The only superficial difference between them is the accent.
And it is a life, it turns out, that has been at sharp variance from the perceived picture of Angela Lansbury.'My father, Edgar, died from cancer at 48 in 1934 when I was nine and I think my headmistress at South Hampstead High School for Girls realised I was suffering.' She stumbles and then, without warning, breaks off, her eyes filling with tears all these years later. 'Looking back, I think that was the defining moment of my life.Nothing before or since has ever affected me so deeply. I lost interest in my school work although I was never very academic. In time, I became much more interested in acting, following the example of my mother.'Angela's firmly middle-class up-bringing had been underpinned by her father's prosperous wood veneer company.'Except for one break, I've lived there since I was 17 so it seems discourteous not to be.' But what nationality is she in her heart? 'I'm an amalgam,' she decides, 'of British, Irish and American.' We meet at the Gielgud Theatre, where she will open on 18 March as the dotty medium Madame Arcati in a revival of Noël Coward's Blithe Spirit with Charles Edwards and Janie Dee.It's a role that won her a fifth Tony Award on Broadway in 2009. 'She's completely off-the-wall but utterly secure in her own convictions.' The eccentric clairvoyant has been invited by novelist Charles Condomine to stage a séance in his house for the new book he's writing.Because she's best known to a worldwide audience as amateur sleuth Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote, it would be easy to imagine that Angela Lansbury is indistinguishable from the character she so memorably plays. At 88 - although you would take her for a woman two decades younger - Angela is dressed today in a silk blouse and tailored trousers, an outfit that is surely hanging in Jessica's wardrobe.
And they share the same characteristics: both tilt their head to one side when considering how to answer a question, both see no need to raise their voice to make themselves heard, and a sort of suppressed mischief is detectable in the eyes of both women.