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Jackie Bisset's 'Death in Love' role inspired by her cat

Playing a Holocaust survivor and mother of two men, the actress had to act like a wild animal.

July 17, 2009|Susan King

Inspiration comes in many guises for a performer.

Jacqueline Bisset found her muse from an unfortunate incident involving her cat for her latest film, "Death in Love," which opens today.

Written and directed by Boaz Yakin, the controversial family drama casts Bisset as the rage-filled, sadistic mother of two adult but emotionally stunted boys (Josh Lucas and Lukas Haas).

Her character, simply known as Mother, had been abandoned by her parents during World War II and sent to a Nazi concentration camp where she fell in love with a Nazi doctor who was performing experiments on prisoners. Immigrating to America after the war, she married a handsome but weak-willed man whom she cheated on. Though she loves her sons, she flies into uncontrollable rages around them.

That's where Bisset's cat comes in.

"She was like a wild animal at times," says Bisset of Mother. "She was savage. I remember seeing my lovely little cat after it fell six flights and broke its paw. It turned into a wild and ugly creature. It reminded me when one is really frightened and angry, charm goes out the window."

Frightened and angry aren't two words usually associated with Bisset -- glamorous and beautiful would be more apropos based on her fabled film career that's included such classics as Francois Truffaut's "Day for Night" and "Bullitt" with Steve McQueen.

Though Hollywood has been home base for the 64-year-old actress, she has been in London for a while. "I have had more of an urge to see my family a bit and see whether I like England again because I haven't been here much," she says in a recent phone interview. "I have been in Europe. I went to Rome and Paris to see friends and catch up a bit in life."

She's also had the freedom to travel since the death of her dog, Scruffy, and her cat, Mouse. "I have always had animals," Bisset says, with a sigh. "It's a bit rough. When I see cats I go completely gaga. I get under the table if necessary to pet them."

Yakin thought Bisset would be perfect for the role of Mother after seeing her in Claude Chabrol's 1995 mystery thriller "La ceremonie."

"When Jacqueline was younger, she was beautiful but a bit cold and removed," he says. "As she's gotten older, her experience and pain has sort of filled her up. I think she's this incredibly sexy, vibrant presence that she wasn't before. We sent her the script and she responded."

Bisset was drawn to the film because "I couldn't believe that people who are seemingly so brilliant like the two boys are unable to have a life," she says. "It was pretty intense and pretty risky too."

The actress explains that the filmmaker wanted her to look a lot like his own mother. "She lent us a lot of jewelry and stuff," says Bisset of Yakin's mother. "I am not playing his mother exactly but some of it is based on her."

But Yakin won't really confirm or deny that she is based on his mother.

"Can I plead the Fifth?" he asks. But he notes, "I wrote this coming out of a five-year depression, two years of which were fairly suicidal. I was dealing with some very difficult things on the one hand. Psychologically, the film is very personal."

Bisset is scheduled to do another small independent film with a young director "when they get the money together." She is also high on a comedy she recently finished, "The Last Film Festival."

"I just did a pilot for a TV series that we just got released from that they didn't pick up," she says with a sense of relief. "It was a medical drama for CBS. I was very wary signing up for six years. I am really claustrophobic about being owned by anybody."

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susan.king@latimes.com

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