Currently Playing Bad Mama Arkadina, Kristin Scott Thomas Tells wOw’s Joan Juliet Buck: She Is Tired of Being Judged
Kristin Scott Thomas made her début in Prince’s “Under the Cherry Moon,” starred with Ralph Fiennes in “The English Patient” and with Robert Redford in “The Horse Whisperer.” In 2001, in Paris, between films, she played Racine’s Bérenice in French, and has since had four triumphs onstage — and she won an Olivier Award in London for playing Arkadina in Chekhov’s “The Seagull,” a part she’s now reprised on Broadway in what has been called the best production ever (until December 21). This fall, her performance in the French film “I’ve Loved You So Long” has brought her equally ecstatic reviews.
I first met her when I was editing Paris Vogue and needed a star to pose in couture; I’d just seen her in “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and knew that this was the face we wanted — but had no idea how real and funny she was until we became friends. Separated from her husband, a world-famous fertility doctor (but still friends with him), and the mother of three children, she balances realism and fantasy with perfect pitch. She spoke to me for wowOwow.
Joan Juliet Buck: You’re starring as Arkadina in “The Seagull” on Broadway. Who is this Arkadina? She’s usually played as a grande dame of the theater — you make her vulnerable.
Kristin Scott Thomas: I think that Arkadina is a mother with a massive guilt issue who is not obsessed with aging as everyone says, but obsessed with being forgotten. And time is running out. She is a brave and loving woman. She loves her son too much. He cannot ever be good enough for her. She loves the possibility in him more than the reality. She is disappointed by him but cannot detach from him. He is a thorn in her side. I think the secret to the role is her incapacity to let go of Kostya, her little boy. If only she could get back to him at the age of eight or nine and do it all again, he would be fine. She is not a good mother and she knows she has let him down. He reminds her of her love for this actor she met in Kiev — a kind of meteorite genius who drank too much and died penniless and pathetic. She has fought on and brought up this child, but it’s hard bringing a child up on your own and she has really screwed up. I love her. I think she is an amazing woman. A survivor.
JJB: The reviews here and in London have been extraordinary. You received an Olivier award, and it’s only your fourth play. What made you decide to be in Bérénice in 2001?
KST: I really wanted to do something larger than life. I had been yearning for a Greek tragedy so this Bérénice seemed heaven-sent. I wanted words — something other than conversation.
JJB: How tough was the move onto the stage?
KST: I found that I was putting all my energy into every word the way you do in a film with such short sharp bursts of “reality.” It was very taxing and not entirely legible for an audience. I have learned to pace myself and be transitive, which means it isn’t too contrived.
JJB: And what is it like being the toast of Broadway? Does such a thing have a feeling?
KST: I didn’t know it was called that but it is spellbindingly wonderful! I have always pooh-poohed this kind of thing but people’s enthusiasm and expression of admiration are intoxicating. It is also very hard work. My Catholic side is having trouble here.
JJB: Who did you used to want to be?
KST: I have ALWAYS wanted to be an actress, except for a brief period at about eight when I wanted to be a saint.
JJB: How does New York strike you?
KST: I find it so noisy. I LONG for quiet. I live in a beautiful apartment with a fantastic view and I can sit in the window and look at the river, or the wind. That bit I love.
JJB: You’re a Brit who lives in Paris; what language do you dream in?
KST: French things are generally in French, English in English.
JJB: Where do you vote?
KST: Voting is a problem for me. Not being French, I am only allowed to vote at local elections in France, but I am getting citizenship at last so that I can be the responsible adult that I want to be.
JJB: What was your reaction on Election Night?
KST: When I heard backstage that Obama was really leading and that it wasn’t just a hope, I got goose bumps and felt really moved. The change he had spoken about was beginning and America was leaving this terrible period. It is very exciting. I understand for the first time the idea of “proud to be an American.”
JJB: I first saw you in “A Handful of Dust” when you were astounding as a coldhearted adulteress — and very young! Do you think that’s why the label “cold” has stuck to you?
KST: Yes, unbelievably so. However, all this is changing. Since “I’ve Loved You So Long,” they suddenly see me as a bag lady.
JJB: Speaking of which, do you find yourself playing up to an image, or are you able to leave that aside?
KST: I have played with it a lot. In the UK where it is impossible to read anything about me without the words ice or thaw — and I admit I do give them what they want, because I can’t be bothered to give them anything else since every time I have tried they still write the same thing. To be honest, I am bored by being judged and weighed up by “writers.”
JJB: Has being the wife of a doctor and the mother of three kids made your acting life different? Has it influenced your choices?
KST: Of course geography is more important when you are married to an untransportable husband and have three children, so my choices have often been made with them as consideration No. 1.
JJB: You’ve just bought a seventh-floor apartment in Paris, without an elevator. Is that ever a problem?
KST: I sometimes feel that I am a sort of princess in a tower. And once I get up there I don’t want to come down. But my bum has greatly improved.
JJB: Do you eat? Do you cook?
KST: I have no patience with people who don’t eat; I think it is one of the most basic pleasures in life and ought to be enjoyed. I love to cook. Having said that, I find it very difficult to get an appetite when working onstage. It’s never the right time.
JJB: What thrills you?
KST: Too many things.
JJB: What scares you?
JJB: What’s your idea of hell?
KST: Being stuck. Not being able to communicate. Not being heard.
JJB: How do you keep your sanity when you’re working?
KST: I give it up.
JJB: How do you keep your sanity when you’re not working?
KST: I pretend I never work.