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star struck

Mother’s day

Olivia Hussey realizes a 20-year dream to play Mother Teresa
by Chris Betros

Olivia Hussey has played the mother of Jesus AND the most romantic woman of fiction (Juliet), but the one role she has wanted to play for 20 years finally came her way two years ago when Italian director Fabrizio Costa asked her to play the title role in Mother Teresa. “I got a call out of the blue asking if I could be on the set in Sri Lanka in one week. It was like a gift from Mother,” said Hussey, 54, making her first visit to Japan in 18 years. “I hadn’t been to Calcutta in 20 years and I had never met Mother Teresa, but I felt very close to her.

I had always dreamed of playing her ever since I read a story about how she went out onto the street and picked up a dying person in her arms.”

Born in Buenos Aires to an English mother and Argentine opera and tango singer, Hussey rocketed to fame at the age of 17 as Juliet in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 production of Romeo and Juliet. Over the years, Hussey, who was once married to renowned Japanese singer Akira Fuse, has alternated between the stage and screen.

She admits playing such a revered person as Mother Teresa, who died in 1997, was a daunting task. “I read everything I could about her and I had a lot of help from nuns in the Vatican who knew her, especially one nun in her 90s. Of course, I don’t resemble her, so the important thing was to capture her compassion and strength. The nuns saw the finished film and said it was like watching Mother Teresa.”

Hussey describes Mother Teresa as a simple, sweet film with an important message. “We run about in our daily lives and don’t think what we can do to help others. If we would all just take a minute to do something kind for another person, even if it is just a smile, we could change the world. The world is in a mess and needs stories like this great person.”

Filming Mother Teresa in Sri Lanka was an ordeal, she recounts. “We were shooting 15 hours a day, six days a week. It was so hot and the heat was melting my prosthetic nose. On top of that, I was constantly ill. I had ear, nose and throat infections. The Sri Lankan people were so wonderful. They always had a smile on their face, when they had nothing.”

Although she was born a Catholic, Hussey says she embraces all religions. “I have meditated for the past 36 years and I believe in a higher power—whatever you choose to call it. Religions are important because they are the path that leads you to your inner God.” However, Hussey has had a special connection with the Vatican ever since 1985 when she starred in a screen adaptation of The Jeweller’s Shop, which was written by Karol Wojtyla (the late Pope John Paul II). “He had a private screening at the Vatican for 6,000 nuns and priests and I got a papal blessing, which was fantastic,” Hussey recalls. During her visit to Japan, she met another famous person at a special screening of Mother Teresa—Empress Michiko. “I’ve met the pope, the queen of England and now the empress. I think I can say I’m pretty happy with my life right now.”


 

Q&A


Masaaki Sugiura

Bringing the best of Britain to Japan

The CEO of Japan Mediark, distributor of BBC Japan, here holds up his personal motto, shin nakuba tatazu, or “if there is no loyalty in this world, nothing is possible; trust is the most important factor.”

Tell us about BBC Japan?
I want BBC Japan to open the door to British culture for the people of Japan.The images many of us have about the UK are afternoon tea, Queen Elizabeth, rock music and so on, but in fact there is a lot more new British culture to discover.

What has the response been?
I think people are excited to be able to watch BBC programs, and we have had many requests to broadcast our viewers’ favorite shows.

What do you like about British culture?
How British people think a great deal about nature. I am very interested in wild birds, and I think the work of Sir David Attenborough is outstanding.

Tell us about your interest in birds?
Most weekends I go to photograph birds, especially Halcyons. I take pictures of them coming around for fish at the riverside almost every weekend.

What are your own favorite TV shows?
I like any programs on wildlife. On BBC Japan, I like Keeping up Appearances. The British jokes are funny.

Is British humor difficult to translate?
Yes, some of the jokes are difficult to understand if you are not familiar with the language or British culture. The main character in Keeping up Appearances is called Hyacinth Bucket, but she’s a terrible snob and insists people pronounce her name “bouquet.” That’s hard to explain in Japanese.

BBC Japan is available on SkyPerfecTV! 110, channel 25. NU

Would you like to comment on this article? Send a letter to the editor at letters@metropolis.co.jp.

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