Saturday, December 09, 2006

Article: Interview from 2000

In this coming May's The Last September, a studied but sensuous look at Ireland's last days under British rule in 1920, Keeley Hawes proves herself a seductive new screen talent as an innocent wild child with a Louise Brooks bob and a sexual energy she barely comprehends. This daughter of a Cockney cabbie has already intrigued British TV audiences with her fine performances as corseted Victorians in Oars. Mutual Friend and Wives, and Daughters and broke type as '50s screen siren Diana Dors in Blonde Bombshell. Hawes made her movie debut in 1958's The Avengers and recently completed her third film, Complicity, a contemporary thriller co-starring Jonny Lee Miller.

DAVID BAHR: How did you get into acting?

KEELE HAWES: I grew up in Marylebone in London and the Sylvia Young Theater School was across the road from where I lived. I used to walk past it and hear them all singing. I was like, I went to go there. So my mum got me in. I gut a grant, so it was free. I stayed there for ten years.

DB: Emma Bunton--Baby Spice--went to the same school, right?

KH: Yeah. I lived with her for about six months. [laughs] We used to go on caravan [trailer] holidays.

DB: Did you stay friends?

KH: We did for a while. I'm thrilled for her. We are very similar: My father was a cab driver and hers was a milkman.

DB: So what did you do when you graduated?

KH: I worked at Casino and then modeled for a year.

DB: How was that?

KH: I didn't enjoy it. I was doing lots of catalogs and young magazines--the cheesy end of the business-- not runways. You have to be much thinner than I am to do that. When I started, it was when Kate Moss was launched and suddenly everybody was stick thin. But I've got all these bits and pieces [grabs her butt].

DB: How'd you get your first break?

KH: A casting director who saw my picture in some magazine wanted me to audition for Karaoke, one of the last TV plays Dennis Potter wrote before he died. Saffron Burrows and I were both launched in that.

DB: You did The Avengers. Was it unnerving working with Sean Connery, Ralph Fiennes, and Uma Thurman?

KH: It was certainly unnerving being introduced to them all in one day.

DB: I never saw the film.

KH: Well, I wouldn't put yourself out if you've got other things to watch. It was odd. You could smell the money and I didn't like that. It seemed like that's why everybody was there.

DB: Did you know much about Diana Dors before you took the role in Blonde Bombshell?

KH: I had no idea she had been this sex symbol starlet. I remember when she died in the '80s. At the time, she was on morning TV programs doing interviews. By then she'd ballooned out and wasn't very well. She looked like Elvis.

DB: You put on fifteen pounds for the part. Was that traumatic?

KH: It was actually quite lovely. Having a reason to do it suddenly made it OK. I've never been tiny anyway.

DB: Did it make a difference to your career in Britain?

KH: I think it did, only because people were used to seeing me playing lots of Victorians. When you play the pretty young thing in costume dramas, it's very easy to keep batting your eyelids.

DB: Dors had more of an unrestrained sexuality than the parts you usually play. Did you feel uncomfortable doing that?

KH: It was completely overt. It was huge camp fun. I mean look at her--you couldn't help but camp it up. I looked like a drag queen. I'm five foot eight and with heels on, I'm towering. I was bigger than all the guys in the film. There was something quite nice in that.

DB: I noticed the guy you came in with. Is he your boyfriend?

KH: Yeah. His name's Spencer.

DB: What did he think of your physical transformation into Dors?

KH: I don't think the liked it very much. He preferred me in the morning. By the time I came home, I was covered in pancake and had no eyebrows. They just plucked them all and drew them in.

DB: What does Spencer do?

KH: He's a bit of an entrepreneur. He's got an adult cartoon in production. We are going to try and make a documentary. That gets me going, doing things like that. We like to sit around and use our imaginations.

DB: So do you want to be famous?

KH: I'm ambitious, but I'm not ruthless in any way. It was never something that I was hungry for. I don't come from that. I come from something so normal. I know that I can always do something else besides act. It's not going to drive me crazy.

DB: So you're not plotting your career out like some actors do?

KH: That's hilarious. You can't plot out this business. So you shouldn't even try.

(From Interview, February 2000, by David Bahr.)

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