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Interviews with Julian Sands

Boxing Helena

Interview with Julian Sands (for the film BOXING HELENA)


Patricia Ross

"Until I see the film, I don't have the retrospective objectivity to give you the kind of critical assessment of how I'm playing Nick." Julian Sands (THE KILLING FIELDS, WARLOCK, NAKED LUNCH, ROOM WITH A VIEW) is a tall, gaunt, seasoned actor whose angular features, intense manner, and brooding demeanor dominate even the high ceilinged rooms of the damp Garland mansion in Atlanta, Georgia. He plays his first romantic lead role since ROOM WITH A VIEW in Main Line Pictures' beleaguered film, BOXING HELENA.

"I can tell you that I'm playing Nick [Cavanaugh] in a way which allows anybody who's ever been in love to empathize with his feelings, his actions and the results of his actions. I think he's a very normal man. There's nothing weird or psychotic about his behavior. It's a love story; a romantic comedy in many ways. It's a 'feel good' movie. I see him and play him as the protagonist who takes you down his own yellow brick road."

Julian Sands has enjoyed working with veteran directors such as Ken Russell and David Cronenberg. "I have also worked with a number of first time directors," he emphasized. "Jennifer [Lynch] has impressed me enormously with her depth of feeling for her work and the requirements of other people in order to do their work". She's impressed me with her maturity, her compassion, her understanding of her own process. She's been a... revelation."

Sands belied his initially languorous demeanor as he continued. "It's my own peer group which excites me most...those people who are still emerging. I have writers, actors, and directors that provide the real stimulant, hope and excitement for me for the future." Citing his work with Mary Lambert on SIESTA and GRAND ISLE as examples, he expressed mild regret at missing the PET SEMATARY movies. "PET SEMATARY II had a cameo of a taxidermist which I was quite keen to do, but I was doing a Japanese kabuki film in London at the same time."

The kabuki film was, in fact, the super low budget, TALE OF A VAMPIRE, written and directed by Shimako Sato. Sands starred in the film as Alex the vampire. His acting expertise and imposing credits are acknowledged as the basis for which the project obtained financing in Tokyo. "Shimako was an interesting young Japanese theater director," he explained, "who had written a Kabuki vampire story based on Edgar Allan Poe's ANNABEL LEE. We shot it in nocturnal riverside London in January and February. It was very stylized, and a quite interesting piece. What was so wonderful about this was the merge of Oriental and European culture. The style of the film was that it contrasts tremendous stillness, empty Kabuki being with ferocious violence and sexuality. I admired it very much."

Having built his reputation for supporting and lead roles in unusual genre films by choice, Sands added. "My own interests are such that I try to do different things each time because if I'm going to immerse myself in a subject and a place with people for any significant period, it makes my life more interesting if the material is unique. If you've already been seen in a weird, eccentric or idiosyncratic film you might come to mind more readily for other similar material. After I'd done ROOM WITH A VIEW, I was offered young ingenue lovers in various substandard films because I'd been seen in that. This is the first romantic film I've done since then."

While some actors seemingly couldn't distance themselves from BOXING HELENA fast enough, Julian Sands was sent the script by his own request. "I first read about it in the Liz Smith column a couple of years ago. I thought, 'that sounds so interesting,' and then I didn't really think about it again." He was introduced to Sherilyn Fenn while visiting the set for OF MICE AND MEN in 1991. Sands was intrigued to hear from the film's producer that Fenn was doing BOXING HELENA. At that time, the male lead role of Nick Cavanaugh was unfilled. "John Malkovich had been asked if he might be interested. He wasn't. It raised the question again of the role being available. I asked my agent to send me a copy of the script, read it through, and thought it was the most astonishing screenplay I'd read since THE KILLING FIELDS. I asked if it would be possible to meet Jennifer. That was set up and I was completely bowled over by her. The script spoke lyrical volumes to me about her understanding of the human psyche under stress, and in love. I was very keen to be involved with this project."

Trained in England as a classical theater performer, Sands commanding depictions frequently dominate the projects in which he participates. He obtained his first feature film role in THE KILLING FIELDS as a complete film novice. "I trained at a theater school in London and then worked for three years with a company," he related. When the theater company folded, I was asked by Roland Joffe to join his troupe to make THE KILLING FIELDS. He said he wanted actors with no cinema experience at all. I penciled in another theater company for when I got back, but I enjoyed working with film so much. I knew that to become at all confident and competent I had to have more experience in film work." Then followed a self imposed curriculum that ran the gamut of the industry. "I made myself available," he continued. I worked as an extra. I did some one liners, anything just to get more used to the medium. And I haven't been in a theater since then. For me the acting process and fix is the doing of it, whether it's in film or on stage. It's not about seeing a film. That's the result of all the people's work."

