After playing a Bond girl, "it was very hard for me to get hired in more serious acting roles," says the actress. "I needed to go somewhere where they didn't care, which was America."
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Bond Girl. Dr. Quinn. Wedding Crasher crasher. Jane Seymour is often left as stunned by her diverse resume as those of us watching her: "Sometimes I look at it, and I go, 'Oh my God. I did a lot.' "

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.

Jane Seymour Role Call
Credit: Everett Collection

The Onedin Line (1972-73)

Coming out of her first TV series, The Strauss Family, Seymour went straight into shooting this BBC drama about the rise of a fictional shipping company in the second half of the 1800s. "I was replacing another actress," she says of playing Emma Callon, who inherits a coveted shipping business. "I was given one shot at it, one episode. And halfway through the episode, the producer — who was also directing that episode — went to my agent and said, 'We want her for the full series.' That was the series that the James Bond producer saw me in. I never auditioned for James Bond, they just saw me in the first two episodes and called my agents and said, 'We want her to play the lead in Live and Let Die.'"

Jane Seymour Role Call
Credit: Everett Collection

Live and Let Die (1973)

"I was the only woman on the planet that was not trying to be a Bond girl, literally. That was not the trajectory I was looking for. I was going to go and do Shakespeare and Ibsen and all the classics," says Seymour. "They were looking for a virgin to play the High Priestess of Tarot, and I was playing a virgin on television, so I'm assuming they thought I had some memory of that experience. I just remember Roger Moore was lovely. He realized I was so green and didn't know what was going on. I took the whole thing terribly seriously, like it was a major acting role — and they were probably more concerned about how I looked and how my figure was."

Jane Seymour Role Call
Credit: Everett Collection

Battlestar Galactica (1978))

After playing a Bond girl, "it was very hard for me to get hired in more serious acting roles," says Seymour. "I needed to go somewhere where they didn't care, which was America." At 26, she made the move and was soon cast as Serina, a newscaster dying of "galactic cancer," in the original Battlestar Galactica. "The whole two hours that I did was all good acting of me dying, slowly but surely," says the actress. "Apparently I tested higher than their [series] regulars, but I was now dead. So then they [re-edited] the entire thing, cut out anything where I looked ill or sick or was referring to anything — so in other words I didn't say very much anymore. And they shot all around it. And then [creator] Glen Larson took me out for lunch one day and said, 'We want you in the series.' And I said, 'Glen, I'm dead.' He said, 'Well, not exactly ... ' "

Jane Seymour Role Call
Credit: Everett Collection

Somewhere in Time (1980))

Seymour recalls playing 1910s actress Elise in this time-travel romance as "one of the most wonderful experiences of my career. I met Christopher Reeve and we just hit it off completely. We bonded in a special way, which lasted literally to the day he died." As for the film's beloved period costumes? Designer Jean-Pierre Dorléac "was a new designer at that time, and he knew what he wanted to do, but he also knew there was no budget in this movie at all, none. And so he just chose not to tell anyone how much he was spending, and then he came up with the most beautiful costumes ever. I think they tried to fire him because he'd overspent like double or triple or something. And then he went on to be nominated for an Oscar," says Seymour, who also recalls there was "no budget" for a composer, so she convinced her "closest friend" John Barry to do it for a back-end deal. "He was never given any upfront money, and it ended up being one of the most successful things he ever had, financially."

Jane Seymour Role Call
Credit: Studio Seven Productions/NM/Sygma via Getty Images

Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman (1993-98))

"I was never supposed to do it. It was never even supposed to be made," Seymour says of her beloved CBS drama, which came to her at the end of her marriage to money manager David Flynn, who'd gotten her involved in some unfortunate deals. "We got married, we had two children, and then I had a devastating divorce in which I lost everything. I was like $9 million in the red, with lawsuits from every major bank, including the FDIC. I was penniless, homeless, with two children. And so I called my agent and said, 'I will do anything.'" So he sent her the role of Dr. Quinn. "I got the script at 10 o'clock that night. At 10 the next morning I had to say yes or no and go straight into wardrobe at noon and start filming at six the following morning. And I had to sign for five years."  Seymour worried it would keep her from a comedy the folks at Paramount had been working on for her, but "they said, 'Oh, don't worry about it. It's a woman in the lead. It's a medical show. It's children and animals. It's dusty,' " meaning it was a Western, "and it's a period piece, and it's morality. It will never make it, so don't worry about it. It'll become a nice movie of the week, you'll be lovely in it, you'll make some money, and then you can do our show." But the minute Seymour stepped on set with Joe Lando ("my closest male friend, to this day"), she knew Dr. Quinn "just had a magic to it."

