'Birds of Paradise' 's Jacqueline Bisset on Her 50-Year Career, a Date with Sinatra and More

"I didn't know anybody. I had no connections whatsoever to anything," Jacqueline Bisset tells PEOPLE about her 56 years working in Hollywood

jacqueline bisset
Photo: Getty

Few people have as starry and storied a career as Jacqueline Bisset.

56 years working in Hollywood (and counting), the English actress is perhaps most well-known for starring alongside screen legends like Frank Sinatra in The Detective, Steve McQueen in Bullitt, and in 1974's Murder on the Orient Express with Lauren Bacall, Albert Finney, and Ingrid Bergman.

Now costarring in Birds of Paradise (now streaming on Prime Video), Bisset walked PEOPLE through a few key career moments in this week's issue, including: her early modeling days, a memorable night out with Sinatra, being embarrassed about her Bond movie spoof character's name, and an Oscar winner with whom she'd still like to work.

"I certainly got lucky a lot," Bisset, 77, says of her nearly six decade-long acting career. "I read a lot of fairytales and I was a bit of a dreamer as a child, but I wasn't really attracted to the fluff of the business. I was attracted to the depth of what a female might be, which I knew nothing about."

Raised in Reading, England, by her father George, a doctor, and mother Arlette, a lawyer-turned-homemaker, Bisset says almost everything she learned about the business and being successful in it was by doing vs. studying or taking classes.

The Detective
20th Century Fox/Kobal/Shutterstock

"I didn't know anybody. I had no connections whatsoever to anything," she says.

Although her first paying gigs were waitressing at restaurants, it was her brief period of modeling that eventually helped get her into film work.

"Somebody suggested that I try taking some photos for modeling, which was not interesting to me, but I thought, well, if I can earn some money I'll do it," Bisset recalls, adding that her slightly curvy figure (by modeling standards) prevented her from finding any success there. "I had a few embarrassing moments when they told me to hide behind somebody else in the shots. And I thought, 'This is a humiliating job,' " she shares. "I wasn't fat, but I was definitely what they call voluptuous. That was not my career, that was the preparation for it."

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Bisset attributes her first few film roles to the fact that productions were looking for unknown actresses, like in Roman Polanski's Cul-de-sac and Two For the Road with Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney.

"My role was small, so I really enjoyed it," she says of Road. "And I was fascinated watching Audrey Hepburn. And I got quite a lot of attention from it, from people who wanted to sign me up [for their projects]."

Warner Bros/Kobal/Shutterstock

For much more on Jacqueline Bisset, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE on newsstands Friday

Another one of Bisset's early career highlights was working with Frank Sinatra on The Detective, in which she was cast to replace Mia Farrow when the former couple was going through their divorce.

"I got cast to replace her," says Bisset. "We first met [on location] on the beach and he handed me a cup of tea or coffee and said, 'I'm Frank Sinatra.' And I thought, 'Oh yeah, you need an introduction?' I thought it was so sweet that he would introduce himself. And we started working. And that was pretty amazing. He was very nice to me. Very protective, and called me 'the kid,' but he was feeling unhappy with what was going on in his life."

Bisset says he later surprised her with a last-minute plan to take her with him to the New York premiere of The Detective.

Murder On The Orient Express

"He took me to the premiere in New York. There are pictures of me in a long white dress and him in his tux," she recalls. "I was staying at the Plaza Hotel which is very grand. He called my room and I didn't know who he was. He said, 'This is Francis Albert.' I said, "I'm sorry, I think you have the wrong number, I don't think I know you. I'm sorry.' He said, 'Oh for God's sake, this is Frank!' He says, 'I'll be there in 20 minutes, order me a vodka.' I could hardly speak. [Around 20 minutes later] he arrived, drank his vodka, and we went down through the hotel. I couldn't believe I was going to walk through the hotel with him."

Bisset says she feels as though she was very lucky with the people she has worked with, and frequently felt protected by her male costars.

"I think I was quite soft. And I think people were nicer then, generally, and I was very polite," she recalls. "People said 'You were like a little butterfly. You were so fragile.' I really did not have trouble with all the stories that people talked a lot about [with the MeToo movement]. I was also very determined not to have anything happen. I've worked with people who have got the reputation of being monsters, but they weren't."

Birds of Paradise
Amazon Studios

One of her favorite female costars is Lauren Bacall, with whom she appeared in the 1974 ensemble Murder on the Orient Express.

"Oh, I love Lauren Bacall. She was so sassy. Sassy," says Bisset of the Golden Age, Oscar-nominated star. "She was tough with me and very warm at the same time. We got on well."

Her latest film, Birds of Paradise, combines three interests in one: an early love of ballet, her fluency in French, and acting. She hopes to stay busy with her career and has plenty left on her acting to-do list.

"I do love working, when it's interesting. I get a real buzz from it, and I enjoy being around people I wouldn't meet otherwise," Bisset says. "I'd like to work with lots of people. I like Robert De Niro very much. I don't know what show I would be put in with him. I'd probably be put in as his mother."

Birds of Paradise is now streaming on Prime Video.

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