“I am hav­ing a blast”

Ahead of her first-ever Aus­tralian visit, Jane Sey­mour talks about love, loss and a life that has been as mem­o­rable as the ro­man­tic screen sagas that made her a star

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - Stellar - - Contents - In­ter­view by JOR­DAN BAKER

About to visit Aus­tralia for the first time, queen of the ’80s ro­man­tic saga Jane Sey­mour is busier than ever and speaks of her pas­sion­ate love af­fair with Christo­pher Reeve and an en­dur­ing friend­ship with Olivia New­ton-john.

Dur­ing her reign as queen of the ro­man­tic mini-se­ries in the 1980s, there was one role that Jane Sey­mour tells Stel­lar she cov­eted “more than life it­self”. She wanted to play Meg­gie Cleary, the out­back Aus­tralian in­génue who has a tor­rid af­fair with Fa­ther Ralph de Bri­c­as­sart in Colleen Mccul­lough’s The Thorn Birds.

Sey­mour was the pro­ducer’s favourite to play the role. In fact, in those days she was pretty much ev­ery­one’s favourite, and widely con­sid­ered one of the most beau­ti­ful women in the world. She should have been a shoo-in for Meg­gie. But an un­for­tu­nate ac­ci­dent thwarted her dream.

At the time, Sey­mour had re­cently given birth to the first of her four chil­dren, daugh­ter Kather­ine. She was asked to stop breast­feed­ing be­fore her screen test, be­cause it made her too volup­tuous to play teenage Meg­gie. She du­ti­fully did so about a month be­fore meet­ing with Richard Cham­ber­lain, who was to play Fa­ther Ralph. But on the day, her body had other ideas. “My milk came back in, all over Richard,” she tells Stel­lar. “Some­how I lac­tated onto his bare chest! It was not good – quite a pud­dle, you would say. It was the most em­bar­rass­ing thing.”

Sey­mour did not get the job, and be­lieves this was be­cause of her in­vol­un­tary lac­ta­tion. To this day, she ad­mits, “I have never seen [ The Thorn Birds]. I was so dev­as­tated that I never watched it.” Still, 35 years later she is philo­soph­i­cal. She went on to play Mar­guerite in The Scar­let Pim­per­nel, while the even­tual Meg­gie, Rachel Ward, met her fu­ture hus­band, Aus­tralian ac­tor Bryan Brown, dur­ing film­ing. “Things are meant to be,” Sey­mour says now.

The eter­nal ro­man­tic hero­ine is now 66. She is still beau­ti­ful, still in de­mand as an ac­tor, and still a funny, en­gag­ing racon­teur. Ahead of her first visit to Aus­tralia, Sey­mour talks to Stel­lar about life as the child of a prisoner of war, her life­long friend­ship with Olivia New­ton-john and her pas­sion­ate love af­fair with Christo­pher Reeve.

JANE SEY­MOUR’S REAL name is Joyce Pene­lope Wil­helmina Franken­berg. As a kid, she was of­ten called Franken­stein or Frank­furt, so she was will­ing to change it at her agent’s re­quest: “He said it was too long, too for­eign, and too dif­fi­cult to spell.” She knocked back a few sug­ges­tions – Anne Frank was one of them – un­til they set­tled on Jane Sey­mour, not re­al­is­ing at first that it was the name

of King Henry VIII’S third wife. “She was the wife one no-one ever re­mem­bered,” Sey­mour says. “But if they had told me I would be called [King Henry VIII’S first wife] Cather­ine of Aragon or [his se­cond wife] Anne Bo­leyn, I would have said no.”

Sey­mour, whose am­bi­tions lay in bal­let danc­ing un­til she was in­jured, was cat­a­pulted to act­ing star­dom as a Bond girl along­side Roger Moore in the 1973 film Live And Let Die. Moore was 24 years her se­nior, and had been tasked to look af­ter her by film­maker Richard At­ten­bor­ough, the fa­ther of Sey­mour’s first hus­band Michael. His note – “Please look af­ter my daugh­ter-in-law” – was also a tacit “Make sure you don’t touch her”. Moore obeyed.

