Australian Biography

Diane Cilento - full interview transcript

Tape of 9

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Diane, could you tell us about your marriage to Sean Connery and what it was like during those years after your son was born and you were living with Sean. Could you describe that period?

Well, it's very hard to describe in one way, because unless you've been through the sort of onslaught of people and publicity fanaticism success in that way, and that was the sixties, and the sixties were a very strange decade, in that I suppose you could say they were decade of the Beatles and Bond. They had a peculiarity in that they were still sort of innocent in a way. I mean I'm not saying the whole world was innocent, never has been and never will be, but I'm saying that the idea of that sort of English dominance of the pop world and the world of big huge films ... although of course they were financed from America, but they were made mostly by English technicians and in England, and it became a sort of dream I suppose. It was like a mad dream. People would be waiting outside the door and hiding in bushes and sitting up trees. Everybody I think who's been through that world of complete sort of enclosement by love, let's call it that, or, or obsession, knows that you really can't describe it very much because you never know what's going to pop out of a bush as you go out the door. I mean when my dad was staying with us then, we found a ladder up the back and a girl climbed up and into his bedroom. [laugh] He was very shocked and at the same time quite sort of, thought it was pretty extraordinarily nice. Anyway, she ... lots of people used to do stuff like that. I would be in the back yard, for instance, having a sunbathe, and suddenly a voice would come through, 'Are you receiving me, Mrs. Bond?' and things like that would suddenly ... You were never alone, and you were never not being watched. It was ... at first it was sort of funny, and then it wasn't funny. And then we had lots of robberies, people wanting to come in every time we went out. We found out that it was being done by the same people. They had taken a room. We lived in Uxbridge Road, Acton Park, and they'd taken a room and were looking with binoculars to see when we went out and went in and it was ... It was like living in a fishbowl really, but worse, because fishes at least have got the glass and we didn't. And also, I don't think anybody knew how to cope with it much. Sean immediately took up golf and rushed off to golf courses. And I tried to ... That's when I started writing, I suppose to try and spend time with my children inside and be at the same time thinking about things and doing things because I've always had that problem of having to ... otherwise I have a low threshold of boredom. So that's when I started doing that. And I think really it got more and more ... As each Bond film became more and more successful ... And we went to Turkey to do From Russia With Love, we went to Bermuda and we went to Nassau, and we went to do all these films, and we were always picked up by a huge amount of people, merchanting [sic] people, merchandising people, and minders and things, and carried about, like sort of two ... I often used to think we were sort of like, you know, queen bees sort of being taken around encapsulated in things and never allowed to live a life much. And I think it was very peculiar for our children too. As far as the ... we had this very [big] house that we'd been doing up, and it was an old nunnery. It had been with the Adoratrice nuns, Spanish nuns, and it had a lot of work to do on it. But it was very ... I mean if you think about it again, if I think about it, I see it in a sort of dream world of madness, a different sort of madness, where I was suddenly not the star person, it was Sean. And people were quite blatantly in front of me, sort of you know - ladies would sort of play up to him and he wouldn't know what to do. And in fact, it was a sort of ... when we were by ourselves it was so totally different than in public because he was sort of going bald and had to wear a rug on his head, and I had to sort of shave his back and do all those sort of things so that he could appear as this totally unreal ... and people started ... and that was the worst thing ... started calling him, you know, Bond and things, instead of Sean. And he was very, very worried that he was going to be submerged. So there were a whole lot of people we consulted, including RD Laing, and all sorts of things happened as far as adjustment: doing other parts, not that part. But then nobody wanted anything but that part. It's the way it is. Once the public becomes fixated by a character. I think they have ... now it's sort of Superman and comic characters, and it probably is getting through that stage now, but most people, most Hollywood stars, sort of ape comics. They get very big musculars and stuff like that, and they have to work out continuously, but then it was sort of different. People were left to their own devices more. And there were lots of stunt men around and people trying to sell things and buy things through Bond, and we were sent caviar and Dom Perignon champagne - cases of it, until you loathed it. Yes, you did! And so that's all I can really say about that part of the time: it was just a really, a sort of, magnificent rat race. You know, sort of a totally fabricated life with all the trappings. I suppose there are people who can really get used to that and love it. But it wasn't me: that person, that could do that.

Diane, you also ... what was happening with your career? What was the story with that?

Well, I had been at the Royal Court, you see and then I did ... I went away and did Tom Jones, and then Tom Jones came out and all three ladies in it were all nominated for Oscars, for the Best Supporting cast, and I think Sean got a bit sort of shirty at that. And I then thought, well look, I'll go into the National Theatre. I went ... because the National Theatre you'd only play about twice a week. And I thought ... well I just you know ... So I went in and I did The Idiot with Derek Jacobi. And I was sort of playing a couple of nights a week, maybe there'd be two nights together, and then there'd be a break of about three or four nights and then there'd be another night and then there'd be a break, and then there'd be two more nights, so it wasn't every night. But in one of those nights, we were ... we received our very first robbery and when I came back I thought the children had gone mad, because the room had been completely devastated. I thought, what has happened there? I just didn't think of it as a robbery and it was just a sort of rape in a way. Your whole house, you know. People do very unpleasant things when they get into your house like that.

Like what?

Well, they throw everything, and then they piss on the walls and they write funny things. It was a bit devastating to know that you were so vulnerable. And I was. We all were. And things like my wedding rings and everything went and they took shotguns and 500 rounds of ammunition and those sort of things are very worrying, because, well they just are. And one didn't even know how it had happened. So we did have a time of rather unpleasant people watching the house and the police and all those Italian Mafiosi people who appeared out of the woodwork, saying, 'We'll do it, you know, we'll get them'.

Were the children in the house at the time?

Upstairs on the very top floor, asleep.

And they weren't touched?

Didn't hear anything. It was all happened downstairs. This house had sort of four levels and it all happened on the first two floors. But it makes you very twitchy when you have ... living in a life like that. And I was doing things, like I did Camino Reale, and I did all sorts of things for television, and I was trying to be a sort of homemaker as well, and be a good mum and all that stuff. And trying to sort of cope with this, handle this new, bizarre situation. I think everyone who's been in it will recognise what I'm talking about, but you just ... it isn't fun.

Did you choose the theatre so as not to be competitive in his arena of films at the time?

No. No, not at all. I had to buy myself out of that Korda contract, because when Korda died when I was in America, I was a civil servant. The company was taken over by the British government. So I became one of the few actress-civil servants in the world. And then I got ... they kept on, they didn't know what to do with me at all, so I bought myself out of the contract, which is really peculiar, but I did. And then ... so I really had never been as interested in films as I was in the stage. It just ... it's a different thing, it's a different discipline. I really didn't like to get up terribly early in the morning and rush around acting all day in that sort of dib dob, you know: you sit down and you wait for the lighting for about five hours it seems like, and then you do about three minutes acting. And that isn't ... that's not how I wanted to conduct my career. So I was great friends with all sort of ... George Devine and Tony Richardson and all of those people. So I went back to the Royal Court and I had done with Sean a Pirandello play that I'd translated from the Italian, called Vesgire i Ignudi, which translates Naked, and George Devine had commissioned me to do two more for the Royal Court, and then of course he died. So every time I started something which I thought was terrifically exciting, the sort of rug went quickly away from under my feet. But I did put it on at the Royal Court. I'd done it at Oxford and I called myself I.S. Nadia, because that's an anagram of IS Diane. And I got this fantastic review from Harold Hobson and when I brought it to London, they said, 'Oh, at the Royal Court call yourself your own name'. So Harold Hobson gave this play a review and said, 'If only Diane Cilento had seen I.S. Nadia's translation she'd know'. It was exactly the same! But I mean those sort of things happen and one realises very, very clearly, that it is do with one's sex. Because I.S. Nadia sounds like some Indian gentleman from the Punjab or somewhere. Certainly not me. But as soon as it was me, I sort of got the - you know. I thought it was very funny. I thought I'd expose it, and then I thought no, it's stupid to do that. So I didn't. So then...

That's an enormously interesting play.

It is. Do you know that play?

...And an interesting one for you to be in at that time.

That's right because it's about the exposure to the press of a person who has been present when something has happened that the press loves. And the story's been written which is incorrect and she then tries to kill herself. It's very interesting, yes. I was attracted to the play, because it was very ... it is a terrific play, but it's very seldom done, because it's so harsh. It's a harsh play. Anyway, let's get on. Where am I at now?

Well, you'd put on this thing at the Royal Court. You were looking for a future doing this, and then?

Well, then certain things happened. We went to Spain to do a film that Sean was doing called The Hill, and it was a sort of mad, very violent film about soldiers being marched up and down a little hill and he was in a pretty bad state. It was very hard work [coughs], and I then left that set, and went to Spain further down, with my son. He was only a baby, not very old, and we ... my daughter at that time was with us, but she had gone to Millfield - not Millfield - one of those lovely Steiner schools, and so she was being looked after there. And I went and bought seventeen acres of a finca, near south of Marbaya in a place called ... What was it called now? Anyway it was just south of Marbaya, where I had been when I was going to have Jason. And I bought a finca which had lovely fruit trees and acequias and little canals all through it, and a very small house with a sort of fireplace. I'd sort of put the fire in like that, and bend down - it was great. Very beautiful - looked after by some lovely people who were from the village there and that's where I thought I'd write, and where Sean could get away and we could get away, where there was enough land and enough driveway to sort of keep the sort of paparazzi out. Except I didn't know that they would be sitting in trees around my house. Once we were driving up the front, and knocked one out of the tree, virtually in front of the car, but not ... We didn't run over him. We thought about it, but we didn't. But that world - some very excruciating things happened there, like once I gave a party, and I'd invited about eight people, and 2,000 turned up, because someone at that party, I won't name names, quite a well known person, had said, 'Oh, come to this party, Sean Connery and Diane Cilento are giving this party', and we saw this queue of people down the road and couldn't believe it.

What did you do?

Well I ran away first, and then I came back. But I had to tell them all to go away. And they all expected drinks, because this person actually had taken money from those people to go to the party. This is not a joke. It was a terrible, terrible scene. Sean was going to ... I don't know.

You were fair game.

I was fair game, and I didn't have enough protection. Now people spend a lot of money, a lot of money, I should say that people who are in that position spend literally a good percentage of how much they make on security. And on protecting themselves from that sort of intrusion, and that sort of, that sort of vulnerability.

When you were going to the locations where the Bond films were being shot, what was your status? How were you seen? I mean, here were you, a serious major star yourself, but what was your position when you went on location with Sean?

Oh I was very well treated. But I ... you know, there's a joke about the Bond thing is that I think in one of the ... I knew Ian Fleming very well too, who I liked a lot, and we ... he came on location in Istanbul with us. But there's a joke that when he got Bond married off, she's shot in about three minutes, because he couldn't have him married, it wouldn't work. So she gets topped at about sort of, on ... as they drive away from the church or wherever they get married. They're in an open car and she's sort of immediately shot. So I did feel a bit uncomfortable most of the time, because, I mean, some of the times ... and we went ... I mean Sean did a film called Shalako with Bridget Bardot and I was on location. And we, we got to be friendly enough, but she had her entourage and he had his entourage. But stars in that time are very ... were very [much] treated extraordinarily like ... [GESTURES AS IF WRAPPING PRECIOUS OBJECT] Well they still are ... but enormously carefully, because they might sort of suddenly disappear or walk away. So we were all treated very well.

How much work did you have to put in to looking after Sean, because the pressure must have been heavily on him?

Oh, yes, and I think really, he always wanted to do different good things. He directed a film in Scotland about ... He had a great friend who was a Scottish shipbuilding man, and he tried to sort of reactivate the Scottish boat building things. I think that really the esperance of everybody, a lot of people at that time - young actors and people, were always [drawn] towards very creative work, and trying to do something that changed things. And of course, at that time, remember, the whole world was really getting into dope and we were all sort of moving into another ... I mean we were great friends. I did a couple of shows with Peter Sellars, and we were great friends with them. And lots of comedians Sean liked and we had them over a lot to eat and it's always sort of more comfortable, I suppose, to be with people who don't want something out of you. And the whole of that world is to do with ... I always think people are like sort of cuts of meat, you know, in the butcher's shop, that you might be a prime cut or a spare rib or whatever you are, but everybody wants to eat you. And really to be with other people who were in the same bracket, [who] didn't want anything out of you, was sort of more comfortable. And I think a lot of them played golf together. That was ... A lot of that set of young Turks, who had made money and had become famous, you know - footballers and comedians and people - used to go out to Richmond and cheat a lot at golf. And I used to watch them. I used to play with them sometimes. But, I mean, I remember an absolutely mad golf game with Rex Harrison and Rachel Roberts and a thunderstorm happening and we were all ... I mean it's just very, very mad and funny. But that was ... It was more comfortable to with people who didn't ... who weren't trying to get bits and pieces of you, and sort of eat them.

Do you think Sean's resistance to your pursuing your career, and his desire to have you at home, was because he actually needed you to look after him at that time, when he was vulnerable?