Drawing a comparison between theatre and film, Sands was thoughtful. His hushed tones resonated with a depth virtually unknown to film actors, and conveyed his fervor for his profession. "The acting I do as my contribution to that film is the same gratification as being in a play. But of course it is different. I'd quite like to commit some more time to the theater. But I don't make plans so I can't tell you if that will happen or not. I didn't become an actor so that I could know what I'd be doing in six months time. The levity you can have in life by not getting too bogged down in future commitments has a tremendous joy and freedom that I imagine medevil troubadors or classical troupes experienced going across the Thracian Plains."

Next up is a sequel to the cult favorite, WARLOCK. "Yes, we're going to do another WARLOCK. My public wanted another WARLOCK, so they're gonna get one. I always tried to model the whole thing on BEWITCHED. To try to cross over from just being another gore film to something that had a bit of style and humor."

For the future, Sands related his view on taking the director's chair himself. "I can envision some circumstances in which I might direct but it's not something I'm seeking out. If you're an actor in a leading role in a film, you get a fair fix of directing. It's a collaboration with the director, rather than just a receiving from the director. I enjoy what I do. I'm pretty happy with what I've done so far. There are some things which I might like to have done but I feel very blessed to have had the opportunities to work with the people on the things I've done."

Time Code

Sifting Sands

Fifteen years after being the world’s most famous English gent, Julian Sands has finally found job satisfaction - as Mike Figgis’s masseur.

Still best known for his lead in Merchant-Ivory’s A Room With A View, 15 years ago, Julian Sands has kept a relatively low profile - in Hollywood and Europe since, but has worked with everyone from David Cronenberg to the Taviani brothers. In recent years, he’s appeared in five Mike Figgis films, including his latest, Timecode, in which he plays the clown-like Quentin, an interfering masseur to the Hollywood hotheads.

How did you and Mike get together?

It came about when I was at drama school. I was a big fan of the People Show, in which Mike was a performer, and when I heard he was making films I was very interested to meet him. When we did The Browning Version I think we developed a good shorthand for working together. Then I played the strange creature in Leaving Las Vegas, and the male nurse to Rob Downey’s bottom in One Night Stand, then Loss Of Sexual Innocence which was in some way the most important thing I’ve worked on. Mike likes to have an ensemble of familiar people around him, like forming a band.

How did your character come about?

Mike first wanted me to play one of the executives - a token Oxbridge Brit in the Hollywood studio - and I ventured that I became an actor to avoid being that, so could I try something else? I had this idea for a masseur, who’s a bit based on my younger brother, Quentin, who came through LA a few years ago where he had a pretty naughty time being a masseur. Also Mike was one of the cameramen, and I think the reason he allowed me to be a masseur is between filming I would give him a shoulder rub.

So you were the off-set masseur as well?

I was the group groper. I was everyone’s bitch.

Shooting it must have been pretty different.

The only way we could make sense of who was going to be where and when was by using sheet music, with each bar representing five minutes. We rehearsed it through a couple of times but really we learned by doing it, and after each run-through we would chill for an hour or two and then watch it back (on four monitors) and refine it some more. Also everybody was very exposed to each other. Nobody could dissapear to their trailer once it was up and running, you were all there on the same stage. It was only 10 days of rehearsal and 10 days of shooting, which was very tiring.

So how many versions were shot?

Fifteen. So some days we were shooting one in the morning and one in the afternoon. It was always so different depending on the time of day, the light, the traffic, what mood people were in; sometimes they were feeling snappy and could improvise a funny spiel and other times they were mute.

You’ve come a long way since A Room With A View.

That became an international reference point with which I could very easily be pigeonholed. I was in my mid-20s when I did that and now I’m 41. A lot of the work I’ve done since then has been more substantial perhaps but much less viewed, which is a choice I feel quite lucky to have had. I can’t think of anything since that has been that widely viewed.

Boxing Helena?

The thing about that was every person who went on to trash it was an enthusiast for the project originally. It was the hottest kind of project around and it was written about all the times, which, of course, is a great warning sign. But the way it was received was almost career-ending for everybody, which was an interesting sort of experiance to endure. And by the way, I quite like the result.

Jodie Foster's 1st love...

