Most people spend their youth living in one part of the country. But actress Frances O’Connor had lived on three continents by the time she was 11. Born in England, her family relocated to Australia when she was 3. At 11 she found herself among the brash Yanks in the USA.
She had no say in the move, but when her father, a physicist, took a sabbatical for a year at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory he brought his brood of five children with him.
Though that was not the end of her wanderings, O’Connor says it was a real shocker. “We grew up in the middle of nowhere and were transplanted into kind of a California Valley Girl Land. San Francisco itself was great, but we were near Berkeley,” she says.
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“It was quite a shock, I think. Girls were much more sophisticated and older, and we all went up a grade because there was a different school cycle. And I was with older kids. It was also fantastic. American culture is life embracing and very positive, and I think that’s something that my family really loved. We met some lovely people, and I think we changed as a family. And I changed as a result of that.”
When she was fresh out of university she hauled off to Japan for a year where she modeled a bit and taught English as a second language. Since then she has hopped between Australia, England and the U.S. – and recently on to Belgium where she filmed her latest (and most difficult) role in “The Missing,” airing on Starz.
O’Connor, best known for “Mr. Selfridge,” “Artificial Intelligence,” and “Mansfield Park,” plays a mother in “The Missing” whose child disappears while the family is on vacation in France. The parents’ search for their son fractures their relationship and plunges them into a mystery.
“I did find this one particularly taxing,” admits O’Connor, “because if you’re a parent that’s one aspect of your life where you’re quite vulnerable. You can kind of control a lot of other things in your life. But being a mother is something that you can’t control – how you feel in the feelings you have for your child.”
She says at 47, she feels more confident. “I think it’s living a bit more life and having a family, that kind of thing. You’ve done it a few times and you know it usually works out. If it doesn’t it’s not a big deal – other things will come. What you don’t know as a young actor is sometimes you’re just not the right person for the role, and you just can’t take it personally. You’ve just got to get rid of it and move on to the next thing. (“Eventually something will come up that really speaks to you and you speak to that project, and then it happens. I guess Hollywood can have a critical voice, and I think a lot of actors are critical already on themselves.”
The mother of a 9-year-old son, O’Connor has been married for four years to her longtime sweetheart, actor Gerald Lepkowski. She says having her son was “the most traumatic and amazing event” in her life. “It’s the most revolutionary thing. It made me grow up, made me let go of the stuff I usually worry about. I don’t worry about that anymore. It’s such a gift to create a little person – just to watch them grow up. It’s such a privilege, I think.”