See her ... then SEE her

Here is the story of Kristin Scott Thomas in two takes. In the first she is a good-looking actress; in the second she is a fabulous star. It is a case study in what the right treatment and fanatical aftercare can do for an English patient. The new picture opposite is by the internationally acclaimed photographer Brigitte Lacombe; the picture on this page is not. John Lyttle investigates
Click to follow
One day you are, as Julie Walters' Mrs Overall once memorably observed, "just a jobbing actress who worked to put herself through the RADA" and next you're a star. Kristin Scott Thomas - whose rise to fame has not yet caused her to hyphenate, as it did previous British Oscar nominee Daniel Day-Lewis - is now in that happy position, thanks to the success of the multi-Academy-Award- and Bafta-nominated The English Patient. As a spokesman at her publicists Corbett and Keene confesses, "She's not exactly been a hard sell. The film was already a hit in America, and after the Golden Globe wins our job was almost done for us. We had requests for interviews very early."

Indeed. But the transition, while being resolutely traditional - see US film magazine Premiere's carefully classic white-on-white photo-spread of three months ago - is nonetheless delicate. The actress, in her past, sparse incarnations in print, has been modest, guarded and occasionally bland, without too much attention being focused on vainglorious appearance; typical of a rising but still second-rank name with the sort of CV the industry calls "interesting" (cf Miranda Richardson and Julia Ormond). A star, on the other hand, must command a certain confidence, merge the private with the public, provide colourful copy and - most important, this - look like an idol should.

Scott Thomas, the Posh Spice of British thesping - see Under The Cherry Moon, A Handful of Dust, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bitter Moon, Angels and Insects - must, like former English roses Deborah Kerr and Vivien Leigh before her, be transformed into a mass taste without being dragged (shudder) downmarket. Her contract probably obliges her to do publicity (if so, it's likely to be the last time that clause will be casually included without her agent engineering a host of riders) and she's probably, at this point, happy to play the game: a personal Oscar win will not only add some two to three million dollars to The English Patient's takings, it will also send Scott Thomas's asking price into the stratosphere. (Dame Rumour already insists that her fee for The Horse Whisperer is in the $2m range).

But the dangers of saturation have also to be taken into account in exploiting, and expanding, Scott Thomas's special appeal. Tabloid interest, for instance, appears not to have been overly encouraged, perhaps because back in 1992 one scandal sheet claimed she had bulimia, perhaps because she isn't Patsy Kensit: strictly not get-your-kit-off totty.

Glossies, broadsheets and Sunday magazine covers have been the preferred vehicles for a makeover that must merge seriousness with sex, highbrow with high profile, beauty with box-office and still seem evolutionary rather than artificial. Spot the difference...

The Actress

The press: Hardly blanket coverage. Independent on Sunday (1993), Today (1995), The Independent (1995), The Times (1995), Sunday Telegraph (1996). Pieces seldom exceed 1,200 words.

Interview location: Pub, club, restaurant, at her home, in small, nameless hotels.

Photographers: Basically any snapper on the rota.

Photographs: As one picture library says of pre-English Patient pictures, "Sorry mate. We've not got that much on her actually." What is available tends towards character shots. Kristin as Sister Gabriel in the TV series Body and Soul, as the frumpy schoolteacher in L'Autobus, as Lady Brenda in A Handful of Dust, as Hitchcock's assistant in The Confessional, as Lady Anne in Richard III. The few candids available are exactly that. Candid. Taken in the open, or by a window, in natural light, with mussed hair, imperfect skin, presumably self-applied make-up and ill-chosen earrings etc. Usually looks straight to camera.

Image: Upper-cut Brit brunette. Definitely not plain, but not exactly fancy: "Let's get this into proportion. I'm not Miss World." Kristin downplays: "Eyeshadow? I've got no make-up on. None. That's what I look like naturally."

Kristin comes across as: polite to non-ingratiating to icy. Much safe conversation about French husband, children, cosy upbringing, sister Serena Scott Thomas, lunches with girlfriends, hatred of spiders. Career gently sent-up: "I watched Under The Cherry Moon the other day. I was so bad in it... I've had to fight like mad not to be forever Lady Bloggs serving tea." Hollywood dismissed: "It was too depressing, sitting in someone's corridor for 40 minutes before they deigned to look at you."

The Star

The press: 1997 - stand back. Vanity Fair, Life, Time Out, Hot Tickets (the Evening Standard's listings magazine), Daily Telegraph, Sunday Times, Daily Mirror, many women's monthlies. The Sunday Times and the Daily Telegraph headed the queue. As a source confesses: "Their readerships remember and like her from Four Weddings. They are her natural audience, the way The Guardian and The Independent are considered Emma Thompson's." Most pieces well over the 1,200-word mark. Interview location: The Dorchester, top-flight publicity lair, with a conveyor belt of journalists, radio shows and TV crews dancing in attendance, if they hadn't already been swished to her home city of Paris. Photographers: Strictly major league names like Annie Leibovitz, Brigitte Lacombe et al. Photographs: Forget the big screen roles. The character here is Scott Thomas. She and she alone is meant to hold our attention, which is why she occupies the first shiny page of Vanity Fair's Hollywood 1997 spread. Grooming is now as rigidly controlled ("Hair and make-up by Onoda Hisea for Marie France Agency") as her lighting. Ditto the ornate/austere settings, from French Grand to ghostly silver art shot. Poses also more provocative. Kristin topless (arms folded) in white panties; Kristin topless (arms folded) in jodhpurs; Kristin slicked down in leather jacket; Kristin back in iconographic, Hollywood white-on-white. Image: From Brit Brunette to Grace Kelly cropped blonde - the required hook and essential, non-threatening signifier (and what coverage of Oscar rival Brenda Blethyn singularly lacked). As the Hot Tickets cover line trumpets: Kristin Strikes Gold. Kristin spills her guts: "I really needed to be blonde to be someone else, to come out of myself and be attractive." Now telling porkies about her age. In 1993 she was 33. In 1995 she was 35. 1997, she's admitting - just - to 34. Very Beverly Hills, very A-list, very star. Kristin comes across as: less domestic, more ambitious. Hollywood forgiven: "It's a fantastic life, it's a high-maintenance life and it costs a lot. But I don't want to stop doing that. Anyone who tells me I can't do it will be proven wrong." Not as forgiving as of yore either. Teacher at London's Central School for Speech and Drama who told her she'd never make it is dismissed as "that bitch". Also more sharing of her emotions, as if instinctively realising this is now part of her function. Quite understandably bursts into tears during her Telegraph interview, as mention of her father's death in an aeroplane accident reminds her of the climactic plane crash in The English Patient.