Jodie Foster's 1st Love Since Hinckley Nightmare


John South and Michael Glynn (National Enquirer April 18th, 1989)


Jodie Foster has fallen in love for the first time since John Hinckley Jr.'s obsession with her drove him to shoot President Reagan eight years ago --- and her new man is helping her finally get over the trauma of being the object of Hinckley's twisted passion.

Millions of TV viewers saw Jodie exuberantly kiss her new guy, English actor Julian Sands, at this year's Academy Award ceremonies just before she rushed onstage to accept the best actress Oscar for her performance in "The Accused."

"Jodie feels like the luckiest girl in the world right now," said a close friend of the 26-year-old actress.

"Not only did she beat out heavy-weight competition for the Oscar, but she also has Julian . . .
and she couldn't be happier!"

Sands, 30, starred in the hit movie "Room With A View."

He's in the midst of a divorce from his wife Sarah and it'll be final in a month, Sarah told The ENQUIRER.

"Julian told me he's in love with Jodie," said Sarah, a London newspaper columnist.

"He met Jodie when they both appeared in 'Siesta', a movie they made together in America about two years ago.

"They became friends then, stayed in touch-- and Julian told me recently that their friendship
had turned to love. I'm happy for both of them."

Jodie's life was changed forever in March of 1981 when Hinckley, in a twisted effort to prove his love for her, pumped a bullet into Reagan on a Washington street.

Ever since, the headline-making tragedy has "continued to haunt Jodie like a bad nightmarethat just won't go away," confided her close friend.

"Not a day has gone by when she's not reminded of it in some way."

Jodie has dated young author David Stenn and architect Marco Pasanella. But she hadn't developed a serious relationship with a man until Sands moved from England to Hollywood late last year.

Sands began dating Jodie . . . and their friendship turned to live, says a close pal.

"Julian is the first man who's been able to lay the ghost of John Hinckley Jr. to rest. Julian is quiet and very studious, yet he's caring and provides the strength that Jodie needs."

Jodie told another pal: "Julian's love has helped Put the demons away. Thank God for that!"

Birmingham Post, August 2000, UK
Riddle of the Sands

You can spot that he is "somebody," even from a distance and among crowds. Beside the Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park, he sits attired in a beautifully cut, if loose, suit, his perfect profile obscured by dark glasses. He looks so attentive and pensive that he resembles a character from Death in Venice rather than a Londoner enjoying the sunshine. 'I am reading this marvellous book about man's ichthyosaurus ego - how he relates to fish in his earliest origins,' says Julian Sands, 42, restlessly turning the pages.

The interest in water seems appropriate, as Sands' most famous role so far has been George, the blond passionate hero of the Merchant Ivory film A Room With A View - arguably best known for a scene where a group of young English toffs cavort naked in a lake. That was in 1986 and Sands' career has been in murky waters ever since. A year after his first hit, he left the UK for Hollywood, but although he has made more than 50 films since, we've heard rather little of him, except for some trouble with the California police.

His latest film, Time Code, directed by Mike Figgis, the British director best known for his 1996 film Leaving Las Vegas, has just been released. He says it's experimental and calls it 'a Cubist film', but doesn't seem particularly keen to discuss it. He is entirely focused on his book, slowly turning the pages, the sun glinting on the golden hairs on the back of his small, square hands. His skin is the colour of teak and he still has the famous corn-coloured hair that made George such a dish.

'It's about how swimming in natural waters releases one,' he goes on, 'anything is better than swimming pools - it's about sea swimming and crossing the Hellespont.' In 1810, the poet and adventurer Lord Byron swam the Hellespont, the strait separating Europe from Asia. 'Have you ever done that?' I ask. 'Oh no,' he replies very seriously. 'I'd really like to, but I prefer plunging into glacial pools, Alpine climbing and marathon running.'

Hollywood star or not, he is truly an actor: totally absorbed in the world that is Julian Sands, which seems to be situated somewhere around the time of Lord Byron. An age where having gentlemanly adventures was what counted, and if you had to work, it was not something you talked about. 'I never sold out to Hollywood,' he says. 'I never had the Hollywood dream. That was largely a newspaper idea.' That was certainly not how it seemed in 1986 when he vanished first to New York, then to L.A. For one thing, his first wife Sarah and their six-month-old son Henry, whom he left behind, didn't know he wasn't coming back.

Earlier, when journalists queued up to interview Sands the star of A Room With A View, they usually found him at home in a flat in Kensington, where he looked after baby Henry full-time, while Sarah worked as a journalist. He was described as 'God-fearing, domesticated, handy and handsome,' but then he walked out on his family and on a leading film role in Maurice for Merchant Ivory and left for New York.

Sarah told the press that her husband wanted to be a big Hollywood star. As he headed West in search of fame and fortune, his wife was treated to a long list of newspaper headlines linking him with America's leading ladies. There was Jodie Foster, and Madonna was smitten with him and apparently offered him slmost a million dollars to appear in a film with her.

'I went for two weeks to "chill out",' he says, 'but then I found myself staying on. I suppose it was a bit traumatic, but the marriage was unwinding, there was mutual indifference and I wouldn't wish that on anyone. I had met Sarah at a party when I was at the Central School of Speech and Drama and she was at Goldsmiths College reading English. We married young and everybody I knew who was in a couple then has broken up since. It's not a big deal.'

But he was the primary carer of his son, the main bond in the child's life. Then he effectively abandoned him. He looks puzzled when I say this, as if it had never occured to him. 'I didn't really think about it at all,' he says, blinking his pale blue eyes. 'I don't know how it affected Henry, but it must have made a deep impression on him. But he eventually got a substitute father, a fine man.' I wondered if his son was angry now? 'All teenage boys are angry,' he says.

There was a very angry incident in L.A. last year, when Henry, then 13, was visiting him. Sands was arrested by the West Hollywood police, who accused him of battering his son with a golf club and abandoning him on the highway. In fact, there had been a wrestling match between father and son over a golf club and the boy was put out of the car very close to where he was staying. Bus Sands was treated like a violent child abuser, arrested, handcuffed, finger printed and put in a cell. Henry was distraught and terrified that his father was going to be jailed. Sands, in his cell, says that he had no worries because he was sure that it would all be sorted out, but you get the impression that the boy was taking it all very seriously. All charges were subsequently dropped.

'He was very defensive of me,' says Sands. 'It was a very bonding experience, and for my son it was very sobering, giving him a lesson in the consequences of his actions. I'm a very good father, I make Henry pizza, and I spend a lot of time with all my three children. I amuse and entertain them. I give them adventures.' Perhaps as some final kind of justification he adds, 'There is a view that my leaving was a disaster for Henry, but it is also a disaster if parents stay together and create a hostile environment. These days peoplecan change parents and have extended families. Many children benefit hugely when their parents split up. It's no big deal.' Despite this philosophy, he has now been married for ten years to Evgenia Citkowitz, former Max Factor model, the daughter of Lady Caroline Blackwood, niece of the fabulously wealthy Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, and Guinness heiress.

'It's the longest of all the relationships among my peers,' he says. They were introduced in New York by actor John Malkovich. As Sands speaks, he turns a large, ancient gold ring on his finger. 'It was a present from my wife,' he says, 'it's early Roman. The Cornelian stone is engraved with the figure of a satyr, a a creature half man, half goat, carrying a rabbit. Satyrs were the principal followers of Bacchus, god of wine, women and song. That's how my wife sees me - she understands the inevitability of my pursuit of Bacchus.'

Gifted with looks and charm, it seems that Sands was chosen by the gods, and has always inhabited a slightly different world from most people, where everything comes easily, and has never needed to worry about money or a job. 'I've never worried much about anything in my life or my career,' he says.

In Time Code, he plays a character called Quentin. 'He is a male masseur who draws a fine line between massage and groping,' he says. 'The film had no script; it was all improvised and my character was based on my brother Quentin, who once cycled around the world and spent some time as a masseur. He is now happily married and living in Harrogate - I've outed him in this film.' He is obviously very amused by it, not at all bothered that it was a small part. 'I've never made a film hoping that it will change my career,' he says. 'My career is not dependent on commercial success. work on films because they interest me.'

But what happened to his chance of Hollywood stardom? I tentatively mention his most infamous film, Boxing Helena, a 1993 box office disaster in which Sands chopped off Sherilyn Fenn's arms and legs to keep her from straying. Kim Basinger, who was contracted to play the role, dropped out and was sued for £5m. 'I liked working on it and I thought it was funny,' he says, 'but it killed my U.S. film career stone dead.' He tosses back his mane, laughing. His peculiar self-assurance obviously makes him attractive to many people. His charm is also something to do with his detachiness, which started young.

He grew up in the Yorkshire Dales, roaming the hills, camping and fisshing. His parents were middle class, his mother Brenda a Tory Councillor for Skiptoe, 'the ultimate bluerinsed Tory,' he says. But when he was three his father Billy, a soil analyst, abandoned his wife and five sons.

