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Saturday, October 14, 2006

Actors on Playing Jane and Rochester

Another good thing about a new adaptation is that it brings out all of the previous ones! The Daily Mail posts this survey of mini-interviews with Janes and Edwards past (thanks to siansaska!) Also, the images from this post are from the internet and not my archive so this explains why some are tiny while others are huge:

"Unknown actress Ruth Wilson has shot to fame as Jane Eyre in the BBC’s current adaptation of the classic novel. The series, one would assume, would guarantee her a glittering thespian future. Costume dramas are often a springboard to fame and fortune for young actors: Samantha Morton was 20 when she played Jane in 1997 and then went on to star in Minority Report with Tom Cruise and Enduring Love opposite Daniel Craig. But they can also be a one-way ticket to professional oblivion. Here, we find out what happened to previous Janes and Mr Rochesters, and why they now look at the role as a double-edged sword.


SUSANNAH YORK starred with George C. Scott in the 1970 version of the film. Susannah, 64, is starring in a touring production of The Wings Of The Dove next year. As well as acting, she also writes film scripts. She recalls: At the time I was asked to play the role of Jane, I was quite hot, so to speak. Offers were coming fast and furious, so I was delighted when I got the part. I loved the book and it was a part I had always wanted. I was bewildered and upset, however, when people said I was too pretty to play a plain governess. I have always thought of myself as a character actress and I longed to be noted for my acting ability and hated it when people paid attention to my appearance.

I’ve never thought of myself as pretty and truly felt I was Jane. She’s not a showy character, but she is still passionate, and that’s what I liked about her. People are also saying that Ruth Wilson is too pretty. But I think she has just the right qualities and seems to have the same view and feel of, and feeling for, Jane that I did.

My co-star, George, was a big, craggy, gruff creature, and he was great for a chat. But our approach to filming was totally different. I liked to rehearse, but he would do a scene in one take then go back to playing backgammon. I thought he made a pretty good Rochester, though, as he had a real presence — although he was perhaps a bit too old. I must confess that I have yet to see my perfect Mr Rochester. Even Toby Stephens in the current adaptation, while a great actor, is not the Rochester of the book as he’s a bit too young.

I wouldn’t say I was typecast, but people tended to see me as a more serious actor afterwards. As a result, although I refuse to accept it when people put limitations on me, I’ll admit that it hasn’t always been easy to get roles since.

I don’t regret playing Jane, though. It was a brilliant part. Usually I curl up with embarrassment when I watch my performances, but when I watched my version of Jane Eyre, it seemed to me that I had struck the right note.

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MICHAEL JAYSTON played Mr Rochester to Sorcha Cusack’s Jane in the 1973 BBC miniseries of Jane Eyre. Michael, 70, currently on tour with the play Heroes, says: I landed the role of Rochester as a result of a practical joke. My then wife, Heather, sent a funny letter to the director, Joan Craft, saying, ‘It’s about time Michael played Rochester’, and we used to think that I got the part as a result.Looking back, though, I was on a roll at the time. I’d just come from playing several highprofile roles such as Tsar Nicholas II in Nicholas And Alexandra, and A Bequest To The Nation opposite Glenda Jackson. And here was the ultimate romantic part.

Sorcha was only 23 and I was 37. People said there was an electrifying chemistry between us, which was true. I did find her attractive, but we kept things quite jokey on the set to alleviate the intensity. It’s not that romantic performing love scenes on a cold morning at 8am, with a props guy holding a hot fan right next to you to stop your lips freezing. Professionally, playing Rochester didn’t do me much good. I never played a romantic part on TV after that. I was baffled because when it was shown on TV, I received the biggest fan mail I’ve ever had.

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SORCHA CUSACK, 57, never made the big time after playing Jane Eyre, but has had roles in such shows as Morse, Casualty and North And South. She is currently starring in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Romeo And Juliet. She says: Jane Eyre was my first TV job and, to be honest, I felt I was rather hopeless. With no major roles under my belt, my performance was flat. I was very lucky to get the role in the first place and I think I got the part because I’m plain-looking and, because I was born and bred in Ireland, I was ten years behind other girls in terms of sophistication. Both were key ingredients to the character.

