The sexy Aussie import shakes her Fanny (Price, that is) in Jane Austen's "Mansfield Park"

By Rebecca Ascher-Walsh
Updated November 26, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

Chances are, you’re about to become familiar with the name of Frances O’Connor. And she’s definitely ready.

The Australian actress stars in the most recent—and sexiest—of Jane Austen adaptations, Mansfield Park, and critics are hailing her turn as the rebellious heroine Fanny Price. An Oscar push from Miramax is possible, and O’Connor is already equipped with a publicist, a manager, and a CAA agent. And despite such distinguished costars as playwright-actor Harold Pinter, Alessandro Nivola (Face/Off), and Embeth Davidtz (Schindler’s List), O’Connor has the Mansfield Park poster all to herself.

In short, you can add O’Connor to the list of Hollywood’s imported Aussie talent, alongside Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, and Toni Collette. What’s more, O’Connor already possesses an indifference toward stardom usually associated with her more established colleagues: showing up for a photo shoot hours late because a meeting ran overtime and a facial beckoned; having her manager call when she ”spaces” on an interview and goes to the theater instead. Once reached, O’Connor guards her private life with a tenacity worthy of Jodie Foster. Ask O’Connor how old she is and she’ll respond, ”Do I have to say?” before admitting to 29. Inquire if she shares her house in Australia or hotel room in London with anyone (or anything, dogs and cats included) and she’ll say only, ”I don’t really want to go there.”

But don’t get the wrong idea. Reticence aside, O’Connor is charming and friendly. Professionalism is a word her colleagues use in describing her. When asked about the team of handlers preparing her for a major breakthrough, O’Connor sounds almost apologetic when she says, ”A certain profile is necessary.”

In fact, it was O’Connor’s ”total honesty and lack of pretension” that grabbed the attention of Mansfield Park‘s screenwriter-director, Patricia Rozema (I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing), who was ”casting about the entire globe,” for the ideal Fanny Price, the intellectual and impoverished girl taken in by rich relations. After seeing O’Connor in the ’97 Australian thriller Kiss or Kill, Rozema called her in to audition. ”She just screamed truthfulness,” the director says. ”You’ll never see her working the room. She’s a bit shy.”

Such shyness seems refreshing in this tell-all era—or perhaps O’Connor knows a little mystery is a good thing. This much we do know: She was raised in Australia by a nuclear physicist father and pianist mother, and she first got attention playing a lesbian student in 1996’s Love and Other Catastrophes. But not until now has the spotlight been turned on her so intensely. ”It’s a bit weird, I guess,” says the actress, who recently wrapped All About Adam, a romantic comedy costarring Kate Hudson (200 Cigarettes). And while Hollywood is calling, O’Connor insists she’s not sure she’s interested. ”I love watching Hollywood films,” she says. ”I just don’t know if I’d be happy doing a Jurassic Park.” We suggest she give it a try. At least dinosaurs don’t ask questions.

Mansfield Park

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • 112 minutes
  • Patricia Rozema