'He was rude and irreverent - and that's why I'll miss him'

Julie Christie on her friend John Schlesinger

I have been reading all the reverential obituaries about John Schlesinger, which seem so odd to me because he was one of the most irreverent people I have ever met. I remember an extremely provocative, mischievous character who delighted in taking the piss out of everything and anyone, including his friends. He had an amazingly rude vocabulary, which he took great pleasure in using in a very loud voice in public spaces, despite having also inherited the most exquisite manners from his family.

When I auditioned for a part in Billy Liar in 1962, he did not think much of me as an actress - and took great relish in telling me so. I was not his first choice for the part and I was cast only after filming had started, but I am very grateful he took a chance on me. I was delighted he did because I wanted very much to be part of the British new wave films being made at the time. John was a major figure in that movement, having already made A Kind of Loving, which portrayed a working-class world that previously had hardly been addressed in film.

John thought I was a cultural snob, another thing that he always delighted in pointing out to me, particularly when I expressed horror at some of the films he liked and which I thought were dreadful. We had enormous political differences and awful political rows - "Oh, John, you can't go to Turkey for a holiday" - which would always end with him accusing me of being a hypocrite.

I took advantage of his hospitality in the 1970s while pretending to look for a place to live in Los Angeles. He used to love mocking me for "squatting" at his mansion in the Hollywood Hills, having sneered at the luxury of his life for so long - taking advantage of its swimming pool and sleeping in its bedroom with its mirrored ceiling. There were always fabulous parties there; his generosity was unbounded.

In Far From the Madding Crowd, I had one scene where I had to open the coffin of the dead mistress of my husband, Captain Troy, played by Terence Stamp. I knew the coffin contained a terrible secret about my husband and I had to prise it open dramatically to discover it. I went into one of those actorly things: I needed to be very intense and serious and be on my own to get into the mood. I was getting very ratty with everyone who made a noise on the set. We eventually got around to shooting it after I had been indulged with "time" to build up to it. I slowly prised the lid off the coffin. Inside, instead of a dead mistress and baby as there should have been, there was a small, smirking props man holding a huge dildo.

It was partly to see my reaction but also partly to give a laugh to everyone on the set. John liked to create an atmosphere of irreverence even in the process of film-making. Making films was what John was about - it was his centre and his life, but he could be irreverent even in what he was so committed to.

I was interviewed recently for a documentary about the films of that period, Decade Under the Influence, and so I rewatched John's films from that time. I think Sunday Bloody Sunday, which was made more than 30 years ago, was perhaps the most remarkable: it was the first to show gay men kissing and treating it as an ordinary love affair. Up until then, gay men had been shown as victims or rather shadowy creatures.

We shared a wonderful god-daughter, Lou Gish; and he incorporated me and other people, such as Alan Bates, into his family, to whom he was always very close. I know they thought of him as this extraordinary brother of whom they were very proud. One of the best trips I ever took was a crazy one through Arizona with John and his then quite new boyfriend, the very talented photo-grapher Michael Childers, who lived with John until his death last week.

I will miss having a friend around with such a gift for shocking people out of their complacency.


Julie Christie

The GuardianTramp

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