Venice 2012: Kristin Scott Thomas on Her Latest Roles and Her Discontent with the Oscars

The Weinstein Company

The star discusses her role as a “terrifying godmother” in Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Only God Forgives," her twisted love for Brian de Palma and how Prince kick-started her career.


VENICE - With the Venice film festival in full swing, 52-year-old British actress Kristin Scott Thomas came to the Lido to promote her latest film Looking For Hortense, by French director Pascal Bonitzer, a comedy about a professional couple that splits up.

Scott Thomas also gave glimpses into films she is currently working on - Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives, a story about a Bangkok police lieutenant and a gangster who settle their differences in a Thai-boxing match, also starring Ryan Gosling, and Ralph FiennesThe Invisible Woman, the story of author Charles Dickens' secret mistress that is Fiennes' second take as a director.

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But in her conversation with Alexandra Zawia, she also talked about her discontent with LA and the Oscars, how Princeprompted her to start acting, and how Nicolas Winding Refn told her to stop.

The Hollywood Reporter: Did you ever count the amount of cigarettes you had to smoke as a divorcing wife in Looking For Hortense?

Kristin Scott Thomas: I know, it is horrible! I don’t even smoke privately, and I was always looking for people to give me those fake cigarettes without tobacco in them. But they never had any on set, so I had to light up one after the other to not really smoke them, but pretend to do so. I always seem to play smokers in films, I don’t know why. It probably calms my theatrically trained facial expressions as an actress, which don’t always come in handy in the films I play in. I never get to run around and shoot guns for a film, maybe I would have liked that much more, a career in adventure films. But I really never wanted to make films anyway. I fell in by mistake.

THR: What mistake?

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Scott Thomas: Prince. When I was 23, I was doing a play and I got a call from my casting agent if I wanted to audition for a small role in a film that Prince was doing. This was back in 1983, and I had been listening non-stop on my walkman to Prince. So I took it as a sign and went. Then I just fell in and got stuck with this idea that I could be a star. I didn’t really know what that meant, but I realized I might commit myself to some kind of path I wasn’t sure I wanted to [take]. Anyway, I went to Los Angeles. I stayed for three months and came back.

THR: Los Angeles was not your type of city?

Scott Thomas: I came back to Europe because I felt the competition here was not that aggressive. There was not so much pressure being put on the way you look, the way you behave. I am terrified of competition. It makes me feel quite sick, so I just didn’t want to go down that road because I knew that would be the road to hell.

THR: On Friday, Brian de Palma's Passion, a remake of your film Love Crime, premieres in the Venice competition. How do you feel about that remake?

Scott Thomas: I had no idea, in fact. But isn’t Brian de Palma the king of remakes? Or maybe we should rather call them “tributes.” I really like Brian de Palma, in a twisted way. He gave me the most outrageous acting direction once on Mission: Impossible. I was acting away, and he says “Cut, cut, cut! You are in Alabeta and you are a spy. You look like you are surveying your estates in Russia.” Stop acting, right? I should write a book: “Pieces of directing I have loved.”

THR: What is Ralph Fiennes like as a director? You have starred next to him in The English Patient and will now play in his new film The Mother of The Mistress.

Scott Thomas: He is very thoughtful and considerate. I’m playing the evil scheming mother, lurking in the background, and popping out in just the right moments.

THR: And just a couple of days ago, Nicolas Winding Refn reported you will be playing a “terrifying godmother” in his next film...

Scott Thomas: I am sure a lot of people will like to see me as a godmother. But I still don’t get to shoot guns, but I will smoke a lot of cigarettes again! I haven’t seen anything of the film yet, and I am terrified, to put it that way. I was aware of the character being particularly nasty, and it is that sort of character that when I think about her and what I had to do to be her, it kind of fills me with shame. I think it’s pretty horrid. But acting isn’t about fun anyway.

THR: Isn't it great to play someone really different than what you played before?

Scott Thomas: Yes, I loved working with Refn, it’s just so freeing, it was really great fun. And this feeling of danger...because I was very out of my range, I had the feeling I had to stay really focused all the time, nothing was not controlled, if you know what I mean. That was very hard. A film like Looking For Hortense much more meets my universe, whereas in a Refn film, the dialogues are partly insane. At one point, Refn even said to me “Stop acting!” I have to admit, I was a bit upset about that.

THR: Did he want some improvisation?

Scott Thomas: Not really, but he wants no sugar coat. While we were shooting in Bangkok, we were communicating with the writer via Skype. He was basically turning our pages and had an eye on the dialogues being mean enough. Ryan (Gosling) was particularly helpful in that, giving me some mean language input with words I didn’t know even existed.

THR: Is that maybe a role that holds Oscar potential for you after The English Patientin 1997?

Scott Thomas: You know, it all depends on the campaigning. And it is the campaigning that I find quite distasteful. All the sponsors and things like that. From 1997 onwards, I found myself being bombarded with people wanting me to wear their clothes. In the beginning, I was really excited and flattered, and then I realized I was just a billboard. Now I realize I was so naïve. I didn’t see how much wheeling and dealing was going on behind [the scenes]. You tend to think “Oh, they love me, they want to give me an Oscar, how wonderful!” But actually, it is not at all like that, it is a business thing, and you are just fine in the shop window. But, obviously, if I had a collection of Oscars in my lounge, I would tell you a completely different story, I guess.