The queen of seduction

Janie Lawrence
Sunday 23 October 2011 07:38

She is soon to be 70 but time and wrinkles have not diminished her charisma, her energy or her sex appeal. Jeanne Moreau is a super, super star, and she is in London next week to talk about her brilliant career and her hectic life.

So far my Parisian taxi driver is proving less than helpful. There has been the unasked for and extended tourist route through Paris 8. Now we sit, meter ticking, while he makes a comprehensive but apparently fruitless study of his road map. Thoroughly indifferent to my advanced state of hysteria he finally inquires wearily, "Who are you meeting?"

"Jeanne Moreau," I mutter between Prozacs.

Plainly I should have mentioned this 30 minutes earlier. The mere mention of Madame Moreau, however, guarantees his instant forgiveness. Miraculously, within seconds, we have drawn up outside her elegantly shuttered apartment block. His beaming smile says it all: I am visiting an icon, the equivalent of French royalty.

And indeed, it is a regal Jeanne Moreau who answers her door. Unfortunately, as I am now extremely late, she is extremely irritated. And tells me so in no uncertain terms. One does not if one is wise keep an icon waiting. Placated by a genuine catalogue of late trains and circuitous taxi rides - the hauteur thaws and she whizzes off to make tea.

The actress, dressed in blue denim jeans and suede boots, refers to her age without any hint of coyness - she will be 70 in two months - but exudes the energy of one considerably younger. In the past year she has lost nearly two stone and her newly shorn blonde hair further emphasises those plump, lopsided, lips. Time and wrinkles have done nothing to diminish either her charisma or sensuality. "I'm passed the moment in life when the aim is to seduce," she says in her nicotine-soaked voice, reaching for another long menthol cigarette. "But if someone thinks I'm sexy then I regard that as a compliment because that usually goes with zest." Yet the truth is while she isn't, and has never been, a conventional female beauty she is still an enormously seductive woman.

Her career has covered more than 90 films. It was Jules et Jim with Francois Truffaut that first brought her to public attention. She then became synonymous with the French New Wave and went on to work with a string of directors from Orson Welles to Malle and Antonioni. Strangely, for a woman regarded as so quintessentially French, Moreau is half English and, had circumstances been different, might now be an English theatrical dame.

Her mother Kathleen Buckley was a dancer, a Tiller girl who went to Paris to dance at the Folies Bergere but she abandoned her career to marry a French cafe owner. She returned to England with her younger daughter, Michelle, who still lives in Brighton, after they divorced. By then 19, Jeanne elected to stay behind and joined La Comedie-Francaise.

The Englishness of her nature is hard to detect although she insists it is there. "Just imagine a glass filled with a liquid that is eventually blue, then you put in a drop of red and then it becomes a little purple - I am like that," she says in an accent that remains as distinctively French as the frequent clicking of her tongue and Gallic shrugging of her shoulders. "I have that English distance sometimes and a strange sense of humour that doesn't get through so well. Sometimes I make jokes and they're not taken as they ought to be."

She adds impassionato: "I react very violently when anybody has a little critique towards the English. I cannot stand it."

There are many things Miss Moreau doesn't like. Refreshingly she has no inhibitions about making her dislikes abundantly clear. Ask her to recall the film role of which she's the proudest and her face adopts a look of disdain and the corner of her lips collapse as she vocally "Pwffs" with contempt. "When I read an article and I come to that question I think, `Oh bore,'" she replies scathingly. She pwffs many times through the course of the afternoon.

She has wanted to be an actress since she was 10. "I felt strongly drawn to an inner life that I didn't find around me. Very early on the answers that were given me didn't satisfy me. I discovered passion and what drove human beings through books. I had so much more knowledge than the people around me who said they were grown-ups. I thought they were so childish."

When she announced that she intended to be an actress her father was furious. "He became violently angry and said, `Never.' He wanted me to be married and he had in mind exactly to whom." Did that not, initially at least, deter her? "On the opposite," she replies swiftly. He died in 1974 by which time she had been exceedingly successful. Yet she says that he never once admitted he was wrong to try and stop her. She never gave up trying to prove something to him.

"It's not that he didn't love me but it showed me love could be destructive. Some people want to keep you and decide everything for you. Maybe my father had a feeling for beauty hidden inside him but the only time I heard him speak was about trivial things."

History repeated itself when she too married after she became pregnant with her son, Jerome. She was 21, her husband, actor Jean-Louis Richard, a year older. "My lover's family were keen so we said that we would get married to please them." They married on the Saturday and their son was born on the Sunday. For those days it was unconventional behaviour I venture. Another dismissive pwff.

