Swedish born Britt Ekland’s career was launched at the age of 15 when she appeared in a toothpaste commercial. She then attended drama school and gained acting experience as a member of a touring theatre company in her native country.
Ekland went on to star in over 30 features including The Bobo with Peter Sellers (who became Ekland’s husband for four years), The Double Man with Yul Brynner, The Night They Raided Minsky’s, Baxter, The Man with the Golden Gun with Roger Moore, Royal Flash, The Wicker Man, Get Carter and Scandal.
1978 saw Ekland take to West End stage to star in a new play, Mate. Her other British theatre credits have included Run for your Wife opposite Eric Sykes, See How they Run with Victor Spinetti and Su Pollard, and 2002’s Dragon Variations as well as various pantos (Aladdin, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, Snow White). She has also toured Australia in Daphne du Maurier’s September Tide.
On television, Ekland’s numerous appearances have included Absolutely Fabulous. In addition, she has written three books.
The actress is currently starring in a national tour of Marc Camoletti’s Just Desserts, the farcical follow up to the highly successful Don’t Dress for Dinner.
Date & place of birth
Born 6 October 1942 in Stockholm, Sweden.
Lives now in...
This instant I live with my friends in Camberwell (south London).
First big break
My first big break was probably when I was 20 and I was discovered by Twentieth Century Fox. I was drinking a cappuccino on the Piazza Venezia in Rome, and they gave me a seven-year contract - that doesn’t happen any more.
Doing Bond was a highlight. It was something I wanted to do very much and something I truly, truly enjoyed. It was The Man with the Golden Gun in case you are too young to remember.
I haven’t done that many on stage, this is my sixth play. I like this one because it has never been done before so I started this role. In 20 years’ time when someone else does it, they’ll say Britt Ekland played that part first.
Roger Moore is one of my favourites because he was full of cheeky humour, he was great fun and always consistent, he never threw a wobbly.
I loved William Friedkin who directed me in the film The Night They Raided Minky’s because he was very specific and honest and young. He got the performance out of me which he knew I had in me. Many years later he directed The Exorcist and he wanted to test my daughter for it, but he warned me if she did that film she’d be changed forever, so I said no way, I wouldn’t allow her to test. She was furious with me about that. I think it took her a while to forgive me.
I do like Ray Cooney. I think he does very funny stuff.
What roles would you most like to play still?
At some point, it would be wonderful to play in an Ibsen or Strindberg, but whether that is going to be possible for me or not, I don’t know.
You've worked extensively in film. Why do you like to return to theatre?
I think that’s what you do. You know, most actresses don’t have the same longevity as men like Harrison Ford and Sean Connery so theatre is a good way to switch from one to another. I started in theatre in Sweden and then moved onto film, so this seems like a natural progress. It’s also a great thing to have the instant gratification from the audience - or not, as the case may be.
What's the first thing you saw on stage that had an impact on you? And the last?
I can remember my first film, that was Mutiny on the Bounty. My mother took me, I was under age but she took me anyway. I can’t remember my first play. I went to drama school and I worked in the wardrobe of the theatre to earn money, so the first play I saw must have been there. But the first I remember vividly was in New York in 1964 or 65, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. I think I remember it because, in principle, you’ve always heard of Hamlet, even as a student you knew about Hamlet, and to write this play based on a subplot of that seemed so ingenious and curious, so that’s stuck in my memory.
Recently, I saw Mary Poppins and I was absolutely stunned - it’s one of most brilliant things I’ve seen on stage. They mix today’s technical knowledge and stage wizardry with Victorian sets and costumes. On top of that, it’s beautifully acted and sung. The young people are astonishing, they can only be eight or nine and to have that presence at that age, I was absolutely amazed.
If you could swap places with one person (living or dead) for a day, who would it be?
I don’t think I’d want to do that. I don’t want to be anyone else. At this precise moment, I’m extremely happy to be Britt Ekland.
I’m a big fan of detective novels. There’s a Norwegian called Karin Fossum, she writes detective novellas and also very quirky stories. She comes from my neighbouring country and is a superb writer – she comes well recommended.
Favourite holiday destination
Sweden, oh yes, my house in Sweden. I spent all my life in California. I spent the Sixties in the South of France and Italy, Sardinia, Spain, all those lovely places. But now Sweden is my favourite.
A health website called www.mercola.com. It’s an online Doctor and you can ask him anything you want about health. I love it.
If you hadn't been an actor, what would you have done professionally?
A veterinarian, definitely but I hated school and it took seven years to do that so I said no no no! The funny thing is I would like to go back to school now, but life isn’t like that.
Why did you want to accept your part in Just Desserts?
It’s from a very known author. I haven’t done any of his plays before but I know they have been very successful. I think my part is very funny - she’s a great catalyst, when she arrives that’s when everything starts going wrong. I also know Giles (Watling who plays husband Robert), who was in Dragon Variations with me a few years ago. You know, I’ve had some time off I’ve sorted out my life, and it was time for me to get off my butt and work again.
You also toured in Run for Your Wife. Why do you think that farce as a theatrical form survives?
Because more than any time people want to really laugh now. All you get on television is realistic programmes where you laugh at people doing stupid things - it’s a cruel laugh not a hot one like having a good-time laugh. But this, this is words woven so the actors can be funny. Also to have a whole audience laugh at you is fantastic, there is no better feeling in life.
What are the best & worst aspects of touring?
The best bit is that you see new places, like I’ve just come from Taunton and the people were lovely, very friendly and the weather was beautiful. I have my little beautiful dog with me, my Chihuahua – he’s a short-haired one not one of those big fluffy things. I also have my car which I use as a cupboard so I buy what I like and just sling it in the back. The worst part is sleeping in a different bed every night but I bring my own duvet and pillows so that helps.
What's your favourite line from Just Desserts?
I like this line but I can’t tell you the context: “Bobby’s not like that.” If you come and see the play, you’ll get it and find it funny. I’m not meant to be a funny person in the play, I’m meant to be a person that’s deceived but because I’m naïve to the situation, that makes it funny.
What's the funniest/oddest/most notable thing that has happened during rehearsals of Just Desserts?
Yes, I’ll tell you what happened when we had the read –through. I decided to take the train from Camberwell rather than drive, so the guys I live with got out all the timetables for me. I needed to arrive for the rehearsal at noon so I got the 10 o’clock train which should have got me into Victoria in plenty of time. But, first of all, it was 30 minutes late, and once I got on it, it went as far as Clapham Junction, then went ten yards out of that station and stopped for two hours! There was a woman doctor next to me on the train who had to cancel all her appointments and I had to call my agent to ask them to warn the director I would be late. I really wanted to be on time. I got to the theatre at 12.45pm. Lucky for me, one of the other actors was on the same train and he said, “Thank god you were on the train, the director would never have believed me”. That was the first time in years I’ve been on a train - I have to say that British Rail is disgraceful.
What are your plans for the future?
I think that this will probably be my future. It’s a new play so we will have to build a reputation. We are going (on tour) until mid October and then we’ll see if they add on any more dates. If not, I’ll go to LA to spend Christmas with my children.
- Britt Ekland was speaking to Hannah Kennedy