See Jane. See Jane play. See Jane rock an oversexed cougar, a pioneer doctor and a lamé-clad Bond girl.
When it comes to iconic actress Jane Seymour, born Joyce Penelope Wilhelmina Frankenberg, anything and everything she takes on never fails to make an impression.
Though my own little hooligans managed to crash our conversation, the Emmy and Golden Globe award-winning mother of six (stepchildren Kalen Keach, Jenni Flynn; children Katie Flynn, Sean Flynn, and twins Johnny Keach and Kris Keach), laughed it off in polite English style (thank goodness), while sharing an amazing inside look into her life as the ultimate super mom.
Film, painting, writing, design, philanthropy: you really manage to do it all. Is there anything you can't do?
I'm sure there's plenty of things I can't do. There's things I won't do, like bungee jump, sky dive or things like that.
But you're so adventurous!
Maybe so, but I don't do anything with heights.
Was choosing a stage name an adventurous undertaking?
Well, in the million years ago when I was first starting out in the days of the dinosaur, it was a tradition to change your name. Everyone had a stage name and a regular name. You would never have been allowed to call yourself Renee Zellweger. It just would never have happened.
My agent told me that my name was too long, too difficult to spell, and too foreign. I kept the initial 'J' - Jane, J, plain Jane, whatever, it was a good starting point. Then, somebody came up with Seymour and it's very English, very easy to spell, easy to remember. We couldn't remember why it was so easy to remember, and then we realized it was the obscure wife of Henry VIII that no one ever remembered, until of course, they started making hot movies about him. And then, everyone remembered Jane Seymour, though she was actually probably the most boring one since she died in childbirth and was quite plain.
So anyway, I got the name, and when I went out to auditions and things people would say, 'Oh yes, I think I've seen you in something,' or 'I've heard of you - maybe I met you at a party.' And I realized after a while that it worked. I've always published my real name as well. I'm very proud of my family heritage.
I have to ask. Do you have any connections to Henry VIII?
I do actually. Until recently, I owned a home that was owned by Henry who gave it to his illegitimate daughter, Ethelreda, way, way, way, way back. The house dates to 950, so its most illustrious past is that the illegitimate daughter of Henry VIII owned it.
Do you go back to England often?
Yes we do. Quite often. I love going there.
Henry VIII held his wife, Jane Seymour, in high regard as a positive, virtuous example for women in court. Do you see Dr. Quinn as a role model for mothers?
Absolutely. The point of the series was that there was always a dilemma, and there would always be someone who would say, 'no, no, that's wrong' or 'that's bad,' or someone would do something bad, and Dr. Quinn wasn't always right. She usually, more often than not, had to come around to understanding how to deal with something. And that's what life is all about.
I think that the idea that the family always sat down for meals together and always talked about things… the family wasn't necessarily a genetic family… every issue that any family would have to deal with or that we deal with today, everything from pollution from the gold mines, which of course is still happening, to choices in terms of medical care to have your breasts removed when you had cancer, and the rights of the patient and the idea of evangelical medicine, and all of the different religions and people's biases and feelings about people who are different, and whether or not people should burn books, I mean my gosh, we dealt with everything! We even covered whether or not one can trust a small boy with a gay man.
The brilliant thing about it, I don't think I even realized it at the time, but now in retrospect is that pretty much any subject that you'd ever want to discuss with your family or with yourself is broached at some point on Dr. Quinn. It's always been positively provocative for the family to talk about, 'Well, what would you do?' or 'What do you think about what Dr. Quinn did, was she right or wrong?'
Do you feel that the character reflected your personality?
Oh yes, very much so. I consider myself spiritual, but I'm not specific to any one religion. I'm very open minded to other people's different beliefs. I'm a doctor's daughter. I had a microscope at seven and was watching surgery at ten, and my father's passion was the history of medicine, so I used to go to the museum for doctors, the museum of the history of medicine when I was an adult with my father. So to be using all those old instruments… and I insisted on the Smithsonian giving us the information we needed to make sure the episodes were accurate and that the medicine was accurate and the surgery was accurate. We went to unbelievable lengths to make sure that it was correct.
And then of course, when I got married to my now ex-husband, he already had a daughter and we had two children together so the whole idea of being a mother without actually having given birth to a child was sort of actual.
Dr. Quinn came to believe in the power of Native American medicines during the series. Are you a proponent of alternative remedies as well?
Yes. I'm a believer in complimentary medicine. I believe in the combination of the two. Really, Western medicine has made huge, extraordinary advances in things that are amazing. But there are things, for example, well even ten, fifteen years ago when I was doing Dr. Quinn, I would talk about arnica and people would go, 'Oh no, that doesn't work.' Well now, if you have any surgery at all nowadays, they suggest you take arnica beforehand, during and after. That's homeopathic, and every scientist pooh-poohed it, but now, all the doctors are using it.
The same with zinc. It's what you would use if you had a sore throat or one coming on, and now of course, the major pharmaceutical companies are producing medicines that contain zinc. Western medicine has caught up with some of the naturopathic and homeopathic remedies. And I think that a combination of the two is the ultimate way to go, and the biggest part is listening to your body.
You worked on Dr. Quinn while pregnant with your twin boys. What advice would you give to mothers who are also working through pregnancies?
It was very hard, because I had a pregnancy later in life and I had already miscarried a few times, so I was a very, very delicate and closely monitored pregnant woman.
I wrote a book about it, Two At A Time: Having Twins - The Journey Through Pregnancy and Birth. It's such a big issue. After I had the twins, they published photographs of me because I won the Golden Globes for Best Actress about three weeks after I'd had the twins, and I was wearing this slinky gown and everyone gasped when I came up on the stage because they couldn't believe how skinny I was. The truth was that I'd nearly died having them. I didn't want people thinking that they should lose as much weight as possible while they were pregnant so they could be thin afterward. I just wanted people to know that it's something that happens when you have preeclampsia, and I had a close call there.