Jane Seymour Role Call
Credit: Everett Collection

Smallville (2004-2005))

Before stepping into the role of season 4 villain Genevieve Teague, "I didn't know anything about Smallville. I knew pretty little about Superman or any of the Marvel-type stuff or any of that, except for Chris Reeve constantly writing me notes and telling me about how miserable it was to be flying around on wires and how the suit gave him spots and was itchy. So I didn't really know, and they didn't really tell me what I was doing. They gave me the lines, and I came, and I think I just did my best with the material I had. The actors — Jensen Ackles [who played her son, Jason Teague] and Michael Rosenbaum [who played Lex Luther] — were wonderful to work with. I'm not sure that I've ever even seen everything that I did on that, but I remember having a lot of fun doing it."

Jane Seymour Role Call
Credit: Everett Collection

Wedding Crashers (2005)

"I'd just finished Dr. Quinn, and I thought, 'This is the funniest thing I've ever read, but it's so not Dr. Quinn. The fans will literally go nuts if they see me do this,' " Seymour says of this raunchy comedy. "And so I put it away, and then I read it again, and I thought, 'No, no. This is just too funny, and I know exactly what I want to do with it.' They met every single woman in my age group. Everybody I know. The funny part was that the producer and the director, they said, 'Oh, we love your work. We saw you, and you were in James Bond.' And I'm thinking, 'I'm in my fifties, and the only credit they can think of for me is James Bond. What do they think I was doing, hiding under a rock all these years?' They'd never heard of Dr. Quinn, so they didn't how funny it would actually be to have me, ex-Dr. Quinn, playing Kathleen Cleary. They didn't even realize until the premiere that people even really knew who I was. It was funny." She recently ran into costar Owen Wilson "and we had a big hug, and I said, 'You know what you've done to me with this Wedding Crashers thing? I'm now referred to by people your age as "the tit lady." People come up and they go, "Motorboat, motorboat!" Really.' "

Jane Seymour Role Call
Credit: Everett Collection

The Kominsky Method (2019-2021))

Seymour has played "herself" on many a show over the years — including My Name is Earl, Diagnosis Murder, The Nanny, and Murphy Brown twice ("I always think it's great to take fun out of yourself," she says) — but she never realized how an episode of Dharma & Greg would be just the start of her collaboration with TV-creator extraordinaire  Chuck Lorre. "I got a call from my agent saying, 'He wants you to do The Kominsky Method.' I said, 'What am I playing?' And he said, 'He's not sure yet. He wants to meet with you for an hour in his office.' Chuck said, 'You're either going to be Michael Douglas or Alan Arkin's love interest.' And I thought, Well, probably Michael, right? You'd think. Mildly closer in age. And anyway, long story short, he decided that I should be Alan Arkin's love interest — but he was concerned that I couldn't age up and look older. And I said, 'Trust me. With a gray wig, I'm all there.' I got a gray wig, and I showed up on the set on the first day of filming. And Michael, I've known him for years, actually introduced himself to me on the set." Playing Madelyn was "a wonderful time. Alan loved working with me. I loved working with him. That first day, Chuck turned to me and said, 'Okay, you're not just doing one or two episodes. You're doing all of them.'"

Jane Seymour Role Call
Credit: Cliff Lipson/CBS via Getty Images

B Positive (2021-present)

"You never know with Chuck how many episodes you're going to be in, because he writes them as he goes along. And so you just have to have faith that he knows what he's going to do with your character," Seymour says of Lorre, who next cast her as a saucy retirement home resident on his latest CBS sitcom. "I was supposed to do two films back to back, one in England, a comedy, which is still waiting to be done, and starring in a movie in America opposite Danny Glover. And both movies were postponed because of COVID — and just randomly at that moment, Chuck called my agent again and said, 'I'm not quite sure what I'm doing with her, but I want her to play this character named Bette.' I never knew from one episode to the next where Bette was going to go or who she really was. That's how he is. But it turned out to be great. Again, I was supposed to just do three episodes and I ended up with the whole show. I loved it." As for Bette's plethora of wigs? "That was my idea," says Seymour. "I said, 'She wears wigs,' which of course makes life [on set] a lot easier, too..."

Jane Seymour Role Call
Credit: Everett Collection

Harry Wild (2022-present))

"I didn't want to do another series — unless maybe we brought Dr. Quinn back — because they're really, really hard work. But this one was just, I couldn't resist it," Seymour says of starring in the murder-mystery drama. "It's a great character, because Harry's knowledge of literature and history is what enables her to solve crimes. And her sidekick is a 15-year-old kid who wants to quit school, and she's making him continue. She's teaching him all the time and correcting his grammar, even when they're about to get killed. But she runs around with a stun gun that actually she has to touch somebody with to make it work. So she needs help from someone on the streets, and he definitely needs help in terms of learning about the world and literature. It's two sides of the coin meeting. It was wonderful to shoot, and I'm hoping that they will ask us to do another one."


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