After 'Phantom Thread,' British actress Lesley Manville 'can't imagine retiring'

In Paul Thomas Anderson's "Phantom Thread," Lesley Manville's enigmatic Cyril is critical in the development of the unusual relationship between her on-screen brother Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his new model Alma (Vicky Krieps). And in a sense, that's true of Manville herself — over her 40-plus-year career, largely played on British stages, films and TV shows, the 61-year-old (who was once married to fellow awards season hot property Gary Oldman) may not always take the lead — but she's a linchpin in making a story happen. The actress spoke with The Envelope in New York about relationships — poisonous and otherwise — and aspiring to chameleonic status. But be aware, there is a key spoiler ahead.

"Phantom Thread" is one of those movies that will likely have people talking – or scratching their heads — or both. What drew you to playing Cyril?

I'm interested in films about relationships. This was primarily a film about a romantic relationship, but secondarily a sibling relationship that shifted for Cyril once Alma became a permanent fixture. I felt that we could go anywhere with Cyril. I felt she was a woman who had a sense of herself and was sparse with language — but when she spoke, it was crystal-clear. There was a stillness about her.

And yet Cyril more or less disappears from the film once Alma asserts her authority. How did that feel?

A friend of mine saw it and said, "I wish Cyril's story had been resolved in some way." I know what they mean, but she is the third player in the story. I don't think her story can be resolved. The audience is left to imagine where Reynolds and Alma will go, but I think for Cyril, while the day-to-day dynamic of her life will be different, the pattern of her life with Reynolds won't alter that much. And by the end, Alma is a welcome third party in the gang.

Your career has spanned over 40 years, with a strong focus on the theater and largely British productions. How has that helped hone the actor you want to be?

This is the kind of actor I want to be now. The only kind of actor I want to be is a chameleon. Not disrespecting someone who just plays one thing — people can do that brilliantly. It's just not my thing. I love that I can jump around with class, with character. I can go from [starring in BBC dramedy] "Mum" to plays by Ibsen and O'Neill and then to PTA.