I was very lucky in that I was able to grow up there and go and see plays in the West End. Plus, you can jump on a train and go to Paris if you want. But we lived in West London. There was a theater called the Orange Tree Theater, a tiny little theater. It has been redone. It's a little bit bigger now. But when I was small, they did lots of really great new writing, new plays, and they had an extremely intelligent and creative director. Your knees are almost touching the actors; it was so tiny in there. But when I was about 14, or maybe 13, they made a youth theater, and that's really where I first went and had an acting class. So it's always nice to see it. It's on such a tiny scale, and it's usually really well done.
What are your favorite public landmarks?
I love the Natural History Museum. There's nothing quite like it. It was all black and destroyed, but they cleaned it up, and it's just the most beautiful building. And you know, having a small child, you can take her in and see gigantic dinosaurs and press little buttons. They had the party for the Harry Potter premiere there, the last movie, which I was bribed into taking my daughter to. And it was just absolutely magical what they did. They just made it like this kind of ice palace inside, but you know, you're walking around past these gigantic skeletons of dinosaurs. It was amazing. I mean, it was really the most beautiful thing.
What's your favorite time of year in the city?
I always go back for Christmas. I made my husband go to Harrods a couple of times with me just because it's such an experience. We're always fighting over it. He's American. He calls it a mall. And it's not a mall! It's a massive department store. It's an entire block. It's renowned for being incredibly fancy, and you can buy jewel-encrusted cell phones and God knows what. It has an amazing food hall. It has an ice-cream parlor where you sit on little stools. You can pretty much get anything there. I mean, I'm sure you could buy a small working Ferrari for a two-year-old or really nice Christmas cards as well. You don't have to be a visiting oil baron or anything. But they don't let you in if you have holes in your jeans. Yeah, they have a dress code [in] the store, which I always find hilarious. I remember there being some big scandal over some visiting rock star. I cannot remember who it was, who was turned away because of ripped jeans sometime in the '90s.
Where would you go if you wanted to wear your ripped jeans?
Farther out even than where my mother lives, there is a big park called Kew Gardens. It's a lovely, organized, beautiful botanical gardens, and also there is this old tea shop, the Maids of Honour, which has been around since Henry VIII. It's tiny. In fact, I got locked in the bathroom there when I was three, and they had to take the door off to get me out. So it's a slight zone of terror for me still. I even think that one of the older ladies who helped get me rescued is actually still working there. It's basically cakes and pastries and stuff that's baked. It's the kind of place you would always take a visiting American, because it's incredibly quaint. There's an alluring fire in the grate and the whole thing. They make this one particular pastry called the Maid of Honour. It's a very fluffy pastry with a sort of baked-egg-custard thing in the middle, which sounds disgusting, but it was apparently Henry VIII's favorite dessert, and they are still making it. It's a secret recipe. I don't know what they put in it, but you tend to have to eat 12 of them.
Is Oxford worth visiting?
Oh, it's amazing. I love going there. You can get the Oxford Tube, which is basically a bus that picks you up from Kensington or somewhere, and it takes 45 minutes to get back and forth to Oxford. I used to do it a lot. I took my husband last time we were there, and it's just so old. And all of the colleges are so beautiful. My college was built in the thirteenth century, and obviously my husband had never seen anything that was that old. And the grounds are beautiful. You can really get the whole sense of, I don't know, Thomas Hardy and people with passions. They call it, you know, the dreaming spires. Obviously, there's a Starbucks, and there's a McDonald's, and it's all kind of lumped together with these incredible old buildings that have porters, and they are all wearing bowler hats and long coats and are usually incredibly nice. My God, what interesting things are going on behind these walls? My husband arrived in Oxford and went, "My God, they should make a movie here!" I thought I was going to hit him with my handbag. They've made like 10 million movies there. I think parts of the Harry Potter films were made at Oxford. So, you know, my daughter is pressuring me to take her there.
What are the must-sees at Oxford?
The Bodleian Library is the main huge library. When you join, you have to do this swearing-in ceremony. It's all incredibly archaic and traditional, and there is some part of the oath that involves promising you won't bring your sheep into the library. I guess the vows were written so long ago, it must have been appropriate at some point. And that you won't kindle any flame therein. Very old-fashioned. I loved my college. It was New College, which is not very new, being thirteenth-century. And Christ Church is one of the wealthiest colleges. That's kind of like walking into an extraordinary sort of palatial castle. Sort of deeply intimidating, really. Very spectacular.
Okay, back to London. Any hotels you favor?
Yeah, I like the Sanderson Hotel. They have a sofa shaped like a pair of big red lips and hanging plastic globes that you can sit in. My daughter loves it. Sometimes they have a big box of candy canes sitting on the counter. I don't think it's designed to be incredibly child-friendly, but my child thinks it's fabulous. And they've got a little gift shop that has just amazing jewelry and underwear and interesting little offbeat designer pieces.