10 Questions for Vanessa Redgrave

Actress and activist Vanessa Redgrave talks about the U.S. Constitution, singing and (some of) what upsets her

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Peter Hapak for TIME

Your new movie, Unfinished Song, is such a weepie. What drew you to it?
The fact that here's a couple who've lived very ordinary, humble lives. They draw this insufficient pension, which all old-age pensioners draw. Nobody else sees why she loves and respects him, but she does, and she sings about it.

Have you done a lot of singing?
I always loved singing because we used to sing round the piano. My father [actor Michael Redgrave] was a brilliant pianist. He loved American musicals. He would bring back loads of song sheets when he went to America to work. And we'd group round the piano on a Sunday and sing our hearts out.

You split your time between the U.S. and Britain. Is there one American habit you wish the British would adopt?
I've always thought that the British should have a constitution. You know, anybody British has to — has to — applaud the American Revolution. I certainly did. Fantastic event. Shakespeare writes a lot about [government] because it was in the time of the tyrants Henry VIII and Elizabeth that many of the practices that we lament and suffer under today began. In America and in Britain.

What do you think, then, of President Obama?
Oh, I'm not going to say. I'm a British citizen. I don't have the right to vote here.

But you have the right to an opinion.
Yeah, but we're not discussing that ... at least I'm not.

As somebody who has always been public about her causes, are you pleased with what celebrity activism has become?
I don't see life that way. I was brought up post — World War II. I was brought up on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I was brought up to think that I had to become somebody who would work for these rights. Nothing to do with being famous or not.

So, are you satisfied with what you've been able to achieve?
I've been part of a process. I see some things people understand much more and some things people don't know about. I had the luck to be taught by the best in every area of my work. I am so upset by the fact that young people who've just left college are not having the chance to know how to achieve the best because the best has been stripped out of the picture in terms of talent, experience, knowledge, wisdom, whatever.

What process are you describing?
I'm describing firing, I guess. Firing people from jobs in favor of young people who are paid much less than they should be paid or are not paid at all. To me, it's very simple and very sad.

So you're a proponent of a greater minimum wage?
Things have gone beyond that. I think there needs to be reform of the financial system.

The movie's about death. Do you think there should be more discussion of death in our culture?
I worked with Joan Didion and David Hare on The Year of Magical Thinking, where she really goes into the issue of the social and personal response to death. After the show, I discovered people wanted to tell me about their own magical thinking in their grief, so I think things have changed.

At 76, what do you imagine about death?
That undiscovered bourne from which no traveler returns.

You imagine Hamlet.
I'm rather embedded in Shakespeare. His mind is somewhat greater than mine.