"I never thought about the opinion of others." Jerome is now a 49-year- old painter living in California. She is cagey about the most superficial details concerning him and their relationship. "We are totally different but I love him - he's a very special person," she offers after an awkward silence.

More likely there is still some ambiguity because she has never felt that she was a good mother. "Not in the classical way anyway because I was working a lot, travelling a lot. Somebody from my generation has been brought up with a certain idea so I felt guilty for a long, long time. I don't any more."

The marriage only lasted two years. Then in 1977 she married William Friedkin, the American director of The Exorcist. That too lasted less than three years. In between there have been affairs with many men - Pierre Cardin and Louis Malle among others. "Having fun or pain," she says. "People make a mistake when they have a relationship with somebody that doesn't last and afterwards they say, `This guy is terrible'. No, it is the alchemy between this special person and this special person. Some things do explode together."

Finding the one special person has, she insists, never motivated her. "I've never been seeking the Prince Charming. I never had this idea. I've never been longing for comfort."

While she has remained friends with her first husband - "I'm profoundly attached to him" - the divorce from Friedkin proved far more traumatic. She was directing a film when he telephoned her to announce that he wanted a divorce. "He chose the first day of shooting to tell me. That was quite a blow." Had she believed the marriage was salvageable? "He thought he possessed me so I didn't believe in a real future. I was destroyed. Very depressed."

She brightens when she recalls a conversation they had some years later when she found out that Friedkin was visiting Paris. "I discovered that we were legally divorced in America but not in France so as a joke I rang him and said, `Beware if you come here you're a bigamist.'" Friedkin didn't see the funny side and cancelled his trip.

After so many liaisons she has come to the conclusion that true love is something few of us ever experience. "It takes a very, very long time to know what love is about. What we think is love is just a desire to take hold of somebody - it's possessiveness. That sort of passion can only be a source of pain. It's a battle, not an exchange. There was one man and I gave him the ability to hurt me. Not only that but I'd provoke in him that eagerness to find out how to hurt me. The best of all is to manage during a lifetime a relationship that is love on all levels - mentally, sexually, emotionally."

Has she known such a love? "No I haven't. The great lesson is when something terrible is happening and you feel destroyed. You think, `What am I living for?' If you just calm down you realise it's the same as when you were happy."

In the Sixties she spent four years having therapy. "Old daddy Freud" she laughs. Now she has a Buddhist master. "Instead of being moved to tears, half destroyed I just keep calm and try to figure out what's going on. Life has been given to me to improve. Facing obstacles is very healthy and good because usually it's the obstacles that make you grow. I'm much happier than I was since I've accepted that."

So much so she reckons life is better than it's ever been. She has just finished directing a series of commercials for Air France and she is President of Equinoxe, a scriptwriters association which encourages all aspects of independent film-making. Next week she flies to Berlin to receive an achievement award from the European Film Academy and this Monday she is in London to give a talk about her life and career at the National Theatre in her capacity as patron of the French Theatre Season. She cannot see herself slowing down.

"Come on," she says suddenly. "Let's go and have some fun." On go her sunglasses and several minutes later we're in one of the swankiest jewellery shops in town. She smiles graciously at every assistant in the shop. They gaze back with undisguised awe. They all just "adore" her coat, her scarf is "superbe", the colour is "charmant" and everything else is "tres, tres bien". This is the full-on star treatment. Do we want to sit, do we want to drink? Frankly I want to move in. When we leave she is wearing a pair of pounds 100,000 diamond heart earrings with a matching knuckle duster diamond ring that she has borrowed for a Vogue party the following night.

Back in the apartment she recalls a recent golden wedding anniversary party given by some old friends. "I was surrounded by all these people my own age. There was so much love and warmth I felt a little envy. Then I said, `It's not me.' I could never have lived that way so why should I envy something that I couldn't be? The actress has fed the woman and the woman has fed the actress." Born in Paris in 1928, screen debut in 1948. Named an officer of the National Order of Merit by President Francois Mitterrand

Films `Les Amants', 1959 `Jules et Jim', 1961 `Les Amants', 1957 `Les Liaisons Dangereuses', 1959 `The Last Tycoon', 1976 `La Femme Nikita', 1990 `Until the End of the World', 1991 `Map of the Human Heart', 1993 `The Summer House', 1993 `The Lover', 1992 `The Proprietor', 1997

Jeanne Moreau Platform Performance, Monday December 1st, 6pm, The National Theatre, box office, 0171-928 2252

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments