jacqueline Bisset is 78 years old, I look at her and what can I say? She is more charming than ever. The blue eyes that wink when she answers, the smile held back, the vaguely elusive air even when she talks openly. She is lively and controlled, candid and conciliatory when dealing with controversial topics, such as #MeToo and sexual harassment. The tones are moderate, reflective, at times ironic; he is always looking for solutions and openings, never for conflicts or irredeemable clashes.
Jacqueline Bisset from fashion to cinema
Jacqueline Bisset was born in Surrey, England, and moves the first steps of the professional career as a model – you can see her in vintage photos, beautiful naturally, the soft body «”too round” they told me then». It is an activity that does not last long, e with the money he earns, he enrolls in drama school. At 22 he is on the set of Two for the road with Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney, and by 007-Casino Royaleparodic version of James Bond, with Peter Sellers and Orson Welles. He then continues to work with the most famous stars, from Frank Sinatra to Lauren Bacall, from Steve McQueen to Paul Newman, and with directors such as John Huston, François Truffaut and George Cukor.
Cosmopolitan and curious, she has made films in 20 different countries and was among the first actresses to snatch a $1.65 million cachet (in 1981, with Inchona blockbuster about the Korean War starring Laurence Olivier and Toshiro Mifune which turned out to be a total disaster at the box office). She never married, but she has had more or less lasting relationships with stars and famous men, including Terence Stamp, Ryan O’Neal, François Truffaut and Alexander Godunov.
I meet her via Zoom to talk about her and her latest film, Loren & Rosestory of a friendship between a famous actress on sunset boulevard and an idealistic and stubborn young director. For this performance, the actress of Night effect received extremely positive reviews: some underlined «the controlled genius of a true star», while others used the adjectives «wonderful and exciting». Today, essential and chic with a white sweater and two gold circles on her ears, she talks about herself with the class and confidence of the woman she has lived, observed and listened to.
Loren & Rose it is a long conversation between a seasoned performer and a young artist on topics such as art, the work of an actor, the weight of experience, the risks and merits of ambition.
Russell Brown’s screenplay, precise, quick, ironic fascinated me. And Rose, the character I play, is rich in humanity and experience and, above all, knows how to make fun of herself. She’s a great role for me, I’m so lucky at this age to have landed it, and the conversation about the movie just hooked me. Knowing how to listen is an essential component of life if you want to feel good with others, and be happy.
The life of Jacqueline Bisset
Can you listen?
Yes, I have strong relationships with my friends because I’m a good listener – that’s the basis of any good relationship, don’t you think? Also, if you talk all the time, when do you ever learn anything?
In the film, the sensation of time passing too quickly and dominating us is tangible. Did you ever think about mortality on set?
It’s a thought that creeps into my life more and more frequently because in recent years many friends have left. Losing the people you love or seeing them fall ill is deeply disturbing, leaving you drained and dejected.
She took care of her mother for years. Has that experience influenced her life, her choices?
Oh, I learned a lot from my mother. I spent 40 years taking care of her, it was an intense journey, a mined path. She fell ill when she was 47 – I was 15 – and she died at 86. I lived through all the stages of her disease, multiple sclerosis, aggravated by a form of dementia praecox. Believe me, I never had the impression that I fully understood what was happening, because it was all very difficult, but it was a great lesson and I have no regrets. Sure, there were so many moments when I thought I couldn’t go on anymore. The extraordinary thing, however, was that as I got older, my mother began to return to what she was before, practically reproposing my image of her as a young woman. There was a light in her, a new lightness: she had forgotten all the pain she suffered because she had forgotten everything, even the tribulations lived with my father and everything that went wrong between them.
It was a life lesson.
I have learned that in dementia there is also a virtual protection from harm, from the pain of living. From a practical point of view, then, I learned that a correct diet helps a lot. Diet and stimulation: you always have to stimulate the elderly, you can’t leave them sitting there like beautiful figurines.
Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of Night effect, one of François Truffaut’s masterpieces. Do you remember your first meeting with him?
That film gave me a very strong vital boost. At the time I was working in America and I was certainly not satisfied with what I was doing. When Truffaut, one of the directors I most admired, asked me to participate in his project, I felt flattered and gratified. Do you think that he even apologized to offer me a part in an ensemble film! However, it was not an easy job for me, my French was not perfect. When I then made How the reputation of the greatest secret agent in the world is destroyed, however, I already felt much more confident: those two films reconciled me with my profession as an actress, and in addition made me popular in France and Europe. Night Effect also won the Oscar for best foreign film. A blessing.
In Loren & Rose the young director is torn between his ideals, his dreams and the reality of the cinematographic world with the inevitable needs of the market. How did you live your first years in the world of cinema?
I was disoriented, I had no idea what was going to happen to me. Having this job surprised me, everyone knew that I wasn’t a real actress, that I was just starting out; on the other hand, I was still aware of having to stay calm, in my place, and learn. I studied my lines, and I wanted to be serious, polite and nice to everyone. I didn’t think much of myself, but I was often told that I possessed a certain gravitas for someone so young. Everything seemed very interesting to me: I’m a curious guy, I’ve always liked meeting new people and asking questions. That too was a learning process.
“the most beautiful actress of all time”
In 1977, Newsweek named her “the most beautiful actress of all time”. 45 years later she still has great charm and seems to defy the laws of nature. Forgive me, how does she do?
Look, it’s a daily job, it starts in the morning when you wake up: I try not to have negative thoughts; if there are, I undertake to “repair” them, bearing in mind all the experiences I have lived through and the difficulties I have overcome. I am a person open to others, and I don’t like to think ill of everything and everyone: a positive inclination helps your face not to get too upset! I’ve always avoided beauty treatments, I try to eat healthy, I avoid salt if I can, I spend a lot of time out in the open air, but above all I work on my emotions, on myself. Naturally, then, I have good genes, but mine is a constant commitment, not a matter of creams and fillers.
I would like to talk to you about women today. In recent years we have witnessed the birth of movements such as #MeToo, and crucial changes in the field of work, in the relationship between men and women. As a woman of great experience, how do you see this social turning point?
Honestly, it looks like a disaster to me. Relations between women and men are certainly not good right now: suspicion, anger, indignation on both sides. I find this situation quite ambiguous: men are what they are, and certain qualities we love in them are also the ones we hate. I can’t find a way out of this mess. I wonder how it will end if men and women continue to have such a sour and conflicted relationship. I undoubtedly belong to a generation of women who had to make do. We have had various types of experiences, perhaps not extremely burning ones, but it is also a question of attitude, ways and approach: however, I believe that we can react without ending up in court. Sometimes a sharp word or an abrupt gesture can block an aggressive and overwhelming behavior. But that’s just my opinion, I certainly don’t want to criticize.
Shall we conclude with an opening gesture?
I wish we could come to appreciate the relationship with men again in a positive way, life gets more boring if we can’t communicate. I know, I’m talking too much, and I’ll be punished for that, but it’s important to me to tell you what I think, what I feel.
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