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Miranda Richardson acts out

Miranda Richardson acts out — The British star of ”Damage” is a true chameleon

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She has just blown into the mirrored bar of Manhattan’s Halcyon restaurant. At 3 p.m. the place is nearly empty, but it’s impossible to be sure whether the woman standing in the middle of the room-at once striking and ethereal — is the British actress who appears in three movies currently playing across the country.

Miranda Richardson resembles none of her characters: not Rose, the chronically disappointed Londoner in the sepia-stained Enchanted April; not Jude, the IRA warrior in The Crying Game; and certainly not Ingrid, the middle-aged wife in Damage. In person, Richardson is softer, younger, more electric than one expects. There is nothing tentative about her manner, or about her enormous blue eyes, which search out and lock on to the object of her gaze.

”I like it,” she says of her protean tendency. ”Maybe actors here in America are a bit more concerned with putting an image out there. You know, ‘This is me and this is what I do.”’

What Richardson has done in these three films has suddenly made her a ubiquitous screen presence in the U.S. (After her 1985 debut in Dance With a Stranger, Richardson seemed to vanish.) It has also earned her this year’s New York Film Critics’ Circle award for Best Supporting Actress, which she has traveled here from London to accept.

Though she was honored for her roles in all three films, Richardson is not shy about choosing a favorite. The Crying Game, she answers, before the question is fully posed. ”Because it was a complete experience. It was fully satisfying, and I think it’s phenomenal.”

But it’s as Jeremy Irons’ 50-something wife in Damage — a leap for any 34-year-old actress and a part that Richardson inhabits with graceful, subtle restraint — that she leaves audiences in awe. She walks away with the movie in one gut-wrenching scene near the end, which, because of its high drama, she refers to as ”the Greek scene.”

Richardson admits that the Damage shoot often left her frustrated. She did not always work well with her costar Irons, who used Josephine Hart’s novel as a handbook, while she found the book ”quite fast-food.”

Elbows on the table, hands clasped, Richardson furrows her brow. ”I don’t think it really jelled,” she says. ”But I don’t know if that matters in the end. It’s not a foregone conclusion that a difficult work process produces a bad movie.”

In spite of the difficulties, Damage may prove to be the biggest boost to Richardson’s career. ”I’m glad I did it,” she says. ”And now I’ve done it, I don’t have to do it again.” True. And now that she’s done it, she can probably do whatever she wants.