The former heroine of ‘King Kong’ and, even more famously, ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice’, talks about her passion for France and for its lifestyle. We met an epicurean actress who is not a drama queen when it comes to food and wine.
In my research, I found out you studied for a while in Paris…
Yes, with the longstanding master of mime, Etienne Decroux. Street mime is perhaps not as commonplace as it used to be. It’s a very abstract form of art. My only prop was my white make-up! It was an amazing experience.
I was born in Minnesota. My father was a salesman and as he constantly changed jobs, we often had to move house. We used to live like gypsies, always travelling to somewhere new, always packing our suitcases. I didn’t actually mind. In fact, it made me want to travel even more. I had itchy feet and needed to constantly question my lifestyle and my little routines. Actually, I have always hated routine. It’s the same with wine, I don’t just stick to a single brand or area. I like to improve my palate, introduce it to something new. Basically, I’ve always wanted to travel the world and learn from being with others. After living in the Soho community in New York, I flew to Paris in 1971, where I stayed for two years!
I imagine it was a great opportunity for you to taste some decent French wines!
You know, the French are very proud of their land, their gourmet foods, their haute couture, their culture, history, traditions, cheeses and of course their wines. The minute they see a tourist, particularly an American one, they feel the need to ‘sell’ you their local products. But I don’t blame them. They certainly have plenty of reasons to be proud! (laughs)
My knowledge of wine was very scant. In fact, I knew nothing about wine. My taste buds hadn’t yet experienced the joys of being introduced to the great growths. During the two years I spent in Paris, over meals with local friends and various parties, I became more familiar with the world of wine making. I came to understand that in the French lifestyle, wine wasn’t just a drink, it was a way of reaching out to others. It is also a bridge between past and present.
At 65, your complexion is still as clear as ever. What is your secret? Wine?
In moderation, I’m sure it can’t do any harm. Recently, I read a study claiming that a substance found in red wine (Ed. reservatrol, a compound, or more specifically, a polyphenol belonging to the stilbenoid group) protects the body from inflammatory reactions and therefore potentially deadly diseases. Apart from wine, I also eat organic vegetables that I grow myself and avoid wasting my time on trivial things!
What is the thing in life that scares you most?
Politicians, anti-epicureans and people who don’t finish their glass of Bordeaux! (laugh) That, to me, is heresy!
You said one day that you didn’t like your photo being taken, and yet ironically you like taking photos…
You’re right! I like photography but I only use actual film. I have a Leica M6 and I only shoot in black and white. I like looking through the eyepiece and not on a tiny digital screen. I also like to hear the ‘click’ and wind the film on manually, just like I enjoy turning the lens manually. I like going out and meeting people and don’t take photos without people knowing. I collect photos by Walker Evans, Cartier-Bresson and Koudelka, all photographers who express their talent by taking pictures in the street. The street is about life and movement, and it’s the ideal place to shoot black and white photos. My favourite photographer is Walker Evans. He did an extraordinary job of immortalising the Great Depression, a time when – believe me – millions of Americans couldn’t buy fine wines! The result of which was plain for all to see during Prohibition!
I read somewhere that you love walking through vineyards…
I love Bordeaux because as soon as you leave the city, you’re amongst vineyards. I have a great love affair with wine. It’s a passion that has never disappointed me and that I want to last. When you visit that part of France, there is a consistency in the quality. The wines are good, the food is healthy, simple and unpretentious. Just like the people you meet! It forms a whole and that whole suits me perfectly!
Interview by Frank Rousseau in Los Angeles