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For her role in the black comedy/thriller Kiss or Kill, Frances O’Connor took the prestigious Best Actress Award at the 1997 Montreal Film Festival - and now Hollywood is calling. In her first Australian interview since her win, PAUL FISCHER spoke to O’Connor on the eve of the film's screening at the Toronto Film Festival.

She may be Australia's latest international film star, but talking to Frances O'Connor at the selective Toronto International Film Festival, there is no hint of the star about to shine on the international movie scene. Sitting outside a terrace adjoining Toronto's Sheraton Hotel, O'Connor recalls her genuine amazement at winning last week’s Best Actress prize at the previous Montreal Film Festival.

"It was a real honour, especially since the whole thing was about film MAKING."

"I was genuinely surprised, and wasn't expecting it at all," she says. "We did a lot of press for the film at Montreal and the response to Kiss or Kill was very positive; you could tell that people were genuinely excited by the film. Then I was doing press for the film in New York when out of the blue they asked to fly me back to Montreal, because they had the awards ceremony that night. So they had this big awards ceremony, actor Alan Rickman was there to present it and it was just fantastic." President of the committee was esteemed actress Jacqueline Bisset. "They were so lovely, very complimentary and the people on the panel were very eloquent, educated people. It was a real honour, especially since the whole thing was about film MAKING."

Kiss or Kill, in which Bennett outlined the script but had the actors improvise much of their lines, revolves around two lovers and con artists whose latest 'mark' ends up dead, and the pair hit the road leaving a trail of dead bodies in their wake. O'Connor plays Nikki, a tormented young man-hater who witnessed her mother's murder as a child. It's a character that the actress personally loves. "She's a great character to play, because of her spirit and energy. I like the fact that even though society may see her as of no value, the audience gets to love her."

"It's audiences who are the real litmus tests.."

Asked why this film, as opposed to anything else, is the one to have launched her career in such a big way, Frances remains mystified . "It's really hard to say why or how it works. Sometimes a film can be critically acclaimed but in terms of its popularity with people, it just doesn't strike that chord. After all, it's audiences who are the real litmus tests, and this one seems to have struck the right chord." She adds that the film's international success is due to the fact "that the movie works within a great genre, the characters are very authentic and it's got a lot of humour in it as well."

It was a year ago that Australian film audiences first noticed a young O'Connor as the lesbian uni student in Love and Other Catastrophes. What a difference a year makes. Now that she has won such international approval, O'Connor concedes that the she may yet fall victim to Australia's Tall Poppy Syndrome. "I guess it's the natural human dynamic, that once you help bring someone up, you get bored with it so you want to look for something different. But that's something you can't control, so you can't allow yourself to think about that or plan anything to combat it, except to enjoy where you're at and what you're doing." The actress laughs loudly when it's suggested that she's been defined as the actress of the moment, but Frances is keen to regard all this as the end product of years of study and work. "I feel that a lot of hard work has really paid off, though I think a lot of it has to do with luck, synchronicity, and just being at the right place at the right time. But I've always believed that if you stay positive, good things come along."

"I really want more opportunities to get better at what I do."

With success comes the inevitability of fame, and O'Connor's main concern, she argues, is "that kind of thing will muck up my acting. I really want more opportunities to get better at what I do." Hollywood offers have started to come through for the young actress, even though she admits it's hard deciding on the right film to do overseas. "I want to make sure I remain true to myself and follow my instincts then you can't really muck up." Though she won't talk about the specific American offers ["in case they don't work out"] she says she's "really itching to go back to work, either on screen or stage. I've spent too much time away from what I really love to do."

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Frances O'Connor with Matt Day and Bill Bennett in Toronto
(Photography by Judy Kopperman)



Read Andrew L. Urban's Feature with Cast

Read Andrew L. Urban's interview with

Stills from Kiss or Kill

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