'I Do the Splits Very Easily': An Email Exchange With Joan Collins

Ahead of her new BBC documentary "This Is Joan Collins", we asked the 80s legend about Hollywood, feminism and her best party trick.
Lauren O'Neill
London, GB
An Interview with Joan Collins
Photo: BBC/Salon Escobar Limited/Sophie Muller

It’s not everyday you are asked whether you would like to email with Dame Joan Collins, so when such a message arrives in your inbox, it kind of behooves anyone who is interested in fun or glamour or showbiz or any combination of these pleasures to say yes.

As an appreciator of all of the above, I was excited to learn that, though the request had not come due to Collins learning of me as a witty and charming interlocutor (sad), it was because she is currently promoting a new BBC film about her life and career, This Is Joan Collins, due to air on BBC Two on New Year’s Day. 


The documentary charts a seven-decade career in showbiz – featuring an encounter with Marilyn Monroe, a Playboy spread, and so many off-the-cuff Hollywood anecdotes it’s hard to keep track – via archive material and new interviews with Collins, who also narrates the documentary.

From her beginnings as a young Brit acting in movies to her career as a novelist, via, of course, her role as Alexis Carrington in Dynasty, a role as synonymous with the 80s as shoulder pads and Wham!, the film swerves through Collins’ life and loves, which are fascinating enough to beat out any hungover New Year’s Day reality TV marathon you could possibly be planning. After all, where would Lisa Vanderpump and Christine Quinn be without Joan before them?

VICE: Hi, Dame Joan. I’ll get right into it: Why did you feel like now was the right time to make a documentary about your life? How did it feel to excavate all of your different eras?
Dame Joan Collins:
I’ve been approached about documentaries several times over the years. In the 90s, the Biography Channel made a documentary which was fairly definitive, but when Karen Steyn, the producer, came up with a novel format, I have to say I was quite intrigued. Her idea is that she’d present me with their version of my life through my home movies and backstage footage, and record me while I comment, clarify and recall what really happened behind the scenes.


As for the second part of your question, the word “excavate”, with all its connotations, is a bit too penetrative for my likes. Shall we say that it felt satisfying to be able to have my say about so many misconceptions?

From the film, it seems like you were very hands-on with how your story was told. As a writer yourself, what was the process of creating your narrative – the ultimate narrative of your life – like?
Again, it wasn’t me. I just opened up the archives, and what the director Clare Beavan chose to show me was as much as a surprise for me as I hope it will be for the viewer.  What Clare wanted me to do is to comment on how she had crafted my story. It was truly fascinating to see how she saw me.

Joan Collins and Diahann Carroll in an episode of ©Aaron Spelling Productions/ABC, Dynasty

Joan Collins and Diahann Carroll in "Dynasty". Photo: LANDMARK MEDIA / Alamy Stock Photo

Early in your career, you moved to Hollywood, and you tell so many stories throughout the documentary about all the Hollywood legends you met over the years. Do you have a specific encounter that feels most precious to you? Why is that?
Meeting Marlon Brando, Paul Newman and James Dean at a party during my first month in Hollywood.  They were all sitting together on a couch!

You’re best known for playing the villain Alexis in Dynasty. Was it a role you relished, or did it ever take its toll on you due to the public reaction?
I do not think of her as a villain.  She was abused by Blake and banished from seeing her children.  She was understandably vengeful and manipulative but not a killer, which Blake Carrington was!


I completely relished it and will be forever grateful to her. Think how lucky a person can be, especially an actress, to be rediscovered towards the end of what conventional wisdom said was the end of a career?  The public reaction, Alexis would say, was completely justified!

You’re beloved as a fashion icon and we see many of your looks over the years throughout the film, from the Met Gala in 2019 to the clothes you wore in Dynasty. What’s your relationship with fashion been over the course of your life?
I love fashion and have done so since I took my first tottering steps.  My mother and my aunts were always immaculately dressed, coiffed and maquillaged, if that’s a word. I would make dresses for my dolls in fashions taken from magazines and, when I went to Hollywood, I showed my designs for the character of every movie I was in, to the costumer. I worked side-by-side with Nolan Miller on Dynasty and with Pierpaolo Piccioli on that Met Gala dress. I have always figured out what my character looks like before I even attempt learning the lines – I’m one of those actors that works from the outside in.  And I must also be a frustrated fashion designer.

Joan Collins at the Met Gala in 2019.

Joan Collins at the Met Gala in 2019. Photo: Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

You’re somewhat of a love expert – what’s your number one piece of relationship advice?
Separate bathrooms.

The documentary suggests that you've always loved a party and a glamorous night out. Do you have a party trick? And perhaps more importantly, what's your number one hangover cure?
I do the splits very easily and suddenly, which takes everyone by surprise.  Although the last time I did them I hadn’t warmed up and spent a week in agony. My hangover cure is don’t get one in the first place!


As a follow up to that, you're obviously very comfortable as the life and soul of any event. Where does all your confidence come from? And how do you command the attention of a room? 
I remember sidling over to Woody Allen at a party and telling him that I identified with a piece he wrote about him being incredibly shy, because I was too. I was wearing a very low-cut dress and, looking me up and down, he remarked “You could have fooled me!” and scurried off. 

You have a huge LGBTQ+ following. Do you have a special relationship with those fans? What do they mean to you?
I divide the world into two types of people, regardless of gender, race or sexual preference. There are fridges and there are stoves. I like to be surrounded by people who are stoves – witty, fun, generous and kind.  I don’t have time for fridges – self-pitying bores.

You mention in the film that you loved the 80s. What was so great about that decade and how is life different now?
The 80s was very reminiscent of the golden age of Hollywood. Fashions were glamorous, people felt optimistic, the world was stable and the culture reflected that sense of hope and fun.  What was there not to like?

You describe yourself as a feminist in the film. How have those values helped you throughout the years?
Maybe it was my upbringing, but I never felt in any way different to a man in what I could accomplish and achieve.  I was fortunate that I earned my way and took care of myself from my teens, so I became a natural feminist when I experienced any misogyny or inequality.  And I suppose that this early self-reliance made me grow up very quickly and gave me a sense of self-worth that many girls of my time (and perhaps women until very recently) did not have the opportunity to enjoy.


As an older woman who has never stopped embracing her sexuality, you’ve been very inspirational to many people, but you’ve also been judged for it as well. How have you handled that over the years? 
Handle the judgement? I don’t pay much attention to it, frankly.

You’ve been a famous woman in the showbiz industry for seven decades now. How have things changed?
I have to say that the world I grew up in seemed so much simpler, innocent, and perhaps more naïve, and as the decades wore on became increasingly complicated, discerning and perhaps cynical and judgemental. I do not envy the young stars of today who are under the constant glare of 24/7 news and social media attention.

And finally, I’m sure making this documentary has been an emotional process as you’ve reconsidered your life. What’s been your biggest takeaway from the experience?
Reconsider my life? What on earth do I have to reconsider? I feel I raised my children well and gave them security and self-reliance. I’m living a rich, wonderful and varied life and I have love and good friends.  I have no regrets and I am grateful for all of it – the ups and the downs.

This Is Joan Collins airs on BBC Two on New Year’s Day at 9PM.