It would be easy for legendary actress Joan Collins to live out the rest of her days in happy retirement in the South of France, but that’s just not this Dame’s style. She’s always actively participated in life rather than passively observe and this is still very much the case as she looks forward to what, incredibly, will be her 84th birthday in May.
Her latest film, the aptly titled, The Time of Their Lives, in which she stars with Pauline Collins, is testament to this.
“The film is about two very different ladies – one a former Hollywood siren, the other a repressed housewife – who team up by accident, become friends and have an extraordinary adventure as they go on an unexpected road trip to France together,” Joan reveals.
“It’s a joyful celebration of second chances and the realisation that it’s never too late to find your purpose.”
No prizes for guessing which character Joan is playing. She laughs.
“Helen Shelley has been hard-done by, and has grown bitter and cynical. She may have deserved it because she indulged in drink, dancing and dallying about but she’s paid for it – in spades. However, her nature is always to move forward and not let the grass grow under her feet so that makes her a positive energy. I love her for that. And beneath that cynicism still beats the heart of the young girl who believes in princes and the stuff of fairy tales.”
It sounds very upbeat and positive. “Oh it is,” Joan continues. “It gives out so many optimistic messages. That it’s never too late to do the right thing – not only towards others but for yourself as well. That joy, adventure and zest for life doesn’t end after a certain age. Your body and mind are like your most cherished sweater or shirt – the more you wear it, the more comfortable it gets.
“There should be more movies like this but it’s not just for people of a certain age. Everyone needs encouragement and positivity, and it’s also a reaffirming message for those looking forward to what they will achieve in the future. Everyone thinks about their future, no matter what their age.
“The film is also about friendship. Friends are so important; I stick by mine through thick and thin, and expect them to do the same for me. Loyalty is the most important quality in friendship and it’s what my friends and I give to each other.”
The Time of Their Lives is a real feel-good film. Did it also feel good to make?
“It was splendid,” Joan smiles. “I have been blessed to work with Pauline several times and she’s a magnificent actress. Franco Nero, Joely Richardson and Michael Brandon also co-star and they are all such masters of their craft as well as being great company.
"We were like a family and it was a joy. Professionally it was wonderful, too. How many other movies are there today with two great women’s roles? I think the film is a bit like Thelma & Louise but the next generation on. Except that we don’t drive off a cliff like they did at the end. We walk along the shore, with the possibility of doing a sequel.”
In addition to The Time of Their Lives, Joan, who’s been happily married to younger man Percy Gibson for 15 years, has several other projects in the pipeline.
“I have two more movies I’m working on but can’t discuss yet” she says. “There’s also my new book, How to Look 20 Years Younger.”
So how? Can Joan let us in on a few of her secrets? “It helps if you love life – I mean, the alternative seems a bit of a dead end! You have to enjoy life, and I like to live in the present. Retirement certainly isn’t an option for me.
The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is, Eat life or life will eat you, and that’s what I live by.”
Finally, we have to ask Joan how she felt about being made a Dame in 2015 in recognition for her services to charity?
“Humbled and very proud to be British,” she replies. “To be recognised by the Queen for one’s efforts is like getting the highest mark from your most respected teacher. She embodies everything that we have been taught about service to others and sacrificing one’s self for the sake of the many. She is the leading ‘one of the few’ that Churchill so eloquently exalted. When I grow up, I want to be just like her!”
The Time of Their Lives is out now at cinemas across the UK.
Words and interview by Alison James