For two days now torrential rains and 50-mph winds have battered the coast at Salvador, Brazil, and director Zalman King (co-producer of 9½ Weeks) is having a tough go of it filming his new neurotic, erotic thriller, Wild Orchid. Mickey Rourke is up to his shins in mud, the walls of the set—a 16th-century mansion—arc soggy as sponges, and Hooded roads have turned into impassable moats, marooning the movie’s cast and crew beyond the reach (consternation!) of the lunch-catering trucks. The storm may have dampened some spirits, but Wild Orchid’s leading lady has risen 12 floors above it. “Oh, I love this weather,” says Jackie Bisset, happily lazing in her penthouse hotel suite on a day off, “—so much more fun than sunny days.”
Bisset doesn’t pretend any similar affection for some recent career clouds—like last year’s barely seen big-screen dud High Season. Now, however, she may be on the verge of movie redemption. This week she makes her debut as Clare, a devilishly indulgent, has-been sitcom queen in Paul (Eating Raoul) Bartel’s new farce, Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills.
Co-starring Ed Begley Jr. and Ray Sharkey, the film—in which Beverly Hills houseboys race to get their wealthy matronly employers between the sheets-boasts what might be the wittiest and most literate script of Bisset’s career. And if the actress’s performances have been running low on steam lately, she’s the “locomotive of this movie,” says director Bartel, who also plays Clare’s thinologist (fat doctor). “If the movie were a balloon, she’d be the helium. If it were the soufflé, she’d be the egg whites.”
Although the British-born Jackie and her character both live in Beverly Hills and both are known for their distinctive dinner parties, they are two separate entities, says the actress. “Clare had been a dependent married woman, and her husband had been running around for years,” says Bisset. “She’s very frustrated.” Jackie, on the other hand, has never been married and split from her last long-term boyfriend, Russian ballet star Alexander Godunov, 39, about a year ago. “My parents were not an example of a happy marriage,” she says, explaining why she’s wary of the institution. “I saw my mother suffer a lot, and that left a strong impression on me.” The actress admits to thinking about children more than she used to, but feels that, even at age 44, “I’m still not ready.”
Nor, when she read Wild Orchid for the first time, did she think she was ready to take on the role of Claudia, an investment banker who becomes obsessed with an international financier played by Rourke. “I couldn’t deal with the heavy sensuality,” says Bisset. But after Anne (Fatal Attraction) Archer reportedly turned down the role because of its steaminess (Brooke Shields dropped out of another part for the same reason), Bisset reread the script and decided the movie “looked like fun. I thought it was good for me.”
It’s also a risk. “It could be really great or it could be terrible,” she says. And that statement, with all its fatalistic acceptance of glory or failure, could also be taken to apply to Bisset’s unsettled emotional life. “The men I’m with are always kind, smart and exciting,” says Bisset. ” ‘But they’re also volatile. That’s one of the things that attracts me to them, but it doesn’t make for easy relationships.” Before Bisset’s near-seven-year romance with Godunov, she lived with actor Michael Sarrazin for seven years and, prior to that, with film producer Victor Drai for seven. Serial itch? Although she says she’s on friendly terms with Godunov (“we just went our separate ways, but we still talk on the phone”), she is as tight-lipped about the particulars of their split as she is about her new boyfriend, an actor she recently visited in Hungary. “I met him after I broke up with Alex, and we’ve been together for some time now,” she says. Period.
When she’s not on location, Bisset splits her time between her childhood home, a 400-year-old thatch-roofed cottage in the countryside of Surrey, England, and a large stone house in L.A. Class Struggle is a send-up of the popular notion of the latter area’s social scene, but in reality, says Bisset, Beverly Hills “is really staid. Everybody is obsessed with climbing the social status ladder. It’s a very un-sexy place.” How unsexy? “I’ve never been to a party there and seen a couple making out in the bushes. Maybe I haven’t been to the right parties.”
She’s certainly still good-looking enough to be invited. “My skin isn’t as tight as it used to be,” demurs Bisset, “but in some ways I am more beautiful now.” The eyes are still transfixing, the smile a strong white flash and the figure good enough for a leotard shot in Class Struggle. Svelte like this doesn’t come cheap. Bisset brings her own fresh fruits and vegetables to location and is often up at 3:15 A.M. to work out on her rowing machine before the 7:00 A.M. set call. “Torture,” she says. “Absolute torture.”
But bearable in that Bisset is presently presiding over one of the best times of her life. “I accept the fact when I’m down,” she says. “But right now I’m at a peak, professionally as well as personally, where everything just seems to be going the way I want.”
—Margot Dougherty, John Maier in Salvador, Brazil