Here’s the thing: to be honest when I started out as an actress in London, in the late sixties, I wasn’t much good. I loved the feeling of independence working on a movie, I loved the camaraderie, cracking jokes with the gaffers between takes, but I wasn’t that comfortable doing it. I knew there wasn't anything natural or profound about my performance. English manners? – yes, perhaps. I was so practiced at being a pleasant person that most of the time my face refused to give much away. Miraculously, however, as time went on, I did manage to get a few good reviews. The result being, they immediately went to my head.
FANTASY SCENE LISZTOMANIA - HEAVEN
For example, in Ken Russell’s Lisztomania, I walked off the set in the middle of a scene because he shouted at me. Well, fuck this! I was playing Countess Marie D’Agoult – a French aristocrat in love with the handsome young Franz Liszt, played by Roger Daltrey of The Who. Perfect casting. Russell’s take on the story was to portray composer Liszt as the original eighteenth century rock star, complete with phallic imagery, hair-raising sexual orgies, and pantomime clothes. Oh, yes, and Ringo Starr playing the Pope.
In a way, it was a brilliant idea. In the 1840's, Franz Liszt’s virtuoso skills as a pianist had in fact drawn crowds of women screaming and fainting in the aisles.
ROGER DALTREY OF 'THE WHO' AS LISZT
In the early 70's, Ken Russell – a thick-chested man with an air of buffoonery and malice – was considered something of a demented genius. Particularly after his movie/musical "Tommy," which also starred Roger Daltrey, and Ann Margaret and Oliver Reed.
"TOMMY" WITH ANN MARGARET, DALTREY AND OLIVER REED
He was also notoriously rude to actresses. It was the old maestro’s delusion: push them until they break down and cry. I was determined not to. But I came close. On this particular afternoon, Ken was in his canvas chair, his customary bottle of wine at his side, directing with a bullhorn—one of his many affectations, even if the action was taking place only a few feet away. “You are stupid, Fiona, utterly stupid,” he boomed, one hand whirring above his head.
ME & ROGER DALTREY IN A "CHAPLINESQUE" SCENE FROM LISZTOMANIA.
Apparently, I wasn’t talking fast enough, or with enough conviction. It was an odd scene (no odder, however, than the rest of the movie featuring Rockette-like dancers, and a giant inflated penis) – in which, performing a kind of Chaplinesque fantasy, Daltrey and I had to “act” with jerky movements to simulate the projection of a silent movie. After fifteen minutes of Ken’s gleeful insults, I told him to royally fuck off, then left the set and locked myself in my dressing room. I informed the producer David Puttnam that I would stay there until Ken apologized. I waited for hours. He never came, of course. So (contractually) I had to come out. I don’t think I spoke directly to Russell for the rest of the movie.
It was criticized as “one of the most embarrassing historical movies ever made”. Now, of course, it’s something of a classic.
“Where else are you going to find a movie about famous composers, Frankenstein, Thor, Hitler, Superman, cigars, vampires, philosophy, perversion, papacy, war, love, Charlie Chaplin, and heaven? And where else will you see a penis kick line? This movie removes the need for mind-altering drugs. Seeing it is a trip unto itself."
Not bad. After all, who's making movies like that anymore!