7 jul 2020

“I get so frustrated about the way people perceive me” the cult interview with Kristin-Scott Thomas

Her performances in The English Patient, Four Weddings and a Funeral and Mission Impossible have made Kristin Scott Thomas a somewhat reluctant movie star. Here, the British actress and ex-pat tells all about Deeny Boppers, Dustin Hoffman and her dread of being labelled an Ice Queen.

Interview by Philip Utz.

Kristin-Scott Thomas by David Bailey.

Numéro: You were once fat, I’m told.

 Kristin-Scott Thomas …and so? What’s that got to do with anything? Let’s just say that I was a round person. I was an overly skinny child until I left home and then, to my great dismay, I just ballooned.


Living above a London fish and chip shop can’t have helped. 

That didn’t mean I ate them. It wasn’t until I moved to Paris, enrolled in drama school, met my husband and became a little happier that I shed the pounds to become what you might call a normal person.


What on earth were ‘Deeny Boppers’?

Deeny Boppers were my first and last foray into the world of commerce. In 1982 my boyfriend and I imported a large number of horrible plastic headbands complete with glittery balls mounted on springs. We sold them on the beach at Palavas-les-Flots and other such ritzy French resorts. I should think of digging them out for my daughter’s eighteenth birthday. On second thought, perhaps not: last time I pulled out a video of Under the Cherry Moon for her friends, she was so mortified that she leapt up and switched the set off. I should have known better: when I took my mother to the movie’s premiere in 1986, she sat through it with tears in her eyes until the credits started rolling, when she gasped: “Darling, I’m sure you’ll do better next time!”


How did you land such a plum part in Prince’s vanity movie?

 I was performing in a Marguerite Duras play in a field in Burgundy, for a theatre festival. A journalist from Le Matin de Paris somehow wound up there and gave the performance a rave review. On returning to Paris, a casting director called and asked me whether I’d fancy auditioning for the film with Prince, which was being shot at Studio de la Victorine in Nice. I went along, and they looked me up and down rather oddly before asking me whether I’d like to audition for the lead.


‘They’ being the Little Purple Man?

‘They’ being The Purple Person and his cronies.

Were you required to perform tantric sex with him on the casting couch?

I didn’t even have to, which suited me just fine.

Why does your character in Mission Impossible get nuked after barely five minutes of screen-time?

 I enjoy making brief apparitions in movies. You get all the fun of shooting, with none of the responsibility. If you’re clever – and I think I always have been – you can craft quite a complex character in just four or five scenes. Take Fiona in Four Weddings and a Funeral, for instance. Such intricacies were somewhat lost on the Mission Impossible set, however, where it wasn’t so much about acting as it was about stuff blowing up.

Isn’t your pay-cheque the first thing that goes up in smoke when your screen time is so short?

The films for which I made the most money entailed six months of shooting. When you work it down, you actually get paid better for shooting just three weeks.
If you’re playing a supporting role, you often get paid up-front for the number of days you’re shooting. If you’re playing the lead, you get paid for the film. They also have what they call the ‘back end’, which sounds rather unpleasant but in fact means that when the film rakes in 180 million dollars, you’re entitled to 0.00025 per cent of the gross. I’ve never managed to make any money on box-office gross: the studios always find ways of wriggling out if it.


…which begs the question: just how rich are you, Kristin Scott Thomas?

 Unfortunately, I don’t know where it all went.


Was working with Tom Cruise, erm, mission impossible? 

It was great.


Wasn’t he hell-bent on… 

…converting us all to scientology? Not in the slightest. I had a really great time working with him. I’m just a little dismayed that I haven’t been resuscitated as a vampire in the franchise.


You lost your father, a naval officer, in a plane crash when you were five, and your stepfather in an identical accident when you were eleven. Did both losses leave you with a terrible amount of luggage? 

Childhood tragedy– or rather catastrophe – invariably makes a huge difference to who you are. Some of the things that children have to live through have horrific repercussions, even when it’s something as benign as a divorce.


Apparently you hit the couch three times a week. 

That’s done and dusted. This is as good as it gets.


Did your shrink draw any enlightening conclusions?

 Of course, otherwise I wouldn’t have kept going. Watch out, because this is a French magazine, and as you probably know, actors don’t like to talk about their private lives here.


