From Bond Girl To Medicine Woman: Jane Seymour's Big Break

From Bond Girl To Medicine Woman: Jane Seymour's Big Break

9:51pm Jul 25, 2015
Roger Moore and Jane Seymour in Live And Let Die.
Roger Moore and Jane Seymour in Live And Let Die.
Danjaq/Eon/UA/The Kobal Collection

As part of a series called My Big Break, All Things Considered is collecting stories of triumph, big and small. These are the moments when everything seems to click, and people leap forward into their careers.

You know actress Jane Seymour from the frontier town of Colorado Springs in the hit TV show Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.

Long before she made it in Hollywood as a symbol of the American frontier, Seymour was a little-known British actress. She met with two movie producers in England who were working on a new James Bond film — 1973's Live and Let Die.

They needed a Bond girl, and they invited Seymour to audition.

"I was wearing a coat with a fur collar and a fur hat," Seymour says. "The idea being to keep my hair off my face and then when I took the hat off, my hair-- which was very long and I sat on in those days — came tumbling down."

Seymour credits that hair-tumble for getting the role of the tarot card-reading psychic Solitaire. The producers hired her on the spot.

She was just 20 years old.

"All I remember [about] doing the Bond film was it was such a big deal," she says. "It was Roger [Moore]'s first one and I really became very good friends with the stuntmen."

That's because Seymour did her own stunt in a high-speed chase scene. James Bond drives a double-decker bus under a low-hanging bridge while Solitaire sits inside. As they drive under the bridge, the top of the bus gets torn off.

"The idiots put me in the bus," she says. "I mean, Roger [Moore] wasn't there, no one else was there ... It could've been anybody could have played that. But I was in there and I said, 'Have you done this before?' And they went, 'No, we did it mathematically. We hope it works. Action!' "

Luckily, the stunt was flawless and her role as Solitaire became her big break.

"It wasn't really hard to get roles directly after that," she says. "I met Renée Valente, who was a casting director at the time. And she said, 'If you can lose your English accent, you would do very well in America.' "

Following Valente's advice, Seymour brushed up on her American accent and moved from England to Hollywood.

"I came to America with no work permit, no agent, nowhere really to live, and within six weeks I got my first role," she says.

It was in the 1976 mini-series Captain and the Kings.

"I became labeled as the 'queen of the mini-series' because I did one mini-series after another," she says. "Basically, I worked consistently and usually with a different American accent every time."

While Seymour may have been at the top of her career, she was also in crippling debt — and didn't even know it.

"I'd been married to one of the top business managers and one day I found out that I was completely beyond bankrupt," she says. "Like $9 million in the red with lawsuits from every major bank including the FDIC."

At the time, she says she had no idea what happened to her money.

"I was married to a financial expert so when he said, 'Sign here,' I did. Of course, it was the housing market, and he'd been getting me to personally sign," she says.

On the verge of losing her house and with two children to take care of, Seymour was desperate for more work.

"I called my agent and I said, 'I will do anything. Please tell the networks,' " she says.

CBS came back with a pilot called, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. Her agent told her that she'd have to commit for five years and sign the contract by the following morning.

The lead role of Dr. Michaela "Mike" Quinn wasn't a promising one, either. Seymour says no one believed in the show. They told her it would never work.

"A woman in the lead, that doesn't work. Medical show, that doesn't work. Western, definitely doesn't work. Children and animals, definitely doesn't work. Family values? Forget about it," Seymour says.

But the show was an instant hit and Jane Seymour became a household name.

"One of the proudest things I've done is Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. It was such a remarkable series," she says.

But she's enjoyed playing roles beyond Dr. Mike.

"I've had the privilege of playing leading ladies, victims and then of course evil people — I'm very good at evil," she says. "I love acting."

We want to hear about your big break. Send us an e-mail at mybigbreak@npr.org.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ARUN RATH, HOST:

Time now for our series My Big Break, about career triumphs big and small. You know Jane Seymour from the frontier town of Colorado Springs in her hit TV show "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman." But long before she made it in Hollywood, Seymour was a little-known actress meeting with a couple of movie producers in England. They were working on a new James Bond film, "Live And Let Die," starring Roger Moore, and they were looking for a Bond girl.

JANE SEYMOUR: I was wearing a coat with a fur collar and a fur hat, the idea being to keep my hair off my face. And then, when I took the hat off, my hair, which was very long and I sat on in those days, came tumbling down. And basically, that's how I got the role. And I was offered the job on the spot.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LIVE AND LET DIE")

ROGER MOORE: (As James Bond) My name is Bond - James Bond.

SEYMOUR: (As Solitaire) I know who you are, what you are and why you have come. You have made a mistake. You will not succeed.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SEYMOUR: All I remember doing the Bond film was it was such a big deal. It was Roger's first one. And I really became very good friends with the stuntmen because I was in one of the stunts - the one where the bus went under the bridge. The idiots put me in the bus.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SEYMOUR: I mean, Roger wasn't there. No one else was there but stunt people. Why - it could've been anybody that could've played that. But I was in there. And I said have you done this before? And they went no, we did it mathematically. We hope it works. Action.

(SOUNDBITE OF GLASS SHATTERING)

SEYMOUR: The Bond film was it - that was the action movie. I would definitely say that was a big break.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SEYMOUR: It wasn't really hard to get roles directly after that. I met Renee Valente, who was a casting director at the time. And she said if you can lose your English accent, you would do very well in America. And so I came to America with no work permit, no agent, nowhere really to live; and within six weeks, I got my first role - "Captain And The Kings." And I was so excited, I became labeled as the queen of the mini-series, because I did one mini-series after another.

Basically, I worked consistently and usually with a different American accent every time. Just before I did Dr. Quinn, I'd been married to one of the top business managers. And one day I found out that I was completely beyond bankrupt - like $9 million in the red with lawsuits from every major bank including the FDIC. And I had no idea what was happening with the money. I was married to a financial expert, so when he said sign here, I did. And, of course, it was the housing market, and he'd been getting me to personally sign - that's another story.

Anyway, this point to the story is that I realized I was penniless and about to lose my home. And I had two small children. So I called my agent and I said I will do anything. Please tell the networks.

One of the networks, CBS, said, well, you know, we have this little movie of the week - "Dr. Quinn." We don't think it'll go to series, but just in case it does, she has to sign for five years and she has to sign tomorrow morning at 10 a.m.

So I said what do I do? And they said, oh, listen, your circumstances, you know, just sign for it. It's never going to be a series, you know? It's a woman in the lead - that doesn't work. Medical show - that doesn't work. Western - definitely doesn't work. Children and animals - definitely doesn't work. Family values - forget about it.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DR. QUINN, MEDICINE WOMAN")

SEYMOUR: (As Dr. Quinn) Colorado Springs needs a doctor, and I happen to be one.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) No one around here has ever heard of a lady doctor.

SEYMOUR: (As Dr. Quinn) I am a doctor - Michaela Quinn, M.D.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SEYMOUR: And then, of course, it was a hit right from the start. And one of the proudest things I've ever done is "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman." It was such a remarkable series.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SEYMOUR: I've had the privilege of playing leading ladies, victims and then, of course, evil people. I'm very good at evil. But (laughter) I love acting.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RATH: Jane Seymour - actress, producer, artist and cofounder of the Open Hearts Foundation. You don't have to be a Bond girl to have a big break. Send us your story - mybigbreak@npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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