It's hard being pregnant anyway, but it's a lot easier when you're younger. It's hard to be pregnant with twins and be working outdoors and wearing a lot of clothes and pretending you're not pregnant. It was really tough. As I look back on it, I don't know how I did it!
You've recently taken up another comedic role… this time on the web in Quitters on Atom.com. Tell me more about that.
The fun thing about Quitters is that I've never done a web series before, and that's very much what the kids and everyone's looking into. Comedy Central owns Atom.com, so a lot of people are now coming up with a lot of ideas for the series, and doing them as web series, and then depending on how well they do, seeing if there's something there to continue - do more of them or continue them in a different format.
Quitters was actually written by my daughter, Katie Flynn, who's one of the stars. So it's written by the two girls, Crystal and Katie, and Katie is my daughter in real life and she wrote this and handed it to me and said, 'Mom would you play my mother? You're not really like that, but can you please try?'
I was so proud of her. I thought it was very funny. And so, I had a lot of fun doing it. It didn't take a lot of my time, and now, because of that show, she's going to star in the next [Dear] Prudence movie.
That's what Joe [Lando] told me during our conversation
last week. He also told me to tell you that he had nothing but
terrible things to say about you.
Sounds like something he would say!
It's really all quite exciting. So the success of Quitters was that Hallmark saw her and they just said, 'Oh yes, let's write a lead role for her,' and before that she just starred in a major film in England.
Katie is just lovely and looks just like you.
She's a very good actress, and her time seems to be happening right now. She's done a whole lot of commercials and some independent movies. She's going to be doing more mainstream - she's going to be doing a Jeff Bridges movie after [Dear] Prudence.
So she's really up and coming!
It's all just happening. That's why I think it's fun for people to watch Quitters; because they can see Katie before it all happens.
I would think that there's no one better than you and James [Keach] to give her advice.
You know what? They did it all by themselves. We helped with some of the financing to make it, but [the girls] made it for next to nothing. We did it very quickly, and shot it in her home. So people really are seeing where they're living. It's their actual bedrooms, their actual living room.
It sounds like I should definitely tune into more webisodes.
The second one is the funniest, but a lot of people think the third one is the funniest, too. Definitely watch the other two. The second one is hysterical. The third one is actually the last one we shot. We did the first and third first for reasons I have yet to understand, but a lot of people want more. They really love it.
I'm determined that if we get to do more, Katie and I will have to rope Joe [Lando] into it, too. We'll rope everyone we can into it, especially the Dr. Quinn people. We might even get William [Shockley] into it or something.
A mini Dr. Quinn reunion in a parallel universe!
What can you tell me about Dear Prudence?
Well, Dear Prudence is really funny. I don't know how much Joe [Lando] told you about it, but it's for Hallmark and he plays my ex lover, and Katie plays my daughter. I don't want to give the whole story away… and actually James Keach, my husband, has a small role at the end.
How did you end up with Joe Lando again?
They loved Joe and they thought he'd be perfect for the role of a guy who used to be in love with me.
I think I know where they might have gotten that idea. And you're going to be filming in Michigan?
We're going to film in Michigan. We're going to film really fast. So we're going to rehearse it quite well here, then go up there and make it and it'll be really fun. We're going to have a good time.
Tell me more about your charitable involvements.
We started the Open Hearts Foundation. We're going to have our first big event in November, raising money for the foundation that will benefit children's charities.
You're involved in quite a number of charities.
Yes, I am. But one of the ones that will definitely be on the list will be St. Jude's, and then the other charities will be ones that deal with arts programming and sports for kids who are having them cut out of schools. It's really been proven that it helps kids a lot.
Other than that, one of my sons is recording, and is probably going to be a famous rock and roller. His name is Johnny, he's Johnny Cash's godson, Johnny Keach, and his group is called PT5. Originally that came from 'plead the fifth.'
You have a very talented family!
He writes and plays and sings extraordinarily great music, and the people that know about this stuff have told us that he's the real deal. They're going to start playing all over the place, so that's going to be really exciting.
And there's one more thing we hadn't touched upon.
You're so busy! I'm not sure I can wrap my head around how you balance it all.
Yes, I am a little bit busy you could say. I also have a book coming out in October called Among Angels. It's on pre-order on Amazon.com and reviews are already coming up on the fan site.
My husband gifted me with your Open Hearts book when our daughter was born. Will your new book have a similar format?
This is just like it, but different in that it's about how if you're heart is closed, you would not know or receive the benefit of the angels among us. And angels are basically any one of us that helps someone else.
It's got personal prose, personal stories, and stories from people I know, and some really beautiful prose and poetry that I've found that fit it. Quotes, too, and my artwork. So it's similar to the little red book, but in some ways, I think it's even better.
You really give everyone great things to look forward to, especially with your latest book.
Kay Jewelers will have it in time for Christmas. It's the perfect gift if you buy a piece of jewelry.
Yes, then you can get the book at the same time instead of a silly greetings card, and you can give somebody something that's forever.
Catch all five seasons of the critically acclaimed Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman series on GMC, airing continuously on weeknights through Labor Day weekend when the sixth season will premiere. The episodes will air in order of original broadcast, which marks the first time in over a decade that viewers will be able to view every season in order.
Convonista says: Jane and I had a lovely conversation in August of this year (this interview was originally released that same month), and then again in October, when I visited the Perfectly Prudence (formerly called Dear Prudence) set near Grand Rapids, MI. Stay tuned for another interview with Jane in 2011.
Maria Pilar Clark is a mom times two and Windy City-based writer.
See more of Pilar's stories here.