Interview: Kerry Fox: Fox's shock therapy

Blessed with a chameleon-like ability to transform herself, actress Kerry Fox has never shied away from demanding roles. In her latest film, `Welcome to Sarajevo', she plays an innocent TV producer who is gradually broken by war

Madness, murder, religious fanaticism, lesbianism, inter-racial love, war. No, it is not a potted history of the 20th century, but a summary of Kerry Fox's CV. Her roles have "difficult" stamped all over them - Fox is always going to extremes.

Her latest character to be plunged into an emotional maelstrom is Jane Carson in Welcome to Sarajevo. Carson is a harassed ITN producer juggling the hard-news demands of the London desk and a famous journalist (Stephen Dillane) wanting to pursue his own, more personal agenda during the siege of Sarajevo.

Yet Fox has a warm, relaxed presence, far removed from her more outre screen roles. She reflects on her choice of films. "It's always a subject that touches me, something I feel I can expose," she reveals, before laughing "it's never just a light-hearted love story."

You can say that again. Graham Broadbent, the producer of Welcome to Sarajevo, chips in. "Kerry will search out meaty parts. I can't see her in a Hollywood blockbuster. That's meant as a back-handed compliment. If you apply intelligence to scripts, you're not going to do any old rubbish. Kerry is not going to be seduced by Hollywood. She's got Girl Power - in a nice way."

Dressed in a green zip-up cardy, black T-shirt and red tartan trousers, the 31-year-old, New Zealand-born actress acknowledges that she's just not the Tinseltown type. "I've thought about it a lot and dismissed it. Whenever I go there, I come away feeling insecure. My values have absolutely no place there. If you walk into a place where your values are meaningless, then it's distressing and confusing. I've never had offers from America because I try not to do the same thing twice, and Hollywood banks on people doing the same thing again and again. If it meant doing a big-budget blah movie, I couldn't do it."

She could, however, quite easily do Welcome to Sarajevo, a moving account of the real-life efforts of ITN journalist Michael Nicholson to smuggle out and then adopt a young girl from a Sarajevan orphanage. "I can remember when it didn't look like I was going to get the role," recalls Fox. "Lying awake in the middle of the night thinking, `I'm wasting my time if I don't get this. This is exactly the sort of work I want to do.' It's about going where people are experiencing things I can never begin to comprehend. I can learn from people in those extreme situations.

"Michael Nicholson's story gives the film a solid structure that people can relate to," she continues. "On that, Frank [Cottrell Boyce, the writer] has hung various images, details and stories from the siege. It's an interesting format. The script could have been very sentimental, but it keeps veering away from the main story. Like Billy Connolly, it's always taking tangents."

Strikingly intercut with actual news footage, the film certainly paints a vivid picture of a city in the grip of madness. It's a topsy-turvy world where the guests outside a church before a wedding are "legitimate targets" for snipers, bikini-clad women entering the Miss Besieged Sarajevo Contest strut on stage toting machine-guns, and corpses lie unattended down Sniper Alley.

Fox feels that Jane Carson "has a definite journey. She begins as an innocent struggling with a starry correspondent and trying to please everyone. But she ends up more mature. She has been broken by the war, and becomes cynical and hard."

Perhaps not surprisingly, Broadbent praises Fox's performance. "Welcome to Sarajevo is a very difficult film for anyone to be involved in because it's controversial. Playing a TV producer in a war is not anyone's commonplace experience, it requires great sensitivity; but there's not one scene where you don't believe her. Kerry has this ability to transform herself in whatever she does. So she is equally convincing as the red-haired chocoholic with rotting teeth in An Angel at My Table as she is in this. Even Michael Nicholson said, `she's just like my producer'."

Not everybody has sung the film's praises, however. Martin Bell, the celebrated war correspondent has said that Welcome to Sarajevo "is full of over-simplification, to the point of falsification." While Emma Daly, who for more than two years sent back war reports for the Independent from the former Yugoslavia, wrote that "the film remains a pale imitation of reality."

Largely shot in Sarajevo in collaboration with Saga, a film group active throughout the siege, the film has nevertheless been backed by people there. Goran Visnjic, for instance, who plays ITN's Sarajevan driver, reckons "it presents a very realistic image of what happened, which is important. The Sarajevans lived so long under siege that they developed a very black sense of humour, and the film reflects that well."

For her part, Fox believes the film works because it rams home the brutality of war. "We didn't see the really explicit stuff on TV here," she claims. "It was filtered. We should definitely be confronted with the horror of it. The feeling here at the time was `those people are foreigners and we have nothing to do with them.' Our film is showing that the Sarajevans are flesh and blood, and we can no longer remain distanced from them. Just because there's no oil there doesn't mean Bosnia's not important."

After all this heaviness, you might have thought Fox would have sought out something lighter for her next roles. True to form, however, she has jumped out of the frying-pan into the fire. Her next two films are The Sound of One Hand Clapping - about how "the effects of the Second World War are still destroying the lives of two Slovenian immigrants" - and The Hanging Garden. In this film, "I marry a bisexual. It's a really painful story about a totally dysfunctional family," Fox explains, before adding with obvious relish: "I hope it shocks people."

No change there, then.

`Welcome to Sarajevo' is on general release