
me a sheet to take home
and learn and I suppose
that’s where acting began
for me. When I went back
and recited it, I didn’t
stammer because I was
using my memory bank
and not my creative bank.
I began to learn my day
off by heart before I went
to school.”
Despite her distaste for
the typecasting it led to, she
has some happy memories
of Term Of Trial – namely
meeting Olivier, whom she
had been nursing a crush on
since the age of 11 when she
saw him as Heathcliff in the
1939 film adaptation of
Wuthering Heights. She slept
with his picture under her
mattress at school, taking it
out every day to look at.
It is this she says, entirely
seriously, that led to her
working with the star. She
calls it remote visualisation
– picturing “very powerfully”
what you want to happen.
“I’d pictured Laurence and
I walking down a street,
just being with him, and
of course in my very first
film I starred opposite him.
I don’t believe that was
fluke.”But surely there are
billions of teenage girls who
dream of dating film stars
and musicians and never
do? “They’re probably not
doing it with such passion
and devotion,” she counters.
Miles only spoke out
about their love affair, which
spanned several decades,
in the 1990s, although she
disagrees with the term
affair – “It was a profoundly
deep bond, quite remarkable
in its strangeness” – and says
the attraction wasn’t instant
(as well she might, given
that he was married to his
third wife Joan Plowright
at the time).
Her memory of their
meeting is another splendid and you tell me what it is that’s
so funny.’ I told him about the
eyebrow and he said, ‘How
astounding, you’re absolutely
right! Will you please tell
me from
now on
whenever
you see an
eyebrow
going up in
rehearsal?’
I was so
stunned a
man of his
magnitude
could take
an acting
lesson from
a nobody. It
was humble
and so sweet.”
Now 70,
she says she
has only been in love once,
with her late husband Robert
Bolt, the playwright and
screenwriter she married,
divorced and then married
again. She hasn’t had a
romantic relationship since
he died in 1995 – telling for
a woman who was
previously linked
to everyone from
Burt Reynolds to
Robert Mitchum.
Although she
hasn’t given up on
acting altogether
(her last stage
appearance was
in 2009), Miles
prefers writing
these days. Her
latest offering is
Boy And The
Beez, a children’s
adventure
story with a
baffling plot
about crop circles, alien
messages and bees. It’s at this
juncture I see how Miles has
earned her reputation for
eccentricity as she launches
into tales of alien encounters –
“I’ve had three experiences
I can’t write off and they’re
enough to convince me they’re
out there” – and why we must
all take note of the messages
we’re being sent in crop circles.
“There’s something quite
important happening here and
it’s important that it’s clearly
defined rather than muddled
up by hoaxers.”
I shouldn’t be surprised
really; Miles’s belief in
outlandish theories is well
documented. She’s infamous
for drinking her own urine.
“I think people are beginning
to understand about that now.
It’s become worldwide and it’s
having a huge effect. I don’t
know if you’ve ever drunk
yours? [I haven’t]. People think,
‘Oh, she’s doing it because
she’s nuts.’ That’s not the
reason I’m doing it. I’m doing
it because it’s good for me.”
We talk about her next
venture; somewhat fittingly,
she reveals she will be trying
her hand at stand-up comedy.
“Stand-up is my dream,” she
says. “That was why I loved
Worthing Rep so much – I was
playing comedy which is what
I was born to do and I adored it.
“It’s the most naked you
can be, isn’t it? It’s absolutely
terrifying. That’s the appeal –
you must always go toward
that which frightens you the
most and that way you grow
bigger and bigger.”
 

*Sarah Miles will appear at
Chichester Cinema at 1.30pm
on Sunday, August 26 to talk
about Term Of Trial and her
other films, including White
Mischief and Hope And Glory.
Tickets cost £10.
 

*The event is part of the
Chichester International Film
Festival, which runs until
August 29. For more details,
visit www.chichestercinema.org

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