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Not-so-plain Jane Seymour.

The Emmy-winning "queen of the miniseries "explains why her life is "way beyond any dream I ever had"

"Queen of the miniseries?" asks Jane our, and she smiles tiny perfect rows of white. "Well, it's nice to be queen of something!"

Jane Seymour's claim to the mythical crown appears secure. In addition to ABC's War and Remembrance, concluding its 30 hours in May, Seymour's queenly bio for the past year includes the role of a flame-haired Victorian artist in CBS' Jack Me Ripper and her portrayal of Maria Callas in ABC's The Richest Man in the World. For that role she won the Emmy for outstanding supporting actress in a miniseries special.

"I was quite astounded to hear about the nomination for Callas," the not-so-plain Jane Seymour says in her lilting English accent. "I thought I might be nominated for my part as the Duchess of Windsor in the series The Woman He Loved."

Seymour, Sitting high on her throne, her Emmy as her scepter, is a great defender of the miniseries. "I believe they are the art form of our time," she says. "They offer the chance to present to the vast public book adaptations that they would never otherwise know. I also think they encourage people to read and reread the classics."

Seymour scorns reminders that her huge successes on the tube outstrip the successes of her big-screen movies. "Most feature films today are for 17-year-olds, prizefighters, and vigilantes," she says in swift response. "The best roles are in television."

Yet she turned down the biggest role of her career in War and Remembrance four times. "I was not prepared to go away from my husband and newborn baby for filming nine months in Eastern Europe," she says. "Then I read the script-and cried through the whole night. I couldn't put it down. I was obsessed with it. Finally my husband turned to me while I was reading-the pages were soggy and wet-and said, 'As a family we'll have to figure some way to do this.' He's extraordinarily understanding. We survived that nine months of filming."

Yet the grueling months on location in Eastern Europe filming War and Remembrance were more than Seymour had counted on: "It was exhausting, horrendous, and depressing immersing yourself in those terrible times." Seymour sighs and smooths her blue-and-white polka-dot skirt across her knees-the same skirt she wore while filming the concentrationcamp scenes. (Like all the clothes Seymour wears in her films, the skirt is now part of her prized costume collection.) Hanging over the skirt is a baggy white knit sweater-- "My husband's"--that drapes her shoulders. Scuffed ballet slippers complete her int"costume."

Seymour is sitting at a redwood picnic table on the patio of the Santa Barbara, California, home she shares with her husband, David Flynn. (Flynn is a financial consultant for top show-biz personalities, including Goldie Hawn and Warren Beatty.) She is momentarily lost remembering the arduous months of filming at Auschwitz, the infamous Nazi extermination camp.

She finally says, quietly, "I am very proud to be in War and Remembrance. It was more than an acting piece; it was a crusade."

In ABC's lavish adaptation of Herman Wouk's novel, Seymour portrays Natalie Jastrow (originally played by Ali MacGraw in Winds War), an American of Jewish heritage who finds herself a victim of Hitler's persecution. In the last episode of War and Remembrance, aired in November 1988, Natalie and her uncle, played by Sir John Gielgud, found themselves interned in a ghetto, an interim stop en route to Auschwitz.

"Even now I can't watch the scenes we shot in Auschwitz without trembing," Seymour says, wiping a bead of perspiration from her brow. "During the filming we would lose all comprehension of being human beings. There was a presence in that place of something horrendous having happened." She shakes her head sadly. "I swear you could even smell the dead flesh.

"Many of the extras in the film were real survivors of the death camp," Seymour continues. "Some of them still had the identifying tatoos. Most of them were Easternbloc Jews who had never been in a movie, and we made everything so real they believed they were back in camp. In one scene a woman next to me, who had been interned in Auschwitz at age 26 and survived, had tears rolling down her face. As we were filming, she looked around and whispered, 'This is real.'"

Seymour says she has memories of stumbling half-naked through scenes in sub-zero weather. In one instance, she was hosed down with water and left covering her breasts in a room filled with naked, shaven-headed extras. "You're so demeaned, you feel like cattle," she recalls.

She shivers slightly as she remembers the reality of the scene: "The women's heads were really shaved. In the shower scenes everyone was stark naked-even Sir John Gielgud. Then the gas chamber. . . . I know that Sir John and I, and the people we worked with on the film, put everything into it. I. . . I am very proud of the work I did."

She pauses, then adds, "My mother spent four years in a Japanese concentration camp in Java in World War II."

Seymour's parents-her father a London surgeon, and her mother a Dutch concentration-camp survivor-named their daughter Joyce Penelope Wilhelmina Frankenberg. Joyce, early in her career, changed her name to that of Henry VIII's third wife; now, even her family calls her Jane. Her parents noted that as a child she was different from her sisters, Sally and Anne. "If Jane wanted to do something, she didn't ask, she didn't cry, she just did it," the actress' mother recalls.

What Jane wanted more than anything was to be a ballet dancer, even though she knew her body was built "totally wrong" for ballet. She is only 5'4", but she consoles herself: "I have a long neck and carry myself well from dancing, so I think I look taller.

