My Secret Life: Saffron Burrows, Actress, age 35

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The Independent Online

The home I grew up in ... was one of those lovely Victorian maisonettes in Islington. At the back of the house, we had a very long, beautiful garden.

When I was a child I wanted to be ... a petrol pump attendant. I suppose you have all sorts of thoughts as a child and at the time I figured that it was a way to avoid doing anything like going on stage.

The moment that changed me for ever ... was the death of [Clement] Blair Peach [the New Zealand-born teacher who, during a demonstration in London in 1979, was killed allegedly as a result of police brutality]. My family were in some way connected to him; I was only seven, but it was a major event even for me. I can clearly remember seeing the posters with the images of the policeman.

My greatest inspiration ... is love.

My real-life villain ... is Augusto Pinochet. Of course, he's not the only dictator who behaved in such an extraordinary way – there have been many regimes that have been pretty objectionable in the last century – but his legacy has survived. I have a few Chilean friends in London who have been very much affected by the way the government operated.

If I could change one thing about myself ... it would be to have enough time, and to stop moving so fast.

At night I dream of ... the people in my life.

What I see when I look in the mirror ... freckles!

My style icon ... My friend [the artist] Sam Taylor Wood. I don't know what it is about her style but she always looks great.

My favourite item of clothing ... is a leather jacket I wore in Amy Redford's film, The Guitar, in which I learnt the electric guitar.

I wish I'd never worn ... velvet hot pants. When I was about 18, my best friend and I would go out dancing wearing matching black hot pants with back pockets, both with the curly hair. It was a bit of a mistake.

It's not fashionable but I like ... my rubber washing-up gloves.

You wouldn't know it but I'm very good at ... Scrabble. I'll always take Scrabble and chess if I'm going filming. But I do have the Scrabble dictionary, which can be infuriating for other players.

You may not know it but I'm no good at ... filling out questionnaires like this.

All my money goes on ... spontaneous passions.

If I have time to myself ... I play the guitar. This year at the Sundance film festival, I joined the band from The Guitar on stage. We warmed up for Patti Smith, and then the director Michel Gondry got on the drums to play some songs from the soundtrack to his film Be Kind Rewind with Mos Def. It was pretty mad.

I drive ... a Lexus hybrid.

My house is ... full of light.

My most valuable possessions ... are my childhood photographs and an oil painting of a Connemara landscape.

My favourite building ... is St Paul's Cathedral in London. Florence has a brilliant skyline and there's definitely something of that about it. It means more to me because London is where I was born and raised.

Movie heaven ... Julia, starring Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave, followed by Tootsie. When I was little it was a great time for film-making, with stuff like Mike Nichols' Silkwood. The films you see in that pre-secondary-school stage stay with you in a very particular way.

A book that changed me ... News From Nowhere by William Morris. I first read it when I was 14 and the idea that one could imagine a world in the way he did was rather moving.

My favourite work of art ... would be something by the Irish poet W B Yeats.

The last album I bought/downloaded ... was John Coltrane's ballads.

The people who make me laugh ... Catherine Tate's granny character, Eddie Izzard, Judi Dench; not necessarily just comedians.

The shop I can't walk past ... Liberty.

The best invention ever ... is the pen. On a Desert Island Discs level, it'd be that, some paper, and sunblock.

In 10 years' time, I hope to be ... alive. It's a good start.

My life in seven words ... Big, tall, reckless, precipitous, straddling two centuries.

A LIFE IN BRIEF

Saffron Dominique Burrows was born in London on 21 October 1972. The actress and former fashion model is also known for her political activism. Having joined an anti-racism group aged 11, she later became vice-president of the National Civil Rights Movement. Following her relationship with director Mike Figgis, she announced she was bi-sexual in 1999. Burrows' films include Circle of Friends, Miss Julie, Frida and Troy. She lives in Los Angeles and currently stars in Dangerous Parking, in cinemas now

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