In a new interview, the actor, 82, reflected on performing alongside the comedian in the early 1960s as part of Cambridge’s esteemed comedy society, Footlights.
While she acknowledged that Cleese, who would go on to perform as part of the troupe Monty Python and star in BBC sitcom Fawlty Towers, “was a brilliant comedian in his day”, she said that “something has turned” in recent years.
Seemingly addressing Cleese’s controversial views, Margolyes told The Guardian: “Like milk, he’s gone sour. He’s an irrelevance... Cleese is a puny tadpole of a person.”
In recent years Cleese, who is set to debut a new show on GB News this month, has become am increasingly divisive figure.
In 2019, he appeared to denounce multi-culturalism, saying: “London is not an English city any more.”
After he was criticised, the 83-year-old responded: “I suspect I should apologise for my affection for the Englishness of my upbringing, but in some ways, I found it calmer, more polite, more humorous, less tabloid and less money-oriented than the one that is replacing it.”
Margolyes said that, in 1962, Cleese and Graham Chapman “were poisonous”, and would “ignore” her after she got laughs from the audience, which she said “crushed” her.
She added: “I think they thought I was too full of myself because, in those days, women were literally not allowed to join the club.” Chapman died in 1989.
However, Margolyes had kind words for Cleese and Chapman’s fellow Monty Python stars Michael Palin, whom she called “a darling, a special man”, and the “incredibly intelligent and very funny” Eric Idle.
Elsewhere, Margolyes revealed that she once told Annette Bening, her co-star in 2004 film Being Julia, about a lewd comment Bening’s husband Warren Beatty made to her when she auditioned for a role in his 1981 film Reds.
“Oh, of course I did!” she responded when asked if she disclosed the experience to Bening, who has been married to Beatty since 1992. Margolyes alleges that Beatty “looked me up, down, up and said, ‘Do you f***?’,” to which she says she responded: “Yes, but not you.”
She revealed in the new interview: “I can’t remember exactly what I said. I probably said he was a bit of a pillock. But when he came to visit Annette, they invited me to supper with the family, and their relationship seemed to be gorgeous. She’s a terrific person.”
The outlet also notes that, in her new memoir, Margolyes takes aim at Mick Jagger and Arnold Schwarzenegger, calling the Rolling Stones frontman a “miserable c***” and the Terminator actor “a very boring man”.
Oh Miriam!: Stories from an Extraordinary Life will be published on 14 September.