The legend of old Faithfull
She was the original rock chick, who became a homeless heroin addict. But Marianne Faithfull is also the ultimate survivor. Now an actress who has abandoned her hedonistic ways, she still managed to take chunks out of Barry Egan when he brought up the subject of her famous lover, Mick Jagger
THERE is a Jean Cocteau quote that Marianne Faithfull is quite fond of: Everything one does in life, even love, occurs in an express train racing towards death.
By rights, Marianne's express train should have derailed long ago: two abortions, three miscarriages, a suicide attempt, two nervous breakdowns, three marriages anorexia, liver disease -- and 15 years of hardcore drug dependency. Her capacity for self-abuse was legendary.
The bon mots she grimly uttered after re-emerging from a drug coma in 1969 ("wild horses couldn't drag me away") gave her ex-boyfriend Mick Jagger a great line for a Stones song. She once played Ophelia on stage high on heroin -- "taking it just before the mad scene", she writes in her current book Memories, Dreams & Reflections, "it might have even helped in some perverse way". You could argue that Marianne's life in recent years has been an exorcism of the demons of her past. She lived through the Seventies, homeless and on heroin, on her own. She was a wonderful mix of lady and tramp, less a casualty than a survivor (surviving breast cancer in recent years was no mean feat).
In person, she talks with the same husky, two-packs-of-ciggies-a-day voice that she has displayed with such renown on classic songs like Broken English, As Tears Go By and Sister Morphine. Today, she sips tea in a suite at the Conrad Hilton in Dublin and appears edgy at having to sit in one place for so long. You couldn't make it up: Sister Morphine sipping Earl Grey.
At 61 years of age, the former convent girl looks like a Lucian Freud painting of herself. The Sixties sex symbol, iconically clad in black leather in 1969's Girl on a Motorcycle, is all but a ravaged beauty now. The Dionysian life has taken its toll. (Her mother Eva was a Viennese baroness descended from Leopold Baron von Sacher-Masoch, author of an exalted sado-masochistic tome, Venus In Furs, so Marianne's life was perhaps never going to be ordinary.)
The first time I met Faithfull was in Cooke's Cafe in Dublin with Van Morrison and Michelle Rocca in 1995. We were all very drunk. I spilt a hot Irish Coffee in her lap and she stormed out like a scalded cat.
"That sounds about right," she laughed when I reminded her of the incident of a few years ago. "I guess I enjoy life now," she smiles. "I love my work. When I'm not working, I'm pretty quiet. I don't drink any more. I don't do drugs any more. I'm not much fun any more. I do see friends. But I'm very private."
And you play tennis? "What?" she barks, like a grumpy, posh grandmother who has been woken from a sleep by the maid hovering too noisily in the manor.
I could swear I saw a picture of you and Kate Moss in a Saturday magazine a few years ago playing tennis.
"I have no memory. I never follow that stuff. Kate Moss and me ... "
I mention to her that I sat outside a hospital at Christmas in 1992 while a mutual friend of ours -- Ian Galvin -- went in to visit her. "Really?" she says blankly. As you get older, three things happen. The first is your memory goes ... and Marianne Faithfull perhaps can't remember the other two. In fairness, she probably doesn't want to remember what happened that night in 1967 when over-zealous police raided Keith Richards' Redlands estate during a Stones' knees-up and allegedly found Jagger finding an unconventional way to enjoy a well-known confectionery with Faithfull. Or that at Richards' subsequent trial, Jagger also claimed that the police suggested that he betray his then girlfriend Marianne ("Miss X") to save his skin and that "a bit of bribery would smooth the way".
I bring up the subject of dirty movies. Marianne has never even, she says, seen a dirty movie. "It is not interesting to me."
I laugh, confused. I tell her I was mixing her up with Anita Pallenberg -- who starred in the notorious London gangster movie Performance in 1970 with Jagger. The film was so sexually charged that Pallenberg, then Keith Richards' girlfriend, has since denied rumours that she and Jagger actually had sex in the sex scenes. There were also tales of director Donald Cammell editing the footage into a 30-minute blue movie that later won awards at an Amsterdam porn film festival.
"Maybe you are!" she laughs. "There's a lot of people who do. Performance! Don't mix me up with Anita Pallenberg! I'm not Anita Pallenberg!"
