Don't Mess With Joan Collins, Seriously

By Neal Broverman

Originally published on Advocate.com November 26 2012 11:52 AM ET

Thanks to Lindsay Lohan, everyone’s talking about Liz Taylor these days. But it was another mid-century starlet that almost played Liz’s most famous role — Joan Collins. The British actress was thisclose to portraying Cleopatra after Taylor fell ill with pneumonia during production. Thankfully, Liz recovered and Collins, who already starred in several successful films co-starring everyone from Paul Newman to Bette Davis, moved on to the racy screen adaptations of The Stud and The Bitch (stories originally told by her novelist sister, Jackie Collins). Joan, of course, later segued to TV and gave life to one of the genre’s most memorable divas, the scheming Alexis Carrington of Dynasty. The bitch is back, so to speak, as Collins returns to TV on Monday night. Collins is playing a thinly-veiled version of herself on Happily Divorced, the TV Land comedy starring Fran Drescher as a woman trying to make friends with her gay ex-husband. We caught up with Joan on election day and found her still every inch the diva. Don’t believe us? Read on:

The Advocate: Hi, Ms. Collins, how are you?
Collins: Call me, Joan.

OK! It’s election day—can I ask who you’re voting for?
I don’t vote, I’m English.

Do you have a preference among the candidates?
I’m not going to get into politics.

OK. So, you’re playing a fictionalized version of yourself on Happily Divorced. What mannerisms, quirks, and bon mots are essential for playing Joan Collins?
They’d have to exaggerate all the things I normally do. Flamboyant hand gestures, exaggerated line readings. Everything just a little bit bigger.

You’ve been married five times. What do you think when people talk about the so-called “sanctity of marriage”? We hear that saying all the time.
I don’t really know what that means. Explain to me the sanctity of marriage and I’ll tell you.

Well, when it’s directed toward gay people it’s insinuating we’re sullying the institution of marriage.
I’m not one of [those people]. Again, you’re getting into a political situation here, which I really don’t want to get involved in. Obviously, I have so many gay friends. Many of them are married, many of them have children, many of them are in civil partnerships. I also have many heterosexual friends who are in the same situations. It’s up to the individual.

I just caught The Stud and The Bitch on Netflix. Does it make you nervous or proud they’re so easily available?
Why would I be nervous? Both are so mild compared to what actresses do on the screen today. It’s risible. It’s just a joke—why would it make me nervous?

I don’t know! I think they’re great.
I think they were a part of the late ’70s and at the time, they were considered erotic. Any 8-year-old can see the same thing today if they can operate a remote. The amount of hard-core, disgusting porn available is utterly shocking. I was with my 8-year-old grandchild the other day and I happened to have on a very popular TV show. She turned it off and said there was so much bad language on it. And I do agree; there’s so much bad language and so much hard-core pornography out there. But The Stud was done with really good taste.

I have a Dynasty question. Before the show, were you ever involved in a physical fight?
No, I’m very, very anti-violence. I don’t believe in physical violence at all. I would say Alexis fights battles with her tongue, not her fists. I was always very pleased to have my double do the heavy stuff.

You’re a pretty prolific Tweeter. What’s your take on the Twitterverse?
I find it a lot of fun. But I find it becoming slightly dangerous because you can tweet something with an English sense of humor—which I have—and it can be taken totally, totally, totally the wrong way. So I’m being more careful about what I write. Particularly during the storm--I was very sympathetic to everything that happened, but I made a couple of light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek jokes, which some people took  offense to.

It’s hard to hear inflection in a tweet. Since this is a gay interview, I have to ask: what was Bette Davis like?
Terrifying. I was one of her six ladies-in-waiting [in 1955's The Virgin Queen] and all of us were between 18 and 21, and we were all terrified of her. She was very much playing the diva queen and in a bad mood most of the time because she was wearing this really tight corset, this huge thing, and her head was shaved and she was wearing this rather scratchy orange wig. She would stalk about the set, smoking heavily. We used to cluster in corners, terrified of her. We didn’t really have much to say; we were of a different generation. She’s a great actress, but we would make jokes about how frightened we were (laughs).

Besides some of the questions I asked, what are some of the most annoying questions you routinely get asked in interviews?
“Are you really like Alexis?” (laughs)

Would you ever consider going back to TV full-time?
Yes, absolutely. I would like to. But I’m kind of lazy. Even though I’m written 14 books and write [newspaper] articles. I’m doing a movie in December in England; a very funny movie. But I really need my three or four months in the south of France every summer.

Sure. Are you a New Yorker now?
I’m an Angeleno, I’m a Londoner.

You’re a woman of the world.
What? Yeah, I’m lucky. I have a few properties, which I like.