Vanessa Redgrave's long chestnut locks have shaded to silver white, but her patrician cheekbones, piercing blue eyes, and brainy mien captivate today's audiences just as they did in 1966, when she played a London mystery woman in Michelangelo Antonioni's era-defining film, Blowup. Over the span of a 50-year career, the British actress's inscrutable charms have nabbed her a Tony, two Emmys, two Golden Globes, and a Best Supporting Oscar, for her performance in Julia. In it, she stole the spotlight from her intergalactically famous co-star, Jane Fonda, who once observed: "There is a quality about Vanessa that makes me feel as if she resides in a netherworld of mystery that eludes the rest of us mortals."
This month, Redgrave is adding Joan Didion to a list of challenging roles that has included Anne Boleyn, Isadora Duncan, and Mrs. Dalloway. She'll play the acclaimed author in the stage version of The Year of Magical Thinking, a book recounting the writer's harrowing experience of losing her husband, John Gregory Dunne, while their only daughter was dying of pneumonia. Though the one-woman play is still in previews, early reports are encouraging, none more so than that of Didion, who wrote in The New York Times, "There it is: Vanessa Redgrave was standing on a stage in an empty theater and she was telling me a story I was hearing for the first time."