'It was an unusual thing to do in those days,' he says, 'but my father had someone else, actually a tremendous number of them. Women liked him. He had an animal magnetism. It must have been terribly hard for my mother left with five strapping boys to deal with. My father abdicated his authority entirely. When we went to stay with him we were very freewheeling.'

Sands was quickly noticed as a bright, attractive child. 'I was good all round academically,' he says. 'As a young boy I would join in archaelogical digs organised by Leeds University and I was keen on sport.' The headmaster at his primary school put him in for a scholarship to Lord Wandsworth College, Hampshire, a school open to bright children dependent on one parent. 'School was fantastic, wonderful,' he says, 'and I thrived.' He has maintained that aura of being a student ever since. 'I really see myself as a travelling, strolling player,' he says.

Apart from his brief months in L.A., he is always on the move. 'I am on a perpetual Grand Tour,' he says. 'But I am not idle. There is nothing wrong with being a gentleman traveller. And I climb a lot of mountains.' He is also developing the broadleaf woodlands around his British home, The Owl House, at Lamberhurst in Kent, which opens its gardens to the public. It is part of the Guinness Trust, inherited by his wife and he likes to see himself romantically as a working woodlander.

'When I am there I see myself as Mellors, D.H. Lawrence's gamekeeper in Lady Chatterley's Lover,' he says, and not for the first time I wonder what he means by drawing parallels with Mellors, the beautiful male, symbol of supreme sexual potency, who captivates a wealthy, attractive woman and then rejects her.

'The impulses I've had for the life I've wanted have all been gratified,' he says. 'I've been leading my perfect life for quite some time. I am at the right level of fitness all round and ready to play the game. At 40 you are at the beginning of your powers and ready for anything.'

That sounds very good for the art of film - but the women of the world had better watch out.



Vatel Premiere (Cannes Film Festival 2000)

Joffé doesn't just rely on the amazing food to allow the audience to enter his world, the costumes and make up in Vatel are just as ornate, a fact which pleased Julian Sands. "I enjoyed wearing the wig very much. I fact some days I had two wigs," Sands joked about the hair he wore to play King Louis XIV. "The high heels... I mean it was a wonderful couple of inches. I think the designer of the costumes and the production designer was extraordinary and an incredible adition to this piece of work and so exotic. Within that of course, there was tremendous emancipation. It's interesting and liberating to explore a whole mode of being which isn't actually part of my domestic life... but it may become so eventually!"

Mike Figgis


(Movieline, May 1999)

Julian Sands's career has careened wildly from serious drama (The Killing Fields) to European period affairs (A Room With A View, Impromptu) to comedic thrillers (Arachnophobia) to strange, artsy misfires (Boxing Helena) to over-the-top gothic (Gothic) to straight-out horror (Warlock). And even that zigzag fails to include a whole subgenre of the Sands ooeuvre: movies directed by Mike Figgis. Figgis cast Sands first as the incoming headmaster in The Browning Version, then as Yuri, the abusive Latvanian pimp in Leaving Las Vegas, then as a nurse in One Night Stand, and now, finally, as his own alter ego in The Loss of Sexual Innocence, a personal, ambituous odyssey about a filmmaker's midlife crisis. "If Mike calls up and says there's a gig, then I'm up for it," says Sands. No Kidding.

What makes Figgis a good director to work for? "He's very good at finding an emotional truth," Sands says. By way of example, he describes a scene from The Loss of Sexual Innocence in which the phone rings and his character is attempting to make love to his disaffected wife. "At the time, my instinct was not to answer this telephone but to try to save the marriage by saving the fuck, and he was able to remind me of the fact that everything this character had done for the last two years was probably about this phone call, which was going to be giving him the OK to make his little film, and at that point that's the biggest fuck that's available."

As for his off-camera life - Sands roams the globe mountaineering and hangs out with similarly individualist thesps like John Malkovitch ("We're close, yeah, absolutely, I talked to him yesterday"). He lives with his screenwriter wife in a Hollywood Hills house built by famed choreographer Busby Berkeley.
Speaking of Hollywood history, which of his own films would Sands select if he could take just one of them with him to the next world, and which would he choose to expunge from his legacy? "This sounds rather treacherous, but I think I'd take The Loss of Sexual Innocence," he responds. "And I'd probably burn the sequel to Warlock. But I'd like to keep the residuals."


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