(L-R) Britt Ekland (Mrs Pleasant) and Tracy Shaw (Annabelle). The Cat And The Canary - UK Tour - Photo By Paul Coltas

We talk to Britt Ekland

We talk to Britt Ekland

1960s sex symbol, Bond girl, high-profile romances and friendships with royalty – Britt Ekland has not led a tame life. But, as she heads to Richmond Theatre this month, she tells T&L that what she is looking forward to most is walking her dog in the park

Swedish actress Britt Ekland rose to fame in the 1960s, having been spotted on tour with a drama group in Paris. Her beauty soon captured the attention of Peter Sellers, who saw her picture in the newspaper and determined to marry her – he did just weeks later.

Today, at 77, she is still blonde, glamorous and striking – though on stage in The Cat and The Canary, on tour and coming to Richmond Theatre, you might not recognise her, dressed as she is in housekeeper’s garb and a dowdy wig. “It is something of a departure for me,” laughs Britt, her husky voice still carrying a Swedish accent despite having lived in Britain for many years, and today calling Los Angeles home. “My character is always on stage. She’s always listening,” Britt says of Mrs Pleasant.

The popular 1920s murder mystery has been performed countless times and turned into several films. “This is a new adaptation and it feels good to be part of having created something. So right now this is my baby girl,” says Britt.

Having appeared in films such as The Wicker Man, Get Carter, and playing Mary Goodnight in Bond film The Man With The Golden Gun, she has a long filmography behind her. And while she has done some stage work, she says this latest role appealed as it would be a challenge. “I have never shied away from a challenge. Every couple of years or so I pressure myself into doing something crazy and not something other people would do. But at the same time, I am an actress, this is my job, and I love to work, so I decided that I would try it.”

She’s also looking forward to coming to Richmond, and has played at the theatre several times before. “It is a beautiful theatre, a little jewel box.” She has a rescue dog, a mini Pinscher Chihuahua mix, and she will be exploring the park with her. “I appreciate the park, anywhere there is greenery I will play! And so I will be going walking. She is lovely and as quiet as a mouse when she wants to be. She is a good companion.”

Heading out on tour, she’s also looking forward to the excitement of doing her laundry when it finally wraps up in August. “When you’re on the road, it all sounds fabulous and glamorous, but you do eight shows a week. And you live in hotels and you throw all your clothes in a bag…you just want to get back and do the laundry!”

When she’s not at home in LA, where her children and grandchildren live, she escapes to her property in Sweden for some down time. Her ideal day off, she says, is walking the dog and having a roast in the evening. “An easy life,” she adds.

It all sounds a far cry from the life she lived back in the 1960s and 70s. As well as her marriage to Peter Sellers, her other high profile relationships included the rocker Rod Stewart. A film of Sellers’ life was made in 2004 with Charlize Theron playing Britt. She reportedly did not like the film, claiming it was not a true portrayal of her marriage.

If a biopic were to be made about her own life, who would Britt choose to play her? “There is no one who can play me! It would have to be an unknown young Swedish girl.” And what would be the highlights? “I could not actually tell you the highlights – if you Google me you see that there are so many highlights that it’s impossible to pinpoint them. My life is one enormous highlight. You know, I have lived a full life and a working life. And I have always supported myself in the manner to which I have accustomed myself…”

And she has certainly put in the hard work. While The Wicker Man became a cult classic, it was hardly comfortable on set. “We were in the highlands of Scotland and it was cold, windy and rainy and we had thin clothes.” Did she know how popular the film would become? “I don’t think anyone did at the time. It was just, you know, another film, and the director and the producer in particular had wanted another actress; but I took the role and then discovered I was pregnant when we’d started filming.” She hadn’t wanted to bare all, and a body double was brought in for the nude scenes.

Britt said recently that a lot has changed for actresses since her heyday in the 60s and 70s when sexism was rife. Has the power of the #metoo movement surprised her? “No. I have great faith in women, when other people don’t. I don’t think that we can change more than we have right now, but the future will show how far we can go… I’m very proud of the women that have stood up and in many cases lost the role, or in some cases gained better roles. I’m not really involved in the movie industry any more as I don’t make films. But I’m very proud of what the young women have achieved and they should be proud of themselves.”

While she may no longer be involved with the industry, she says she has no plans to retire as an actress. “Actors never retire! I’ve had some interesting work over the last five or six years including reality TV and theatre. If I don’t work I miss being part of an ensemble. I have boundless energy, more than most of my contemporaries – and even more than some of the younger ones.”

Britt is also channelling her energies into campaigning, both for the Alzheimer’s Society (her mother suffered from the condition), and for newborn screening in Britain for Adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), a rare genetic brain disorder: her grandson Lucas has been diagnosed with the faulty gene. He was born in California, where newborn screening is available, and consequently he will be frequently monitored. The earlier problems are detected, the better the chance of intervening with treatments such as a stem cell transplant.

“I think that if you can use your fame for something useful, other than the 15 minutes that young people have today that is totally pointless, then you need to…I’m very vocal…”

The Cat and The Canary, Richmond Theatre, 2 – 7 March