The grande dame is here to talk up her starring role in the new movie, a bittersweet comedy called Irina Palm. In it, Marianne plays an extremely plain, and portly, middle-aged widow, Maggie, who takes a job in Soho as a sex worker to pay for an operation that could save her grandson Ollie's life.
"I'm interested in the parts that are nothing like me," she says. "So Maggie was perfect. I'm very good in it. I probably shouldn't say that myself. That part was a very fine line. On one part was vulgarity and on the other was sentimentality: and I did not wish to go into either place. What is really interesting is the change in the character in the film. She starts as this really beaten down, very never-had-a-life thing of person, unable to do anything, not assertive, never good at anything ... and then through this extraordinary twist of fate she ends up doing this weird job which she hates but makes the money to save her grandson. But she does it and becomes a star at it."
And she falls in love with her pimp, played by Miki Manojlovic. "Slowly," says Marianne. "He loathes me at first. He is horrible but then there is this other side to him that is kind of rather great. He changes, too. They fall in love with each other. You know, the chances of Miki ever meeting a woman like Maggie are a million to one. It is such an unusual thing."
I ask her did it give her any learning insights into male sexuality. "There's this grumpy, plain granny in a pinafore on her side of the wall and outside the wall there's this image of Irina Palm. They think that it is a sort of sexy chick behind there. That's interesting. It is one of those masculine illusions."
Isn't the movie in a sense about the nature of morality? Maggie's so-called friend, played by Jenny Agutter, shuns her when she finds out. She says to her haughtily: "We're not all like you, you know." And Maggie replies, "I know you had an affair with my husband."
So is it less moral to masturbate men through a hole in the wall to pay for a grandson's cancer operation than it is to have an affair with a man's husband?
"Their morality is sort of middle-class secrecy -- and, of course, that's partly Maggie's too," Marianne says. "That's why she is so desperate that nobody ever finds out. She wants to keep it a deep, dark secret. But of course, it is impossible. How is she suddenly to appear with £6,000? Of course her son is going to guess something is up. But the impression of the find is that Maggie does save her grandson's life with the operation in Australia."
What is also interesting about Irina Palm is that Marianne has no qualms about being on screen as a shapeless, ageing frump, bordering on the haggard with little or no make-up. There are some actresses who wouldn't have allowed themselves to be presented with such a rawness, compelling or not.
"I'm not movie-star material, am I?" she says (She admires, she says, actresses like Catherine Deneuve.) "I'm a working artist. I'm interested in good parts. I don't really care about how I look."
Marianne has said that behind the facade she is "a snake-pit of fears and insecurities". I can only imagine the strength that it took to overcome those two dreads by portraying herself in such a vulnerable way. She displayed it previously, and wonderfully, as a bag lady in Patrice Chereau's graphic Intimacy in 2001.
"Intimacy gave me back my love of making movies," she says (you can see that too in Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette, in which she played the French Queen's mother, Maria Teresa), "which I must say I lost after Girl On a Motorbike. I loathed it. I really did. I thought: 'This is shite.'"
She has just come back from New York, where she was recording an album. She is mulling over various film offers. She bristles at my description of her as Renaissance Woman.
"God, I don't know," she laughs. "It seems like I must have had a lot more skills than I realised. I did want to be an actress though. That's what I really wanted to be. And I fell into this pop thing by accident, actually. It took me quite a long time, as I'm sure you know, for me to realise what I did want to do and that I was going to give my heart to it. Irina Palm, I am really proud of. It is the first time I have carried a film. It shows me I should have done it before. I have been hanging back too much and been insecure, but that's not unusual; actresses always are.
"The thing I am most pleased about is that I turned down I'm A Celebrity! Get Me Out Of Here!" she adds, laughing. "Can you imagine?"
It is not hard to imagine Marianne Faithfull in Dublin, however. I have been bumping into her here for years. "I'm either in Dublin or I'm in Paris or I'm working," she says. "I haven't lived in London for 25 years.I wouldn't have the privacy I want in London. I can slip into Dublin and slip out again. I can slip into Paris and slip out again. I couldn't live in London." ("They hurt my feelings. All those busts and harassment," she told the British Independent in April of her decision to leave England for good. "I'm not saying I behaved that well, but I didn't really do anything that terrible either. I remember it very well -- it was when Mrs Thatcher was in government. I put on my telly, and on one channel was the casualty list of the Falklands War, and on the other channel, the Pope was playing Wembley. So I thought, 'Right! I think it's time I got out of here!'")
