Jane Seymour looks back at Dr. Quinn, Wedding Crashers, Live and Let Die, Smallville, and more
Over a half-hour conversation during a manicure, the Emmy-winning star walks EW back through her almost sixty years as a performer, from her new Acorn TV series, Harry Wild, all the way back to her early days as a 13-year-old chorus member in productions of The Nutcracker for the London Festival Ballet.
"I continued dancing — a lot of dancing," Seymour, 71, says of her early career. "When I was 17, I was in what they call a British pantomime, which is like a Christmas show. I had one line, and the choreographer asked me to understudy the leading lady."
The choreographer also urged her to audition for Richard Attenborough's first movie, 1969's Oh! What a Lovely War. "I auditioned along with thousands of other girls. I've never seen anything like it. It was like lines around the block in Shepherd's Bush," says Seymour. "And at the crack of dawn, I'm in there. I get to sing a bit, dance a bit. Next, next, next. Like A Chorus Line, only worse. After two callbacks, I made it to the final call of 12 girls, and Richard Attenborough was there, and he picked me out as one of the six or seven."
For a scene featuring Maggie Smith, "they needed a girl to say a line, and the others didn't dare [raise their hand]. And I just said, 'Sure.' So I had the immortal line where Maggie Smith says, 'Is there a man digging your garden when he should be digging trenches?' And I run up, and I say, 'He should be digging trenches,' with a really squeaky voice," recounts the actress, who was fired from her school play because of the time commitment filming War. "That was bad news because my parents had bought tickets — but I had to rehearse with Richard Attenborough, which was much more important."
Seymour credits that film for making her an Attenborough herself (she was married to Richard's son Michael from 1971 to 1973) — and getting her first agent. "Dickie's agent was there at the time, and we were watching [the dailies]. And Dickie's agent said, 'Who's that girl, three from the left?' And [Attenborough] said, 'Oh yes, she's really good.' And he said, 'No, she's going to be a star. I want to represent her.' "
The future star says she initially turned down the agent's offer, "if you can believe it." She wanted to attend a three-year acting school, but "mercifully for me, the acting school said that I had to go and work in Scotland to sweep the stages for at least a year before they'd even see me again. So I just said to the agent, 'Well, if you'll let me out in a year so I can go back to drama school, that's fine.' So I joined him, and immediately I was working. I did a film called The Only Way with Martin Potter, and I never stopped."
With 151 credits on IMDb — including 1980's Somewhere in Time, which she'll be celebrating as part of the TCM Film Festival this weekend — she's not wrong. We didn't have time to go over all those projects (a manicure only lasts so long!) but that just means we'll have to get a pedicure on the books.