“He was a quin­tes­sen­tial English gen­tle­man,” Sey­mour says of Moore, who died in May. “He also had a wicked sense of hu­mour. I was 20 years old but more like a 13-year-old. I didn’t re­ally know how to nav­i­gate that world. He was par­tic­u­larly kind to me.”

Sey­mour, who was born in Eng­land, headed to the US as her ca­reer took off. On the eve of her trans-at­lantic move in the mid 1970s, she was joined at the Franken­berg fam­ily din­ner by a pa­tient of her doc­tor fa­ther’s, an Aus­tralian ac­tress named Rona New­ton-john. Rona was also mov­ing to the US, so they de­cided to share a house. That’s how Sey­mour met Rona’s younger sis­ter, a singer named Olivia. To­day Sey­mour calls her “my clos­est celebrity friend”.

The chal­lenge of mix­ing moth­er­hood with show busi­ness bonded the pair. “I knew lots of other peo­ple who were mums, but not many who were deal­ing with the stresses of per­form­ing and trav­el­ling, and peo­ple know who you are,” Sey­mour says. “We re­ally clicked. Our chil­dren be­came best friends, [New­tonJohn’s daugh­ter] Chloe and [Sey­mour’s son] Sean. They grew up to­gether.”

Dur­ing the ’80s and ’90s, Sey­mour had the ro­man­tic saga mar­ket cor­nered. There was East Of Eden, War And Re­mem­brance and, later, Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman. But the role her fans most love – and her favourite, too – was as Elise Mckenna in time-travel ro­mance Some­where In Time, in which she starred along­side Christo­pher Reeve, al­ready fa­mous as Su­per­man.

The chem­istry be­tween them siz­zles on­screen, and for good rea­son. “We fell madly for one an­other when we made that film, and it was a se­cret we kept for a long time,” Sey­mour says. “We were both sin­gle at the time. I would say he was one of the great loves of my life, and def­i­nitely one of my clos­est friends for­ever.”

They could have been the Brad and An­gelina of their day, but Reeve learnt his ex-girl­friend was preg­nant, and felt he had to do the right thing. “He found out, and that was it [for us],” says Sey­mour, who named one of her sons af­ter Reeve. “I think he tried to make it work [with his ex-girl­friend] un­til he couldn’t, and even­tu­ally he met [fu­ture wife] Dana, who was won­der­ful.

“He was a lovely man. Bril­liant, too: very smart, a great con­cert pi­anist, and a funny, funny guy. He liked to do things alone – to fly alone, to sail alone, to ride horses. He was all about do­ing th­ese amaz­ing things, none of which he could do af­ter the ac­ci­dent [in 1995, Reeve be­came tetraplegic af­ter fall­ing from a horse, and died in 2004]. He was very spe­cial and I was very proud of him.”

“Christo­pher Reeve and I fell madly for one an­other… I would say he was one of the great loves of my life”

SEY­MOUR MIGHT HAVE been the ac­tor in her fam­ily, but it was her mother who had a life story wor­thy of a film. Mieke van Trigt was born in Hol­land, but moved to In­done­sia, then a Dutch colony, with her hus­band when she was 20.The mar­riage was abu­sive, and she left. But when World War II broke out she wouldn’t leave be­cause her best friend was preg­nant with twins. Van Trigt was cap­tured, and spent three and a half years in a Ja­panese prisoner of war camp.

Af­ter the war, van Trigt worked for the Dutch Red Cross in Lon­don. She saved up for a hol­i­day to St Tropez, where she met John Franken­berg, a for­mer Bri­tish air force sol­dier and a doc­tor. “My mother was wear­ing a knit­ted bathing suit that shrank when it went into the wa­ter,” Sey­mour says. “She was the first top­less per­son in St Tropez. We like to think my mother in­spired this rev­o­lu­tion.”

