Wednesday 22 January 2020

Jacqueline Bisset: apparently my speech went viral

Jacqueline Bisset
Jacqueline Bisset
Jacqueline Bisset, circa 1967

Stephen Milton

Jacqueline Bisset is still troubled by the fallout from her 'unusual' acceptance speech at this year's Golden Globes.

Stepping up to the microphone to accept the Best Supporting Actress award in a miniseries for her performance in BBC's period jazz drama, Dancing on the Edge, the blind-sighted star was stifled by an attack of crippling nerves.

Among her emotional, random ramblings was an ode to the health benefits of forgiveness, a tribute to her mother's advice of 'give them hell and don't come back' and an inclusion of a four-letter expletive. Punctuated by several drawn out, awkward silences.

The speech went viral. Bisset was ridiculed and mocked. It got the Saturday Night Live skit treatment.

"That whole kerfuffle made about my peculiar speech was such a turn off," she snorts.

"It was nice to win but all the PR from it was a bit mean and not understood. I don't feel understood about the whole thing."

She pauses, swallowing contempt for the episode. There's a series of "umms" and "ahhhs", for each formulated response. Her thought process meanders at will.

"Apparently I went viral. People told me I got quite a kick in the arse. But to make such a fuss over the fact that I swore, I did feel put upon."

Amidst the concurrent ramblings and frequent pauses, there are pockets of sparkling clarity and fierce intelligence in her conversation.

"With the modern internet, people are really stupid about what they say. And these soaring egos - they're showing off and seem to delight in being mean. I find it… sad."

An enduring screen icon, the bi-lingual actress of French and British parentage has starred in some 80 films across a 50-year career, cleverly alternating from commercial crowd-pleasers (Casino Royale; Airport; Bullitt) to niche European cinema (Day and Night; Le Magnifique). There came four Golden Globe nominations before this year's win, and a nomination for a Cesar - or French Oscar - for La Ceremonie.

She's been directed by Polanksi, Lumet and John Huston and shared the screen with Golden Era luminaries - Audrey Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, Frank Sinatra and Steve McQueen.

But a clinging wet tee-shirt seems to eclipse it all. "It's a boring referral that annoys me," she says, of the opening sequence in Peter Yates' 1977 sub aqua classic, The Deep. In nothing more than a snorkelling mask and aforementioned white tee, audiences were transfixed as the lithe beauty dived beneath the waves, spear in hand. Nipples ablaze.

Bisset was an overnight sensation. Her profile and salary soared. Newsweek declared her 'the most beautiful actress of all time'.

"It was a wonderful adventure with Nick Nolte and Robert Shaw, but at the same time, enough already.

"I don't think it's sexy, diving and holding on to my stick. And they put make-up on to my eyes, and photos of it, to show I had mascara on underneath the mask. To make it more attractive. That brings up a lot of anger. I can't bring myself to look at it."

Never married, though she has had lengthy romances with the Russian actor-dancer Alexander Godunov, the actor Michael Sarrazin, and Swiss actor Vincent Pérez, Jacqueline remains a lasting sex symbol.

Those seductive green eyes and imperious poise have remained relatively untouched by her 69 years. She is captivating.

But the roles, particularly in the past decade, have been criminally sporadic and largely underserved of the beauty, who's also Angelina Jolie's godmother.

Supportive drivel in Keira Knightley's bounty hunter flop, Domino and TNT's sisterhood cop drama, Rizzoli and Isles. She even appeared in a straight to DVD sequel to Save the Last Dance.

The industry seems at odds with where and how to cast her.

"I work when I'm given the chance. I've been asked has the Golden Globe win boosted the offers. Not at all.

"I'm told it's part of potentially looking younger for my age and that causes a problem. I don't buy that. Some bad lighting will pick up all the cragginess. It's strange, they think you're a better actress when you look bad which I find…odd."

Abel Ferrera had no such misconceptions. When casting Welcome to New York, the provocative helmer sensed an immovable strength perfect for Simone, wife of Devereaux, a disgraced French dignitary accused of sexual assault and attempted rape of a hotel maid in a NYC hotel, played to explicit brilliance by Gerard Depardieu.

The plot is a loose interpretation of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair, with Bisset offering a vague portrayal of wife, Anne Sinclair, a magnetic, vocal personality within the French media who stood by her husband during his famous trial.

"It's one of the worst things for a woman to go through, humiliation and anger and hurt. In a very public place."

Much of the film's action is split in half - a graphic depiction of Devereaux's sexual addiction and the consequence of his actions on his relationship with Simone.

Delivered in French and English, Bisset and Depardieu employ an amazing chemistry.

And despite his volatile reputation, the actress found little fault with the notoriously volatile actor.

"I don't know if Gerard is a bit volatile, I'd imagine he is when he gets pissed off. But I don't seek to be number one on set. I don't get into a competition which may have something to do with why I never come into conflict with fellow actors on set."

Bisset's upcoming slate is quiet. She's just finished a period drama, Pierre et Jeune with an unknown cast and there's a desire for something meatier. "Somebody really bad. Somebody wicked and funny."

She'd love the opportunity to work with her goddaughter, Angelina Jolie after their scenes together in Mr and Mrs Smith (as Brad Pitt's mother) hit the cutting room floor.

"It was a shame those scenes were cut but I'd love the chance to work together again. We haven't seen each other in years though."

The star believes her shyness holds her back from more Hollywood projects, providing obstacles in her career progression.

"I believe I'm successful but I could have pushed myself more. And I was, and still am, very shy.

"Most actors are shy. It's very rarely the life and soul of the party who becomes an actor."

She pauses again, and allows a lovely chuckle. "Perhaps why I won't be getting on stage again at awards ceremonies any time soon."

Irish Independent

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