Joan Collins’s face is Touche Eclat perfect. Her wig doubles the size of her head and she’s wearing a huge black-and-white shagpile coat. Sitting across from the 83-year-old actress in Claridge’s, I feel the most drab I’ve ever felt in my life – and I’m even wearing shiny shoes.
In a career spanning six decades and five marriages, Collins has done serious films (‘Decadence’), saucy films (‘The Bitch’ and ‘The Stud’) and is most famous for playing super-bitch Alexis Colby in ’80s TV show ‘Dynasty’. Now she’s taking on another spiky character in ‘The Time of Their Lives’, a film comedy about a former actress breaking out of an old people’s home.
In real life, Collins is like a glam aunt you want to sink a bottle of pinot with. She’s cutting, but in a way that’s an adrenaline rush rather than a kick in the guts. When I ask if we can take a picture together she inspects the photos then insists we do it again on her phone. When I ask how a recent dinner with friend David Hockney was, she simply retorts: ‘He smokes a lot.’ Basically, she’s exactly how you’d imagine – and it’s brilliant.
It’s been two decades since ‘Dynasty’ finished. Is it weird seeing memes of your character Alexis still getting shared online?
‘It’s amazing. I had some fabulous scenes, great fights and some amazing clothes. I think people in their late teens and twenties have discovered that. I get fanmail from a much younger group now.’
Why do you think Alexis has stood the test of time?
‘Well, she’s fabulous. Everyone in “Dynasty” was charismatic. The one thing you could say for the show is it wasn’t dull, compared to something I was watching on TV last night. It was supposed to be a “glam show” but I said: “I cannot believe how boring this is.” The one thing you can say about “Dynasty” is the people weren’t dull. Same with most shows from the same time - “Dallas”, “Miami Vice” - everybody was larger than life. Now it seems unfashionable to be larger than life. People, apparently, want to see actors behave like “real people”.’
What TV do you like to watch?
‘I watched “Homeland”. I thought that was great three or four years ago, it’s changed now. I love “Poldark”. It’s very well acted and everybody is charismatic. That’s probably why people like Alexis, because she’s charismatic... and [same with], er, the President. Although I’m not commenting on that.’
You don’t seem to have aged since ‘Dynasty’...
‘That’s not true. When I got up today I said: “I look so hideous, I can’t see anybody.”’
What are your tips for looking young?
‘First of all, maintenance. I was lucky enough to be given some stuff in the gene pool, but then keeping it up. I believe in eating but not too much. That whole thing about “clean eating” I find ridiculous. I do not have a kale smoothie with mashed pears and lemongrass in the morning, I have a croissant and a coffee.’
You grew up in London. How’s the city changed since then?
‘You mean the dark ages?! Nothing’s the same. I remember being able to walk down Oxford Street. It was always crowded, but there’s a lot more people and the traffic is so bad now. Mummy loved Oxford Street. We used to go to Selfridges a lot.’
Joan Collins in 'The Time of Their Lives'
‘When I got up today I said: “I look so hideous, I can’t see anybody...”’
Are there any other memories that stand out for you?
‘Going to the park with my sister and baby brother. We lived near Regent’s Park and I loved it there: feeding the ducks, going across the bridge, having picnics... ’
You’ve been a fashion icon for 50 years. What’s your favourite outfit ever?
‘It was a dress that I wore when I became a dame a year and a half ago. Valentino had given it to me 20 years earlier but I’d never worn it. It was beautiful, black with flowers on it and an off-the-shoulder big pink bow.’
What’s the best party you’ve ever been to?
‘Mine. I throw the best parties. I have great guests, I have good food. All the parties that I’ve ever given have been really good.’
You moved to Hollywood during the golden age of film. You must have been to some good parties then?
‘They were drop-dead glamorous. I went there when I was 20 and it quickly spread: “There’s a new girl in town.” It meant every Saturday night I’d be invited to a party and there’d be Cary Grant and Gary Cooper there. All the men would be in black tie, all the women would be in strapless chiffon dresses, fur stoles and glittering diamonds. I remember seeing Rosalind Russell with a big turban on and a cigarette holder and thinking: Oh my God, she’s so glamorous.’
How has Hollywood changed over the years?
‘Back then you’d walk up Rodeo Drive and see Fred Astaire and Bob Hope. Now you just see paparazzi.’
Have you ever had any run-ins with paparazzi?
‘The worst one I had was when I was doing “Dynasty”. I was at home in shorts and a T-shirt, deadheading hydrangeas. I looked up and there was this very famous paparazzo hanging out of a helicopter with his camera on me shouting: “Hi Joan!”’
Do you find fame fun?
‘I don’t consider myself to be that famous. I can walk in a room and I might be recognised but I’m not a reality star. I do find the “can I have a selfie?” thing rather [screws up face] when you’re looking through the nightie department in Bloomingdale’s.’
Joan Collins and Pauline Collins in 'The Time of Their Lives'
‘You've got to eat life or life will eat you’
What’s the funniest rumour you’ve heard about yourself over the years?
‘I don’t think there have been any funny rumours. Have you heard any?’
I heard you kept all your engagement rings in a safety deposit box.
‘Haha! That’s true!’
How many are there?
‘Four. One from Warren Beatty, one from Ron Kass that I gave to Katie, my daughter. One from Tony Newley: it was a big diamond. The one from Peter Holm I had made into another ring.’
Why did you decide to keep them all?
‘Well, what else would I do? Throw them away? I don’t need to sell them! Do you want one?’
You’ve been married five times. Have you got any dating advice?
‘Well I understand that young people just “hang out” now, they don’t date.’
In that case, what about chat-up lines. Have you ever had any bad ones?
[Puts on low voice] ‘ “Did anyone ever tell you you’re a very pretty girl?” [Puts on high voice] “Nooo, I’ve never heard that before.”’
‘The Bitch’ and ‘The Stud’ were saucy. What do you think about the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ hype?
‘It’s the most boring film I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t sleep the other night so I was flicking channels and watched it. I thought: This is really dull.’
It’s definitely not as saucy as ‘The Bitch’ and ‘The Stud’...
‘No, it isn’t. It’s because ours was more titillating [puts on American accent] if you know what I mean. It wasn’t “in your face”.’
Your character in 'Time of Their Lives' defies stereotypes of older women. Are there enough roles out there like that?
‘No, but I don’t want to be one of those actresses who moans that there’s no roles for older women because there are if you’re one of the handful of older women who gets offered things. I’m really lucky to have been offered this script because normally the script would go first to Helen Mirren, then to Vanessa Redgrave then to – I don’t know who – then it would get to me.’
What’s the best life lesson you’ve learned?
‘“You’ve got to eat life or life will eat you.” When you’re a teenager or you’re in your twenties, you don’t have any conception of how life’s going to be. It’s tough and it’s short.’
Lastly... Ever regretted anything you’ve said?
‘I’m quite outspoken, I know that, but I try to be like Edith Piaf: “Je ne regrette rien.”’
'The Time of Their Lives' is in UK cinemas from March 10.