No. Because I don't think sitting by the hearth, being ... playing hubby and wifey was on the cards, in either of our minds, if you see what I mean. It just wasn't there. And the excitement of life wasn't that sort of cosy acceptable ... It just wasn't in there. That wasn't part of the equation at all. We were always doing different things. And it was just sort of not competing I think really. And I feel that most ... I mean coming from that family I think most people in families, or in relationships do have that problem, that even unconsciously they don't know why they have it. It's sort of like my mum and dad. When my mother started getting much more famous, my father sort of crumpled a bit. But I didn't sort of crumple like that. I just wanted to do my own thing again. But I also was becoming more and more interested in ... I think there's a time in your life when you ask two questions, and those are sort of pivotal questions. And one is who am I? And the other one is what am I doing here? Because once you've had all that stuff and it's what the world says you're supposed to want: fame, anything you want, stuff being given to you, people taking you here and there, and all that, once that's happened, and it isn't ... and you think oh, is that what it was, is that it? Is that the best thing they've got to offer? Well I don't really, I don't really think that's enough. I want more than this. I can't make sense of this because it doesn't satisfy me. And it isn't because you want more, at least in my case it wasn't, it's just because you want a different quality of things. And, so that's why I began ... and it always happens, I think, to everybody, with a series of coincidences, that you think, that's a bit weird. And it did with me in that way and I ... Sean was over in New York. I was at this house that we had by that time, because we'd moved from that house where we'd had all those robberies, it was too vulnerable, and we'd moved to Putney, and we were in this very Victorian house on the corner of Putney Common, and my little son by this time was about six or something, had gone out and gone to Wimbledon Common and I don't know exactly what happened, but he came back and he had been sort of attacked. And I had to get the Flying Squad in and he gave his descriptions, and I rang up Sean and I had lots of people ... I was writing a script with people from the Living Theatre then, and anyway, to cut a long story short, I got messages through the letterbox and threats and all that sort of stuff. So I just felt desperately vulnerable again. So I moved again and I moved to another house, and when Sean came back I wasn't there. I just left. So I just ... because he didn't really take any notice of what was going on with us. And what was going on was that Jason was in a problem, in that he had been severely shocked and he needed to be reassured by the male figure, and I don't think, I don't think Sean was occupied with thinking about that, and that's why I realised that it wasn't working, and I left that. And then I ... I was also into a set of people who were very ... Living Theatre and all sorts of people like that, who were ... and everybody at that time was beginning to get into a drug scene. We were all - everybody - nobody was left out of that scene I don't think in the sixties. Everybody had their little go at it. And it did open a huge lot of people's minds - LSD and things like that. And they ... the whole ambience of the world shifted. I do believe that. It happened. If you listen to early Beatles songs and then you hear after[wards] they'd been sort of introduced to a few magic substance, the whole of the music changed and became quite different in its direction and much more introverted and sensitive to what was happening in people. And I think everybody began to do that. And I think the sixties were a very pivotal time in people. People who lived through that and were conscious of it, knew that it would have many victims, which it did have. Lots of one's friends just psst, because there was one thing that I think was very obvious. It wasn't really the substances, it was the energy that you had being opened, and if you squandered it away, it's like having nothing in the bank and then a huge overdraft, and then dead. It made you realise that there was a way you could attain all those sort of states without taking substances, and that's really, I think, what a lot of people began to turn to, including myself. And I went to Denmark to do a film called Zero Population Growth, with Oliver Reed and Geraldine Chaplin, and the film was supposed to be about the future, where we were all polluted. And then they used to put this stuff onto the set, this white stuff. It was actually made from margarine and we all started getting sick, because it was polluted. So they had to stop the film. It was backed by Seagram's whisky, which was always very funny I thought, and we all stayed in Copenhagen while they perfected their pollution so that it wasn't polluting. And while we were there, there was a guy who'd been on Easy Rider, there was all these people, and we used to meet every day at four o'clock and have tea together and tell each other what was ... what we'd done, because we didn't really know what was going on, and at this time, someone gave me this book which he had thrown across the room, and I immediately picked up, and I started reading this book and moved out of the hotel and went into an apartment and started being ... reverting to my usual thing of being [a] total fugitive person in a way. And I ... I mean we did do a lot of very funny things. I think Geraldine Chaplin and I were thrown out of a live show for laughing. Because Copenhagen had all that sort of sex scene at the time. I think that's why they were making the film there to tell you the truth. And ... but I began to read this book, and I thought, I don't really know anything at all. I'd left school so early, I'm really, really thick and stupid. I don't know any mathematics because there was a lot of that. I just couldn't, I couldn't get over how stupid I was. So I ... When I went back to England, and as I said a series of coincidences like that began to happen, and I thought I'll have to learn something. So I thought I ... I was doing a film with Tony Curtis and Roger Moore - it was - oh, what was it called? Mission Impossible or Persuaders or something, I can't remember. Anyway I went into the studios because I'd got picked up by the police, I'd missed the ferry, all these coincidences had happened and I thought I'll look, I'll put an ad in the Times to see if I can remember. And I thought, I'll write it from what I look (sic) and I looked on the Times and there was the name of this book, and that there was lecture being given that night about it.

What was the book called?

Well, it was called In Search Of The Miraculous, actually, [by] Ouspensky. But I just couldn't understand it, you see, and I thought I'd ... Anyway I went to this lecture that night and it was full of very strange people. A cross section of the most ... I thought well I can dine out on this story of meeting these bizarre people. But more and more coincidences happened and I started ... The person who was giving that lecture lived sort of next to me in Coombe Springs in Kingston. And I started going to classes and meditational practices and I would never have pursued it. In fact, the first three times I thought I still was in the vein of thinking: this'll make a great story for all my friends, meeting all these bizarre people. But then the proof of the pudding happened, in that I began to do it and it began to work. I mean I had a different sort of energy. I began to get a different sort of feel about my observations.

[end of tape]

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