Miss Bujold, who rarely grants interviews, agreed to be interviewed in anticipation of the release of her latest picture, Downtown: A Street Tale, an independent feature with screenwriter Joey Dedio as a drug-addicted hustler trying to go straight while leading an unruly band of misfits. Miss Bujold, intense and beautiful as ever, portrays the counselor that attempts to guide them to safety.
Box Office Mojo: Describe your experience making Downtown: A Street Tale.
Bujold: It was not a pleasant film to do. The subject is disturbing. I threw up a lot—it was psychologically, emotionally and mentally sad. The feeling [during production] was sad. It was shot in New York just after 9/11 and it just smelled of death. All those young actors were so game and generous and vulnerable and that was inspiring. It kept the thing going.
Box Office Mojo: Have you seen it?
Bujold: I'm not good at seeing films I'm in. So far, I've been happy to be part of that experience but once it's done, it's done. But it's gone once it's done. Some characters linger and change me—in Deliver Me, I was a mother who was raising her granddaughter because her daughter-in-law had killed her son. I have two sons [in real life] and I hesitated taking the part. That part took a good year to shed.
Box Office Mojo: How did you prepare for your role in Downtown: A Street Tale?
Bujold: I went to a [rehabilitation] center here in L.A. and I spoke to the woman who ran that center. It just came my way.
Box Office Mojo: How did you get the part?
Bujold: I had seen a film that [director] Rafal [Zielinski] had directed called Fun and he had directed really good performances. They pitched it, I read their script and I agreed to do it.
Box Office Mojo: Did you make changes?
Bujold: Small changes. For instance, she had an ex-lover and I said I'd rather have a child because I thought it would give her a gateway. I wanted to replace the lover with a son who still lives with her. She needed to have a maternal inclination. It's the mother part of me that allows me to play that social worker. Joey Dedio is very dedicated and he pulled that off. He stuck with it.
Box Office Mojo: What was the most challenging aspect?
Bujold: The sadness of it. Those kids are in there [i.e., struggling with addiction to drugs] and that was hard but at least there's hope at the end of the picture. I hope people feel like 'you made it—you're on the other side' and learn to be more loving and more compassionate.
Box Office Mojo: You also worked with writer and director Lawrence Foldes on Finding Home?
Bujold: That was paradise. That changed my life. They gave me a cabin in the woods in Maine. The character was so nice and Lawrence and me hit it off.
Box Office Mojo: You were breathtaking in Anne of the Thousand Days—
Bujold:—I had a lot of help. I had a coach. I was young and I was like an unwritten page. [Producer] Hal Wallis happened to see a film called Isabel that I'd been in with my then-husband, director Paul Almond, and [Mr. Wallis] called me, flew me to L.A. and gave me the part. I had a reading around the table with these magnificent English actors. It was great to work with Richard Burton. He was poetic. We would all go have lunch and he could recite verses of poetry.
Box Office Mojo: Some were shocked you were nominated for the 1969 Best Actress Academy Award. Were you?
Bujold: I was excited—I wasn't shocked. I thought it was a beautiful film and I thought I was pretty good in it. We were all good in it. I just saw it at the Academy's Great to be Nominated series. I brought my granddaughter and she was riveted. I still have one fan—a veteran whose father worked on the movie—that sends me mementos from that film.
Box Office Mojo: How did you know to pause while you were counting toward one thousand in that poignant scene?
Bujold: That's way back and I don't remember. But I am extremely vigilant about preparation and the preparation happened with a coach. It's in the text and, though you can't rely on it, you pray for grace. If you've done your homework and, most of all, are open to receive, you go forward. I read the script and it stays with me. Once that's a go, that's it. Every little thing I see in life is fed into this character—like feeding the cauldron. A word, or a thought. I had read something on Anne Boleyn that Hal gave me and I could look at her with joy and energy; Anne brought a smile to my face. It's more a state of being. Preparation for me is sacred.
Box Office Mojo: Have you seen any good movies?
Bujold: I don't go to cinema. But [of those recently screened] The Lives of Others, which was brilliant, is my favorite. It touched you. Pan's Labyrinth inspired me and I also loved The Fountain.
Box Office Mojo: You also starred as Cassandra in The Trojan Women with Katharine Hepburn—
Bujold: I'm just proud to be in that film.
Box Office Mojo: Why didn't it do well at the box office?
Bujold: I don't know. Maybe they weren't ready for four powerful women.
Box Office Mojo: You have been criticized for making poor career choices—
Bujold: The process is the process. I did Earthquake! for a contract and I loved doing that film. When I was [enrolled in Catholic school] at a convent—Hochelaga in east Montreal [Canada], they would show Ben-Hur [the 1959 version starring Charlton Heston]. It was wonderful, working with Charlton Heston and Ava Gardner in downtown L.A. We were very comfortable with each other. For me, it brought alive the days of Ben-Hur at the convent. Earthquake! was entertaining and people liked it.
Box Office Mojo: Long before Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, you starred opposite Robert Shaw in Swashbuckler—
Bujold:—That was great fun. Working with Robert Shaw was like working with Burton—he's brilliant. We loved each other. The fencing really got me in shape and we all practiced a lot. We shot in Puerto Vallarta [Mexico] and I remember going parasailing. As soon as that thing took off, it was frightening.
Box Office Mojo: How about your other pictures?
Bujold: I'm very proud of Obsession. I play three parts in it and I really enjoyed working with Brian de Palma. He directed me well and it was great to be in Florence and New Orleans. Coma was also great. I spent three days following a woman surgeon—it was kind of traumatic—and [director] Michael Crichton is a such a brilliant, intelligent man. It was a very kind of speedy ride. Very well done. [Co-star] Michael [Douglas] was totally professional—he had just come off The Streets of San Francisco, which really put him close to the people, and he had this charisma. There were people everywhere [around him]. I very much enjoyed being [the character] Susan Wheeler. And it's really her movie. I felt comfortable leading that movie. I also did Tightrope and I thought [co-star] Clint [Eastwood] was great.
Box Office Mojo: Why do you make so few movies?
Bujold: I'm older, more aware, and I agonize more now. I stir myself. I want a director to think he'd like to work with me—and I have a life, really. My career isn't my life, which is why I don't work as much. When a part comes, I'm like a little girl. I boogie board in the summer for fun. I just live my life.
Box Office Mojo: Downtown: A Street Tale has had a difficult road to fruition. How did it finally get released?
Bujold: [Writer and leading actor] Joey [Dedio] never let it go.
Box Office Mojo: Is that a lesson for aspiring moviemakers?
Bujold: Yes. Stay with your baby and don't abandon a project. You've done it, you've shot it, you wrote it. Don't just forget it.
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• More Interviews by Scott Holleran
• 'Downtown: A Street Tale' Official Web Site