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'Dynasty' legend says new doc shows 'off-camera Joan Collins'

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The documentary, "This is Joan Collins," is now streaming. Photo courtesy of BritBox
The documentary, "This is Joan Collins," is now streaming. Photo courtesy of BritBox

NEW YORK, March 29 (UPI) -- The subject of the new documentary, This is Joan Collins, says that opening up to filmmakers Clare Beavan and Karen Steyn about her remarkable life and career was something of a leap of faith.

Debuting Tuesday on BritBox, the film spans about 70 years and reminds viewers the British actress is more than simply TV royalty to the ardent fans of her iconic nighttime soap, Dynasty.

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Collins began working during the Golden Age of Hollywood as a contemporary of Marilyn Monroe, Bette Davis, Marlon Brando and Paul Newman.

She starred in dozens of films, including The Virgin Queen, Land of the Pharoahs, The Opposite Sex, Sea Wife, The Road to Hong Kong, Warning Shot and Subterfuge before landing her role of Alexis on Dynasty and playing the vixen from 1981 to 1989.

Along the way, she married five times and mothered three children.

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At 88 years old, Collins still is working. Among her recent credits are Happily Divorced, The Royals, Benidorm, The Time of Their Lives, American Horror Story: Apocalypse and Gerry. She is also the author of the novels, Prime Time and Love & Desire & Hate, as well as several lifestyle books and the memoir, Past Imperfect.

This is Joan Collins features the gracious, witty woman candidly commenting directly to the camera about footage from her movies, past media interviews, rarely seen home movies and scrapbooks that she and her late sister, Jackie, compiled in their younger years.

"I've been asked several times about doing a documentary biography, and I wasn't interested because they all wanted to have talking heads, people talking about me, and I said, 'If I'm going to do my story, I want to be the one who is the narrator,'" Collins told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.

"It took [the filmmakers] weeks to go through all the stuff, particularly the interviews with some of the misogynistic men that were interviewing me in the '70s, '80s and '90s. That was interesting."

The actress praised Beavan and Steyn for spinning her treasure trove of source material into one of the best-edited documentaries she said she's ever seen.

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"I look at it very objectively because I am very, very critical about myself always, and I was very entertained," she said. "I've shown it about three times to different friends because, sadly, in England it sort of snuck out on BBC2 on New Year's Day. We didn't get any press. We didn't get any reviews."

Some family members who saw the documentary were shocked by the actress' colorful history.

"They didn't know about me starting as a 16-year-old starlet doing fashion shoots for teenagers, then starring in movies and then being chased around the [studio] back lots by predatory producers. They didn't know that!" she said.

"But I think they were completely fascinated by it because, being modern children, that doesn't happen today -- a lot."

Collins said she remembers asking Beavan why she included in the film an ordinary moment in which she groused that the sweater she was wearing was too hot.

"She said, 'Yeah, it shows you as a real person.' And I said, 'I am a real person! Thank you very much. I am a real person. Flesh and blood,'" Collins laughed.

The actress agreed it is probably the film's authenticity and humanity -- private glimpses into a public figure's life -- that will most intrigue the viewers of her documentary.

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"I think they will be most surprised by me, nine months pregnant, dancing with my ex-husband in the sand at Montauk," she said.

"My favorite part about [the film] is the off-camera Joan Collins. Me sitting there, smoking a cigarette -- oh, dear -- off the set, on the beach, no makeup on and a tiny bikini and clowning around with my sister or friends."

As she looked back, she realized that being a parent has been the most rewarding aspect of her life.

"Any woman who has children has achieved a great deal, and I had three," Collins said.

"I, basically, was a single mother for most of that time," she added. "Unfortunately, I had two not-so-nice divorces, and so I paid for the children's schooling, brought them up, paid for the house that we lived in. I think I'm most proud of that."

Unlike many contemporary famous people who seem ubiquitous, thanks to social media and the explosion of entertainment news outlets, Collins came up in an era when celebrities tempered their accessibility to the public with glamour and mystery.

"I have retained a certain mystique. It's all gone now," she joked, referring to the documentary.

"No more mystique! Gosh, she's dancing pregnant! But I did try to not expose every single bit of my life to the media and I was able -- with the exception of a few years when I was in Dynasty -- and I am still able to go out and walk around and just be in the streets, shops and restaurants like a regular guy."

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She was reminded of her Dynasty heyday while reviewing video from when she presided over a 1980s Christmas tree lighting on Regent Street in London.

"There were thousands and thousands of people there, cheering at me. I had forgotten all that," she said.

"It was amazing that Clare and Karen were able to find this bit of film. It was quite extraordinary, and they had other things that showed the fame that I had then, the supreme fame, which doesn't last."

She remembered being asked by a journalist years ago what she planned to do if her stardom ended.

"I said it isn't a question of 'if,' it's a question of 'when.' And it will end and, when it does, I will be happy to go back to being just not quite so popular," she said.

There are many artists working today that Collins admires -- Nicole Kidman, Brad Pitt, Rachel Brosnahan and Ana De Armas, to name a few -- and she predicts they will have long careers well past the time when their beauty starts to dim.

"Vivien Leigh said to me once -- I wasn't in a film with her, but my boyfriend at the time was - she wasn't taken seriously as an actor until her looks began to fade," Collins said.

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"Of course, it's true. If you are a very good-looking person -- and you are an actor or actress-- you are not taken seriously until you put the false nose on or you start to look older."

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