As a child, people were always saying, ‘Isn’t Sinead [her actress sister] gorgeous?’ But my look was perfect for Jane. Rochester, Michael Jayston, said, ‘After this you’ll be huge,’ and, while we were filming, I did go to my bank manager and say, ‘I won’t need the overdraft any more.’ But I did need it as I didn’t get any big breaks afterwards. There was plenty of work, but not a role that changed the course of my career.Lots of theatre work followed, but several years after playing Jane, I put my career on hold for a while to return to Ireland to care for my late mother, who had heart problems. It’s nice looking back on the whole Jane Eyre period, and it’s lovely that I still get letters saying, ‘You’ll always be my Jane.’



ZELAH CLARKE starred in the lavish 1983 BBC adaptation of Jane Eyre opposite Timothy Dalton, who was said to be too handsome to play the brooding Rochester. Zelah, 52, says: Jane Eyre is the ultimate poisoned chalice. Everyone remembers the Rochesters, but no one recalls the Janes. I hoped the role might be a springboard — I never thought it would force me to retire. Before Jane Eyre I had done lots of TV costume dramas, but not a lead role, so I was thrilled when I got the part. Tim Dalton wasn’t a superstar then — in fact, I had more TV experience than him.

It was depressing when things suddenly stopped after Jane Eyre, especially as I had no idea why. But then I got married and my life changed. There is something undignified about old actors scraping around for work. I would never go back into the theatre; it ruins your social life and breaks up families. If I hadn’t done Jane Eyre, perhaps I’d have felt that I hadn’t proved myself. But I did and I have. Now, looking at the series, it seems old-fashioned, but I was pleased with my performance. Between roles I became interested in art, so perhaps I didn’t have such a desire to be a famous actress after all."

20 comments:

ChrisV said...

I hope that Ruth's post-Jane experience is better than some of these. It is interesting to read about their impressions years after their performance. Zelah seems to be the most disappointed -- maybe bitter? Poisoned chalice is a pretty strong description.

starboarder said...

Thank you for posting this! It was a fascinating read - I have to agree that the Janes are frequently overlooked or forgotten, but I feel that with this new adaptation, Ruth really is on her way to a brilliant career. Her Jane is light-years ahead of any other Jane I've seen. She also has a screen-play that acknowledges she's the main character, that the story is from her point of view. No other version that I've seen shows Jane reacting to her encounters with Rochester, and the fact that this adaptation does really draws the viewer back, again and again, to Jane's "awakening" so to speak.

Keeping my fingers crossed for Ruth, though I really don't think she'll need it!

mysticgypsy said...

I think there is a paradox in Ruth Wilson's rise to fame, in the light of her role in Jane Eyre

She plays the character of Jane, a poor, plain, obscure governess. Ruth started out as someone obscure as she, like Jane Eyre, is young, and new to her profession.

However, she managed to get the media interested in her more than ever, because of her role in Jane Eyre, because of her ability to play a plain, often grave, governess.

I feel as if Ruth's becoming famous is similar to Jane Eyre (the character's) rise in popularity--in academia at the very least, but also the current media and pop culture.

So, is stressing on being "plain, obscure, and litte" another way of becoming popular in the end?

Annetka said...

Thank you very much for a post! And for interesting comments, too. I must say I have never watched Cusack/Jayston "Jane Eyre", and now, having seen their photos here, I will do my best to find this version. Could anyone give me a hint where in Internet to look for it?

Brontëana said...

to chrisv:

I have read more of Zelah's interview from another source and she definately sounds bitter about it all- and the fact that Timothy Dalton became a big star afterwards. I think there are other factors involved- not just the role itself. Sorcha has had quite a long and interesting career even if she isn't as famous as her sister. And Michael has kept working all this while too, in some acclaimed films and theatre.

