In her latest film, Loren & Rose, Jacqueline Bisset plays a once-famous actress tracked down by a young, inexperienced filmmaker. Over the course of three meals together, the pair evolve from strangers to close friends. “It’s one of the best parts I’ve ever had in my life — and I’ve had quite a long life!” the British film star, 78, jokes with Closer exclusively. 

It’s true that Jacqueline, who made her film debut with an uncredited role in 1965, has had the kind of career variety and longevity that has eluded most of her contemporaries. While many complain about the lack of great roles for women over 50, Jacqueline, who had three projects released in 2021, proves that plum parts are out there for those who want them. “I keep going. I’m still looking for the roles,” says Jacqueline, who has enjoyed working in smaller, independent features. “I don’t say yes for reasons of economics. I look for the quality of the piece.”

Jacqueline Bisset: Costar Frank Sinatra 'Very Protective'
Ken McKay/ITV/Shutterstock

So, what drew you to Loren & Rose

“It was a wonderful character and very, very well written. It’s about a meeting in a restaurant. Kelly Blatz played Loren, and I play Rose. [My character] had a peculiar reputation for being a little unpredictable, being involved in all kinds of trends and odd behavior. Even though he’s been discouraged, he wants to meet me. I sort of become a mentor to him. It’s a wonderful script, and there is great chemistry between us.”

Did you ever have an experience like that? Have you had a mentor? 

“Not really. My parents were good mentors for me, in the sense that they gave me good advice. I didn’t always use it, of course. It’s planted my feet, in a certain sense, and allowed me not to fall into some of the traps of Hollywood and not get over greedy.”

Do you remember any specific advice you received from them? 

“The most important thing that my father said to me was something like, ‘If you take an interest in people, you will always have friends.’ And I think that’s true.”

Very! How about words of wisdom from your mother? 

“I was thinking about it this morning. We lived in a 450-year-old little thatch cottage. There were a lot of creatures who came to visit us — little spiders and mice. My mother would say, ‘Leave them alone, they live here, too.’ I used to think, ‘My mother’s mad. I don’t want to have spiders.’ But it’s really sweet, and it’s also quite deep.”

Were they supportive of your acting? 

“No, they weren’t really, but they wanted me to be happy. [My father] just said, ‘You have to promise me that you won’t come back and tell me boring stories about acting.’ [He believed that] if you read the newspaper on a regular basis and you look at all sections, you will have a varied education and won’t become one of those boring people. Those are sorts of things that I’ve embraced, but I still do not read the sports page.”

What do you consider your big break? 

“I got a small part in a film [1968’s The Detective] with Frank Sinatra, which gave me publicity because I replaced his ex-wife [Mia Farrow]. But for me, a bigger break was when I got to do a film in France with director François Truffaut. It was called Day for Night. And it was an Academy Award winner for foreign film. It was a nice role that gave me a leg up.”

What was Sinatra like to work with? 

“My father loved Sinatra. When he was in a particularly good mood, he would play Sinatra. So, I associated Sinatra, not so much with my own feelings, but with my father’s feelings of being in this mood. I was very happy that I was working with Sinatra. He was the biggest guy I’d ever heard of. He wasn’t going through an easy period in his life with the breakup with his wife, but he was very protective of me. He called me ‘The Kid’ and was quite patient because I was still very inexperienced. [I had heard] he would only do one take. His reputation was very tough, but it was an exaggeration. He couldn’t have been nicer.”

In Airport, you got to work with his fellow Rat Packer Dean Martin. What was that shoot like? 

“Oh, Dean Martin was a hoot. He was so much fun. He had us all laughing. It was a very curiously split set. There was the movie that was going on with Dean as the lead, and then there was the other half of the movie with Burt Lancaster, where things were incredibly serious. There was not a hint of laughter. Whereas with Dean Martin, it was joke after joke after joke. He walked around with his glass of apple juice, pretending he was drunk.”

Airport was a huge movie. Did it change your life? 

“It didn’t change my life at all. But after that, whenever I took a real plane people would always ask about Airport and how we did different things. There was a very good spirit about that film. We were all quite game to do whatever silliness we had to, and it worked fine in the film.”

You’ve had several important relationships, but never wed. Has it been hard to maintain a work-life balance? 

“Yes, sometimes. I think the separations are difficult. When I’m working, I’m not good having [other] people around me. I feel that I’m cheating everybody. I feel like the person who’s waiting to have dinner with me is going to make me exhausted because I don’t want to have dinner. I want to go to bed early, really.”

That’s understandable. 

“I think when I’m working, you really have to put your energy into the film. They expect that of you. They buy you, basically. You can’t say, ‘It’s my friend’s birthday and it’s really important.’ They don’t care. Nothing will give you an excuse to go and do something for yourself.”

What do you look for in a role these days? 

“I’m very picky. I’ve had periods when I’ve not been working much, and I’ve been offered things that were successful that I haven’t been interested in. I’ve made the correlation that you often get offered much more money to do less good things. You get paid virtually nothing to do these independents that I have had the luck to do. But I think if you want to have an artistic life and you want to have challenges, you have to go for the good ones where you can find them.”