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Jacqueline Bisset on being chased by Sinatra and why she was really annoying when she was younger

Despite being jet lagged after just flying out of Los Angeles and having been up since 4am, Jacqueline Bisset still draws attention at the restaurant where we meet. It’s a testament to the beauty that first catapulted her to Hollywood stardom status in the late 60s, though in her own head she was always much more than that.

Now, after a 55-year career that brought her four Golden Globe nominations and one win (in 2014 for her role in Stephen Poliakoff’s 1930s thriller Dancing On The Edge), she is widely respected as a good actress—and she still gets enough of work.

She often plays under the age of 77, but in her haunting new film The Lodger, she’s Elizabeth, a woman about her own age, albeit a very sassy one.

The film opens with the funeral of Elizabeth’s husband Victor, who died under suspicious circumstances several years earlier, but Elizabeth insists he is still alive, laying out his clothes and cooking him meals.

Jacqueline Bisset, 77, (pictured) of Weybridge, Surrey, who achieved Hollywood starlet status in the late 1960s, reflects on her career as she stars in the terrifying new film, The Lodger

Jacqueline Bisset, 77, (pictured) of Weybridge, Surrey, who achieved Hollywood starlet status in the late 1960s, reflects on her career as she stars in the terrifying new film, The Lodger

Nurse Julie (Alice Isaaz) rents a room in Elizabeth’s Gothic mansion, and after initially tempering her landlady’s behavior, she becomes obsessed with Victor, sparking the start of a dangerous love triangle. When Julie takes home a nurse’s pacifier with Victor’s mustache on it, you wonder who is manipulating whom.

“Elizabeth is a psychotic who lives in her own reality,” says Jacqueline.

“She’s a little old lady who really loved her husband, but she was confused by whatever happened. She fills the house with this feeling of love, and when Julie arrives, she finds Elizabeth strange, but likes her best.

“But then jealousy sets in and that’s where it all starts. You think they’re both crazy, but maybe they aren’t – you don’t know what state they’re in.’

Jacqueline manages to be both alluring and creepy, and at one point in the movie, she dons a devious dress and makeup to show off her rival. So did it bother her that she played a woman who looks older than her?

“I’ve done a few times older than myself,” she says. “I got the chance to do my little old lady look and it was fun, I really enjoyed it.”

It’s the latest in a long career that has seen her directed by some of the greats such as John Huston, François Truffaut (who said he preferred her over Audrey Hepburn) and Roman Polanski (‘he wasn’t easy, but he was brilliant’).

She starred in Bullitt with Steve McQueen, Under The Volcano with Albert Finney and The Greek Tycoon with Anthony Quinn, and while she managed not to have affairs with any of these legends, she did have two grandiose romances.

Jacqueline, who has been chased by many suitable men, said she could not honestly do what she does and have children.  Pictured: Jacqueline in a publicity photo for her 1970 film The Grasshopper

Jacqueline, who has been chased by many suitable men, said she could not honestly do what she does and have children.  Pictured: Jacqueline in a publicity photo for her 1970 film The Grasshopper

Jacqueline, who has been chased by many suitable men, said she could not honestly do what she does and have children. Pictured: Jacqueline in a publicity photo for her 1970 film The Grasshopper

First, in the 1970s, there was a ten-year relationship with French-Canadian actor Michael Sarrazin, followed by seven years with ballet dancer Alexander Godunov in the 1980s. “I have always fallen in love instantly and mutually,” she once told me.

“But my two longest-running relationships died for reasons related to alcohol. I’d never seen anyone drink like that, I didn’t know what they were doing. The ballet dancer was a great soul and a great mind, and I’m sorry he didn’t succeed.’

Frank Sinatra is said to have chased her after she replaced Mia Farrow in The Detective in 1968. “Sinatra and I made that movie together and he told me he would accompany me to the New York premiere,” she says now.

“But then he canceled because he couldn’t get there, then he changed his mind and came back and picked up the cast and we all went to the premiere. He asked me several times to come over for dinner with several people, but I said no because I knew it would be misinterpreted.

Oo La La! My French lessons paid off

Jacqueline’s mother was French and Jacqueline spoke fluently after attending the Lycée Français Charles de Gaulle in London. Her new film The Lodger is entirely in French (with English subtitles) and was shot in Arcachon, a seaside town an hour from Bordeaux.

