Judy Geeson is an English film, stage, and television actress. She started her career learning ballet. At the age of 18, Judy starred in To Sir, With Love opposite Sidney Poitier. Throughout the years she has worked with actors such as John Wayne, David Niven, Joan Crawford, and Helen Hunt and worked with creatives like Rob Zombie on his latest films. Here she answers some questions about growing up in the flower generation, hanging out with rock stars, and making Los Angeles her home away from England.
1. What was your childhood like growing up in Sussex in the post-war generation?
I lived in the English country side. Our family life was quiet. My father had a vegetable garden. My mother cooked every meal. My fathers new job placed him in London and so we moved. My parents decided to put my sister Sally and I in a theatrical school for one term while they found a more suitable school for us. We walked a mile to the bus stop .. often alone … I am so glad I had that experience .. I loved walking alone with an ice lolly in my hand .. the streets were pretty and totally residential .. not a shop in sight … occasionally I would see someone I knew .. but knew only as a passer by .. I think it gave me confidence to face life alone.
2. You were enrolled in the Corona Academy to learn ballet. Had you considered being an actress when you were a child?
No I wanted to be a ballet dancer but had trouble with one hip which gave me headaches so I put all my energy into acting and found that I loved it and still do until this day.
3. In 1967 you were 18 and landed your first major role opposite Sidney Poitier in To Sir, with Love. Can you tell us about that experience working alongside one of the greats at such a young age?
Sidney was wonderful .. so easy going … so wanting to make us feel comfortable …. looking back I realize it was a special time.
4. Being a young adult in the late 60’s and early 70’s was already pretty wild, to be famous on top of that must have been an incredibly interesting experience. What are some of your fondest memories of being young in such an exciting era.
It was an easy time .. flower power .. restaurants that many of us went to … where you could see Michael Cain … Mick Jagger .. no cameras waiting outside .. always somewhere to park … San Lorenzos … always someone you knew was there.
5. Did you party with any British rock stars?
I spent a little bit of time around Eric Clapton .. I always liked him .. gentle kind man … I first met him in Nassau at Kevin Mc Clory’s house .. Patti Boyd was with him .. .. I used to make a Japanese dish called Sukyaki … it involved cooking vegetables in a vegetable broth broth over a small fire and then adding very thin strips of beef .. one evening Eric and Patty arrived and saw me cooking and Eric said what you doing girl .. you making an Irish stew.
6. In 1967 you worked with Joan Crawford in the horror thriller, Berserk. What was Joan Crawford like to work with?
Joan Crawford was always professional .. never a diva .. I was aware that she found her face and her hands distracting … they had aged .. she wore white gloves when ever possible and had small stickers stuck to the side of her face to lift her face up. I liked her.
7. 1972 found you working with the late, great Peter Cushing and Joan Collins in in the horror/thriller Fear in the Night. What was that experience like?
I liked Peter Cushing very much .. he was an intensely private man. He wore white cotton clothes to read the papers in the morning so his hands didn’t get covered in print. He was always right with you in every scene you played . He and his wife who by this time had died .. used to visit a cockatoo in the London zoo and when he heard that I had a cockatoo he asked if I would bring mine in .. their meeting gave him great joy.
8. You’ve been in so many television shows over the years. What was your favorite show to be a part of? What made it so special?
I was involved with the British series Danger UXB … it was a new series by John Hawksworth … the scripts were so good and the actors all so good. I loved Mad about You .. because the cast were lovely and the crew and over the years you become a sort of family.
9. You’ve worked with many Oscar-winning actors including Sidney Poitier, John Wayne, David Niven, Joan Crawford, and Helen Hunt. In what ways is it rewarding to work with such great actors?
I have always enjoyed working with Joan .. she is a professional through and through. Working with good actors make you better … all you have to do is react .
10. Do you have a fun story you can share from set working with any of these actors?
I have been lucky over the years to have remained in contact with Sidney through mutual friends. One day we were talking about To Sir With Love and he told me that he and James Clavell had wanted to make this film for some time but no studio would back them so they went to Columbia and said we want to make this film and we will take a token fee and our expenses and a share of the profits . Sidney said that this film had educated his children and his grandchildren and it still goes on and on.
Working with good actors make you better … all you have to do is react .
11. You moved to California in 1984. You’ve volunteered teaching Shakespeare alongside fellow British actors at a school in Watts. You also owned an antique store in Los Angeles for 10 years. Do you consider California and Los Angeles home?
I have lived here in Los Angles longer than I have lived any where else .. I consider Los Angles my home.
12. 10 Rillington Place is based on a real-life case of the British serial killer John Christie. You worked with two actors who would go on to make their mark in the motion picture industry, Richard Attenborough and John Hurt. What was that experience like?
I was already friends with John and Richard so that made things easy … I loved Richard Fliescher .. although the subject was dark we still had a few laughs …. I have great respect for Ludovic Kennedy.
13. In 1975 you worked with The Duke, John Wayne in Brannigan. Was he a gentle giant to work with?
I was very fond of John Wayne … I knew of course he was a major American movie star .. the all time cowboy .. but after working with him for a few days he became John .. I didn’t call him Duke because I didn’t know that was what he liked to be called … we talked about it and he decided he liked being called John.
14. You have worked in stage, film and television throughout your career. Do you have a preference?
I don’t think there is much difference between the cinema and TV … both involve the camera and either the camera likes you or it doesn’t … TV I think is more demanding …. more lines and moving a lot faster.
15. Do you have a favorite theatre production you’ve been a part of? And do you see yourself ever returning to the theatre?
I did a production of Brain Friel’s Faith Healer in Dublin with Donal Mc Cann .. that was special.
16. In recent years you have worked with rocker Rob Zombie on two of his films; 2012’s The Lords of Salem, and 31 in 2016. What is Rob like as a director? You worked with some greats on those two films; Malcolm McDowell, Bruce Davison, Meg Foster and Patricia Quinn.
I love Rob and Malcolm and Bruce and Meg … I loved working with them.