How we met

Jane Campion and Kerry Fox (right). Photo / Supplied
Jane Campion and Kerry Fox (right). Photo / Supplied

Kerry Fox, 43, is an award-winning Kiwi actress best known for her roles in Jane Campion's An Angel At My Table, Danny Boyle's Shallow Grave and Patrice Chereau's Intimacy. She lives in London.

I walked into the audition for An Angel At My Table nervous but very determined, knowing that I had to figure out what the director was looking for but also feeling overwhelmed by the other people and the camera in the room. It took a while to dawn on me that this woman with the dark red beret, who I hadn't seen at first, was the director. I kind of remember her now as a shadow.

I was very young and very inexperienced, not just with the acting world, but the world. I knew that if I didn't do an amazing job at that moment, with the opportunity to act the beautiful script she had written, I wasn't worth my salt as an actor. I didn't get much reaction from Jane. Maybe that's why my first memory of her is quite cloudy visually.

I was living in this really cruddy flat with holes in the floor and she arrived at my door with a big bunch of yellow roses.

She said, "I would really love you to play the part". Me being me, I thought she was going to add, "but I've given it to someone else". I had to ask if she meant I had got it.

Jane is so interested in people. She loves to hear stories and all the juicy bits about your life. I've always asked her advice about things I've done, things I want to do, and she is instantaneous with her support. She got off the plane in London at 5am and came straight to see a matinee of the play I'm in - how many friends would do that?

She does what she wants, which I find admirable. Most of us feel swayed about what we think we should do, but Jane isn't. She has become sort of magnificent. Jane likes to be top princess, which makes me laugh, but since she has had her daughter, there are two top princesses in her house.

I love moments in her work where I see Jane herself, such as that bit in The Piano where Harvey Keitel puts his finger into the hole in Holly Hunter's tights. That for me is so Jane - the way she loves to pick at the raggedy bits of human nature.

Jane has taught me to be brave, to trust my instincts. I think doing a second film together [Bright Star] has enhanced our relationship. Some of the things I've read about why she chose me again amaze me - it's thrilling that one of the world's greatest directors thinks I'm a f***ing great actress.


Jane Campion, 55, is an award-winning Kiwi director. In 1993 she became the first woman to win the Palme d'Or for The Piano. Her other films include An Angel At My Table, Portrait Of A Lady and In The Cut. She lives in Sydney.

I was auditioning actresses for the main part in An Angel at My Table, based on the memoir of Janet Frame. It's a strange business, auditioning. You don't know what you want, but you're waiting for someone to thrill you. I was at a drama school and had been trying to find out who the stars there were, but Kerry's name didn't come up.
Then this young woman came in. One of the characteristics of girls in New Zealand at that time was that they didn't shave their legs, so like the rest of them, Kerry had lovely hairy legs. She was quite strong, "I'm me" and all that - great. She started to audition, and for the first time I saw someone real. She was this true spirit. I remember thinking "and you're beautiful".

I asked if she had read the memoir and she said she had it but hadn't read it, and I thought, "Oh God, she's not very interested; oh well, she's still the best." I bought some roses and took them up to her apartment - I knew it was her first big part and wanted it to be special. I asked why she hadn't read the biography and she said that she knew if she'd read it, she'd have loved it and she couldn't have lived if she hadn't got the part.

She was so young, but so disciplined. I don't think anyone I've ever met is as clear as Kerry about the role ahead of her. She knows exactly what she wants to do and what she needs to do to get there. I've seen her do this with love affairs, apartments - everything she has ever wanted in her life.

A lot of my leading ladies have taken me very firmly in tow and they don't let me go. Whenever Kerry comes to Australia, she calls me straight away and likewise when I come to England. She's a very good cook so we often get together around a meal.

Doing Bright Star together was the really big new marker in our friendship because coming back to work intimately together, you really experience where an actor is in their work and life. She was so kind to me; she is aware that doing those projects can be painful. She'd bake cakes or bring cookies to cheer us up; it was really sweet.

But best of all was re-experiencing her performance abilities. I'd watch her to see where she was going with the part, then I could say to her very directly, "what if Mrs Brawne could give her daughter a look at that moment" and she would get it and run with it. I could never do that with a younger actor; it would spook them.

Her grown-up beauty and wisdom comes out very much for me when she is acting now and I follow her career with a sense of admiration and love. I think Kerry brings something to film and theatre that few people do - herself, her whole self.

* Bright Star opens at cinemas on February 18.

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