“I loved speaking French,” she says. ‘It has given me a lot of work. In the beginning, when I was doing more movies in France, it was disastrous when things were changed at the last minute.

“I used to say, ‘You can’t change the rules because I had to study and work on them.’ But my French is suddenly very good again’, she laughs. “It took me a long time to master my lines, but I’ve become much more comfortable.”

‘And I knew the man I was living with then wouldn’t be happy! But Sinatra was very nice to me, very polite, he called me “The Kid”.’

Later that year, when Bullitt was released, there were similar rumors about her and Steve McQueen.

“He was attractive, but also a little scary. I was very English and he was a hip American. The way he talked would have driven me crazy – I didn’t know what a dude or a soul chick was!’

Despite her life in the company of so many suitable men, she never married. “I couldn’t do what I’m doing and have children with my conscience,” she once said.

“Can you imagine being Raquel Welch’s daughter? I’ve heard such horror stories about the kids in Hollywood.’ But as a drop-dead beauty in the Bullitt era, surely the world was her oyster? “Not at all, I still don’t see it and I don’t believe it,” she says.

“My friend laughs at me and says, ‘The only person who doesn’t know who Jacqueline Bissett is is Jacqueline Bisset’, and to some extent that’s true.

‘When I was younger I didn’t know what was expected of me and I was very work oriented. I was shyer than now. I’ve managed to get rid of that to some extent, but I still have moments.

“The problem is you intimidate people because they don’t understand what you’re going through, they think you’re cool, but you’re actually terrified of coming out of your shell. That can be lonely at the start of a shoot if you don’t know anyone.’

When she was in her 40s, people told her to take work because it wouldn’t be offered when she was in her 70s, but here she is still making movies (another one coming out later this year) , Loren & Rose, about a young filmmaker and an actress washed up).

“I think you have to find quality work, and that takes forever,” she says. “I remember Tom Courtenay saying you have to try to avoid trendy things if you want to survive, it’s like dressing trendy five years later, you look ridiculous.

“You have to find the level to be part of a bigger river, and if you’ve kept yourself in reasonable shape, you can do the job.”

Jacqueline said she believes in finding quality work because it lasts forever.  Pictured: Jacqueline with Alice Isaaz in new movie, The Lodger

Jacqueline said she believes in finding quality work because it lasts forever.  Pictured: Jacqueline with Alice Isaaz in new movie, The Lodger

Jacqueline said she believes in finding quality work because it lasts forever. Pictured: Jacqueline with Alice Isaaz in new movie, The Lodger

And Jacqueline certainly has. When she won her Golden Globe in 2014, she gave a disjointed speech in which she said, “I believe that if you want to look good, you have to forgive everyone. It’s the best beauty treatment.’

That’s what she stands for today. “I’ve been bullied so many times about that speech, but when people are disappointed, it shows on the face,” she emphasizes. “So if you’re grumpy and mean, you’ll always look like this.

“And I also think that the traditional woman can be quite annoying because she’s too needy. I say this was one of these people.

“When I was young, when I made a meal, I needed someone to say it was good. I must have been very annoying. I’m less needy now, but in some ways I’m still the same person I was when I was 15.”

When you’re grumpy and mean, this is what you look like

She also needs to be full of forgiveness because her skin is glowing, yet she won’t allow herself a facial, let alone surgery or fillers.

‘I didn’t have anything done. I have a million things wrong with me, but energy is the most important. Everyone’s face sags, but I was warned about facials when I was young because my skin is sensitive. What you eat is also important. I have a big appetite, but I can lose weight for years by avoiding salt.’

She was born in Weybridge, Surrey, the daughter of a general practitioner and lawyer who became a housewife and fled to Britain during the war by cycling from Paris to the coast and boarding a troopship.

Her father left her mother when Jacqueline was 22. She then had to take care of her mother, who had developed MS.

“I got on well with my father, so I didn’t hate it. My mom had an accelerated form of MS, which is no fun. The medication was terrible at the time. I was the medicine.’

Although she moved to Hollywood in the late 60s, she still has a place here, but this is her first trip back in 18 months. “I always think about going back to England,” she says.

‘I have family here, this is my country. I like the British sense of humor. I woke up at 4am today and started laughing at this guy on the radio – I have no idea who he was, but he was hilarious.

“So I’m thinking hard about coming back here. Plus, my California home is in a high fire risk area and I’m paranoid it’s going to burn down!’

The Lodger is now available to stream on digital platforms.

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