Earlier this year, Kristin Scott Thomas was made a Dame, and she couldn’t be happier with the honour.
“In my mind’s eye, a Dame had always been someone with a couple of Jack Russells and a tweed skirt, but I love it. I think it’s the most wonderful thing to be given,” says the actress, who initially thought it was a joke that she was to be awarded the title.
“But I feel a bit nervous,” she adds. “It’s a sort of responsibility, because I have to step up to the plate and deliver the goods.”
Considering her success and performances, it’s perhaps difficult to imagine Scott Thomas ever feeling unsure of herself.
She’s carved a career playing aloof roles, in the likes of Four Weddings And A Funeral, which earned her a Bafta, and Gosford Park – but that’s acting, and she points out that people often assume she’s going to be similar off-screen.
“Sometimes you have to work harder for people not to be afraid of you, so you have to be extra chummy,” she says, jokingly raising her eyes to heaven and then breaking into a wide smile.
She laughs when one journalist’s description of her being the ‘go-to actor for elegant despair’ is mentioned. “I quite like that actually... elegant despair. That sums me up, really.”
The beautiful 54-year-old, who is today sporting a quiff, leather trousers and an oversized black coat, smiles often. She also sends herself up and is refreshingly candid.
Asked which film she’s most proud of, she remarks: “There are so many things I’m proud of for different reasons. There’s a Romanian film [1994’s An Unforgettable Summer] I did entirely in Romanian. I’m incredibly proud of that but no one’s seen it. I did a film with Nicolas Winding Refn [2013’s Only God Forgives], where I went a bit mad and I’m proud of that. I’m proud of The English Patient [the 1996 film that earned her an Academy Award nomination]. So I’m mostly proud of things.
“I mean, there are a few things where I think, ‘Oh dear, what went wrong there?’” she adds.
Perhaps at the mercy of the director’s vision and final cut?
“No. Sometimes it’s your own fault. You’re just over-acting.”
There’s little chance of being accused of that in her latest movie, Suite Francais, in which she’s on scene-stealing form.
The film is based on the bestselling book by Irene Nemirovsky and set in the fictional French town of Bussy during the early days of the German occupation.
At the centre of the story is Lucile Angellier (Michelle Williams), who is waiting for news from her husband, a prisoner of war. It’s the summer of 1940 and Parisian refugees are soon pouring into the small town, closely followed by a regiment of German soldiers who take up residence in the villagers’ homes. Lucile and her domineering mother-in-law Madame Angellier (Scott Thomas) are joined by the refined German officer Bruno von Falk (Matthias Schoenaerts), and it’s not long before a clandestine relationship between Lucile and Bruno ensues.
“In the book, Madame Angellier’s described as being extremely religious, very tiny, bird-like and white-haired, quite different from how we’ve approached the character,” says Cornwall-born Scott Thomas.
Madame Angellier might look different, but she remains as tough as she is in the book, prompting Bruno to joke that he should be the scary one.
“I figured that a mother whose son has disappeared, whose whereabouts you know nothing of, must be in an enormous state of anxiety,” notes Scott Thomas.
“I think that people, when they’re frightened or anxious, put up these terrible barriers to protect themselves. I think that’s what she’s doing. She’s got a lot to lose, but there is a development in the way she sees the world, through the film.”