With a career spanning seven decades across film, stage and television, Dame Joan Collins shows no signs of slowing down. And why the hell should she? The iconic actress recently enjoyed a scene-stealing role in Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story, giving her even more to talk about on her forthcoming Unscripted tour.
You recently modelled for a very successful Kurt Geiger campaign. Is that something you thought you’d still be doing?
I would still be modelling? Well, you know, one of my friends is Carmen Dell’Orefice and she’s older than me. She’s [got] a very successful career of modelling. So I do think that there are no boundaries any more, to anything. Sexuality, age, anything.
Some people in certain quarters think that women can’t do certain things past a certain age. The press are always gunning for Madonna, for example.
Oh people… Listen, some people say that, but some people don’t. I mean, I think Madonna’s great. I saw the last tour she did. Astonishing. I quite like her.
I couldn’t do half the things she does.
I’m sure you couldn’t do one percent of the things she does! [Laughs]
Your tour is called Unscripted. Is it entirely unscripted?
Well it’s not entirely. It might be a story I’ve told before but I will be using a different vernacular, I will be doing a different way of telling it. So in that way it is unscripted. Percy [her husband] is now on with me, he’s the master of ceremonies. I relate much more with the audience. They ask questions and I answer – to the best of my ability. We’ve got lots of clips now of American Horror Story [Apocalypse], which I just did.
Now, this tour was initially postponed because of that series…
It was totally postponed. It was supposed to be September, and I wasn’t going to be finished in LA. They asked me if I wanted to do it and you don’t turn down Ryan Murphy. It’s like Aaron Spelling 30 years ago.
How did it come about?
I went to Elton John’s party, with Percy, at the Oscars. We were invited to the Vanity Fair after party. I wanted to stay at Elton’s but Percy said we should go to the Vanity Fair, ‘because you always went with Jackie’. For 20 years I went with my sister and that would be the first time… So we’re talking to Jon Hamm and then this girl at the next table says, ‘I want you to come and meet…’ and she says a name that I can’t hear. And it’s Sarah Paulson. So we sit, and then this guy looks very familiar but I don’t really know him, and then it suddenly clicked, and he’s saying, ‘Would you like to do my show?’ He’s just done the most marvellous Assassination of Gianni Versace, and he’s done American Horror Story, so I said, ‘Yes, of course! I would love to!’ We have a long talk about everything, but you know, I thought it was Hollywood talk. Never comes to anything, those kind of things. People always say it. And then two weeks later we had a call and he’s called my agent and said that he wants me to be in American Horror Story. Just like that.
And how was that for you?
It was interesting. It was very full on. Very long hours. So I’m glad that I wasn’t in everything. Fourteen-hour days. But he’s so inventive. I loved the roles. I loved playing Bubbles McGee, with the white wig! All of a sudden I have to give up my tour, I have to give up my summer in the South of France with my children and grandchildren and best friends. But it was worth it, I think. It was a lot of fun, but it was hard work. And then I got ill. Which I never do. I pulled a muscle under my ribs. So I was not too well for a couple of weeks. But it was a great experience. And I worked with one of the greatest actresses in the world, which is Kathy Bates, who’s become a really good friend.
Did you not know her? I just assume you know everyone.
No, I’d never met her. I was quite intimidated when I went to work for the first scenes we had together.
Well of course! She’s an Oscar winner, she’s a superb actress. Us actors, we do get intimidated by some people!
I don’t imagine you ever being intimidated…
Well, not that intimidated but, you know, you have to up your game a bit when you work with Kathy Bates. As opposed to working with... some people on some soap operas that I’ve done [clears her throat].
There are a lot of gifs and memes on social media featuring you as Alexis Carrington in Dynasty. You probably get asked all the time about the recent remake?
Nobody’s asking. I don’t think anybody knows about it. [Glint in her eye] No! Seriously. Well, the thing is about Dynasty and some of those shows of that genre, Dallas and Knots Landing – they were iconic and everybody was so impossibly glamorous and beautiful and gorgeously dressed in all of them. And Donna Mills still looks fabulous, we have dinner quite often. We also have dinner with Linda – not Evans, the other one, Gray, from Dallas. And Diahann Carrol, who became a really good friend. Everybody’s still plugging on, getting on with it.
You corrected a tabloid recently about your career...
Oh yes, they said the only thing I ever did was Dynasty.
Which is annoying, because you actually did massive movies at a wonderful time in Hollywood history.
I know – Island in the Sun, Girl in the Red Velvet Swing, Virgin Queen. I did about eight movies. Even Seven Thieves was a good movie. It was with him! [Points at a framed photo on the wall in Claridge’s] There he is, Edward G Robinson. I mean, I have been very, very lucky in that I worked with some of the most famous and iconic actors in the world. Every time I look or see a bio and see the films I’m in, I look and I go, ‘Oh god, I worked with Gene Kelly. I worked with Richard Burton, Rod Steiger, Gregory Peck, Eli Wallach. I was incredibly lucky. And at the time, being so young, it didn’t really sink in. And now I look back and I look at it and think, ‘God, who today’ – and I’m not blowing my own trumpet here – ‘who today is around who’s worked along with these extraordinary people? I mean, John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson. And now Kathy Bates, Sarah Paulson. I mean, I’m very blessed.
Who was the best to work with?
Paul Newman. First of all, he was one of the nicest people in the world. One of the most generous. He still makes his sauces and it all goes to his charities. But also, he’s huge fun. He got me cast [in Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys!] – the studio wanted Jayne Mansfield. They said, ‘Brunettes can’t be funny, blondes are funny.’ Paul went to the studio and said, ‘We know Joan, she’s very funny.’ He was a great friend. I saw him about two weeks – or was it two months? – before he died and I said, ‘How are you?’ He said, ‘Still got a pulse, kid.’ He was just a wonderful man.
What was Bette Davis like to work with?
Horrible. [Laughs] Oh you’ll have to read my book, I’ve told this story eight million times, you don’t want to hear it again. She wasn’t nice. I was one of six girls, all of us were between 18 and 20, playing her ladies in waiting. She wasn’t nice to us.
In terms of the tour – what’s been the strangest or unexpected thing you’ve been asked?
A very tall person asked how to put on false eyelashes and so I said, ‘Well come on up darling, I’ll show you.’ And they turned out to be a drag queen.
Joan Collins tours in the UK until 27 February