Putting Family First: Mother Olivia Plays Mother Teresa
- Monday, June 12, 2006
“The world is hungry not only for food, but also for beauty.”
— Mother Teresa
When an actress has played Juliet (in “Romeo and Juliet”) and Mary, Jesus’ mother (in “Jesus of Nazareth”) – two of the most celebrated roles in theatre history, both under acclaimed director Franco Zefirelli – it’s hard to imagine a follow-up. But when those parts have also resulted in a Golden Globe and two successive Donatello awards (the Italian equivalent of Oscars) as well, one might well assume there are no greater accomplishments.
But Olivia Hussey always knew she had one remaining role to play. And, while it took more than 20 years to come about, she credits God with allowing her to portray Mother Teresa.
“I respected her compassion and her love and the way that she saw the face of Jesus in every person she met,” Hussey says. “There was interest in the project [years ago], but it fell apart. So I had to let it go, give it back to God. If it’s meant to be, it will come back to me, I said. And I truly believed that – I believe that about everything. And it did come back. It was 20 years of wishing and hoping and reading books on her. Then suddenly, from out of the blue, it came back to me, with five days notice.”
The film, titled “Mother Teresa,” is being released on DVD by Fox Home Entertainment. It tells the story of the diminutive Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, who became one of the most celebrated missionaries in history. Born in Macedonia in 1910, Mother Teresa received the Nobel Peace for her work with the poorest of the poor on the streets of Calcutta, before dying in 1997.
Hussey spent her early childhood in Argentina, the daughter of an Argentine opera and tango singer and a British mother, before moving to England at the age of seven, where she attended drama school and landed a lead in the acclaimed London stage play, “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,” alongside Vanessa Redgrave. Zefirelli, who saw her performance, cast Hussey as Juliet, launching her film career at the age of 15. Since then, she has worked with some of the greatest actors of all time, including Burt Lancaster and Ben Cross in “The Jewelers Shop;” Sir Laurence Olivier, Peter Ustinov and Bette Davis in “Death on the Nile;” Ernest Borgnine in “The Last Days of Pompeii;” and, of course, Robert Powell, Anne Bancroft, James Earl Jones, Christopher Plummer, Anthony Quinn and Stacy Keach, to name just a few, in the renowned television miniseries, “Jesus of Nazareth.”
I recently talked to Hussey about “Mother Teresa,” as she shared what it meant to finally take on the part and how she’s managed to stay focused on her children, despite an award-winning career in Hollywood.
Annabelle Robertson: Well, I just loved the film.
Olivia Hussey: Thank you. It was done with a lot of love. It was kept very simple and, hopefully, it gets across the message of compassion and love that was Mother Teresa.
Annabelle: It’s very inspiring, but not preachy. Which is just like Mother Teresa, I suppose.
Olivia: You’re right. She wasn’t preachy at all, although she did have a will of iron. I don’t have her saintliness and I don’t speak a lot, but I know that she was the kind of person who puts her words into action. People would go to her and she would put them to work immediately. I identified with that. I met with a lot of missionaries in Rome and I said, “I know I don’t resemble her, but if I can portray her actions.” Agi [Bojaxhiu, niece and only direct living relative of Mother Teresa] said she felt like she was watching her auntie. And the missionaries [the Sisters of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity] all endorsed my performance.
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