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Bisset Calls It T-e-l-e-v-i-s-i-o-n

March 22, 1985|MORGAN GENDEL | Times Staff Writer

Jacqueline Bisset, actress, movie star and sometime film producer seemed annoyed at the notion that she was "doing TV."

It's not the medium that irks her but the vocabulary.

"I hate the word TV, Bisset said, lounging in her cozy Benedict Canyon home the other day. "It's 'television.' That's from my mother: Don't call it TV. Te-le-vi-sion."

It's best to clear that up early, because some form of the word undoubtedly pops up in any interview with Bisset these days.

Starting Sunday, she can be seen on Home Box Office in "Forbidden," starring opposite "Das Boot's" Jurgen Prochnow as a German countess romantically involved with a Jew in World War II Berlin. The presentation will be repeated through April 15.

On Tuesday, Bisset has the title role in "Anna Karenina," a three-hour CBS special that also stars Christopher Reeve and Paul Scofield.

In her 18 years here, during which she's made about three dozen films, Bisset never before volunteered for the small screen.

"I had had the odd offer and the sort of material I didn't think was very original," she said. "I wasn't sure I wanted to change formats, having been used to a big screen.

"But sometimes as an actor you can get caught up in the whole thing and forget what it was that you really wanted to do--which is act. The thing is the material, and this material was first-class."

The two projects certainly provided Bisset, 40, with the roles of "substance" she said she is always looking for.

She actually felt "unwomanly" during much of "Forbidden," Bisset recalled, so deeply did she get beneath her role as a woman who becomes her lover's "jailer." In screenwriter Leonard Gross' adaptation of his book "The Last Jews in Berlin," the countess was forced to hide the aristocratic German Jew in her apartment.

It's difficult to picture Bisset as ever being "unwomanly," at least not while she curls up on a sofa in ankle socks, tennis shoes and a V-neck sweater.

But on screen in "Forbidden"--and even talking about her character--she's convincing.

"Holding somebody down and nagging him not to do this and not to do that," Bisset explained, the countess was exchanging male-female roles. "I think women like to see men--I personally like a man--to grow and to prosper."

"Anna Karenina," Bisset's first period piece, provided her with another tragic character, though Tolstoy's tale isn't as dark as Gross'. "It's dark-light," she suggested. "It's a story about emotion. But it's not 'Singing in the Rain' . . . maybe 'Weeping in the Snow'?"

Yes, the real Jackie Bisset does have a sense of humor. She says she'd love to do a comedy--\o7 another\f7 comedy, if you count "Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?"

Her polite but forthright demeanor, the occasional easy laugh, the warmth of her country-French digs, all seem to belong to some exceptionally attractive homemaker, maybe one who paints or plays piano on the side--not the celebrity who jets between Hollywood and New York and shares much of her time with ballet-star-turned-actor Alexander Godunov.

"I've always been drawn to the everyday things in life, rather than the glamorous, in fact. What really interests me are the details of daily life," she said.

That applies to her personal life as well as to the kinds of scripts that most engage her. "I think my range is quite broad, and I don't think people necessarily know that yet," she said. The combination of "Anna Karenina" and "Forbidden" "will show a lot of that."

Just being a beautiful, skilled actress isn't enough these days.

"At the moment it seems to be a youth market almost completely. For women, the (sought-after) age seems to be 25, 20--even younger. What would I do in 'Splash'?"

Though a cursory inspection suggests that Bisset could easily play a woman in her early 30s, she acknowledged that "I'm sort of in an in-between age at the moment.

"In 'Rich and Famous,' I chose to play older than myself. 'Under the Volcano'--I think of her as a very mature character. But I don't particularly want to play mothers and stuff--not yet, though I've done that."

Bisset said that successful projects by Jane Fonda and others convinced her that working in cable and commercial TV would not be an underwhelming career move.

When she first read "Forbidden," "I thought, 'It's for cable and I don't think I want to do cable at this point.' And then I kept on reading (scripts) and everything I liked seemed to be for cable.

"I also think times are changing. Things are being done that are more interesting, in a sense, on television. They're dealing with material that's more intimate. That's where you get to do some acting, rather than changing sets and being thrown about and competing with machines."

Since she comes from England, Bisset said, she doesn't think of television as the commercial script mulcher many critics here consider it to be. "I didn't have television as a child, but what I did see tended to be very good. I happen to like the coziness of English television."

She'd like her next project--as yet undetermined--to be a film, "because I wouldn't like to change the medium completely." She doesn't rule out future video work, "as long as I could have some say in how it's put together."

But that suggests a co-producer's role, which she held on "Rich and Famous," and she's not in the mood for that.

"At the moment I want to act, is what I'm thinking. I really feel like I'm buzzing emotionally, in a sense, and I would much like to do the work while I'm in that state of being.

"There are times when I'm not buzzing and I'm trying to regenerate and things are not happening. At the moment it really is happening; I feel very full.

"I've had my share of good parts. I've been lucky really. It's not very consistent, but I've been here for a long time. There's a kind of rhythm to things."

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