Max Headroom's Steel-Souled Co-Star, Amanda Pays, Takes Off Her Hat to Nobody but Herself

updated 10/19/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/19/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Among her ABC colleagues at the Max Headroom show, Amanda Pays sure inspires some heavy breathing, even—cr-zh-zh-zh-click-zzzzhhhhh—an electronic wheeze or two. "I find her highly sensual," says co-star Jeffrey Tambor. "She's very pretty, very sexy." Executive producer Peter Wagg chimes in, "She's beautiful. Everybody really responds to her." And from the object of this praise, don't expect any bashful demurrals. "There isn't enough glamour in the industry these days," observes Pays, 28. "What this country needs is another Catherine Deneuve." Pause. "So here I am."

When the angels were selling chutzpah, Pays copped weight. And the actress who stars as Headroom's techno-headmaster didn't do too badly in the aloof department, either. Her voice is Julie Christie crisp, and her personality is just as chilly. Yes, she's a looker. When Pays posed seminude in Vogue last spring, the magazine dubbed her "a new image for the '80s," and it's not terribly difficult to see why. The huge eyes could have been plucked from a Keene painting. The complexion is standard British-issue peaches and cream. The thickly rich lips seem to beckon, "Come hither." Trouble is, they're really saying, "Buzz off."

Pays readily admits to a certain standoffishness. "I must have this sort of stay-away-from-me thing," she says. "I put it out unconsciously."

She wasn't always like that. When Amanda was growing up in London, says her 29-year-old sister, Deborah, a secretary, "She was carefree and fun. Being the younger child, she was less responsible." The girls' parents, actress Jan Miller and actor-agent Howard Pays, divorced when Amanda was 5. Though she doesn't remember being traumatized by the breakup, she was hurt 10 years later when her mother remarried and had another daughter, Lucy, now 13. "It was really hard for me emotionally," says Pays. "When someone else is coming into your family—and you're at the very vulnerable age of 15—you fear your parents aren't going to give you the love they once gave you." Adds Deborah: "It was difficult for Amanda because she'd always been the baby."

Pays didn't find much solace in the outside world. After graduating from art school, she landed a series of "terrible jobs." She worked at a fast-food joint in London ("It was awful"), as a secretary ("It was dreadful") and in a boutique ("I couldn't bear it. People came in and asked me to help them try things on. I said, 'I should be trying these clothes on!' ").

Predictably, she became a model. When she was 18, Pays recalls, she and her mother "were leafing through a magazine, and this article about modeling said, 'If you think you have the face for it, send a little Polaroid.' So we popped a little Polaroid in the mail. The next day I got a call. I got work instantly. It was unbelievable." Once one of Britain's most celebrated models, Pays says she wouldn't have joined the trade if it hadn't come so easily. "I wouldn't have slogged around day after day trying to get a job. I find that demoralizing, especially if it's not something you really wanted to do to begin with."

That's pretty much the attitude she brought to her Vogue session. Pays, who's prim enough to make Jane Austen seem like a floozy, did not suffer nudity gladly. She covered her breasts with her arms and refused to smile. "If you look at the face I'm making in the photo," she says, "you'll understand how I was feeling—like, 'Let's please get this over with!' "

Increasingly bored with modeling, Pays turned to acting. With her father as her agent, she got roles in the 1984 film Oxford Blues, the 1985 miniseries A.D. and the original Max Headroom movie, in which she played Theora Jones, the steely programmer who controls the video shots. When Pays decided to try her luck in Hollywood, she dropped her father as her agent—a decision she feels obliged to defend. "It's quite hard to sit down with your father as a business partner and discuss things and think about not upsetting Daddy," she says. "Ultimately, it's much better to separate work from family."

After making The Kindred, a stateside horror film last year, Pays reclaimed her role as Theora on ABC's Max Headroom series, now in its second season. While it's tough trying to emote with Max, a video feedback image, Pays enjoys flirting with Max's human alter ego, Edison Carter (Matt Frewer). "When you work closely with someone, there's always that flirtation," she explains, "but that doesn't mean the characters are going to have a relationship." Defiantly, she adds, "Theora is not Carter's girlfriend."

And Pays isn't anyone's girlfriend. Claiming that she recently ended a 10-year relationship with a British film executive, Pays says she never has any problems with men coming on to her. But she rarely responds. "I think men have ugly bodies. But I don't know. I haven't looked lately." She shares her Santa Monica home with sister Deborah and her nieces, Emma, 7, and Rachel, 3. "I love my nieces," says Pays, "but, boy, do they make me mad when they dump things all over the house. I'm very clean. I hate mess. They call me Auntie Dearest."

Still, Pays insists she isn't compulsive. As evidence she says she smokes only five cigarettes—a week. A reporter notes that during the interview she used up four-fifths of the week's ration. "I smoke when I do interviews," she replies. "Are we finished yet?"

Pays loathes interviews. She'd rather talk about the high colonic she has scheduled later that afternoon. "It's hideous," she says of the trendy enema, "but it helps you lose weight. But I'm not compulsive about weight loss, either."

"Then how do you stay so thin?" she's asked.

"I'm not that thin," she answers, and that's her first and only modest statement of the day.

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