How I Escaped the Fashion Industry Sharks to Star in a Hollywood Movie with the Real Thing

Daily Mail (London), September 4, 2000 | Go to article overview

How I Escaped the Fashion Industry Sharks to Star in a Hollywood Movie with the Real Thing


Byline: BRIAN PENDREIGH

FOR years Saffron Burrows' inscrutable expression on the Paris catwalks hid her true feelings about the industry she loathed. Like many top models, she wanted to be in films.

Now, after taking her clothes off among the sharks in the Hollywood blockbuster Deep Blue Sea, she is about to achieve a new critical respect with her performance in a film of the classic play Miss Julie.

The role is regarded as the pinnacle of a stage actress's career, but Burrows rose admirably to the challenge without ever having performed the classics on stage or anywhere else.

Models have had a tough time in movies. Cindy Crawford was lampooned when she made the thriller Fair Game and other models have also met with disdain and snobbery in their attempts to break into Hollywood. But the only advice Burrows will offer her former colleagues is - stick to the catwalk.

'I think it's probably a rightful snobbery,' says the brown-eyed 27-year-old, toying with the grapefruit segments which constituted her breakfast during a recent visit to the Edinburgh Film Festival for the premiere's of two of her films, Miss Julie and Time Code.

'I've been acting since I was a kid doing youth theatre, so I don't feel that I'm coming from a modelling background. I grew up watching film and theatre and knowing what I wanted to do; and so I, too, share that snobbery.

'I think it's quite arrogant to walk into a profession and not understand it.' She maintains she never wanted to be a model, but did it because she was young - in her mid-teens when she started, and it gave her the chance to live in Paris as well as providing an opening into French television.

'I still dislike the fashion industry,' she says, the contempt evident in the steely edge of her voice. 'I disliked the people. Some of the people at the core of the industry I rather respected, certain designers, certain photographers. But when you get outside that core there's an enormous circle of playboys, who circumnavigate like vultures, waiting to pick up someone.'

Her film career has not been hindered by the fact that both Miss Julie and Time Code were directed by her live-in partner Mike Figgis.

Miss Julie is a faithful adaptation of the 19th Century Swedish play by August Strindberg with Burrows as a manipulative young aristocrat and the Scots actor Peter Mullan as the servant she seduces.

Time Code, now on release at cinemas throughout the UK, is a portrait of Hollywood power games and sexual intrigue and a highly experimental new type of filming. Four camera teams shot four different scenes at once. In the film they occupy a quarter of the screen each.

Burrows has not always had such a close relationship with directors - Woody Allen fired her from Celebrity five weeks into the shoot.

She looks every inch the model, all 72 willowy inches of her, from designer footwear to sunglasses nonchalantly pushed back on wavy blonde hair.

Her height has cost her several roles, from Grange Hill to Brave-heart, where Mel Gibson would have had to stand on tiptoes for any romantic scenes.

But Burrows is anything but a dumb blonde. The child of two schoolteachers, she casually mentions that she was able to start modelling before she turned 16 because she passed her GCSE exams early. 'I did everything a little bit early, being a tall child.' The truth is she was moved up a year at school because she was so far ahead of the other children.

Initially she took up modelling for one summer, with the intention of going on to do a degree in Politics and Drama.

SHE was still in her teens when she made her first feature film, which Ngozi Onwurah wrote specifically for her, having been inspired by Burrows and her Zimbabwean boyfriend.

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