Just mad about Saffron

By JANE ODDY

Saffron Burrows is no ordinary actor. Not only has she been daring in some of her choices of work, but she has the kind of private life that has kept her in tabloid headlines in her native Britain.

Not that these matters are up for discussion when we meet to talk about her latest role, playing Andromache, the wife of Prince Hector in the historic epic Troy.

Saffron, a statuesque and rather fragile beauty, clearly dislikes the attention that her personal life attracts, and stonewalls any questions about it.

While she will say she is happy with a partner, she is nonspecific about the gender. "I have a lovely time. Say no more and leave it at that. Long may it last," she says with a smile.

There is speculation that she is living with respected English actress Fiona Shaw, 45, who plays the loathsome Mrs Dursely in the Harry Potter films.

Burrows, 31, appeared with Shaw two years ago in an adaptation of Jeanette Winterson's sexually charged novel on the subject of lesbian love, The PowerBook, at London's National Theatre.

The closeness of the two was said to have ended her five-year relationship with film-maker Mike Figgis.

Burrows is happy to elaborate on her next project, Perfect Creature, working with Wellington writer-director Glenn Standring, in his second feature after the horror movie The Irrefutable Truth About Demons.

She arrives in New Zealand this month to start work on the production, which will be shot in Dunedin and Auckland.

She is co-starring with Scottish actor Dougray Scott, whom she met when they worked together on the wartime thriller Enigma.

"I play a policewoman with a past, and it's hard to explain because it's a 1960s film, but it's also futuristic. It's also a vampire film. Thank god I'm a normal person and I have a good vampire watching over me, played by Dougray.

"It's really well written and has got a feel of Bladerunner to it, plus I like Dougray a lot."

Burrows has been in the spotlight since she started modelling at 15, moving to Paris and working for Chanel and Yves St Laurent. After five years, she became so disillusioned with the fashion industry that she took up acting.

Her first starring role was with Daniel Day-Lewis in Jim Sheridan's 1993 film In The Name Of The Father. They also had a short-lived fling.

She later fell in love with Alan Cumming on the set of 1995's Circle Of Friends, which also provided her with her breakthrough role. He split from his wife and they became engaged, but two years on Cumming got involved with a man and declared himself "pansexual".

By 1999, she was with director Figgis, 20 years her senior, after meeting on the set of his One Night Stand.

Her career has been punctuated with unconventional movies - she was in the improvisational movie Tempted in 2000, then headed to commercial projects such as the shark thriller Deep Blue Sea and the sci-fi flick Wing Commander. Some roles have been influenced by her leftist political beliefs. Two years ago she appeared in The Galindez Mystery, about the kidnapping and death of Jesus de Galindz, the Basque prime minister who fled Franco's Spain for America.

She is politically active, too, as vice-president of Britain's National Civil Rights Movement, an anti-racist group.

Her role in Troy is her first taste of a blockbuster. The experience was unforgettable, she says, especially for the sheer scale of the production, re-creating the 10-year Trojan wars.

"It's the epics of epics. Hopefully my grandchildren will be watching it in years to come."

The Londoner suffered acute bouts of homesickness during the six-month shoot in Mexico and Malta. "I'm really bad at being away and I'm getting worse." There were compensations - working with Orlando Bloom, who plays Paris, and Hollywood golden boy Brad Pitt as Achilles, and a cast that included Sean Bean, Peter O'Toole and Julie Christie.

"There were so many of us, so I didn't really feel isolated. I speak a few languages, so I was teaching Spanish by the pool on days I wasn't working.

"Brad was lovely - I got to glare at him across the battlements because he's trying to kill my husband, Hector (Eric Bana). And I'm very fond of Orlando, who plays my brother-in-law. We used to cook together, and on my last night he had all his friends from The Lord of the Rings in town so we went to sing karaoke. Me and four hobbits."

To combat her pangs for home, she has arranged for friends to visit her throughout her three-month stint in New Zealand. But New Zealand is hardly Vietnam.

"I'm sure I'll become very attached to it culturally and all the rest when I get there, so I can't complain about that. But I do wonder why I never seem to get a job just down the road."

On screen

* Who: Saffron Burrows

* What: Troy

* When: Starting at cinemas today

* Also: Appearing in New Zealand-filmed vampire movie Perfect Creature

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