"I never had a burning desire to become an actress," said Francesca Annis. An odd comment coming from someone enjoying a prominent role in a current major motion picture and sharing the lead in a "Mystery!" series on public television.
Frankly, she'd rather be dancing. "I studied classical ballet," Annis recalled. "Someone saw me and asked me to do a TV play in London. One thing led to another. Being a fatalist, I just went along with it."
Going along with it eventually landed Annis membership in the Royal Shakespeare Company and the female lead in the 1971 British film rendition of "Macbeth," a production noteworthy because of its director (Roman Polanski), its producers (Playboy Enterprises) and the fact that Lady Macbeth's dream speech is delivered in the nude. The show was peppered with blood and gore to boot, but was well received by critics.
Masterpiece Theater brought her to American television audiences in such productions as "Lillie," "Edward VII" and "Madame Bovary."
This week her latest outing on public television winds down just as her latest theatrical feature effort continues its holiday run. Annis is the costar of "Agatha Christie's Partners in Crime," a series of five "Mystery!" episodes on PBS (not to be confused with the similarly-titled NBC production). The fifth installment airs this week, with five more probably on the way next year.
Annis plays Tuppence opposite James Warwick's Tommy Beresford, a husband-wife team who have taken over a detective agency to escape the boredom of London's social fast lane, circa 1920.
"When 'Partners in Crime' came up," she said, "I had to consider this one carefully. It took 11 months to do the series," quite a while by TV production standards. "I found he story very interesting -- marvelous fun with good costumes for me to wear. My character's feminine without being dogmatic about it. She's sharp, witty and loves the clothes without being vain."
Annis' other trial before American audiences is in the role Lady Jessica in "Dune." "Some people think the film is wonderful," she said, "and some can't stand it. I thought it was marvelous."
When Annis isn't working on a production, she lives in London with her photographer husband and three children -- 5->and 4-year-old daughters and a 4-month-old son. In her free time -- if there is such a thing for her -- "I like to be domestic. I paper walls, go shopping, make clothes." And she jazz dances, just to keep her hand -- or foot -- in.
Meanwhile, she awaits the critical verdict of her largest-ever American audience.
"I would love to do more American work," she said. "But there's so much talent and so many people here already. It'll be interesting to see how these go down here."