Jane Seymour, ever the star, shines a light on dementia

      Jane Seymour. Image courtesy The Times



By © Jane Freebury

The star power of Jane Seymour can still light up the screen with her glamour, intelligence, sass and sense of fun.

The British-American actor, high profile since 1973 when she played a seductive tarot reader opposite James Bond in Live and Let Die, has been cast as strong and controversial women of history like opera diva Maria Callas, the socialite wife, Wallis Simpson, of an English king who abdicated, and the last French queen, Marie Antoinette. But she has never, as she confirmed last week in our free-ranging chat, been asked to play the third wife of Henry VIII, her namesake.

Seymour grew up in London as Joyce Frankenburg, daughter of an eminent medical specialist. As she entered the acting profession, she opted for the name Jane Seymour, after the young queen who famously kept her head but died giving birth to Henry’s only male heir.

While the young queen has a reputation as a bit of a wallflower, her contemporary namesake has had the husbands, four in fact, and is the mother of four children. During a long and extensive career Seymour has shown that she has been up for it, game for (almost) anything.

Now, as much as ever? ‘I’m really looking forward to B Positive, the latest Chuck Lorre sitcom in which I play an 85-year-old in a nursing home, the outrageous Bette.’ There are some hilarious clips of her in action in character online, a Dolly Parton lookalike.

Seymour now brings her celebrity wattage to the issue of dementia, one that is gradually getting more attention in the arts space

Jane had returned to Australia to promote her latest film, Ruby’s Choice, a family drama about dealing with dementia, directed by Michael Budd based on the screenplay by Paul Mahoney. Seymour now brings her celebrity wattage to the issue of dementia, one that is gradually getting more and more attention in the arts space.

It is a more unusual role for the actor, that relies less on her looks and vitality. She has now turned 71, and who would guess had she not been so upfront about it? ‘I like playing my generation, the boomers. Right now, it’s the boomer time – surprise, surprise! – and I’ve never been busier.’

In this new Australian film releasing across the country this week, she has the central role as Ruby a grandmother whose family realize she is succumbing to dementia. Although Ruby’s wardrobe and choice of car suggest a zest for life, this is not a glamorous role, like so much of Seymour’s work including the career-defining role in the 1990s TV series, Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman. But Seymour shows, once again, that she is up for a challenge.

In this gentle, sensitive drama, Ruby is initially living on her own until the day she accidentally burns her house down and has to move in with her daughter and her family while they decide on the next best step for Ruby in her condition.

Jane Seymour on set in Ruby’s Choice. Image courtesy Radioactive Pictures

The shoot took place in Windsor, NSW, during the first year of pandemic, 2020, after two weeks in quarantine for Seymour on arrival. ‘It was a labour of love for all, with a superb cast and crew. It was during Covid so we were locked down, and we really bonded. We really felt we were a family, rehearsing on Zoom for two weeks before the shoot. There was nothing else to do! We rehearsed the living daylights out of it.’

She shares the screen with other wonderful actors including Jacqueline McKenzie and Coco Jack Gillies, as Ruby’s daughter Sharon and granddaughter Tash. Together they make up three generations of strong women.

‘Now that we realize that one in two people will suffer from dementia as they age, it’s a huge issue that will affect whole families. Two uncles on my father’s side died of Alzheimer’s, and the stress of the care of one of them killed my aunt who died 20 years before my uncle, her husband!’

‘It was proof to me that if you can’t stave it off by having a career as a high-flying medical specialist and doing sudoku, what can you do? So, I think it’s really important to find a way for people to understand what dementia is, and to have a support group to deal with it.’

That Ruby takes up painting, an outlet that provides her with tremendous scope for expression, makes great good sense to the actor, a painter herself. ‘There are three things that people in nursing homes love the most – music, dancing and art.’

Ruby’s Choice is one of a raft of recent films on how people deal with a loved one who is aging. Films like another recent Australian film, June Again, Supernova, Falling, The Father, Amour and Still Alice from the international industry.

Over her long career, this actor has been up for it, game for just about anything

Though a winner of two Golden Globes, Seymour feels that the younger generation only know her for her cougar role in the hilarious Wedding Crashers back in 2005 opposite Owen Wilson who she heavies by dropping her gown and making an invitation. It’s a hoot. ‘I had always known I loved comedy, and I had done a lot in theatre before that.’

In recent years, she has appeared in the television series, The Kominsky Method, a male angst comedy about aging with Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin. In her role as Madelyn, a lover of Arkin’s character who reappears after his wife’s death, a blast from the past, she makes a strong impression. The trademark fringe and long chestnut tresses hanging free are hidden away under an attractive grey wig, but she still looks a million dollars, and the writing for her character is razor sharp.

How was it playing opposite Arkin in this Chuck Lorre comedy? ‘Chuck had suggested that I come along for the ride, so I didn’t have much of a clue about what was happening.’

Did you make an impression? ‘After I had played my part for a short while, Alan turned to the others on set, and said “I love this woman”’.

As Madelyn, a sexy, older woman, Seymour looks great with presence to spare, and it seems she doesn’t give a fig for the angst the men are plagued with.

All in all, things have never been rosier. ‘I think I’m in the best period of my life in terms of career. Harry Wild is coming out, my own series. You get your own at 70!’

‘I’m really excited about this role for Irish television. I play a retired literature professor who realizes a serial killer’s murders have been following a pattern from literature, so she joins her detective son in the investigations.’

‘I’ve never been busier. I’m really so blessed.’

First published in the Canberra Times on 5 March 2022. Jane is also published on Rotten Tomatoes