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Thursday 8 December 2016

'I didn't end it - I thought that we were going to be together forever'

interview

Framed by a picture window, a dignified Jane Seymour sits sombrely before a grand, rainy vista of Edinburgh Castle. She's in town to promote Bereave.

A less overtly romantic or 'Jane Seymour-style' film is impossible to imagine. Her character gets drunk and high, spiralling out of control, and wandering the back streets of LA in her wedding dress.

"Which is why I did it," she explains, neatly. The film is the story of a couple whose 40-year marriage is unravelling as they drink and deceive their way towards showing what love really is, all the while looking mortality directly in the face.

Seymour plays Evelyn, a beleaguered wife trying to persuade husband Garvey to celebrate their wedding anniversary, with catastrophic consequences.

Garvey is so routinely nasty to Evelyn you can hardly believe they've been together 40 days, let alone years.

It is impossible to ignore the poignancy of Seymour's performance: Bereave, co-starring Malcolm McDowell, was made shortly after the actor was divorced from her fourth husband, the actor/producer/director James Keach, in 2013. He was also her business partner of almost 20 years, and their break-up hit her hard.

emotional

"I didn't end it, you know," she says. "It was his choice. And that's the painful part. I thought we were going to be together for ever. I think once you've loved someone, then you always love them."

Surely it was inevitable, then, for some of her emotional deluge to seep into her performance. Seymour (64) admits the experience of filming a marriage that survives meltdown was cathartic.

"I'm sure I used some of my own experiences," she says. "The interesting thing is that in the middle of our divorce, James read the script and personally put funding into it. As did I. He said, 'You have to make this movie.' And [after seeing it] he said, 'This is probably one of the best performances you've ever given.'

"It was interesting that when we separated, he then agreed this was still a great project, and he wanted to be involved in it in some way."

Seymour was so personally committed to the project she dipped further into her own romantic past, to wear on screen the wedding dress from her first marriage - to Michael Attenborough, when she was 20.

"You can look up the press from the time and that was the actual one. There are pictures of me and Michael and Dickie Attenborough [her then father-in-law] and I'm wearing that actual dress. I somehow got into it."

Despite the painful accompanying circumstances, Seymour clearly relished the role of Evelyn. Before Bereave, she reveals, she had tired of the 'cougar-ish' roles that she'd been offered repeatedly, at home in LA, and was ready for a career about-turn into something grittier.

"If I don't depict real life, what's the point of trying to be an actress?" she says. "There aren't that many actresses out there who still have their authentic faces, the wrinkles and musculature. Obviously, it's very tempting to do all kinds of stuff, but I'm more interested in being what I am."

And perhaps in what is yet to come. For what Seymour likes most about her latest film is its candour in addressing death.

"The one thing we never think about in life is death," she says. "We gloss right over the only thing that is guaranteed. I've had near-death experiences, and in the end I learnt that the only thing you take with you when you die is the love you shared and the difference you made."

Indeed, she had a close call with mortality while on set some years ago. "I had an anaphylactic shock when I played Maria Callas a long time ago in a movie about Onassis. So I was resuscitated and I remember it very distinctly.

"The interesting thing about that is that I'm not actually afraid of death. But I'm incredibly keen on life, so I don't want to waste any time. Other people moan and groan about stuff. I don't. I just get along with it. I keep moving."

What makes somebody so fearless in the face of their own mortality? "I know it doesn't hurt when you die," she replies. "I know you don't have any panic. You go to a very serene, calm place." Beyond that, she has no answers. "I don't know where you go after."

But dressed in tangerine Broderie Anglaise jacket and pleated skirt, Seymour could pass for 10 years younger than she is. Not that age has been an issue for the actor.

"What normally happens is you don't get hired a lot after you're 40," she observes. "In my case, I got hired a lot after 40."

Seymour's naturally gentle manner belies a character of firmness, tenacity and humour. She first caught the eye in the early Seventies as the star of television's The Onedin Line.

"I was such a well brought-up girl that when they were searching for a virgin for it, I was probably one of the last of a dying species. I can't actually guarantee that I was one but I was certainly pretty close."

This early casting consideration has traced her career. "Actually I've been playing virgins ever since," she laughs.

"I never auditioned. I did Dr Quinn for seven years and played another virgin there, until I had the baby."

The role earned her a Best Actress Emmy in the Nineties. "That was a long virginity, into my 40s," she jokes. Her current highest profile TV gig is a recurring role in the charming Miami sitcom Jane The Virgin.

Bereave will upend her screen reputation. "There is nothing you expect in this film," says Seymour.

drunk

"I'm completely drunk and high and out of it," she says.

Like the plot, its LA location nods to reality: British-born Seymour lives in the starry Californian enclave of Malibu and was awarded American native status in 2005.

She has 18-year-old twins, Johnny and Kristopher, with Keach, and two older children, Katherine and Sean, from her third marriage, to David Flynn.

She has remained friends with all her exes - boyfriends included - and enjoys occasions when all of them, including current partners, are together. This seems astonishing.

"You have to let things go," she says. "My mum [who survived being a prisoner of war] went through terrible horrors, and she said, 'Darling, when challenge hits you, and it will hit all of us, you will think about closing off your heart.

"But if you can accept what's happened and embrace the present moment, your heart will stay open.'"

It is the mantra by which Seymour lives now.

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