Jacqueline Bisset during "A Conversation with..." on Saturday.

Image: Staff photo

The stars started to come back out for the Sarasota Film Festival this year, after a couple of years affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. One of the best-known: Jacqueline Bisset, who both sat down for an interview and Q&A Saturday afternoon and attended the screening of her most recent film, Loren & Rose, that evening at the Sarasota Municipal Auditorium.

During her chat at Sage restaurant downtown with online newsletter The Wrap’s Joe McGovern, Bisset spoke openly about her long film career, which has included such movies as Bullitt, Murder on the Orient Express, The Deep, Rich and Famous and many more, working with stars from Anthony Quinn and Albert Finney to Candice Bergen and Nick Nolte. Raised in what she described as a small, 400-year-old home near Reading, England, Bisset described her childhood as very average, but one where books and the occasional radio program were more the form of entertainment she was used to, not seeing more than a handful of films. That is, until the day her mother asked if she would like to attend a showing of a European film with her.

That led to a real interest in film, especially French ones starring the likes of Jeanne Moreau. “She wasn’t super pretty,” Bisset says, “but there was something deep in her, something subversive. And then I saw La Strada [starring Quinn, with whom she later co-starred in The Greek Tycoon], and [Quinn] was so handsome, so manly. I never could have imagined having scenes with him, or having him kiss me.” With Quinn as an Aristotle Onassis type to her Jackie Kennedy-like role in The Greek Tycoon, she said, she “felt no fear of letting loose on him” in one dramatic scene. “You know, some men are fragile, you don’t want to hurt them,” she said. “But he wasn’t like that. All the women [on the set] were in love with him, but I wasn’t, which slightly bothered him.”

One of Bisset’s first big roles in Hollywood came when she replaced Mia Farrow in The Detective, starring Frank Sinatra, with whom Farrow was then in the middle of a breakup. Because of that, Bisset faced something of a press avalanche, but she said Sinatra “was protective of me. He called me ‘the kid,’ and told people I had good instincts and to leave me alone. I never really knew how I got from zero to Frank Sinatra” at such a fast career clip.

Bisset also spoke of the importance of leaving your ego out of work and life and staying humble, while admitting that while filming Under the Volcano with Albert Finney, under the direction of John Huston, she did ask for a closeup at one point. The famously crotchety director responded with, “My dear, would you like to direct the picture, too?” Despite that, Bisset said being filmed by cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa during that shoot was one of the few times she felt that “photographed my soul, not just my face.”

Unquestionably, Bisset’s face is one of the most beautiful to appear onscreen over the decades, and at an impossibly good-looking 77, she continues to attract the gaze of every viewer. That’s certainly the case with the Russell Brown film Loren & Rose that closed the film festival Saturday night. Here, as Rose, an actress with a history of both career and family setbacks, Bisset keeps both us and co-star Kelly Blatz glued to her, as most of the film takes place over three scenes, serving up appetizers, a main course and dessert at Rose’s favorite restaurant (where Paul Sand makes a welcome appearance as the owner).

Bisset in Loren & Rose, with Kelly Blatz.

“I’ve never been more ‘there’ than I was with you,” she said directly to Blatz, who was in the audience for the “In Conversation with...” appearance. And she added that she hoped the film would give her “a few more years” in which to act onscreen. Loren & Rose is one of her favorite films in which she has appeared, along with a not much-seen indie film from 2002, The Sleepy Time Gal, for which she learned how to employ an American accent.

On a personal note, Bisset also touched on how she cared for her mother for many years after diagnoses of a multiple sclerosis-like illness and, later, dementia. “It was the most incredible thing I’ve done in my life,” she said. “It taught me so much, and it increased my humanity.”

Bisset prior to the Sarasota Film Festival's closing night screening of Loren & Rose.

Image: Staff photo

Bisset accepted a lifetime achievement award from the festival prior to the screening of Loren & Rose; for a complete list of award winners in SFF’s film competitions, head to sarasotafilmfestival.com.

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