Beware the Eyes of March

updated 11/16/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/16/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST

Jane March, the model who became The Lover

THE QUIETEST AUDIENCES IN THE LAND these days are those watching The Lover, director Jean-Jacques Annaud's lush, evocative tale, taken from the 1984 novel by Marguerite Duras, of two star-crossed lovers in 1929 Saigon. The reason for their hushed absorption: the steam-driven love scenes between the story's protagonists, a wealthy 27-year-old Chinese (Tony Leung) and a wistful French schoolgirl (Jane March).

The Lover inaugurates a very promising career for March, 19, the svelte, sloe-eyed London model who, with no film credits in her portfolio, won the sumptuous role of the young girl after Annaud had launched a worldwide search. In the end, Annaud's wife, Laurence, found March in a London weekly called Just Seventeen. Good eye, Laurence. Wrote New York Times film critic Vincent Canby: "Whatever her years, Ms. March is still a nymphet beauty. The girl she plays with such seeming effortlessness is pathetically inexperienced but also coldly focused, approaching her first adult sexual relationship with clinical curiosity."

All of which delights and amuses the lissome (5'2", 98 lbs.) March, who, like the story's heroine, has endured her own share of rough times. The younger of Bernard and Jean March's two children (her older brother, Jason, 22, is a landscape gardener), March grew up in the London suburb of Pinner. Her father designed oil rigs but was out of work for several years after his employer went bankrupt; Jean helped to support the family by working at a newsstand. "When you're a kid," Jane reflects, "you don't understand. You just know that you don't get your pocket money. You don't get sweets on a Friday, and you don't get new shoes like everyone else gets."

At 15, a year before she graduated from high school, Jane decided to try modeling "because it sounded so glamorous and because it was so out of my reach." With her parents reluctant approval she eventually moved into a Wimbledon apartment with a couple of pals, modeling for magazines and on television for two years before she got the call to audition for The Lover. March was actually a bit annoyed at the time—it was her 17th birthday, and she wanted to take the day off—but what teenager is going to turn down a trip to Paris? So off she flew and—c'est le ciné—she got the part.

For all her seeming worldliness, March admits she was a "psychiatrist's dream" during the shooting of the love scenes. It seems she was anxious about—of all things—her body. "I knew when I saw her she had a charming body," Annaud says, "but my thing is not about the beauty of the body. It's about the complexity of her eyes."

March was also worried about what her father and brother would think, and even tried to persuade them not to see the film. They saw it anyway, March reports, adding, "They were so pleased, because the press had made such porno out of it that my dad had started to get worried.

Now March has her own one-bedroom apartment on Paris's Left Bank, where she can sit back and enjoy the reviews. Still, the young actress found it hard to let go of her first film. "I was upset because we were with it for so long, and now it was being taken away. Nonetheless, she has rejected more than a few Lover II-type offers. "I'd like to play something more diverse, something different," she says—"like maybe a drug addict."

TOM CUNNEFF in Los Angeles

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