Anne Lambert: It's been no Picnic

This article was submitted by Nelson Boisvert. Thanks, Nelson!

Haunted by the past: Lambert has a frightening legacy from her part as Miranda.

The chilling atmosphere generated by Picnic At Hanging Rock hasn't really ended for its star, Anne Lambert.

Like any young actress, Anne Lambert was devastated when the director rang to tell her she didn't get the main part. After a long week of disappointment and mixed feelings about a smaller role, Lambert received another call.

"The other girl was too big," she was told, and the main part was hers. The director was Peter Weir, the movie was Picnic At Hanging Rock - and Anne Lambert could never have imagined that 25 years later she would still be known as "Miranda", the ethereal, mysterious beauty who disappeared among some rocks with her school friends and never came back.

Such was the impact of the movie when it was released in 1975 that Lambert's ghost-like beauty in white Victorian clothing, with long, flowing hair and angelic voice, was burnt into the minds of a movie-going generation.

There can be no doubt a second phone call changed one woman's life forever. Meeting Anne Lambert in the flesh was a strangely nerve wracking prospect. Perhaps it was the horror of the story itself, perhaps it was her sheer screen presence amid such a powerful Australian tale. But when she came into view, it was hard to ignore tingling hands and a tight chest. In a strange way it seemed as though Miranda was alive after all, and there was an immediate sense that Lambert was aware of the crazy thoughts running through a stranger's mind.

She sported dark sunglasses under the Sydney sunshine, but didn't move to take them off once inside a cafe in Elizabeth Bay. Despite engaging in pleasantries, there was a sense of slight mistrust, a wariness from her about meeting someone new.

The actor is about to star in The Private Visions Of Gottfried Kellner at the Griffin Theatre - a play which marks her return to stage after giving birth to her son nine years ago. Her last five years have been spent living in the country.

No matter what role she is now playing, Lambert knows she will be asked about Miranda. When she turns 44 later this month, she will still be recognized for the character she played when she was 19.

"For years I didn't really appreciate how big it was going to become, just how big it still is," she said. "That image of Miranda seems to have been woven into many people's fantasies. It has become iconographic, which hasn't got a lot to do with me."

There is no resentment at all from Lambert. Her affection for Miranda is evident when she talks about the role. She still has her costumes from the movie and laughingly admitted "clutching onto them" whenever requests come from museums to display them.

"I've lived with the Miranda thing all my adult life, it's hard to imagine myself without it. Then again, I'm usually out there living my life and being a mother, where the idea of being Miranda doesn't exist."

After first mention of the impact of her character, the reasons behind Lambert's initial sense of unease started to become clear.

She revealed the town she lived in, but asked it be mentioned only as "country NSW". Soon afterwards, there was a quick, half-joking aside about her "one loony fan".

When probed, Lambert revealed an alarming legacy of the Picnic At Hanging Rock phenomenon. She admitted that one fan "had been a problem".

"It is a downside, but really anybody runs the risk of attracting some kind of obsessive fixation. Like the guy who reads the news (Ross Symonds) - if you stick your head up, it can happen. Contrary to what people think, you don't have to be sexy or special, it can happen to just about anyone."

The most incredible realization came when Lambert talked of the harassment matter-of-factly, as though her movie had been released last year. It was hard to fathom the reality of the time gap since she appeared as Miranda - a quarter of a century between then and now.

Has this affected 25 years of Anne Lambert's adult life?

She nodded when this startling length of time was mentioned, but said the past decade had been her most worrying when she returned home after living in England for more than eight years.

"The worst time was when I came back to Australia a decade ago, but now I've lost him. I have to be very careful. I'm not listed in the phone directory, I'm a silent voter, that sort of thing." Perhaps understandably, Lambert wasn't too keen to elaborate on the situation.

"It can be a really serious problem and I don't want to talk about it too much because it fosters the whole thing. If you recognize them, they start to believe some sort of relationship exists."

It was hard to move on to another topic after an actor has admitted to the frightening impact of one famous film role.

It was Lambert herself who changed the atmosphere. It was easy to forget about Miranda when she finally took off her sunglasses and spoke of her affection for her son, her passion for acting and her vision for a movie industry that tells stories about real women.

Considering she got her original movie part because she was thinner than another girl, Lambert holds no illusions about the power of looks in the film industry.

"I was a bit stupid when I was younger, I thought being an actress was about having a gift and practicing your craft. That how you looked should be unimportant. It's taken me a long time to realize that's bulls---, that how you look is extremely influential. Unless you've got great tits and good teeth, you're not going to get a good part. Some people come out and make a difference occasionally, but nothing's changed.

"That's why I feel inspired. I think it's wrong. It's not fair and it can affect you, your sisters or your daughters. I'm serious about one day producing things in praise of older women."Lambert said her interest in producing films heralds her personal realization that growing older can be "extraordinarily liberating".

But whether or not she can find true freedom from her most famous character is another story.

When asked if she would offer any mature words of advice to herself as a 19 year old actress, Lambert talked of looking at fame with "ruthlessly clear eyes".

Her words were perhaps the most haunting indicator of the hidden price she has paid. "Be very, very careful. Never assume that no-one's going to be dead-obsessed about you."

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