Genevieve Bujold: Return of a risk taker

By Barney McDonald

Dead Ringers' star Genevieve Bujold needs some light in her life these days, finds Barney McDonald

Genevieve Bujold in 'Still Mine'.
Genevieve Bujold in 'Still Mine'.

The last time I saw French Canadian actress Genevieve Bujold, twin gynaecologists in the midst of a psychotic meltdown of biblical proportions were repeatedly defiling her. It wasn't an easy film role, but Bujold has forged a lengthy career taking risks, even if David Cronenberg's 1988 classic Dead Ringers must have seemed downright crazy on paper.

"It is considered the film of the 80s," says Bujold in a charming French accent from her pleasant home in Malibu. "Those films are not going to come my way any more and I don't think I could do them. But I have great respect for David. He's like a quiet priest and he comes out with those ideas."

Dead Ringers still resonates for audiences 25 years after its release because the performances of lead Jeremy Irons and Bujold were so edgy and disturbing. Both actors went to places in their roles that even the public struggled to comprehend. The film joined David Lynch's Blue Velvet as one of the most shocking of the era. In contrast, Bujold's subsequent career has ventured steadily towards more uplifting subject matter and characters, such as Irene Morrison in her new film, Still Mine.

"These days it's got to have some light in it," she says of her film choices. "It cannot be just dark. I do the films I'm supposed to do. I don't get that many offers but I do get some that I know immediately I do not want to be part of. I know what fits."

What fit comfortably for 70-year-old Bujold was the character of Irene, an Alzheimer's sufferer married to the same man, a farmer, for six decades. Based on a true story, the film is set in New Brunswick, an idyllic farming community bordering Maine and Nova Scotia, about 1000km east of Bujold's birthplace, Montreal. Determined to continue caring for his ailing wife, Craig decides to build a new, more manageable home for Irene, despite the fact he has no permits, just a wealth of knowledge. Inevitably, conflict arises when bureaucracy threatens to derail his good intentions.

"Still Mine was my first lead in almost two decades," admits Bujold. "I had done good parts and they were all interesting because they were necessary for the story. But Still Mine was a gift. I kind of needed it somewhere deep in me because now I might have more willingness to accept a film that requires less of me. It's bigger than me now."

Approaching her 60th year in the film industry, Bujold's love of the work emits as vibrant and focused. She is renowned for staying virtually in character during production. "On every film, I go from the set to my hotel room, and from my hotel room to the set," she laughs. "I don't watch TV. I don't want to know what's happening in the world at that time. I do that when I'm not working. Yes, I'm curious about what's happening on the planet but, during filming, I'm so heartily concentrated. I can't wait for dawn to come so I can go and be on the set."

She also revels in the freedom to pass on her knowledge to a younger generation. "There is a way in which you are teaching others," she says. "It's hard to put into words without sounding pretentious or full of yourself. It's just that they're hungry for it."

Living close to Hollywood might tempt a younger, more starry-eyed actress out of her haven and into the trappings of the industry, but Bujold has left the distraction of those years behind.

The expelled Catholic schoolgirl who once graced the cover of Time magazine (looking remarkably like the doppelganger of Katherine Ross or Ali McGraw) is content living life in a slower lane with long-term partner Dennis Hastings. "When I'm not working I'm passionate about keeping a physical discipline," she says. "I take care of my own scene, like my little garden. I'm passionate about the garden. I live a very quiet life in nature. At night, when I open the door, I'm in nature. I'm a bit of an insomniac and the sound of the night here, with the owls, crickets and coyotes, plus the sound of the ocean, is very alive."

At her current tender age, Bujold counts herself fortunate that her health hasn't failed her, contending that being creative with everythingis a recipe for a long and happy life. Clearly, she's on the right track.

"I keep quoting that wonderful actress Bette Davis, who said, 'Getting old is not for sissies'," laughs Bujold. "She meant it and it's true. I want to be in the now, as much as possible.

"I take care of myself, as much as I can, and keep my mind well cultivated. I don't look back. Some people say, 'What's the matter with you?' It's not that I don't like the past, it's just that it's gone."

Still Mine opens in cinemas this Thursday, June 20.

- Herald on Sunday

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