Bo Derek made her acting breakthrough in the 1979 romantic comedy 10, and her performance — including an iconic scene of Derek running down the beach in a skin-coloured swimsuit and cornrows — quickly propelled her to a status of femme fatale with overnight stardom — a perfect 10. Bo was everywhere — on the covers of magazines, newspapers and posters of the film alike that helped make the movie into a 10 on a scale of same among box office sleepers, with a gross of $60 million. It’s the only thing most people even remember about the movie. Suddenly, everybody was wearing cornrows, trying to look just like her, accrediting Bo more than anyone else for popularising cornrows. A 1980 People article even cited Derek as the catalyst for making cornrows a ‘cross-cultural craze’ and a ‘beauty store bonanza.’ In Derek’s own words “Being the part of 10 was such an unusual experience. I’m only in the film a few minutes but it changed my life. The film itself was about a man in his mid-life crises, haven’t been told before. I feel so fortunate to be a part of it.”
It was four decades ago, but the moment still looms over Bo Derek’s life. Born Mary Cathleen Collins in Long Beach, California, in 1959, Derek says she just sort of made up the name Bo around the time she was casted in cinema. Although Bo’s subsequent film Tarzan, the Ape Man (1981) did well on the box office, but it was raved with negative reviews due to the objectification of Bo rather than keeping the focus on Tarzan. Post Tarzan, Bo did Bolero (1984), Ghosts Can’t Do It (1990), Tommy Boy (1995) and a couple of other films, but Bo has always been interested in behind the scene aspects of the films and hence went into production soon after.
Bo Derek recently spoke to Community as she is visiting Doha to celebrate her birthday, about how she thinks cinema has evolved over the period of four decades, what keeps her busy now and her take on #Metoo.
“Absolutely everything has changed. There were just a few motion pictures made a year back then, now as a consumer or an actor there’s so much content and so much work because of streaming and Internet, cable and it’s a very exciting time. I like it,” says Derek.
Drawing a parallel between the old age cinema and the current scenario of online movie streaming services and how it has changed the media landscape, Bo Derek said, “It was so expensive to make a movie back in the 80s, so expensive to release a movie, and you had to make a film to please the masses. For the most part, the films were not that specific. Now, whatever you like, whatever documentary, whatever you want to learn about or however you want to be entertained — it’s just a click away and it’s fantastic,” she added, “I know there’s an argument in Hollywood right now that movies should be in the big theatre and you shouldn’t mix the two but I think it’s too late now and everything’s already just out there. Good movie is a good movie, I don’t care where you see it.”
Have method acting changed over the period of time? “I’ve never enjoyed performing — behind the scenes has been more my thing. When I act, I prefer to have a very strong director. That’s hard to find now. Today, actors are so good, so prepared now that I have to catch up and warm up and feel it, and I need the director to tell me what to do and exactly how to do it,” the actress says.
After her breakout role in 10, Bo decided to produce and act in films that she made with her husband, John Derek, even if that meant never having the starring role in a blockbuster movie.
“When I produced my first film, I had a very strong position in the industry. The biggest you can get — for a moment. So many people started pulling me and telling me what to do — I wasn’t prepared. And I didn’t have a sense for what I wanted to be in the industry. So, I decided to be my own boss,” she says, “I loved learning about the industry from the beginning till the very last process. When I look back, I think, I might would’ve made better career choices but I wouldn’t have traded the experience or anything.”
Now since the Hollywood has matured into a global entertainment industry, many actors of all races and genders, even of Middle Eastern roots, are making their way into the industry — and making it big to the least, Rami Malek being one of the finest examples. Talking about this trend of actors of diverse backgrounds joining Hollywood, Bo says, “It’s both, a great cultural exchange and healthy for the industry as well. I love watching international cast and the idea of telling stories. It has been so provincial back in the days in the Hollywood, that when we’d have to tell a story about India or Asia or anyplace, it would be US citizens with makeup and getup but now, the writers are writing stories about people coming together from all over the world. The arts is always good and arts is liberal.”
Bo along with her husband John visited Qatar for the first time in 1997. She was taking part in a horse race. After over a decade, she’s back in Doha and in all praises for the development and progress. “I was here for a horse race back then. I wouldn’t recognise it now. Although 97 seems to me like a few years ago, but in terms of growth here, its tremendous and beautiful obviously. I was at the Qatar National Library today, and National Museum of Qatar — I saw a collection of pearls and the way Qatar is preserving its history and culture is just amazing,” she adds, “Ofcourse, the FIFA World Cup 22 is exciting but at the same time the way Qatar is keeping its independence and identity is wonderful.”
Bo was one of the most sought after and beloved actresses and after getting into production, she decided to take a step back from acting. In recent years she has concentrated more on her philanthropic work, advocating for wounded veterans and also serving as a spokesperson for the Animal Welfare Institute. How pleased she is with her new life, what she’s doing away from the public eye and what kind of scripts attract her, she says, “Anything. I don’t get much work anymore. In the position I was in, I was given everything — whether it was good for me or not. Then, when everything started to slow down, I surprised myself that I didn’t care. I have many interests, I got into horse racing and I was commissioner for seven years. It’s like chapters in the book. When I was acting and I was a movie star, that was one chapter — and when it started to fade, I didn’t hold on to it, I had other things to do. I do work now though; I recently did a family film with James Caan and that was a lot of fun and apart from that I work for animal rights, I care about them – especially horses.”
One of the things that drives struggling actors to keep moving forward is helpful advice, best acting tips and inspiration from those who have made it. This has always been the case. Bo has a word for the struggling artistes out there, waiting and looking to make it big. “Make sure it’s your passion. It’s a lot of hard work. People don’t understand. People think it’s so glamorous and I know it is glamorous, but when I say hard work, I mean concentration and it is ridiculous that will make you crazy,” she advises, “So, make sure it’s your passion. It’s going to knock you down constantly, it’s a very cruel industry, but you have to keep that aside and keep going.”
October 15 marked the two-year anniversary of the moment #MeToo went viral. In the days and months that followed, more and more people came forward with their stories of assault, abuse, harassment, and trauma. The #MeToo movement took hold of the public imagination. Some men were held accountable, while some decried the movement had already gone too far. Talking about #Metoo, Bo said, “Any movement has its core and either it can be used or abused for personal advantage. It took me by surprise because my industry was one of the first to welcome women. So, I was a little surprised and upset. I think that it’s over and men cannot treat women like that anymore. It’s in the past. If I was a man, I would be very nervous, because a woman can use it for extortion, or a law suit — it’s very confusing right now. But when it all settles, we’ll look back and say it was all for good.”
Bo stands with a sense of dignity and you can feel it in the pitch of her voice when she says how proud she is of her fans and how much she thanks them. “I thank my fans so much. My business can be very cruel and shallow but it’s your fans that keeps you going. I’m so shocked, with all the crazy things I did in my career, I still somehow survived with a sense of dignity. And I only know that because of the way people treat me!”