Mieke and John mar­ried, and while Sey­mour’s mother rarely spoke about her past, the war coloured their three daugh­ters’ lives. Her mother re­mained close to her friends from the camp. As Sey­mour re­calls, “Her friends ei­ther took to some very dif­fer­ent kind of re­li­gion, or they be­came very de­pressed; some didn’t want to live any­more.”

Be­cause she had en­dured star­va­tion, “my mother was ob­sessed with feed­ing ev­ery­one”, Sey­mour says. “We didn’t have much money, but if we sud­denly had eight peo­ple com­ing over, it was nasi goreng for ev­ery­one. We were all about mak­ing food. I still grow my own food, and have chick­ens.”

While Sey­mour was shoot­ing War And Re­mem­brance, her par­ents vis­ited her on set at Auschwitz. “We were film­ing bru­tal, re­al­is­tic se­quences, I was very thin at the time,” Sey­mour re­calls. “I re­mem­ber my mother turn­ing to me and say­ing with tears in her eyes, ‘I am ready to go back [to In­done­sia], to see where I was.’” When Sey­mour filmed Keys To Free­dom in Malaysia, she took her par­ents with her. Dur­ing a break they flew to Jakarta, and tracked down the jun­gle camps where her mother had lived.

“It was the most mov­ing ex­pe­ri­ence of my life, to watch my mother walk­ing around, sud­denly speak­ing flu­ent Ba­hasa Malay, land­ing in front of this man’s house, say­ing, ‘ This is where I was.’ My sis­ter and I were try­ing to hold a camera, but the camera kept shak­ing be­cause we were all cry­ing.”

Sey­mour’s mother died in 2007, hav­ing lived long enough to watch her daugh­ter achieve a suc­cess­ful ca­reer, meet her grand­chil­dren, and pass on a wis­dom par­tic­u­lar to her gen­er­a­tion, which had en­dured so much. “Friends and fam­ily were most im­por­tant in her life,” Sey­mour said at the time of her mother’s death. “She would of­ten re­mind her daugh­ters, ‘When life is dif­fi­cult, do some­thing to help some­one else, and your prob­lems will di­min­ish. There is al­ways some­one worse off than you.’”

Her lessons are lived by Sey­mour, who main­tains a strong act­ing ca­reer but chooses not to let her life re­volve around be­ing on set. She loves phi­lan­thropy, paint­ing and writ­ing. Her four chil­dren are grown, and she has five grand­kids, who she sees fre­quently. She has been mar­ried and di­vorced four times, but has found love again with di­rec­tor and pro­ducer David Green.

In Novem­ber, Sey­mour will make her first visit to Aus­tralia for Mel­bourne’s La Dolce Italia fes­ti­val, where she will at­tend the mas­quer­ade ball and do a Q&A ses­sion. She will also at­tend the Mel­bourne Cup with Green in tow. She hopes to add vis­its to Syd­ney, Uluru and north Queens­land to her itin­er­ary.

The one-time beauty queen em­braces op­por­tu­ni­ties to do more, see more and live more. “I am hav­ing a blast right now,” she says. “I am busier than I’ve ever been. I love watch­ing my chil­dren do so well, and be­com­ing a grand­par­ent is heav­enly.

“I am re­ally happy to be alive. It’s that time in life you re­alise you only have so many weeks left, al­though you don’t know how many. Ev­ery day is so pre­cious. I don’t re­gard my age as a neg­a­tive. I look upon it as an amaz­ing time in my life.” Up Close & Per­sonal with Jane Sey­mour is on Novem­ber 5 at the Mel­bourne Con­ven­tion and Ex­hi­bi­tion Cen­tre; The Carnevale Mas­quer­ade Ball is Novem­ber 6; tick­et­mas­ter.com.au; ladol­ceitalia.com.au.

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