Actress Jacqueline Bisset is a legend, she’s worked with John Huston, François Truffaut and Sidney Lumet. Her latest role sees her head up the United Nations in Baghdad. Theo James plays an idealistic young employee working at the UN who investigates the grisly murder of his predecessor and uncovers a vast global conspiracy, that may even involve his own boss played by Kingsley.
I caught up with Bisset to talk about the role and what attracts her to a part. Read our chat below:
Christine Dupre is a character of very little words, but she is fascinating.
It wasn’t a very big part, but I thought it was very interesting. I’m very fascinated by the Middle East. The actual reality of thinking of being in the milieu of where Saddam Hussein was with all that incredible backstory to him and being in the United Nations was just fascinating.
It came through my French agent. I seem to be asked to play French quite often these days. I thought, “I could do that.” I thought it was an interesting period and I was interested to see the film.
Ben Kingsley is a fantastic character in this, what was that like working with him?
He’s very watchable isn’t he? He’s great to work with. His life is so amazing and his work is too, going all the way back to Gandhi. We had a few talks during the shooting. Our characters were fighting right from the first breath and that was quite fun.
You once said that when you read a script it’s about a personal journey, what was it about this script that jumped out for you?
Not particularly. It was just to be in something more detailed and serious. I liked the idea of playing somebody committed to something important. We don’t quite know what happens to her, it’s not a big deal. People come and people go, it’s a bit shocking but that can happen.
It happens in all areas of life where people come and people go. Opening the newspaper in the morning, we have to brace ourselves almost.
How did you craft her story?
She’s working for the United Nations. She’s reasonably controlled. She’s dealing with her boss who is played by Ben Kingsley. She’s head of the Baghdad office and he’s head of the New York office. We’ve all been up against this thing of being a woman in a man’s world and I think she had a reasonably educated background and in her mind, she knew right from wrong and had to deal with whatever came up including Ben Kingsley. He’s tough in this role.
There’s one scene when he shouted and we’re meant to snap, and he really did make us snap too. It was quite a fury. He was like an eagle flapping his wings, he’s powerful to work with.
What was it like on set, you shot in Morocco?
I loved working there. We were in Casablanca. You’ve got an immediate atmosphere of places that one doesn’t know well. Places that one doesn’t know well have that degree of tension. Her character would have known them because she was in Baghdad, but from my point of view, that adds to the feeling of shady streets.
The film was lit rather harshly. As an actress, I can feel light very much and it’s something I’m very sensitive to. Per Fly shot us all in rather harsh light, it’s unforgiving physically. I found my body resiting it slightly, but that’s just how I am. It’s a curious thing, I feel it like love or just the opposite of an embracing light.
Those tones give you something.
Going away from Backstabbing For Beginners, you worked on Nip/Tuck and worked with Ryan Murphy. What was that like?
I didn’t know the series well when I went to see him. I was so taken aback by what he told me and what my role would be. I didn’t know what to do. I just couldn’t conceive of a person involved in the body parts business. I didn’t know it existed. I was fronting as a Madam. It took me a minute to understand.
I think he’s very used to people knowing everything he does and I think he was taken aback. He misinterpreted my reaction and thought I didn’t want to do it. When I heard about that, I called my agent and said I absolutely wanted to do it. I needed to understand it and then it came back on.
He is really impressive. The originality of these stories which seem so far-fetched, but as I go through life, I find it’s not all fantasy. There’s a lot of reality to some of these situations.
Reading about the body part business is simply horrendous. It changes one’s life when you find bits of information when you find out what goes on in the world.
Did you read Michael’s book for Backstabbing For Beginners at all?
I do read books if there are books to be read, but sometimes you’re only dealing with what’s in the script. You can’t always use it. There have been situations where I’ve had an awful lot of information and said to the director, but the director says, “This is the script we’re shooting.” You want to know enough not to be at sea in terms of the situation but there’s also the moment and that’s what comes up when you’re working with someone.
How do you find parts that you want to play and the right part?
I’ve done a lot of different parts. There aren’t a lot of big parts. I say no a lot when I feel like I’ve done it before or I’ve seen before. I’m trying to find things that are juicy and that have a depth to them.
I’ve just done a little film in France. It’s not a big part at all but I really enjoyed it. Before that, I did a film with an Iranian director Amir Naderi. I did a film called Asher where I played this mean old lady with dementia. I really enjoyed playing that. I look absolutely horrific. I played it with a Cockney accent.
I do things that interest me. I’m not very attracted to big movies. I’m not saying that it wouldn’t be good to do one if it were a good part, but I’m trying to live in the reality of being in the business after all these years.
Asher sounds fabulous!
It’s a small part but it was great and a lot of fun. Ron Perlman is in it.
I feel that with Independent films, there are greater roles for females.
I agree with you. The head towards TV you can feel that strongly. People are resisting going to the cinema. I look through the cinema pages and think what do I want to see and then I think I want to watch this TV show instead because some of the acting is so great.
I’m a newcomer to Netflix. Who has time to see all the things one wants to see, but occasionally the medium is so interesting. We English ladies love good TV.
With a cup of tea. What are you watching right now?
I’m retro. I’m watching Mad Men. There are 90 episodes and I never saw much of it when it first aired, but to see it at this point with #MeToo is absolutely fascinating. You see them in the 50’s and what goes on in the office and that whole thing. The attitude of women, all their problems and trying to climb the ladder. To see it at this point is so perfect. I don’t know if you have time to watch it, but if you do, it’s so touching.
It’s one of my favorite TV shows of all time and was just so well done. I was thinking of revisiting it.
You’ll laugh some of the time. To see Joan swaggering around the office is actually delightful in a way. There’s also Peggy Olsen, her journey is great.
Yes. Is there anything else you’re loving?
I finally saw Breaking Bad. There’s a show called Fauda. It was made in Israel and was about the Palestinian/Israeli situation. It’s so interesting. I learned so much about it and found it even-handed in terms of the two sides. It’s made by Israel, but you start to understand the Palestinian situation to some degree and their commitment to what they’re fighting for.
You’ve worked with a wealth of directors in your career, is there anyone you’d like to work with out there?
Michael Haneke. Amour blows my mind. I’ve seen it four times and I’m still in awe.
Backstabbing For Beginners is in Theaters and On Demand April 27, 2018