Emblazoned in my memory is the image of Saffron Burrows as the kind of vulnerable villainess, who, if memory serves, does redeem herself in the end, in the film Circle of Friends. I haven’t seen the film since its release back in … 1993? 1994? But the image, accurate or not, has remained. Recall if you will that I had misgivings dating back to that film about its starlet, Minnie Driver, as well – and overcame them in a big way. Burrows, as the beautiful temptress, thwarts the whole “inner beauty triumphs” story (at least temporarily) that propels Circle of Friends. And Burrows has been held, in my mind, to that femme-fatale, bad guy standard of the character she played (testament to her performance, though, that it had that kind of staying power) ever since.
My opinion has changed, but it is not like it ever made any dramatic shifts because it is not like I ever hated her or actively avoided her films or multiple recent TV appearances. She has always been sort of low-key, turning up when I was not expecting to see her, and always making an impression. She might fall victim to the misguided idea that beauty of her type could not possibly come with the kind of talent she has. I don’t really know, but seeing her recently in Mozart in the Jungle, I felt oddly moved by her portrayal of Cynthia, a flawed, complicated woman who is seductive and unapologetically in touch with that side of herself but who also gives generously of herself with whatever she can offer. At least that’s how I interpreted her character. Seeing her in this role made me go back and re-evaluate other places I have seen her. There are quite a lot of performances, and none really stand out – but she always brings something different and fresh to her roles.
While I don’t necessarily evaluate actors and other “stars” based on their personal lives, Burrows’ public openness and fluidity about sexuality and relationships has been refreshing. Despite being someone who seems quite private (but also political), she recently revealed that she married her female partner and has long been a voice for equality. Being in the public eye, it’s hard to keep such matters secret, and her love life has been mentioned here and there in the media before (with well-publicized romances with men, such as Alan Cumming, who himself wed his same-sex partner a few years ago. And of course, he was the actual “villain” in Circle of Friends, although villain might be too strong a word!). Burrows exudes a kind of “accepting” vibe – seeming very in control while being open and welcoming. I don’t know her, so this is just imagination. But this is the kind of confidence that her most memorable characters convey (in particular her Mozart character). Worldly but not jaded, a seen-it-all but still loving taking it in attitude.
Considered, reconsidered – I’m really impressed with Burrows. Her work speaks for itself, but by extension, I think her public handling of her relationship and situation is brave in that it can actually be difficult to recognize how and when to “live an honest life” – whatever that means. And sometimes that means not really defining yourself the way people expect you to be defined (that is, putting yourself in one box or another).