Early in her career, Jacqueline Bisset discovered that she didn't need to be in every shot of a movie.
Bisset came to that realization while making Jerry Paris' underrated 1970 drama "The Grasshopper," which cast her as a wide-eyed teenager from British Columbia who winds up a prostitute in Las Vegas.
It was the first time the British actress, who had become an international sensation in such films as the seminal 1968 thriller "Bullitt" and the 1970 granddaddy of disaster flicks, "Airport," carried a movie.
"That was a good role," she said of "Grasshopper" during a recent interview at her rustic, bright Benedict Canyon home that was once owned by Vincent Price.
"I was young and I didn't know much about anything," Bisset said. "What I realized on the 'Grasshopper' was that I wasn't sure that I liked being in every shot. It wasn't fun. People were literally running up and down hallways, pulling my clothes off and trying to get me changed into the next outfit. I had no time to think. I like it when there is interchange."
The whippet-slender Bisset, who is an ageless 69, has had a blessed career working with some of cinema's top filmmakers, including François Truffaut in his Oscar-winning 1973 French classic "Day for Night"; Sidney Lumet in 1974's "Murder on the Orient Express"; Peter Yates on "Bullitt" and 1977's "The Deep"; George Cukor in 1981's "Rich and Famous"; John Huston in 1984's "Under the Volcano," and Claude Chabrol in 1995's "La Ceremonie."
Huston, Bisset recalled, didn't give her much direction, barely speaking to her at one point for four days. "I said to him, 'Is everything all right?' And he said, 'If not I'll tell you, my dear.'"
(Bisset appears in a small role in "2 Jacks," opening Friday, opposite the director's grandson, Jack Huston.)
The actress has also has defied the odds. Despite the fact that there are few meaty roles for women over the age of 50, Bisset is still in demand, playing complex parts such as ruthless businesswoman and extortionist on the fourth season of FX's "Nip/Tuck" and a mentally troubled concentration camp survivor with two grown sons in 2009's "Death in Love."
Her latest project is the six-part BBC miniseries "Dancing on the Edge," which premieres Saturday on Starz. Written and directed by Stephen Poliakoff, the miniseries revolves around a group of black jazz musicians who, despite racism, steadily rise to fame in early 1930s London. But their success crumbles after band members become involved in a murder conspiracy.
The series stars Chiwetel Ejiofor of "12 Years a Slave"; Matthew Goode and John Goodman. Bisset plays Lady Cremone, a reclusive British widowed aristocrat known for discovering unknown talent. Bisset's first episode airs Oct. 26.
She described Poliakoff as a "very interesting director and clever man. That's why I wanted to do it. ... I didn't have a lot of time to prepare for the reading, the scripts were so intense and very thick with stuff happening. To absorb it before I got the chance to meet him was almost impossible."
Poliakoff thought Bisset brought a "beautiful sort of period quality that was not of now, not sort of urban London and New York" to the production. "She brought a touch of old Hollywood."
Bisset recently completed Abel Ferrara's ("Bad Lieutenant") next film, "Welcome to New York," a drama based on the Dominique Strauss-Kahn hotel maid scandal with Gerard Depardieu as the French economist and Bisset as his wife.
"I think it will be on the raw side," Bisset said.
FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this post stated that the BBC miniseries "Dancing on the Edge" would premiere Friday. It premieres Saturday. Also, Bisset's first episode airs Oct. 26, not Oct. 25, as previously indicated.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun