Along with the paycheck, the job has its perks. She'll get to work with Jane McCulloch, director of "The Lost Colony" and an old friend from drama school, and it's an easy commute to the theater from the beach.
"And I thought, well this sounds ... really fun, because I can bring my grandchildren down and we can all have a delightful (time) sort of partly working, partly just enjoying, and I hear the Outer Banks are absolutely gorgeous," Redgrave said.
Redgrave isn't the only one excited about her six performances as the queen in "The Lost Colony." An Outer Banks summer tradition, the show runs this year from June 2 through Aug. 18. Redgrave will appear June 2-8.
Her performance is "about the biggest thing that has happened in the history of 'The Lost Colony,' " said four-time Tony Award winner William Ivey Long, the show's production designer. "When Andy Griffith was in it, he was just a college kid. She's coming as one of the greatest living actors in the world. To have her interpret the role of Elizabeth I is terrific."
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paul Green wrote "The Lost Colony," which has been performed every summer since 1937, except during World War II. The play at Waterside Theatre on Roanoke Island tells the story of about 120 men, women and children who in 1587 established the first English settlement in the New World, or the Western Hemisphere.
By 1590, they had disappeared, leaving behind a single clue: the word "Croatoan" carved on a post.
The drive to hire Redgrave started with an e-mail from McCulloch, who also directs the English Chamber Theatre, a touring company based in the United Kingdom. The two women had only seen each other three or four times in the years since they attended the Central School of Speech and Drama in London.
"She said, one, it was a paying job, and, two, I could have a house on the beach," Redgrave said. "I have to be absolutely honest."
Redgrave was nominated in 1998 for an Academy Award for her role in "Gods and Monsters" and won a Golden Globe for supporting actress for the role in 1999. She also won the best actress Golden Globe in 1966 for "Georgy Girl." And she has been nominated for a 2006 best-actress Tony Award for her role in the Broadway revival of W. Somerset Maugham's "The Constant Wife."
In "The Lost Colony," Queen Elizabeth only has three scenes, during which "she's sort of being very queenly and ordering Walter Raleigh around," Redgrave said. Redgrave doesn't mind the bit part, since it means she will have to rehearse for only a couple of days before her first performance.
"I know I'll look extremely beautiful and historical," said Redgrave, who was fitted by Long on April 26 at Euroco Costumes in New York.
Redgrave's performances are the main part of executive director Carl Curnutte's plan to put "the wow factor" into "The Lost Colony," which had seen attendance drop each year since 1989 until last summer, when paid attendance was 45,280, up 8 percent from 43,301 in 2004.
He's also added a snow machine to make the colonists' suffering more realistic, along with the sound of thunder.
Redgrave isn't the first guest celebrity to perform in "The Lost Colony." Colleen Dewhurst and George Grizzard performed in 1984 — the 400th anniversary of the first expedition sponsored by Sir Walter Raleigh to the New World.
Others appeared in the show before they became famous, including Griffith, soap star Eileen Fulton, Carl Kasell of National Public Radio and Broadway musical-theater star Terrence Mann, who also has directed "The Lost Colony."
"It's one of those we wanted to pick up on," Curnutte said of having a famous name in the credits. "We don't have to reinvent the wheel. A lot just needs to be picked up and done again."
By Martha Waggoner