From Juliet to Mother Teresa and Mrs. Bates

Olivia Hussey on her wild career

Born in Argentina and raised in England, Olivia Hussey was just 15 when she was chosen to play li'l miss Capulet in the 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet. Since then she's had a bewilderingly diverse career that encompasses work with Burt Lancaster ("a lovely gentleman"), Vanessa Redgrave ("such a giving lady"), and Michael Jackson (Hussey acted in an unreleased Jackson music video that also featured Lou Ferrigno), as well as legendary softcore directors Radley Metzger and Zalman King. Hussey has played the Virgin Mary, Mother Teresa, and Norman Bates's mom. She's done voice work on Pinky and the Brain and Nintendo games. She appeared in the infamous 1973 musical version of Lost Horizon and starred in the 1974 mother of all slasher flicks, Black Christmas. She's been in adaptations of Sir Walter Scott, Stephen King, and Harold Robbins. Her résumé also includes Turkey Shoot (a.k.a. Escape 2000), a particularly nasty and effective 1980 Australian spin on "The Most Dangerous Game."

In addition to acting gigs, the still gorgeous 56-year-old Hussey remains busy with her clothing line of romantic kaftans and tunics, which are quite beautiful. She's also a sales rep for mangosteen beverage ZanGo (the health benefits of which had not yet been determined as of deadline by yours truly). She recently spoke with me by phone from her Los Angeles home. The interview had been delayed by a home emergency.

OLIVIA HUSSEY I really have to apologize for missing your call earlier.

SFBG No problem, but as punishment my questions will now be limited to Lost Horizon and Turkey Shoot.

OH Oh god! But people do ask me about Turkey Shoot. I laugh about it as one of the worst movies ever made. Yet a friend of mine in Rome loves it — he hosts regular screenings.

SFBG I actually heard your Romeo and Juliet before seeing it. A junior high English teacher played the soundtrack to our class, which laughed uncontrollably because there's so much panting. Of course, it made sense in context later on.

OH Oh yes. Franco [Zeffirelli] really pushed us for what he called "that breathlessness of youth." He was obsessed with it.

SFBG Speaking of which, your breasts were so pushed-up — you must have been extremely tightly corseted.

OH I was! A lot of the clothes were very imperial style, [with] high-breasted velvet. But to get them even more so I had interior corsets pulled tight — it was really hard to breathe. Sometimes they had to take breaks between shots simply because the costumes drenched me with sweat.

SFBG Your Romeo, Leonard Whiting — are you still in touch?

OH We're still close; I just spoke to him last week. Most actors do maybe a hundred films, and they're lucky if they do one real classic that's remembered. Romeo and Juliet is still shown to students everywhere. I get e-mails from young people all over the world. It's such an honor.

SFBG What was it like working with Zeffirelli on both Romeo and Juliet and Jesus of Nazareth?

OH He's the best. In a perfect world I would have worked with him only, forever. People always ask if I had a crush on Romeo, but I had a crush on Franco! The man had so much passion for what he did.

SFBG Your career slowed down for a few years immediately afterward.

OH I was offered all kinds of things. But when I was the hottest young actress in the world, I didn't feel like acting. I'm that kind of person.

SFBG You got very busy later on, though. What are some of your other personal favorite movies or roles?

OH I loved doing a 1974 low-budget film in Canada with a new director, Bob Clark — Black Christmas. We had a blast.

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