Friday, 1 February 2013

interview: Martine Beswick

In 1998 I was at a film fair in Chesterfield where the added value was an appearance by the very lovely Martine Beswick. Best known for her Hammer and Bond roles, Martine’s other genre films include Trancers 2, Critters 4, Cyclone and Magic Island. In Chesterfield she very graciously granted me an interview which I was never able to place anywhere, so here it is for the first time.

The film you’re best known for is possibly Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde. What do you remember about getting that role?
“Basically they had Ralph Bates and they had been trying to find a woman to go with him as Sister Hyde and they were having no luck. And all of a sudden I swanned into town and I was seeing all my friends, and I went into my old agency, from being in America. I just swanned in and said, ‘Hello, darlings,’ and they said, ‘Oh my God, you’ve come just in time. You have to do this. Hammer are desperate for a Sister Hyde.’ I said, ‘Sister Hyde?’ and he said, ‘Yes, yes, Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde,’ and I said, ‘Oh my God, that’s so hilarious! Okay.’ So I went and met all my old friends at Hammer, including Michael Carreras who I adore, and that was it.”

Was it because you and Ralph were actually quite similar?
“Well, yes but we really didn’t look alike. It was just that for some reason we just worked well together. I don’t know, it was a spirit, that’s all I can say. Because if you look at us we did not have any features that were really alike. It’s just the whole way, and actually when you start to work together, especially when you’re working with two having one body, so to speak, you do get quite into it!”

Did you and Ralph work together to make the two characters similar?
“Yes. We were constantly in each other’s clothes, on each other’s bodies, touching. Our hands became each other’s hands.”

Isn’t there a transformation scene where he ducks behind a chair and you come up?
“It’s really good. It’s one of those things that Roy Ward Baker was really excited about. It’s one of those great shots: it keeps moving, it doesn’t get cut, quite brilliant.”

Hammer was at its peak at this time. Was there a sense that it could go on forever, or did people foresee an end?
“My feeling about the whole thing was that they were coming into the 1970s - and nudity. When I did the Bond films, when I did Hammer films, nudity was just coming in. This is my own theory, but I have a sense that they were trying to keep up with the rest of the world which was baring breasts and everything else, as far as they could go. All of a sudden there was Hammer being pushed through the same thing.

“I think it undermined who they really were, I really do. I’ve always been of that opinion. Because there was a certain sort of style and campiness and elegance which was totally diminished when they started doing that. Because then of course it became more and more and more. In fact I fought with them about that, because they kept saying, ‘We’ve got to have full frontal nudity,’ and I said, ‘No, you do not. That’s not going to be good for the film.’”

Were the regular directors and producers a bit iffy about going in that direction?
“I don’t think they were really iffy about it, they just figured that they had to go in that direction, and they were going towards there, and I think it was a mistake. I really do, I think it was a major mistake. I think they should have kept it going; yes, they could have taken off a little bit, but they started getting really blatant. Because everybody else was blatant. And I think they took the wrong path, and I think that was the breaking point.”

Which was your first film for Hammer?
One Million Years BC. It was shot in the Canary Islands. It was amazing because it was 1965. I hear about Tenerife and all these places but we had nothing. We had to bring in cars because there was nothing on the island, really nothing. It was very primitive - and I loved it, it was really terrific.”

Did you have to learn an invented language for that?
“We made it up. We sat around and said, ‘What are we going to do?’ Literally. Don Chaffey and Michael Carreras and all of us sat around going, ‘Okay, what are we going to do for that?’ We’d go: ‘Ah gruh gummun t’kon.’ ‘Ah, that sounds good! Let’s use that.’”

Did that make multiple takes trickier?
“No, because what we did was we got the words down. We did actually put them down as language. But it was sitting around, making it up.”

The fur bikinis always looked very uncomfortable.
“They were uncomfortable because we were constantly in the water. They were dripping and sticking to us and getting really heavy. Actually, it was fine. It was like having a bikini on but it was in leather.”

Were you in any of the special effects scenes with Ray Harryhausen’s monsters?
“Oh yes, that was funny. Because they’d be running around and spearing the air, and he’d be in a truck going, ‘Over here! Over here!’ while we’re all running around, doing whatever. He was directing us on the truck, showing us where to stab and do whatever. Then he’d fill it in later.”

What did you think when you saw the finished effects?
“Oh, amazing! He’s an amazing man! And such a lovely man too.”

Prehistoric Women is a film I haven’t seen.
“Oh, a classic! You’re missing out on that. A few days into One Million Years BC, Michael Carreras came to me and said, ‘Martine, I have a proposition for you. The next film. I want you to be my Queen.’ I said, ‘Well of course, darling. What is it?’ He said, ‘It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, and I’m directing.’ I said, ‘Why not?’ We became really, really great friends; he and his wife and I were really terrific friends. That’s what he said I had to be, and I said, ‘Of course’ - not even a question. So we went straight from that and redressed the sets of Million!”

A different fur bikini?
“Absolutely. And I got to have make-up on like Raquel did in Million. I never had make-up on in Million, but now I got to be the star so I got to wear make-up and eyelashes and things.”

How did you get into acting?
“I always wanted to be an actress. Contrary to reports in various magazines and books, I wanted to be an actress when I was four years old. I have no idea where it came from; I believe it was a destiny. Because my family had nothing; I had not seen television, I didn’t see movies. I didn’t see television till I was 12 when I came to England, so I had no idea. So I just made it up. I saw photographs and I saw magazines, but when somebody said, ‘What do you want to be, little girl?’ I said, ‘I want to be an actress.’ I have no idea where it came from.

“When I was in England, going to school, I ran across a friend who was doing drama in Richmond, and at this drama school they put on little playlets and little shows at Richmond Theatre. The woman’s name was Laura Weber, I think she had to do with Webber-Douglas and she was wild and an amazing woman. She did a lot of Shakespeare and a lot of movement and everything. I studied with her, so that was my beginning.

“Then a little gap happened and I had to go back to Jamaica and I started doing little tourist board films, being the star of the tourist board films. Then I got a little piece of film and somebody sent it to England and said, ‘This person is really terrific,’ and a huge agency called MCA wrote me and said, ‘When you’re in England, please come and see us.’ So when I came back to London I went to see them, and that was the beginning.”

What was your first proper feature?
“They put me up for Dr No, but I was too young and too inexperienced. When I met Terence Young, he said, ‘Look, I really like your looks, I think you have a future. Go and get some experience.’”

So what was the first feature you actually shot?
From Russia with Love. He said, ‘I’m going to use you as my gypsy.’ And he did. So I had a really trusting, nice beginning when I began in this business. People were not out to get me, and I didn’t find a really cut-throat business. What I found was a very nice director who just said exactly what he felt, and told me I was going to be in his next movie - and I was! So I trusted and I believed. Foolishly!”

Nowadays Bond pictures are big events - was that the case with the early ones?
Dr No made it a big hit and From Russia with Love was enormous, and there was Goldfinger and then Thunderball. By the time it hit Thunderball, it was massive. Absolutely massive. Everywhere you went in the world, people were tearing clothes off you. It was like being a rock star at that time, it really was. ‘Bond girl’ was the thing: ‘Bond girl! Bond girl!’ They would be screaming and chanting and trying to rock your limousine and tear your clothes off and tear your hair out. It was amazing, just amazing.”

Was it useful professionally?
“Well, it was fun. I have to tell you it was a lot of fun. Not great at that time in terms of career. But then one did not plan career moves as one plans them today. It’s not the same thing at all. You just thought, ‘Oh, that’s fabulous. Let’s do it. Oh, I love the thought of that - it’s fantastic and it’s wonderful.’ We didn't plan. I grew up in a different era.”

What’s your favourite role, or the one you’re most proud of?
Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde because I won an award for that. I got ‘Best Actress’ for that one in Paris, so that was nice. I suppose that was one of my best works. But I had a lot of fun with a lot of the things that I did. Prehistoric Women was the worst piece of rubbish, but I had such fun and I just ripped through it!”

Are you still acting?
“I haven’t done it for a few years, actually. I’ve sort of put it behind me. I’ve done little bits and pieces here and there. I’ll do a voice-over or a guest appearance in something, but I haven’t really focussed on it. When I did Wide Sargasso Sea, which was my last major film, what happened was that I played an older women and I think it damaged me, really damaged me. Because nobody could recognise me. And I really wanted to do the part because I loved the book and I wanted to do the movie.

“It was interesting that I should go back to Jamaica to do that. It was almost like a turning point, a completion of my career, in a way, on that level. So I’m back in England and I do have an agent and I think I will look into it next year coming. I’m just sitting at home right now. I’ve set it up - I’ve done Spotlight and Equity and all of that - so I’m completely set up. All I have to do is make up my mind to really go for it.”

Is there a problem that, although you’re still very attractive and you have this glamorous image, you might have to nevertheless aim for older roles?
“That’s the other thing that was happening - I fell through the crack in a way. I was too old to be young and too young to be old. What does one do? I’m also not exactly American, English or anything. I’m an ‘exotic’ like Merle Oberon was and it’s very difficult for an exotic to have a full career. Look at the exotics that happen. Karina Lombard is a perfect example. She was an exotic and she was a terrific actress actually and really had a thing. She went on to do a couple more things but I was afraid for her on that level because exotics are very hard to cast. And I’m still an exotic, so what am I going to do?”

interview originally posted 21st June 2007

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