Jacqueline Bisset, still a knockout at age 70, stars in Welcome to New York with French actor, Gerard Depardieu. This English-born actress rose to fame in the late 60s and 70s, and most notably appeared opposite Frank Sinatra in The Detective, Steve McQueen in Bullitt, and Nick Nolte in The Deep. More recently she starred in several episodes of Nip/Tuck, in 2006, and last year’s television series Dancing on the Edge, for which she earned a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress. You may remember her rather unusual acceptance speech at the Golden Globes in which she took the opportunity to condemn her enemies to hell (we presume they know who they are).
Bisset has had four long-term partners, two children and is godmother to Angelina Jolie.
Today in Los Angeles the outspoken movie star talks about her role in Welcome to New York, a movie inspired by real life events of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, managing director of the International Money Fund (with close ties to then-French president Nicolas Sarkozy), who sexually assaulted a hotel employee at the Sofitel Hotel in New York City. Bissset plays his long-suffering wife who puts new meaning to the old Tammy Wynette song, ‘Stand By Your Man.’
Looking at least twenty years younger than her years, the actress who does justice to the term ‘aging gracefully’ is entertaining and fearlessly politically incorrect.
YOU’RE KNOWN AS SOMEONE WHO SAYS WHAT THEY TRULY THINK. THAT MUST HAVE GOTTEN YOU INTO SOME TROUBLE IN YOUR LIFE.
(laughs). I don’t know, yes probably. The thing is, I am not fake. I’ve never been fake and I can’t keep my mouth shut. I’m relatively reserved at times and it took me a long time to be. I’ve always been honest. Candid, let’s say. I don’t like to use the word honest. I think as one gets older one realises that one’s opinions are growing and you have more right to say what you think. You’re more unencumbered. If you like to be truthful, and as my memory has never been particularly good, I’m truthful to be able to keep track of things. I remember what I say about things because they’re based on the truths. When I read something that I didn’t say which was untrue I’m very irritated because I mean I pretty much say what I feel and I always did, so I’m told. I think when I’m 80 I might overdo the candid thing (laughs). I like people who are direct and my friends tend to be direct, not aggressive. I don’t like aggressive.
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF YOUR CHARACTER, SIMONE? SHE STOOD BY HER HUSBAND, BY ALL ACCOUNTS A MONSTER OF A MAN. DID YOU UNDERSTAND WHY SHE WOULD STAY WITH HIM?
Absolutely, I think she loved him. I’m convinced of that. You don’t just give up on somebody when you love them, or hopefully you don’t.
EVEN IF HE WAS PERPETUALLY UNFAITHFUL TO HIS WIFE, LET ALONE ABUSING WOMEN?
Well, if he has a sickness which is what our film said, you have to realise that some people are alcoholics, some people are this, some people are that and you still love them in spite of the fact that they might be alcoholic or whatever it might be, a drug addict. Love doesn’t go away and I think once you’ve tasted it and once you have love in your life, know what it is, a deep love is with you forever. I don’t think it goes away. That’s been my experience.
YOU’VE HAD SUCH AN INCREDIBLE CAREER. DO YOU MISS THE DAYS WHEN YOU WERE STARRING IN FILMS WITH STEVE MCQUEEN AND THE ACTORS FROM YOUR YOUTH?
No, I don’t miss them. I’m very happy to be now doing films now. I found Steve immensely charming, although a little moody, and those films were fine but I didn’t really feel they were good acting parts. They were big, big American films – there’s nothing wrong with them and it was great that I had the opportunity to do them but I really do feel that some of the independent roles I’ve been doing recently are a lot more interesting. Of course, I have a lot more to give now. I have a lot more experience and knowledge about life and if I could find a great American film with a very deep complex role, I would be thrilled but it’s hard to find them.
YOU’VE SEEN A LOT OF CHANGES IN HOLLYWOOD IN THE LAST FIFTY YEARS. WHICH SIGNIFICANT ASPECT STANDS OUT TO YOU?
God, I don’t know. This is a superficial thing but I’m struck how thin everybody is. How thin and how fit they’re looking, you know, and how ready for action everybody is, all these young actors. It’s all very structured and organised and stylists and all this kind of real mega bucks spent on how they present themselves and how important it is apparently in the business. I don’t remember that being the case when I was doing it. Back then, you were much less of a product I feel. People now, they have beauty lines and wig companies and God knows what and I sometimes wonder what their motivation is. I know they want to be good actors but I think it’s all a bit commercial. I know people are just people and most people drawn to acting are people who have suffered a fair amount and who’ve tried to sort of look for encouragement in life and applause and all the things that actors sort of need to feel in order to feel part of the human race. I suppose that’s still there but it doesn’t show quite the same to me. I don’t feel it when I bump into young actresses these days. It’s just different.
YOU SEEM PRETTY BUSY – CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR LIFE? WHAT YOU LIKE? WHAT ARE YOUR FEARS?
Well, I do love life. I go through periods when I like it more and less. I’m very despondent about what’s happening in the world. I think it’s very hard to keep your spirits up and actually have any belief in the future so that’s constant. I do read the papers a lot and I watch the news. I’m trying to decide whether to just turn my head off and be away from it all. Living here already you’re very cut off in Los Angeles.
YOU’RE ANGELINA JOLIE’S GODMOTHER – WOULD YOU BE PREPARED TO TAKE CARE OF HER NEEDS IF NECESSARY?
Well, that’s a very good question. Unfortunately, I don’t know Angelina well. But gosh, when I first was asked to be godmother it was the second person who’d ever asked me. I did think about it and Marcheline, her mum, was a terribly kind person, incredibly warm spirited person and I thought, ‘Golly, she doesn’t know me very well. I don’t know if she’s nuts to ask me.’ (laughs). It wasn’t like it was a very long friendship and I did think about it and I did take it seriously. When I see her she’s always lovely but I think her life is just so busy and caught up but I would love to be closer to her and I really don’t know how to go about it at this point. She’s such a big star and it’s difficult to feel like one’s not imposing. I’m a bit shy and I find it quite hard to just barge in when someone is so busy. I’m very impressed with her and her career, yeah.
WHEN YOU DID THE GREEK TYCOON WITH ANTHONY QUINN, YOUR CHARACTER WAS BASED ON JACKIE KENNEDY. APPARENTLY SHE DIDN’T LIKE THE FILM. DID YOU HEAR FROM HER DIRECTLY?
I met her finally at the Russian Tea Room. I was having lunch. Actually that day I was having a very bad hair day and I’d come to meet Candy Bergen at the Russian Tea Room and I was sitting there under a booth which was a very tight booth. We were sort of cornered in this booth and she said to me ‘Oh, look, there’s Jackie Kennedy.’ She was walking towards us and I said, ‘Oh my God!’ I really looked untidy. I felt desperate and she came up and Candy and I couldn’t quite get up. We were sort of held by the table and there was a very frozen moment (laughing) and she sort of sniffed. Nothing horrendous but she said hello but there was a sense of a sniff. I thought, ‘Goddamnit, all the way through that film I had to be coiffed and the hairdresser was behind me trying to keep my hair straight in the hot steamy climate and now I’m looking like this.’ I met her and I thought, ‘Oh, well, that was not very good.’ And I never met her again. So, my one shot was not a good one (laughs). But to be honest, if somebody was cast to play me I would probably sniff at them too. I don’t know how thrilled I’d be to meet them.