Since turning 60 Upstairs, Downstairs star Lesley-Anne Down says she's done with acting


Since turning 60 Upstairs, Downstairs star Lesley-Anne Down says she's done with acting


SHE looks remarkable for her age despite having a torrid personal life since moving to Hollywood but the former Upstairs, Downstairs star says: "I've finished with acting nowI'm 60"

Lesley-Anne Down, Upstairs Downstairs, star, actressLesley-Anne Down today, aged 60[PR]

Her 16-year-old son is phoning from school with a stomach ache, her rescue puppy has gone missing, she’s on deadline for writing a movie script and with four films set for release this year it’s fair to say that actress Lesley-Anne Down has her hands full.

So it comes as something of a shock when the British beauty, who found fame in TV classic Upstairs, Downstairs, confesses: “I’ve quit acting. I’m officially retired.” 

Down, who celebrated her 60th birthday last month but who could pass for 20 years younger, nestles on an overstuffed sofa at her home in the millionaires’ playground of Malibu, California, as she explains: “I never really enjoyed acting in the first place. I started when I was 10 and I’ve been doing it for 50 years.” 

She has starred opposite Sean Connery, Anthony Hopkins, Donald Sutherland and Laurence Olivier but says: “Unless you’re one of the rare 0.001 per cent of actors like Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie who get ultimate control of their careers, you can spend a lifetime acting and you’re never the boss, you’re always being told what to do. 

“Upstairs, Downstairs brought me fame and kudos but it didn’t pay anything. I think I got £230 an episode and each episode took two weeks to shoot.”

“I did my last film three months ago and came home one night and just decided, I can’t do this any more."

When pushed she admits: “I’ve enjoyed some of the acting I’ve done, North And South and the movie The First Great Train Robbery. But I’ve done a lot of stuff that I didn’t enjoy. Part of that was because of all the lecherous men, studio executives, producers, directors. There was a lot of running away and hiding under tables. They made everything so uncomfortable. I had to fend for myself.” 

Down sighs and runs a well manicured hand through her shoulder-length brown hair. After three decades living in America her accent is still crisply British and as plummy as when she lived off the Kentish Town Road, despite nine years on American daytime soap opera The Bold And The Beautiful. 

“It was silly and robotic but fine. It served its purpose,” she says, looking around the luxurious home that the series helped pay for. Leaving the show in 2012 Down threw herself back into movies. 

“I did my last film three months ago and came home one night and just decided, I can’t do this any more. It was nine o’clock at night and I had to be up again at 5.30am but first I had to take my make-up off and eat something and I can’t get to bed without a glass of wine, or two, and I was getting barely five hours of sleep. 

“And I got so frustrated on set because as you get older you learn so much and then I find myself on a movie set and I’m able to do everyone’s job quicker and better. I sat there thinking, why can’t they decide to put the camera there instead of discussing it for hours? 

“It’s frustrating when you’re there at 4pm and you know they won’t need you for the rest of the day’s shots and they can shoot around you but they keep you till 8pm anyway.” 

“At this point it’s all about the physical comfort and ease of living. My life revolves around my 16-year old son George. I’m doing everything in my power to be the best parent, which I will fail to do because it’s hard. And this is my last shot at being a good parent.” 

Down is desperate to atone for the troubled childhood her eldest son Jack endured as a result of her 1985 divorce from her second husband William Friedkin, director of The Exorcist. 

“Bill tried to take Jack away from me and took me to court for custody. He claimed I wanted to undermine his relationship with Jack. It was very difficult for Jack, who didn’t want to spend time with his father,” she says. The legal battle cost $1million before the couple finally agreed to share custody.

Upstairs Downstairs, Downton Abbey, Lesley-Anne Down, star, 1970, ITVLesley-Anne Down in timeless 1970s hit Upstairs, Downstairs [REX]

Now she focuses on raising George, her son with her third husband, cinematographer Don FauntLeRoy, 61, with whom she fell in love on the set of North And South in 1985. 

However having a 16-year-old offers unique challenges. “It’s hard with a teenager, especially one with a driving permit who wants to drive me everywhere,” she explains. 

“If I need to go to the hairdresser to touch up my grey – more than ever – he wants to drive me. I sit there white-knuckled, holding on with a death grip right foot pumping an imaginary brake pedal.” Down has been busy this past year finishing work on four movies, including the comic book-inspired horror thriller Dark House, ballet drama Of God And Kings and romantic comedy The List. Most recently she completed a starring turn in a 1950s’ noir parody Kill Me Deadly, playing a despicable wealthy matriarch. 

Other stars might happily turn from screen to stage, but not Down. “I hate the theatre. I liked rehearsals when you’d go in at 10am and finish at 4pm but approaching opening night I’d be gripped by fear. Then after a few performances I’d think, ‘I have to do this again? And again?’ It’s like that movie Groundhog Day. I didn’t want to do it over and over. 

“And if the curtain fell at 10.15pm, by the time I’d changed and gone out to eat and drink I wouldn’t be in bed before 2am and that’s not a very healthy lifestyle when you have a family.” 

Not that she’s about to enter a retirement home. She is writing the script for a horror drama “about devils and possession and nasty things – just up my alley. But I’m finding writing so unhealthy, sitting hunched over a computer for hours”. 

Yet she looks sensational and attributes her figure to “just the luck of genetics. I haven’t really done drugs, though I smoked a little bit of marijuana when I was much younger. I like an occasional glass of wine but I’m pretty healthy and I exercise, though not enough. Oh, and I do use Botox,” she admits. “You’ve got to do Botox. 

“I’m always on the move but since I’m not acting I’ve been eating what I want for the past three months and if I’m not careful it will start to show. Bread is my downfall. There’s nothing better than eating a loaf of sourdough with butter.” 

Turning 60 was no big deal, she insists. “Sixty didn’t mean much to me. I celebrated by cooking a meal. Cooking makes me happy. 

“I don’t need to celebrate birthdays. I’m just extremely happy to still be alive. I’ve had friends die and I feel lucky to be here. As for the future I just intend to enjoy each day to its fullest.

“It’s not that I’m happier not acting, it’s just that I’m content.” And who could ask for a better birthday present than that?


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