Brontëana said...

to starboarder:

The BBC have been very good about their adaptations highlighting Jane's perspective. This new version is actually more Rochester-centred than most (the story hardly begins before she's whisked off to Thornfield). I'm sure Ruth will have a great career if she keeps this up.

Brontëana said...

to mysticgypsy:

Except that, I don't know if you have noticed- they make very little of Jane's physical description in this version. She only says she is plain once (and in a context where it sounds like an irrational feeling), and Bessie makes a comment about how she's not terribly pretty. For someone not familiar with the book, it might seem like she only feels inadequate because she is in love.

Brontëana said...

to annetka:

I have still to see the fourth episode of our new adaptation but so far the Cusack/Jayston series is still my favourite. There are no video clips available online anymore, but my friend has a website devoted to it. There you can listen to some audio clips, and see screencaps from all of the episodes. It is also available on DVD in region 1 and 2 now (it took them 33 years to release it but there were so many fans asking for it that they finally gave in this summer). You can find the link to her site on the left-hand sidebar of Bronteana.

kayxyz said...

For George C Scott: he connotes gruff, crew cut hair, and was a poor choice. For Susannah: she was way to blonde and coiffed. I saw their version and was unimpressed. For our Ruth, who knows what she needs to do next, a medical or spy show, perhaps. Does she do comedy? As producers keep producing Jane Eyre, one day mayhap they (or technology-digital intervention) will find the perfect Rochester; we can always look forward.

Uncle Mario said...

I think we'll hear from both Samantha Morton and Ruth Wilson again in their respective careers.

Concerning the George C. Scott's performance as Mr. Rochester, who was really playing him? George C. Scott or Patton?

Anonymous said...

Hello. Could someone direct me to where I could download episode 4? Thank you!

Anonymous said...

oh never mind - found a torrent :)

kayxyz said...

Ya, Uncle M, Patton is correct, and William Hurt looked goofy all padded out. Think of the 1983 version: would you like it remade, gesture-for-gesture, word-for-word, by Toby and Ruth? Interesting imagination homework.

Uncle Mario said...

Going by the book and going off book is a fine line when adapting literature for eith TV or film.

Heck I gave Peter Jackson a free pass when he went off book in his film adaptation of LOTR. And yet I'm disappointed with Franco Zeffirelli cutting our the moors in his adaptation of Jane Eyre

Concerning portrayals of Mr. rochester, George C. Scott played acted as Patton, Tim Dalton acted with a rougish streak, William Hurt acted with absented-minded, and Ciran Hinds acted as a braggart.

Seeing Michael Jayston again as Edward on DVD convinced my that he was the most well rounded Mr. Rochester prior to the 2006 Serial.

starboarder said...

Hate to be the annoying type, but anxiety about seeing the 4th episode is taking its toll on my health today!

Does anyone have a reliable link to an mp4 version of the the final part?

Dr. Mendonça said...

My dear Sorcha: to my utter amazement, I've just read here at "Bronteana" that you yourself consider that your interpretation of Jane was... "flat"! Foolish woman!!! You weren't "flat"; you were just a little insecure, since it was your first major role as an actress. But that worked in favour of your interpretation: after all, Jane was giving her first steps outside Lowood, with her chin up but with her soul in fear...

Gabriela said...

I agree: Ruth has the inner light (perhaps the inteligence) necessary to have her own way to success. She is the only Jane which we actually see falling in love to Rochester, reacting to him and also we can read her thoughts and feelings inside of that expressive face : from fear to admiration, from vulnerability to selfassurance.


I'm a Spanish speaker, so, please, excuse the errors.

Traxy said...

Yes, George C Scott was too old. I don't know about Patton, but to me, he seemed like Scrooge... which the guy played in the '80s. Go fig!

Toby Stephens too young?! o.O He's the same age as Rochester is supposed to be!

Interesting interviews, though. Thanks for posting!

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