You wouldn’t slap us with a lawsuit, now, would you, Kristin?

No. It is nice, however, to live in a country where you’re protected from having speculation and mad stories written about your personal life.


Why is the British press so mean-spirited with you?

They responded rather sourly to what they perceived as my ‘perfect life’: the living abroad, the husband with the glamorous job, the three gorgeous children, the dodging the Clapham School run. Not to mention the getting to snog Ralph Fiennes. Quite frankly, I don’t care, don’t know and don’t care to know. I hardly ever read my cuttings because I get so frustrated about the way people perceive me. I always end up thinking: “Oh, God! What’s the point? Just give up. Just shut up.”


How do people perceive you?

For a long time there wasn’t a single story about me in the British press that didn’t scream: “Ice Queen!” It was dreadful. If I don’t come across as a slap-you-on-the-back-hi-chum-let’s-grab-a-pint type, it’s simply because I’m shy. The other night, for instance, I went to the theatre, and the lady in front of me – whom I’d met on numerous occasions – spun round to salute the very important person sitting next to me. I somehow fell beneath her radar, but instead of saying “Hello, Mrs. Thingy! Do you remember me?” I just kept very quiet and still, because I was so embarrassed that she’d failed to notice me. I’ve since learnt that she’s telling everyone that I was the one who cold-shouldered her. You just can’t win.


How has living in Paris affected your career? 

In the beginning, I was spending eight months a year in America, with a husband and two children in France. It was driving me crazy, so I decided to slam the brakes and have another child. It’s a very schizophrenic business. You’re forever hopping from one place to another, from one character to another, from film star to housewife in the bat of an eyelid. Unless you find time to regroup, you can easily end up, quite literally, all over the place.


You’re famous for your clipped vowels, but can you do cockney?

 I can do mockney.


Let’s hear it.

Where’s the cheque?


You admitted to being 33 in 1993, and then 34 in 1997. What’s your secret?

I’ve never lied about my age. I was born in 1960, and although I’ve often been advised to knock off a few years, I could never bring myself to do it. It just doesn’t wash. For a long time I was paired off with love-interests who were the age of my father. They want you to look some indeterminate age that won’t shock on the arm of a sixty year old. It was ridiculous.


Have you ever been pulled, lifted, nipped, tucked or tweaked?

Cosmetic surgery is fine so long as it doesn’t start showing. Personally, I can’t stand that frozen forehead Botox-y thing: I don’t know how I’d be able to act without raising my eyebrows. Some surgeons can do marvels, but more often than not a woman of seventy who’s had something done looks like a woman of seventy with her face pulled up. Last year, a French magazine ran an un-retouched picture of me on its cover. You’re so used to seeing actresses digitally enhanced beyond recognition that to see the warts and all version of myself, glaring out from the newsstands, was the shock of my life. I was furious. Everybody said to me: “Oh! That was so brave of you!” There was nothing brave about it: I just got screwed.


How’s Oscar night?

 Everyone is simply petrified, because they all want that Oscar. We’d been publicising The English Patient for five months – longer than it took to shoot the thing – and I was already preparing another film. It was mad. Not to mention being dragged out of bed to go on bloody Oprah Winfrey until five o’ clock in the morning, with everybody sitting around clutching their statues. So there I am, with my eyes propped open, when she goes: “So, are you really disappointed you haven’t won?” As far as I was concerned, the party was over and I wanted to go home.


Were you as proficient at peddling your wares at the Kodak Theatre as you were at Palavas-les-Flots? 

Americans are good at making you instantly feel as though you’re their long lost cousin. I’m rubbish at networking. For a start, I can never remember anyone’s name, erm, Pierre. I was shoe shopping in Paris once when Dustin Hoffmann stepped into the boutique. He said: “Hey, how are you?!” and stooped to embrace me. We’d never met before, so I smiled enigmatically and stared at my feet. He looked most disappointed and backed off instantly, obviously thinking that I was being frightfully rude. When I rang up my agent to recount this event, he screeched: “But you do know him; you had dinner with him the other night!” I guess I’m filed under ‘Ice Queen’ in Dustin Hoffmann’s bad books too, now.


[Numero archives, 2006]