Her name rhymes with "illicit," but it's hard to lay a glove on Jacqueline Bisset. She's always been a one-man woman (if admittedly out of wedlock). She stopped Columbia Pictures from promoting The Deep with an outtake frame of her in a wet T-shirt. "I've always been very prudish about my body," she blushes. So about the only bad thing that can be said about Bisset is that she's apparently never read a script she didn't like.
"I've been willing to do a lot of films where a woman is decorative, standing around and irrelevant," she admits. "The size of the part never concerns me. I'll do a part for six really good lines." As a result, she's become, at 32, probably the busiest actress in Hollywood, featured with Newman, O'Neal, Sinatra, McQueen, Mastroianni, Bronson, everyone. Her total is 30 pictures in 10 years—most of which no one can remember.
The Bisset look, though, has always been impossible to forget—she doesn't really need any more lines than the Lord gave her. Yet it's taken until this year to make the English-born Bisset a box office name. Before, she just worked because she'd liked movies ever since her first one—Roman Polanski's Cul-de-Sac—proved "stimulating and surreal." Jacqueline never was and never will be in it for what she contemptuously calls the "Hollywood bullshit."
Yet now, kicking and flipping, she's found herself right in the thick of it. First there was the massively promoted ("Is anything worth the terror of...") The Deep, a soak opera that's selling almost as much popcorn as Star Wars. And currently she's shooting the great exploitation picture of all history, The Greek Tycoon.
Admittedly, Jackie is defensive about her role as Everyone-Knows-Who in this tacky new cinema à clef about a widow of a U.S. President and her Greek shipping zillionaire. (Wrong, they aren't Bess Truman and Stavros Niarchos.) "Similarities will be found," Bisset says coyly, though careful (for legal reasons) not to mention the other Jackie by name. "But I have no intention of doing any imitation of anyone," she goes on. "I wouldn't be able to play that person because I don't know anything about her, really. No one does." For authenticity, Halston, Jackie O's favored couturier, designed (and redesigned) 36 costumes for Bisset. What apparently stumped him, he confided, was that Bisset "has a very feminine figure."
The Ari O figure is being played by Anthony Quinn, who has broadcast on the Corfu location, "If I wasn't married and she wasn't involved, we'd be in trouble." Some nights ago old Zorba sought to romance Bisset by hiring a launch to take them across the Ionian Sea to a rustic restaurant unreachable by road. Somehow they wound up in a fisherman's dinghy reeking of rancid squid, and Quinn raged, "Here I am playing the richest shipping tycoon in the world, and I end up taking one of the most beautiful, glamorous stars in the world to dinner in a smelly fishing boat." In the stern Jacqueline Bisset cast her gray-green eyes around in a mock search, then announced, "There aren't any movie stars back here, and I'm having a hell of a terrific time."
Bisset was just sweetly coddling Quinn's 60ish macho, but probably was having a good time. In any case, she is trying her damnedest to avoid the star trip. "I do so many movies in which I'm the only woman, I get more than my share of gossip," she laughs. The last hot rumor had her snorkeling around with Nick Nolte while filming The Deep. In fact, she reports plausibly, "Nick, Robert Shaw and I were pals having a good time together. They treated me as a younger sister. I learned a great deal about how men behave without women. I liked being one of the boys, even when they were being raunchy."
The last time she was struck by location lightning was in her maiden Hollywood performance in 1967, a surfer called The Sweet Ride. She and co-star Michael Sarrazin lived together for the next seven years, four of them in hippie chic in a shack made from packing crates on Malibu. They moved when it was condemned by authorities.
Jackie's man of the last three years is Victor Drai, a 30-year-old French clothes designer who's currently renovating and reselling Beverly Hills mansions. They cozied up during one 12-hour nonstop flight to Paris—and kept on commuting over the pole to be together. Drai, nothing if not mobile, and of poor Moroccan Jewish parentage, readily sold his Parisian ready-to-wear firm, moved to L.A. and, says Jackie, "It's been a lot cheaper for us ever since."
Bisset was born into a genteel family of Scottish-French professionals. (Her lawyer mother and physician father are now separated.) Growing up "without the faintest idea of what I wanted to do," she attended girls' schools and led "a fairly typical doctor's daughter's life—piano, ballet, art lessons."
A natural knockout, she modeled and, without even the duty pass at stage acting, she got in movies. François Truffaut, who directed her most distinguished film, Day for Night, was awed by "how healthy she was: by healthy I mean that absence of obsession that most actors have." Jackie answers, almost defensively, that she can get "neurotic and insecure, even insane like everyone else. To become better as an actor you have to keep exposing more of yourself, and there's pain involved."
Between movies she and Drai bounce around a 14-room Benedict Canyon manse once owned by Clark Gable, ducking out to buy antiques for one of his renovations or for their secret passion—seeing movies in real theaters instead of private screenings. He bought her a new black Rolls-Royce, but she shuns it, arguing improbably that her 1970 El Dorado convertible is less conspicuous. Their friends are old ones, and she has one of the keenest, cleanest heads in town. "Few people have staying power in America," she feels. "Friendship, like everything else, is instant gratification. I haven't heard a new idea in L.A. the last 10 times out." Repatriation to England is impossible, though, given the confiscatory tax rate, but she doggedly retains British citizenship. "I don't feel particularly English, but I can't see becoming an American," she says. "It's like taking a religion you're not born with."
Right now marriage is impossible ("Why break up a fantastic relationship?" reasons Drai), and children out of the question. "I like children, but I'm not mad about babies," Jackie admits. "I'd make no contribution as a mother, and children might be the only reason to get married. Otherwise there's something archaic about it," she finds. "Marriage would be totally unfluid for me. I don't want to get into a box."
Jackie is now looking for "a very, very light comedy. I'm ready to show I can be a goofball." On the other hand, she also wants to direct. "I've grown enormously," she says. "I'm not as frightened of being called aggressive or pigheaded. I used to want to be everyone's sweetheart. I feel more cerebral than physical these days." Maybe, like she said in Tony Quinn's dinghy, Jackie Bisset never will be a glamorous movie star, but she's going to have a hell of a terrific battle to avoid it.