'Dr. Quinn' fans will be surprised to see what the new part has in store.
By CHRIS KALTENBACH
What's a nice girl like Jane Seymour doing in a bawdy comedy such as "Wedding Crashers," playing a sexually rapacious middle-age mom unafraid to say or do anything?
Having a blast, it turns out. Not to mention torpedoing some preconceived notions people may have about an actress who's best known for playing a frontier doctor for six seasons on the family-friendly CBS series "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman."
"Wedding Crashers" stars Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn as two arrested adolescents who make a hobby of showing up at weddings uninvited, determined to be the life of the party and dedicated to bedding as many beautiful women as possible. When they crash a tony wedding on Maryland's Eastern Shore (where much of the film was shot last summer), Wilson's character attracts the unwanted attention of the bride's randy mother, played by Seymour.
"I read the script and thought it was hysterical," the actress said over the phone from a Los Angeles hotel room, where she was busy plugging the film. "It was a great character, and I knew that no one would ever think of me in a million years as being right for this part."
At 54, with a career as queen of the TV miniseries seemingly behind her -- "They don't make TV movies very much, they make reality shows," she explains, "and I've so far managed to turn all those down" -- Seymour sounds delighted that she can still throw her fans a curve.
"I think people didn't look at me and say, 'Oh yes, comedy.' I think they looked at me and said, 'Oh yes, she's either going to be meaningful or she's going to fall in and out of love or she's going to be a victim.' I don't think they ever said, 'Funny.'"
Neither did they ever say "topless," until a series of newspaper articles, mostly in the United Kingdom, announced breathlessly that the British-born Seymour would be exposing herself in "Crashers."
The Express referred to her as "until now, one of Hollywood's most famously covered-up stars," then revealed how Wilson's character in the film "rips off her bra to expose her breasts in all their naked glory." A columnist in the Bolton Evening News sniffed, "Hollywood actress Jane Seymour, she of the tumbling tresses, has done her first topless scene at age 54 and I hope she doesn't live to regret it. Jane is beautifully maintained, but the only fear is that young laughter may not just be confined to the script."
Likewise, several Internet sites are agog with news of the newly revealed actress, most introduced with variations on the obvious "See more of Jane" headlines.
For her part, Seymour laughs at all the attention -- a little flattered, perhaps, that she still warrants such fascination, but mostly chuckling because she knows it represents a whole lot of ado over practically nothing. The scene in question, in which she doffs her top in front of a reluctant Wilson, reveals little more than would be shown in a network television comedy; careful camera angles and hand placement cover up all of what Monty Python once referred to as the "naughty bits."
"Oh yeah, I know, it's amazing!" Seymour says of the furor. "Owen Wilson is the only person, apart from myself, who ever saw anything to look at, really."
And disappointed fans needn't hope that more will be revealed in a future director's cut DVD. "She was topless, but that was never intended to be in the movie," says the film's director, David Dobkin. "It is cut exactly the way I intended for it to be cut. The point was comedy, not nudity."
Not, Seymour hastens to add, that the scene was easy to shoot. But it was liberating.
"In terms of being able to just stand there in front of people without my clothes on, that was definitely interesting to start doing at my age. But, you know, I feel that now I'm capable of playing pretty much anything. I feel a sudden freedom as a human being, as a woman, to play all kinds of different characters."
In a career that's lasted nearly four decades, Seymour has never deserved to be pigeonholed. Since first attracting widespread attention in 1973, opposite Roger Moore as Bond girl Solitaire in "Live and Let Die," Seymour has remained active on both the big and small screens. At the movies, where her success has been spotty, she played opposite Tom Selleck's victimized jewel thief in "Lassiter" (1984) and Christopher Reeve's time-traveling romancer in "Somewhere in Time" (1980).
It's on television that Seymour really made her mark. For years, she was a mainstay of made-for-TV movies and miniseries -- "Captains and the Kings" (1976), "East of Eden" (1981), "The Haunting Passion" (1983), "War and Remembrance" (1988), "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" (1992); she even won an Emmy for her supporting role in 1988's "Onassis: The Richest Man in the World."
She then found steady work and new fans as the frontier doctor with the confusing first name of Michaela -- the locals thought they were getting a male doctor -- on "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman." The series ran on CBS from 1993 to 1998, followed by a pair of TV movies, in 1999 and 2001.
Back in action
With "Quinn" behind her, Seymour has become an infrequent presence on film and TV. In part, that's because she wanted to devote more time to her children. (Her youngest, twin boys John and Kristopher, are 10; she has been married to actor-director James Keach since 1993). But if "Wedding Crashers" and her newfound flair for comedy and raunch opens the door to more filmic pursuits, she says she's ready to embrace the possibilities.
"At first I thought, 'Oh gosh, the 'Dr. Quinn' fans will go nuts when they see this.' And I thought, you know, there's a way of playing this so that actually I could bring those fans in and probably introduce them to a really entertaining and exciting night or afternoon in the cinema, that maybe they wouldn't have visited before."