Jacqueline Bisset: In the prime of life

Her next film role will see her starring opposite Gérard Depardieu in a film purportedly based on the Dominique Strauss-Kahn sex scandal. Jacqueline Bisset talks to Kaleem Aftab about a lifetime of dealing with difficult men, on and off screen

"McConaissance" might have been the buzzword of the awards season, but Matthew McConaughey's move from laughable romcom stud to respected Oscar winner was not the most surprising comeback. That honour went to Jacqueline Bisset, who won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, for her turn as Lady Cremone in BBC series Dancing on the Edge.

Her emotional acceptance speech, mostly delivered while the background music was playing to hurry her along, saw the 69-year-old actress trying to pull herself together by screaming "Scottish background to the front!", holding back tears and advising the audience, "If you want to look good you have to forgive everybody, it's the best beauty treatment." The rambling performance ensured that for the first time in her long acting career – it was, she told the room, 47 years since she had been named "best newcomer" – Bisset had gone viral.

The renaissance is set to continue as Bisset has wrapped filming on Welcome to New York, a film purportedly about the disgraced former head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Gérard Depardieu plays the French head of a finance fund caught up in a sex scandal and Bisset stars as his wife. She was a replacement for Isabelle Adjani who dropped out of filming after the release of a tell-all book, Beauty and the Beast, by the journalist Marcela Iacub, revealed her relationship with Strauss-Kahn. Adjani argued that the publication made it difficult to bring a fair representation of DSK to screen.

Jacqueline Bisset with Gérard Depardieu in 'Welcome to New York' Jacqueline Bisset with Gérard Depardieu in 'Welcome to New York' Welcome to New York is directed by Abel Ferrara and will be Bisset's highest profile film role since 1981's Rich and Famous. Still, she cast doubts on whether she is actually playing Strauss-Kahn's second wife, Anne Sinclair, or not. "I keep saying to Abel, 'People keep asking me about this film – am I playing her?'" she says. "He says, 'You know more than me, who you are playing.' It didn't help with answering my question, but that was typical of him, he never answered a question."

She was not asked to impersonate Sinclair. "We talked and I knew who Anne was, and I thought I could play her, but I didn't know if he wanted me to mimic her. I read a lot about her but it's not a biopic. There are things about the story that are based on the Strauss-Kahn story, but there are a lot of things I don't have in this role to define her. So we'll see. I'm playing Simone and Gérard is playing Mr Deveraux."

The mystery is likely to be solved at Cannes, where the film is expected to receive its world premiere in May. What appears to be true, and is confirmed by the trailer, is Bisset's assertion: "From Ferrara's point of view, he is interested in addiction, sexual addiction, probably more than the characters in the story."

The director, whose previous films include King of New York and Bad Lieutenant, is "a rather interesting character", she adds. "There's quite a poetic side to him, a softness, and then a volatile, explosive person. I got used to his way of being, which was very explosive. There was lots of shouting. One of the noisiest sets I've been on. When he was explosive I would know it's not me. So I enjoyed it, you can't take it personally."

Working with difficult directors is par for the course for the veteran actress who rose to fame in 1968 acting opposite two of Hollywood's all-time great leading men, Frank Sinatra in The Detective and Steve McQueen in Bullitt, playing his girlfriend Cathy. In the 1970s, she cemented her status as one of the great leading ladies appearing in François Truffaut's Day for Night (1973), Murder on the Orient Express (1974) and The Deep (1977).

"I've rarely had problems with actors, usually I've had problems with directors," she says, "You are there to serve the film and you are there to serve their image of women. Sometimes they just want you to resemble their wife, which is fine if that is their image of women. But sometimes you feel you know more about the character and the director blocks you. And then you become this sort of generic female."

Bisset learned the hard way about exploitation. When she made The Deep in 1977, playing one half of a couple on a scuba-diving holiday in Bermuda, the film received a mixed critical reception. The opening scene, however, featured Bisset swimming in a white T-shirt, and that see-through garment became a huge factor in the film turning a profit. Promotional posters featuring Bisset underwater were even given out with Playboy magazine, which led producer Peter Guber to proclaim, "That T-shirt made me a rich man."

"I was so angry about it," recalls Bisset. "Because it had very little to do with me and it was not at all what I was about. It wasn't what my choice in this business was about, so it came out of leftfield. It's in the past, and when it keeps coming up I have to push it away. It's a silliness, but it did make money for that film and a lot of the credit was given to me because of that T-shirt."

The actress is still beautiful, an example of how to age gracefully. She recently joined Jane Seymour on television to denounce Botox. "I never thought of myself as a beautiful woman, I was always insecure with my looks... I had moments of feeling attractive, but I didn't feel beautiful. The gratification comes when you have a beautiful human moment with somebody, this makes you feel attractive or beautiful. But the outside thing – the hair, the make-up – they can do a lot of this from the outside."

Bisset grew up in Reading. Her father was a GP and her mother a lawyer-turned-housewife. As a child, she was only happy when she was doing ballet. "I don't think that my self-esteem as a child was particularly high. On the contrary, I felt worried and anxious and I only felt very happy when I was dancing. When I was dancing I felt very, very happy. Very much like a wild horse."

She has never married. "I think I'm very independent, but I'm also dependent too," she says. "I've had some very interesting men in my life. They have been a handful. I don't choose easy men, I'm told." She has previously dated Michael Sarrazin (star of They Shoot Horses Don't They), the ballet dancer Alexander Godunov and actor Vincent Pérez. "I've been in seven-year relationships three times and one 14-year relationship. It's funny how it's always seven. I've thought about it and when they wanted to, I haven't wanted to, and vice versa. Sometimes you get too much information when you spend time with people. You start to see things – bad habits. You start to discover them and then you have to marry bad habits and I'm not sure I can cope with them. I don't ever have bad relationships. I haven't broken up angry. I've just moved out of situations that have been overwhelming. I've been with two alcoholics, which were very extreme situations."

Firm friends with the American actress Marcheline Bertrand, she is the godmother of her daughter, Angelina Jolie. They do not have much contact. "I haven't passed on anything. Angelina is incredibly self-contained, but she's had a hard life; she's had a difficult life; she is carrying a lot of baggage from her life and she is very strong. On set she is very strong. I have just been on set with her once, a small role that I had in Mr. & Mrs. Smith. I can't explain it. She is very powerful, though she doesn't show this aspect particularly now. She is also very gentle and peaceful."

Now, Bisset has reached the stage in her career of Lifetime Achievement Awards. She doesn't like looking back on her career but when she does: "I think, 'When did I do all this?' I do all these things and then forget about them. It's a little bit nerve-racking to see where all the time goes."

'Welcome to New York' is out later this year

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury


Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas


Arts and Entertainment


Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7


Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary


Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions