Multi-talented actress is Living Well
BY SONDRA BARR, LIVING WELL Magazine Cover Story
From ingénue to femme fatale, from leading lady to victim of the week, 61-year-old Jane Seymour has embraced diverse roles throughout a career that has showcased her range as an actress. And, her success shows no signs of faltering. This year, she has three new movies coming out, including the comedy Austenland from the writers of Napoleon Dynamite. Still breathtaking, Seymour’s acting prowess (she’s won multiple Golden Globes and an Emmy Award) and undeniable beauty are only part of her allure. An accomplished painter, writer, designer, philanthropist, and more, Seymour approaches life with a passion for creating beautiful things and for bettering the lives of those around her.
For all of Seymour’s blessings, her life has not been paved without hardship. Before landing what would become one of the most pivotal roles in her career, that of Dr. Michaela ‘Mike’ Quinn in the television show Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, Seymour found herself in dire straits when her former husband lost everything the couple possessed after making poor investment decisions during their marriage. “Unbeknownst to me, we’d gone way beyond losing everything,” she says.
Although penniless, Seymour, who’d grown up in a British household that valued self-sufficiency and practicality, faced her predicament with creativity, much like she did in her youth. “From the time I was 7, I was obsessed with ballet and performing. My parents couldn’t really afford the tuition and they certainly couldn’t afford to send me to the professional school,” explains Seymour. “I’ve always designed and made things, long before I was an actress. That’s how I earned enough to go to ballet school.”
“Out of necessity, I learned how to do a lot of useful things: knit, crochet, patch, weave, cook, and how to shop carefully,” she says. Seymour used her know-how to start a clothing line to finance her dancing. “In London, I sold on South Molton Street to what’s now the most prestigious store there called Browns. I was in the newspapers with my designs,” Seymour details. “A lot of people put their names on collections and say they are designers, but I actually was physically not only designing but making them and selling them when I was 15.”
A Broken Dream Leads to a New Trajectory
Her dream of becoming a member of England’s Royal Ballet wasn’t to be, she suffered knee problems and turned her passion for performance to the screen instead. But her design aesthetic and initiative didn’t disappear even after she achieved worldwide recognition for one of her early roles as Bond girl Solitaire in the 1973 James Bond film Live and Let Die. After which she appeared in a string of well-regarded movies and television projects, including the female lead in the 12-part miniseries War and Remembrance, where she played Natalie Henry, an American Jewish woman trapped in Europe during World War II. It was among Seymour’s most meaningful roles, especially because of her heritage. “War and Remembrance is important to me because one side of my family was Jewish, although we were never raised Jewish and my mother wasn’t Jewish. From my father’s side of my family, three family members were killed in Bergen-Belsen (a Nazi concentration camp in Germany),” says Seymour, who recently found out that 90% of the people from the town where her grandfather was from were wiped out during the war.
Seymour continued to land coveted roles in both movies and television throughout the 80s until abruptly finding out she was broke. It was her role as Dr. Quinn that she says saved her life, and her sanity. “I was at the lowest end of my life when I had no money, no home, and I was in desperate debt. I had lost my ability to trust, or love, or be loved,” she explains.
She sorely needed a paycheck. “My agent called all the networks and said, ‘Jane needs to work and she’ll do anything.’” At the last minute and in her moment of need, Seymour was offered the role of a tough female doctor in a small Wild West town and within a day was in costume, on the set of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. The show was a huge hit from 1993 to 1998 and endures in syndicated reruns around the world. Seymour’s still amazed that she landed a role that was so uniquely right for her and paralleled aspects of her own life. Her father was a surgeon and she grew up around hospitals and talking with him about medicine. “It (the show) opened up my heart, literally. Every week, every scene, I learned something.” The series also marked another opportunity to open her heart. During production, she developed a relationship with her soon-to-be husband, actor/director/producer James Keach.