I would have thought that the British Tourist Authority should have paid you to live in London because you did so much to make England hip with the swinging Sixties, I joke.
"Oh, for f**k's sake!" she snaps ferociously.
Where do you live in Paris?
"None of your business."
I meant, which arrondissement, not your street number...
"The eighth arrondissement. I really don't want to go into where I live in Paris. Figure it out. Get a map. I live very near the Place de la Concorde." I don't dare ask her then whether she is still going out with her manager, Francois Ravard. There are no pictures of him in her book. I ask her instead does she like living in Dublin.
"I'm always very happy here. I would stay at home a lot or at friends' houses. I never liked going to pubs really. That's not my thing. I don't like going to parties. I guess I get looked at enough on stage. And I really don't like that. I don't mind it on stage, because on stage it is the proper place for it. But at a party I get anxious. I suppose because if you're drinking and taking drugs it is much easier."
Is it that or is it the expectation of Marianne Faithfull?
"There's that too. People would expect me to behave or be or look in a certain way which I can't possibly live up to," she says. "At a party, there is a lot of gawking."
You feel like a museum piece almost.
"No," she says frostily. "I do not. I just feel judged. I don't see myself as a celebrity at all. So I don't get off on that. I do go to fashion shows in Paris. I might occasionally go to a party but, honestly, since I stopped drinking it gets harder and harder."
Asked how giving up booze changed her, Marianne laughs: "Well, you get really bored at a party when everybody is drinking and taking drugs."
How long did it take you to give up?
"I haven't had a drink for a year. I haven't had any coke for years."
Did you hear about the Irish model, Katy French?
"Yes, I heard about that," she says. "It was very sad. I have no idea it was prevalent here. But anyway, what can I say? It is just such a shame. And I'm sure it is terrible coke," she says. "At least I can be grateful that when I was doing coke it was really good coke."
She is living an ostensibly healthy lifestyle, although she still smokes like a trooper; and coughs like an old shrew. The eternal Venus in furs (and no knickers), Marianne Faithfull cleared a path and laid the foundations for Annie Lennox, Madonna, Debbie Harry, Courtney Love, PJ Harvey, even Kate Moss (a good friend of Marianne's, as it happens). Yet she is hardly wealthy, to put it mildly. Looking like she's modelling Lainey Keogh in a Lucian Freud painting, boho Marianne doesn't strike one as a woman for whom money has ever been -- or ever will be -- a major consideration.
"Alas, no," she smiles. "If only. We weren't like that then, you know," she says referring to the Sixties. "If I had been like, say, Kate Moss in the Sixties I would have made a lot of money, but it just didn't occur to me."
Marianne is not, however, so philosophical that she is without regrets. "One of them is that I didn't make a lot of money," she says, "but on the other hand, there are more important things. I kept my integrity."
Mr Jagger has always been notoriously ab fab with money.
"I walked out of that without even asking," she says of the relationship (the British Independent wrote recently that Marianne "found herself pregnant with Jagger's child -- but she miscarried and their relationship burnt out").
Did Mick ever give you advice on how to turn your image into money?
"No. We were just arm candy."
You have never appeared angry about it. "I have accepted it," she says stoically. "I am old enough to see it as what it was and be grateful to have been there. It was quite an amazing time. I like Mick. Why should I be angry?"
Because you should have had a lot more money.
"Oh, bugger that. I make a living. I don't make a fortune. I make an OK living but I have to work very hard for it.But that's how it is. I am going to work very hard in the next 10 years so that I have got something stashed up for me old age," she smiles.
Does that worry you?
"Yes. I still don't own anything. I've never bought anything. I am going to have to put the next advance on a house."
Would Mick not put you in contact with his team of financial advisors?
"Oh, for God's sake," she snaps for the umpteenth time this afternoon. "This is 36 years ago. Both of us have moved on. It has got nothing to do with me any more. And fond of him as I am, I would never bother him. Really. Why would I? I have my own financial advisers! I will make a living but I will never make millions."
Irina Palm is released on DVD on August 25