Who knew Kristin Scott Thomas was so big in Bangkok? It seems I can’t walk down Silom Road after midnight without being tempted by on-sale bootleg DVDs of recent Scott Thomas movies that were barely released anywhere: Sarah’s Key, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Bel Ami… Which reminds me, I never got around to posting the Scott Thomas profile I wrote for the Bangkok Post after interviewing her in March. (It begins with the next paragraph.) I wonder if In the House, her latest film, which was released in France on October 3, is coming soon to a bootlegger near me.
In cinema, time is rarely on the side of the ingenue. But the benefit of making it after 30, as Kristin Scott Thomas did, is that if people never knew you as the nubile twentysomething, they don’t expect you to stay forever young. At 51, an age when most actresses not named Meryl Streep linger on the backburner, Scott Thomas is working non-stop, usually with leading men 10 years or more her junior.
Later this year, she’ll be onscreen as Robert Pattinson’s lover in the screen adaptation of the French novel Bel Ami (international release dates are still pending), and she’s now in Bangkok filming Only God Forgives, Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn’s follow-up to Drive, starring his favourite leading man, Ryan Gosling. In the film, she plays the scariest mother this side of Medea (“an American gangster,” as Scott Thomas describes her), who orders her son to exact revenge on whomever killed her other son.
“I’ve got so many films coming out that I’ve lost track of what’s what,” says Scott Thomas, perched regally on a couch in the penthouse suite of Hotel Muse Bangkok Langsuan. “I’ve got that and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen [costarring Ewen McGregor and released in the UK on March 9], so it’s all a bit mad.”
In a good way. “At my ripe old age, I’m getting these fantastic leading men,” she says. But, she continues, after pausing for maximum comic effect, “I am playing Ryan’s mother.”
Which means that once again she probably won’t get the guy (her usual screen fate), but it’s nice work if you can get it, and Scott Thomas is grateful to be getting so much of it. Not only as one of the most sought-after character actresses of a certain age, but in a new role, too, as ambassador/spokesperson for the MGallery Collection, the Accor hotel group’s boutique division (which includes Hotel Muse, open since September of 2011).
“What I’m doing as this sort of roving ambassador for this collection of hotels is very similar to what we do in film,” she says. ”It is a bit like hotels because you have to appeal to so many different people with different expectations. So it’s not too far from what I do when I travel around making a film.”
The French she perfected after moving to Paris at age 19, is proving its worth both onscreen and off. Accor, a French brand, was looking for a sophisticated screen star fluent in both English and French, the latter of which has been a requirement for Scott Thomas’s greatest movie roles of the last few years, most of which have been in French. Since 2008, she’s earned three nominations for the Best Actress Cesar Award (the French Oscar), most notably for Sarah’s Key (Elle s’appelait Sarah), which screened in March at Bangkok’s French Film Festival, and 2008’s I’ve Loved You So Long (Il y a longtemps que je t’aime), which also brought her Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations and just missed out on an Oscar nod.
Was the actress, who has not been up for an Academy Award since making 1996’s Best Actress short list for The English Patient, disappointed by the snub? “Yeah, I was,” she admits. “I wish I had been nominated for an Oscar for that. That would have been great. But I wasn’t.”
Though she recognizes the value of the naked little gold man, it was another diminuitive guy, his purple majesty Prince, who gave Scott Thomas, the English-born daughter of a military pilot, her first major film role, in 1986’s Under the Cherry Moon. But it would be eight years before she gained international recognition, playing a tightly wound woman in love with Hugh Grant in Four Weddings and a Funeral, a film that haunts her to this day.
“I was constantly going back and forth from New York to somewhere, and Four Weddings was on this kind of loop,” she says. “I’d be stuck on this plane with all these people, glued to their TVs, and they’re all laughing, and I’m thinking, ‘Oh God, I hope nobody notices me.’”
But it’s not all sweetness and light up in the air. “I seem to specialise in very sad things at the moment, and I’ve Loved You So Long was on the airplane. You’re sitting there, and you can feel people sniveling — and it’s your fault.”
The divorced mother of three who’s launched a thousand (or more) crying fits earned her greatest success with The English Patient, the ultimate tear-jerker, which won the 1996 Oscar for Best Picture, though she lost Best Actress to Fargo‘s Frances McDormand. Afterwards, Scott Thomas briefly became a Hollywood star, with all of its fringe benefits, including A-list costars (Robert Redford in The Horse Whisperer, Harrison Ford in Random Hearts) and big budgets. “It’s extraordinary,” she says. “The movie gets you nominated for an Oscar, and doors just fly open.” Alas, Hollywood’s world of big-budget movies (“or pictures with Robert Downey Jr.,” she says, with a chuckle) didn’t suit her.
She counts Only God Forgives among her best-ever working experiences, non-budget be damned. “Even though Nick Winding Refn is the hottest director on the planet as is Ryan Gosling the hottest actor, I’ve never made a film so small-budget,” she says, somewhat incredulous. “It’s practically a student budget. It was a decision that [Nick] made. I find you get a lot more productive on a film with no money. There’s no wastage. Every single penny is accounted for.”
It’s an experience similar to working in France, where the benefits far outweigh the cash flow. “I prefer working in French,” she says. “I’m more free in France because they don’t put a class label on you. In England, I’m often asked to play distant upper-class bitter women. In France, they allow me to play other parts, parts with much more passion that are more interesting.”
And Bangkok? She finds the Thai capital endlessly fascinating, particularly the unique dining habits. “We’ve got street eating as well in Paris, but here they take it to a completely different level,” she says. “I find it really interesting the way here people will sit on the sidewalk on little stools, and they’ve got their backs toward traffic, and how many people do it here. It’s quite extraordinary.”
Though her job already takes her all over the world, she’d like to branch out into Asian cinema, which is thriving despite the continued dearth of Asian stars in Hollywood. “The Asian market now makes films for its own market, and they don’t care if it’s big in Hollywood because they don’t need it,” she says, clearly impressed but blanking on the names of her favourite Asian directors. “Indian cinema is the biggest cinema in the world. So why go to Hollywood? It’s like me: Why would I go to Hollywood? I can make great films in Europe.”
Considering the dark but lovely places she’s going to onscreen these days, that’s Hollywood’s loss.