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Q & A

'Fanny Kemble,' Jane Seymour's Labor of Love

April 21, 2000|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Emmy Award-winning Jane Seymour trades in her "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" buckskin for satin and lace to play a famed 19th century British actress in Sunday's Showtime drama "Enslavement: The True Story of Fanny Kemble."

After years of seeing Seymour play the wholesome Dr. Quinn on the CBS drama, fans may be shocked to find the actress in a nude love scene with co-star Keith Carradine.

Produced by Seymour and her husband, James Keach, who also directs and has a minor role, "Fanny Kemble" tells the fact-based tale of the famous actress who gave up her career for marriage to a wealthy Southern attorney, Pierce Butler (Carradine).

Their rocky marriage gets rockier when the couple moves to Butler's Georgia plantation. Shocked at her first look at slavery, Fanny is determined to improve the slaves' living conditions. Helping her is neighbor Dr. Huston (Keach), who is involved in and introduces her to the underground railway, which helped slaves to freedom.

Kemble's memoir "A Journal of a Residence on a Georgia Plantation," which became a bestseller in the U.S. and England in 1863, helped move the British government to cut off financial aid to the Confederacy.

Seymour, 49, talked about "Fanny Kemble" earlier this week by phone from New York, where she was caught in a traffic jam on the way to the airport.

*

Question: Had you heard of Fanny Kemble when you were growing up in England?

Answer: I hadn't, but I knew the Kemble acting family because they are a very famous family. But when we first saw this project, we loved it and we couldn't believe we had never heard of her. When we did the research, we found there was very little research to be found in America, but tons of it in England and Canada.

We felt it was a different take on what happened in America at that time and what a remarkable woman she was because her actions stopped the British government from financially supporting the South in the Civil War. It's amazing. One wonders if the British had put their money behind the South if things would have been different.

Q: Was the script already written when you and James became involved with the project?

A: No. We were shown the idea and we hired a writer, Chris Lofton. We worked on it for five years trying to get it made. It was a labor of love.

Q: Speaking of love, was it uncomfortable to have your husband direct you in the nude love scene with Carradine?

A: A lot of people have said that is the hottest they have seen me in a love scene! Well, it wasn't difficult at all. We have done a lot of movies where I have been in love scenes. Almost everything I ever do there is usually a love interest. When we work together, it is very professional. I come in as the actress and not as his wife. I behave like the rest of the actors, and he behaves like a director. Keith Carradine is one of James' closest friends, so it probably was more uncomfortable for Keith than it was for me.

Q: You play Americans so often, don't you think people will be surprised to hear you use your own accent in this film?

A: I know people probably think I talk like Dr. Quinn, but I don't. Fanny Kemble is my real voice. James said to me when we started our production company he was going to find a piece of material that could really showcase what I could do, and this is what he came up with.

Q: Not only were the African Americans enslaved on the plantation, so was Fanny in marriage.

A: We wanted to tell several things in the story, including the enslavement of marriage at that time. You fall in love with a man who says he loves you for who you are, and the minute he marries you he stops you from being everything you are. She was unable to publish her [journal]. She was criticized for anything she would say or do. He tried to stop her from writing.

Q: Was it difficult for the African American actors to portray slaves?

A: A lot of African American actors don't want to do anything with slavery anymore. They don't even consider acting in it. When they read the script, they loved it and they all said yes. Everyone I know who is an African American has loved the movie and really felt it was a good story to be told.

Q: But wasn't it horrible to reenact the gruesome whipping and beating scenes?

A: It was very hard to act it and very hard to watch it. Every time the N-word was used, there were long speeches given to everyone in the room saying we have to say it for the movie, but that we in no way condone it. The whipping scenes were just devastating to watch and even to be a part of. No one ever got hit--it is the magic of cinema--but the image is so horrifying. I don't know if you noticed, but the extras were incredible, especially when I got whipped, this one woman literally shrieked.

Q: Being a mother, could you have given up your children like Kemble did?

A: I can't even imagine [giving up my children]. But her belief was, and I think mine would be too, if I had to make that kind of choice, that my children would ultimately see who I was and respect me for the choice that I have to make.

Q: Didn't you recently receive an honor from the queen of England?

A: I was very thrilled that the queen gave me one of the highest honors in the country. I got the O.B.E.--Officer of the British Empire--for services of diplomacy around the world. It's carrying yourself as a good British citizen. I am going to Buckingham Palace in July, but officially I already have the honor.

Q: Would you ever think of doing another TV series?

A: If the networks wanted me to, absolutely I would.

* "Enslavement: The True Story of Fanny Kemble" will be shown Sunday at 8 p.m. on Showtime. The network has rated it TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children younger than 14).

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