February 15, 1993 12:00 PM

IN THE SPACIOUS SOUTH LONDON FLAT SHE SHARES WITH HER SIAMESE cats, Waldo and Otis, Miranda Richardson recently discovered a souvenir: the elf costume, sewn by her mother, that she wore at age 7 in a grammar-school play. “I can still get into it!” boasts the 5’5″ actress, now 34 and nicely filling a brown velvet minidress while sipping cappuccino at Manhattan’s posh Rihga Royal Hotel.

These days, Richardson can be seen onscreen in any number of outfits. In Enchanted April she plays Rose, an emotionally wilted 1920s housewife who suddenly blooms while vacationing in Italy. In Damage she’s In-grid, the outraged spouse of an adulterous Member of Parliament (Jeremy Irons). And in The Crying Game she is Jude, an IRA terrorist who transforms herself from a blond temptress into a dark-haired terminatrix.

So bedazzled were they by her chameleonlike agility that the New York Film Critics Circle last December named Richardson the year’s Best Supporting Actress for all three movies. Last month she also picked up a Golden Globe Award as Best Actress in a Comedy for April. Come March 29, this one-woman multiplex will be a likely Oscar contender as well.

Not that all has gone smoothly this past year. Richardson had, she says, “major disagreements” with her widely respected Damage director, Louis Malle (who is also Candice Bergen’s husband). “Louis knows where he wants the cameras,” she says, “and so anything [an actor] might want to try is kind of an irrelevance.”

Malle pleads guilty. “I don’t think there are 100 ways of shooting a scene,” says the filmmaker, who calls Richardson “sensational” onscreen yet “not real easy to direct.” One problem was friction with costar Irons who, she says, “had an opinion on everything”—including how she should play her part. “What Miranda says is true,” Irons has said. “Even though we were playing husband and wife, she chose to work separately.”

She has been charting her own course since childhood. Growing up with her older sister, Lesley, now a chiropodist, in the seaside resort town of Southport, England, Miranda persuaded her parents, Alan, a marketing executive, and Marian, a homemaker, to let her enroll at 19 in Bristol’s prestigious Old Vic theater school. After two years there and five more in repertory theater, Richardson won international acclaim, at 27, in her first major film role, as condemned British murderer Ruth Ellis in 1985’s Dance with a Stranger.

Mike Newell, her director on that film and on April, calls her “a very private person,” and the actress does decline to answer nearly all personal questions. Yet Lesley insists, “Miranda’s very gregarious. Though she’s not dating anyone specifically, she’s got a wide circle of friends both in and outside of acting.” Confirms Richardson: “I don’t live just to act.” A confessed “shopaholic,” she’s currently into CDs (her musical tastes range from Red Hot Chili Peppers to John Coltrane) and “clothes, clothes, clothes.” She’d also like to take up skiing and ice-skating, although, she says, “I’ve never done either, and I’d probably break all my limbs and never work again.” Highly unlikely. Even in plaster, Richardson would find a way to get cast.



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