The series reinvigorated her career and earned her a Golden Globe, which was followed up by one of the most important accolades of her life, when she was made an Officer of the British Empire. “To be honored by the Queen for not just your work but your charitable efforts, and for generally representing the country I was born in, was very meaningful to me in terms of being British,” says Seymour, who’s also a proud American citizen.
An Open Heart
Since that pivotal period in her life, Seymour has fully embraced the idea of an open heart and has woven it into many aspects of her life and throughout www.janeseymour.com, the epicenter for her many projects. From her paintings and artwork, which inspired her Open Heart jewelry collection (exclusively sold at Kay Jewelers), to her books, and her Open Heart Foundation, a nonprofit charity she established to raise funds to enrich the lives of children, the idea of turning life’s challenges into a vehicle to help others is one she’s firmly dedicated to.
Seymour also believes in taking care of herself and attributes her enduring good looks to her diet and skin care program. “We eat from our garden everyday,” says Seymour. “We even have our own free-range chickens. I tent not to eat red meat.” Meanwhile, to maintain her radiant skin, she uses her own Natural Advantage skincare line and she believes in giving herself gentle peels rather than going to get facials. As for her lustrous locks: “I don’t do my hair too much,” she says. “I just wash it with great shampoo and always use really good conditioners and really good color products.” What she does shy away from includes complicated beauty regimens, as well as fillers and facelifts. “I don’t do all that plastic stuff. I’m trying to age gracefully,” she says. “I do look around and I see a lot of people who look like they’ve had something done. I’d rather look like a real person with a few wrinkles than somebody who looks like she’s pumped up…I’m an actress. I want to convince people that I’m a real person going through whatever that predicament is. So, it’s important for my face to move and have character.”
The actress points to a recent movie she did as an example. “I have another movie coming out in May on the Hallmark Channel called Lake Effects. I definitely look older and definitely look my age in it, purposely,” she says. Indeed, she’s an actress that hasn’t been pigeonholed by her face or age. “When I did East of Eden, I played the character from 13 to 60. I think I was about 29 at the time. I played Wallis Simpson until she was 70 or 80. I’m used to doing that.” Then again, age doesn’t scare Seymour like it does some of her contemporaries. “I think it’s difficult anywhere when the idea is that after you’re 40 you’re done. I got lucky; after I turned 40, everything just got better then ever.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have to work for her toned physique. When she’s not traveling, she uses a nearby trainer, who incorporates a mixture of Pilates, weights, Gyrotonics, and aerobics into Seymour’s routine. “I’m smaller now than when I was 17. I’m about 7 pounds less, believe it or not,” she describes of the results. Eleven years ago, she had back surgery to repair a herniated disc, which is still a concern, but does little to slow her down. Not only did she compete on Dancing with the Stars a few years after her surgery, she also just completed a movie with Disney’s Chelsea Kane where she plays a choreographer. “People are going to freak out when they see what I did,” she exclaims. “I kept pinching myself saying, ‘God, am I lucky. I get to work with all these 22-year-olds and 18-year-olds and here I am dancing with them and doing all this stuff that I never thought I’d be able to do (again).’”
Love has also brought happiness back into her life. “I’ve never been very good at being an arm piece,” she admits. “For someone like me, it’s not easy to find the right mate because I love being busy and a lot of people know who I am.” With Keach, she shares not only a strong work ethic and spiritual connection, but also a love for family. Besides their twin 16-year-old sons, they have four children from separate marriages, and are soon-to-be second time grandparents. Their Malibu home serves as the hub for the family’s many endeavors and features not only a design and art studio for Seymour and a screening room for Keach, but also a pitching and batting cage for Kristopher, and a spot for his twin brother Johnny to practice with his band, Plead the Fifth. “All six of my children I’m really proud of,” she says. “At the end of the day, I think the most meaningful thing that I ever hear from people is when they tell me how great my kids are and how they’re not like celebrity kids at all.”
As for retiring, it’s not in her vocabulary. “They’ll have to take me down with my boots on or, in my case, my pointe shoes on.”
Click the image below to read LIVING WELL Magazine’s spring 2012 cover story on Jane Seymour.