"I was told early on that I was not built for classical ballet," she says, "but I was such a high achiever, I made my body do more than it could tolerate." At age 17, while dancing professionally in Covent Garden with the Kirov Ballet, she suffered a knee injury that ended the dancing career.

"As a dancer, I was never technically very brilliant," Seymour says. "All the reviewers said everything happens 'up top.' They would say, 'A fine dancer, and a very sensitive actress.' Since I couldn't be a dancer, I decided to become an actress."

Seymour began to perfect her acting craft. In Britain she took to playing every kind of role she could: a striptease artist in Not Now, Darling; Winston Churchill's first love in the film Young Winston; and even the classic roles of Ophelia in Hamlet and Nora in Ibsen's A Don's House. Her big movie break was as Solitaire, the sex symbol in the James Bond movie Live and Let Die.

Then it was off to America, where she would soon rule as queen of the miniseries. She languished for a while in such potboilers as Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, until her star quality began to glisten. The actress was nominated for her first Emmy for her role in the 1976 TV special Captains and the Kings, but she feels she gave a better performance in the 1981 TV version of John Steinbeck's East of Eden, in which she portrayed Kate, the venomous brothel owner.

"Kate haunted me totally," Seymour says. "I really began to feel I was her, and it took me weeks to get out of her. I had her anger inside of me. It's not a part I'd like to play every day of the year, as it could destroy my life."

Then came her roles as Hemingway's Lady Brett Ashley in The Sun Also Rises and identical twins (one psychotic) in Dark Mirror, followed ' by Crossings and her more recent successes in 1988. When asked how many miniseries she has been in, she is genuinely stumped but thinks "around 17."

What is it about this intense English actress that makes her come alive in front of the TV camera?

Seymour leans forward on the patio table and folds her hands. Her arms are delicate. "I'm fortunate," she says. "I'm working with an instrument that loves me. I'm definitely not the prettiest or most beautiful person in the world. [One smitten cinematographer has disagreed: "Wow-if Bo Derek's a 10, this lady's a 10-1/2."] There are so many women who are more spectacular looking. But the camera does find things. If I do nothing, if I don't move my face, if I just think about something, the camera picks it up and broadcasts it loud and clear. The camera sucks these things out of me."

One reviewer who had seen her as the evil Kate in East of Eden said: "She was terrifying. I don't care how pleasant she is in real life; she must have found something awful inside of her to play ftom."

"I have a lot of people inside me," she acknowledges, "and I am so blessed to be in a profession where they pay me to discover these people!"

The question seems to ask itself: Do you like yourself on the screen?

"Oh, no! I'm never pleased with anything I've done," she says. "I've always criticized my acting. I take the whole thing apart."

But she does seem pleased with another product of her talents-her book, A Guide to Romantic Living, written "more or less to have something to do" when she was three months pregnant with her second child, Sean.

"I'm not a writer," she I've never taken a writing lesson. I don't know anything about writing books. But I do know how to express myself, and that's what I did. I wrote it with anything I could find, which in my house is a child's crayon."

She excuses herself, rises from the patio table, walks into the house, and returns quickly with a copy of A Guide to Romantic Living.

"I wrote the book for the person who wants to live romantically," she says. "Take someone you love and go to the beach, watch the waves roll in . . . don't wait for a holiday. Surprise the other person. Do it! Whatever your romantic dream, do it. You see all those cards showing a couple walking the beach at sunset? Well, don't buy the cards-walk the beach first, then send the card."

In many ways Jane Seymour is living her own romantic fantasy: she has a handsome husband; two lovely children, Katie and Sean; a 15th-century manor house, St. Catherine's Court, in the English countryside; and a skyrocketing career as an actress. "I pinch myself every day," she says. "My life is way beyond any dream I ever had."

If one movie role captures her romantic, nostalgic image best, it is her favorite as the turn-of-the-century beauty in Somewhere in That film was very much me," Seymour says"I'm not sure I believe in a past life, but I feel comfortable in that era. There's something very strange. . . ."

She opens her book to an oval photograph taken for the movie showing her in a Victorian dress. Next to it is another oval photograph, a turn-ofthe-century portrait of Seymour's Dutch grandmother in a similar pose. "My mother found this picture of my grandmother in the bottom of an old drawer years after I'd finished the movie. See the amazing similarity?" she asks.

She closes the book, then continues, "Somewhere in Time had an enormous effect on people and was one of the reasons I wrote my guide to romantic living. I guess I feel more at home in the Victorian era than I do today."

The door to the patio opens, and a nanny comes out with Jane's two redhaired children. She hugs the children, then says, "I guess everything is a compromise. I may never become the world's greatest actress, because I've gotten married and had children. But I've rarely been disappointed -ultimately."

And does Jane Seymour want to continue acting when she's 80?

"Oh, yes! I must always have something to do with films, television, or theater. I love it. I thrive on it. Like Helen Hayes and like Ruth Gordon, I think people who work until they are older are much happier."

Step aside for the "dowager" queen of the miniseries.
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Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Millner, Cork
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Article Type:Interview
Date:May 1, 1989
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